Peter Pearson

I recently completed my 64th weekend workshop for couples. Once again I was impressed by a group of intrepid couples who were willing to leave their emotional comfort zone to create a more successful marriage for themselves.

One of the exercises of the workshop is brainstorming a list of effective communication behaviors and attitudes. Then I ask the group how many saw their families exercise these behaviors 50% or more of the time when things got tense. I never have had more than 15% of the couples raise their hands.

What this means is that under stress, effective communication is statistically exceptional.

This is just one reason I legitimately claim that the couples I see both in my practice and my workshops are normal couples striving to become exceptional.

But exceptional means unnatural.

Natural is being defensive when your partner is critical.
Natural is becoming emotionally protective when you feel hurt. Natural is avoiding emotional pain that reminds you of similar distressing experiences. Natural is feeling painfully alone when your partner goes into a protective withdrawal.

Unnatural is being curious, patient, understanding or open when your partner is going on “tilt.” It is also recognizing that you communicate ineffectively when you are “under attack.” When you let your partner know that your actions were ineffective while “under attack” you are really being exceptional.

But the courageous couples attempted the unnatural throughout the weekend. When you put yourself on the line, there are no failures. You risk and risk again. You practice new skills to stay in alignment with your higher values and goals. This is the process that makes for winners.

When your partner goes on tilt, when you go on tilt, can one of you avoid overreacting?

A good marriage is nearly impossible if you both overreact at the same time.

The formula is simple. Listen, be honest with compassion, be curious about your partner's stress, goals, values, insecurities, hopes, joys, and fears. Strive to stay in alignment with how you aspire to be as an effective partner. Take the initiative. Accept what you are given.

The rest is practice, and more practice of these unnatural acts. These exercises develop the muscles to build a flourishing relationship.

Ellyn's and my book “Tell Me No Lies” follows two different couples as they face difficulties in their relationship. One couple takes the easy way out while the other couple practices the “unnatural acts” required to achieve a level of honesty and closeness otherwise impossible. For more information or to order a copy, visit Tell Me No Lies.

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© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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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.