More on Spinning in Circles with Entrenched Couples

A reader of my blog on Spinning in Circles with Entrenched Couples described a situation that’s a catch-22 of couples therapy: a partner who doesn’t want to do what is required of him but still wants a better relationship with his wife.

Here are my thoughts on the subject.

The first thing I say is, “I appreciate your clarity about not wanting to do what is required. A lot of people who come in here have that attitude but don’t express it. Saying it aloud explains a lot and saves a lot of frustration when our work gets stalled.”

I point out that when partners have the attitude of not wanting to do what is required then we end up going in circles and only two things happen: we all get older and they contribute to my IRA.

If things are going to improve it will take a team effort – a true team effort. And I do think of couples as a team because they have so many areas of interdependencies. If they work as a team they can make the impossible possible. If they don’t work as a team they make even the possible impossible.

I show couples two short video clips that say more about teamwork than I could say in a month of therapy. I’ve referred to these often, in my training on Rethinking First Sessions, but I’d like to share them again here.

The first clip comes from the movie, Any Given Sunday, about a very dysfunctional football team that makes it to the Super Bowl. Right before they take the field Al Pacino makes a speech that really hits the mark.  I have worked with numerous pro football players and by the time they reach this level they have heard a lot of motivational talks, but they all agree that this one rings true.

Al Pacino’s Pep Talk

After showing the clip I ask the couple what principles or points stand out for them in terms of their relationship. This sets the stage for greater teamwork and for significant self confrontation.

And don’t think this appeals only to clients who are football fans. Even though some people don’t care about football – more women than men –  I do not get objections because they see the bigger picture about getting their husbands to be  better team players.

Then I tell them I want to show a clip from nature. This 2.5-minute clip shows remarkable lessons about cooperation, demonstrated by a flock of geese. It’s a very powerful, emotional clip. Few couples are unmoved by it.

Lessons From the Geese

Then I ask the same question: “What stands out for you that can be applied to yourself and your relationship? “

I downloaded the clips from Youtube onto my desktop so that I can easily show them to couples in sessions.

There are a few fundamental principles that predict effective teamwork – and to start it’s more about attitude than tools.

We have a very helpful resource that addresses these issues and more. It's a 60-minute downloadable audio program, along with a downloadable written summary of the program. For more information or to order click Rethinking First Sessions.

Discover the Last Relationship Training You'll Ever Need

Have something to say?

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim HUtt
Jim HUtt

Great article! When I run into the Catch-22 problem, especially when someone
knows they are not doing what they need to do to change the pattern they don’t like, I also begin exploring something with them I stole from Pete Pearson: I propose to them the idea that every problem is a solution to another problem. I then ask them: What problem might you be solving by not doing what you know you could do to break the pattern?” This inevitably sets us off another productive trajectory more often than not.


Thank you! Sooo needed those videos for a new couple I’m seeing where he wants a better relationship but is not willing to make a move from behind his wall, AND I get a sense that he wants a magic solution from me. Love Al Pacino’s approach! Really looking forward to showing these videos and seeing the effect they might have. Thanks again 🙂


Very helpful, as always. I love the idea of using this modality as another way of sending the teamwork and accountability messages.

Dr.Rekha N. Deshmukh
Dr.Rekha N. Deshmukh

Every couple ,every individual has gone through
this Classic Catch 22 situation time immemorial .
so does every counsellor but you have vocalised
the solution and the adjunct videos as a reference
I am sure all regional languages ,and particularly Asian countries
& including rich Indian language heritage can give advantage if we all identify (I am sure every one hs already using it ) we should pool it as an international reference library —such clippings in our own language too as a cultural importance to the client ,

Chelsea Edgecumbe
Chelsea Edgecumbe

Thank you for these clips! Just used the Pacino one with a couple having trouble with personal accountability. Wonderful intervention!

Pete Pearson
Pete Pearson

OK thank you all for your comments about getting unstuck – believe me getting unstuck is an art form and what we have covered are some artistic ways of getting unstuck.
There are no evidence based or researched based interventions that work foll all or almost all couples who you get stuck with.
The car companies figured this out years ago when they put on the window stickers,
“actual mileage may vary”

the answer to the coin riddle which was:
I have two American coins in my hand and they total 6 cents, and one of the coins is not a nickle. What are the two coins?
The two coins are a nickle and a penny. I said ONE of the coins is not a nickle. The other one is a nickle.
How we language any problem may make it clearer of fuzzier. I gave you a fuzzier perspective with the coin riddle.

Part of our job with clients is giving them a better definition of the problem.
Good luck

Peter Pearson, Ph.D.

Dr. 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, Dr. 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.”

Discover the Last Relationship Training You'll Ever Need

Read Other Popular Articles