Couples’ Blog

Welcome to our Couples’ Blog. Here we post occasional articles and practical exercises for couples who wish to improve their marriage or relationship. Look through the title and beginnings of articles below, and click any title to read them. Or scan the list of categories to find topics that interest you. You can also use the search box to find articles containing specific words. It’s good to know you’re not alone.

How to Get the Most From Your Couples Therapy

Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples therapy. They are not sure of what to expect of the therapist or even if the therapist has any expectations of them.
I have found most couples approach therapy with the notion that each person will describe their distress and somehow the therapist will assist them to create a happier, more functional, relationship. They expect to learn some new or better skills. However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas.
After 30 years of clinical experience and specializing in working with thousands of couples, I have arrived at some guidelines that can make our work more effective.… Read more…

Hello Undifferentiated Self

In the Bader-Pearson Developmental Model of Couples therapy, you may hear about differentiation. But what is it? This blog post includes the poem, “Undifferentiated Self,” which touches on differentiation. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, here is a note of clarification to help you understand one aspect of the broader term. According to Couples Institute co-founder, Dr. Ellyn Bader, “self-differentiation is the capacity to go internal and notice and express one’s thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires without blame or criticism.” It takes maturity to interact in this way and it is not uncommon to struggle at times in this regard – especially in important relationships.… Read more...

Pete’s Interview – Stages of Relationships – Triggers

Thanks for your interest in my recent interview on NPR. I hope you get some valuable insights for your relationship regarding: The stages of a relationship or marriage Lies we tell our partners Triggers we have that cause challenges in our relationships You won't want to miss my impromptu session with a stranger where I walked a listener through a long time trigger that he had interacting with his partner. In less than ten minutes, he was able to begin feeling differently and break a pattern he has had for years (Listener Question 2 at about 36 minutes in). Your browser does not support the audio element. Podcast Highlights: 01:05 – Honeymoon Stage and Innocent Lies in the Beginning 05:40 – Avoiding the Truth 10:00 – Start to Work as a TEAM 10:45 – Partners on a Pedestal at the Beginning 11:30 – Tell Me No Lies 11:45 – Second Stage – Power Struggles 15:50 – Marriage is the only Non-Hierarchical Relationship there is.… Read more...

Stress-Free Valentine’s Day

  Less Stress & More Fun Holidays can sometimes be stressful for couples—especially Valentine’s Day. One partner may be imagining something very specific to celebrate the day. The other partner may not have a clue of what that thing is. The result can be disappointment and confusion. Rather than hurt feelings and a Valentine’s Day gone sideways, take steps to create a relaxed and fun celebration with your beloved. What Would Your Partner Like? Take the stress out of Valentine’s Day by having a conversation about it. You can ask your sweetheart, “What do you think you might enjoy for Valentine’s Day?” Find out if they are hoping for a special gift.… Read more...

The Cookie Jar Marriage

The cookie jar is an interesting concept.

It’s so much more than a storage container!

It’s where kids head for an immediate snack when feeling down or to celebrate when feeling great.

Know what? We never outgrow the lure of the cookie jar. Only now there are different kinds of cookies in the jar.

Instead of chocolate chip cookies, there are different kinds of treats, a.k.a. immediate gratifications of primal desires.

Read more...

A grave digger’s perspective about one kind of marriage

I used to be a grave digger. College summer job. No heavy equipment. Just two good shovels, pick axe, tape measure, string, and a tarp. I wasn’t that philosophical then. I could not have imagined that someday I’d see parallels between that and my current psychology practice specializing in couple’s therapy. I’m talking about the price that some couples pay to keep the peace in their marriage. The slow, torturous death of continuous acquiescence. Every couple knows it is important to compromise. But what happens when conflict avoidant couples carry it too far? What parts of their relationship get buried when they deny or distort their dreams?… Read more...

Teamwork: From now on if someone calls me chicken . . .

Mother hen with baby chicksFrom now on if someone calls me “chicken,” I'll take that as a huge compliment. For any person – especially a male – being called chicken is a searing insult. But not for me. Not anymore. Not after what I witnessed. Here’s the back story. It was a summer afternoon on my vacation in Kauai. I was on the patio feeding a mother hen and her five baby chicks bits of wheat bread. They run wild on the Hawaiian island and are protected by state law. I got to the place where the baby chicks eagerly ate out of my hand. Then I fed a chunk to Mama Hen and she dropped it on the ground. Immediately one of the chicks snatched it and ran off.… Read more...

“I just want my partner to understand me.”

In my practice, I hear many couples say, ” I just want my partner to understand me. Who wouldn't want that? You tell your partner things, they truly get what you say and you feel understood. And vice versa: your partner shares their deepest feelings and thoughts with you, you receive what they say, and everyone in the end feels understood – and loved. It doesn't always work that way though, does it? In my practice I’ve noticed many reasons why couples don't feel they have the understanding relationship that they desire. Or, why they don't feel as understood as they wish they did. I have also found a powerful shift in thinking that can change this.… Read more...

Why couples therapy isn’t just for when things are going wrong

Heart stops dominoes from all falling downMost people tend to associate couples therapy with intractable problems that they and their partner are struggling with. Couples usually wait until their situation has reached the breaking point before seeking couples therapy, often putting themselves through months or years of unnecessary disappointment, distress and destructive behavior. As an experienced couples psychotherapist, I can say with confidence that much of the distress, heartbreak and breakdown in couples’ relationships could have been avoided with early intervention. Your couple relationship can harbor rich rewards for your mental and physical health, and significantly contribute to achievements and life satisfaction in both your personal and professional life.… Read more...

Combat holiday stress with this brain hack

Keep Calm and Merry OnIt’s common knowledge that the holidays can be stressful for lots of people. Some of the stress comes from feeling overwhelmed by the added projects, tasks, expenses and other obligations of the season. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed balancing expectations of different family members. Or you’re frustrated trying to make everyone happy. Another kind of stress comes from other people in the extra social interactions and gatherings. Maybe you’re caught off guard by zingers from a supporter of the “other” political party. Or you’re stuck in conversation with the brother-in-law who criticizes everybody for something – and you for everything.… Read more...

Taking the stress out of holiday preparation

Sisyphus Man rolling huge concrete ball up hill.from Greek mythology was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, getting close to the top only to see it rolling down again. Does your holiday preparation feel like a similar fate? For example, let's say you are hosting the happy event. Let's assume the lion’s share of preparation has always fallen on you. Perhaps you have functioned like Sisyphus: every year you do most of the work, hoping your partner will step up and initiate more so you can enjoy the gathering. When that doesn’t happen, you feel depleted and angry. Like Sisyphus, you have been condemned to repeat the process.… Read more...
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