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. First, I do have some expectations of you. I am not neutral. I have evolved principles and concepts that I believe give us the greatest chance for success.

The Labyrinth of Love – The Path to a Soulful Relationship

By Chelsea Wakefield, PhD, LCSW Chelsea Wakefield is an Associate Professor and Director of the Couples Center at the Psychiatric Research Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she writes, teaches and provides couples therapy. She is the author of three books, is a popular keynote speaker, workshop, and retreat leader, and the creator of the Luminous Woman® Weekend. You can find out more about her offerings at www.chelseawakefield.com. Her most recent book, The Labyrinth of Love, is now available from your local bookstore or online book-sellers. ~~~~~~~~~~~ One of the aspects of the Developmental Model that sets it apart from other models of couples therapy, is its strong emphasis on both personal and interpersonal growth as essential for a successful relationship.… Read more...

Surprising marriage lesson from a palm tree climber – it’s not pruning

I am writing from Hawaii, Ellyn’s and my favorite place to reorganize, reprioritize, and regenerate. I was walking back to our unit and stopped to watch a gardener climb a very tall and quite thin palm tree to prune some dying branches at the top. He used spikes on his shoes and a rope around the tree trunk.  He climbed and cut gracefully and fearlessly with a very sharp machete.   When he returned to terra firma, I asked him how long it took to become fearless in this job. “Three months.” Then I asked if anyone taught him. “No, I learned it myself.” Like most curious folks, I had to ask how he did this. He said, “When I started climbing, I could not look down or my legs would begin shaking.… Read more...

What Is Your Love Language?

Has it ever dawned on you that your partner may not experience love the same way you do? If you have been together a while, you may have figured this out by now. Lest there be any doubt, a great question to ask your partner is, what’s your love language? When you ask about love languages, you might get a deer in the headlights look, so be prepared to explain what you mean. The term “love language” is a phrase first coined by Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book called The Five Love Languages. In the book, Dr. Chapman describes how he realized that the clients in his marriage counseling practice were often at odds in their relationships not because they didn’t love each other or weren’t trying, but because they expressed and experienced love for each other differently.… Read more...

Building Your Child’s Confidence: Creative Determination

  “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” –  Babe Ruth  My uncle Neil was born and raised to be a rancher. He spent his entire life ranching in Afton, Wyoming. Like all successful ranchers, he worked hard and he worked long hours and taught his six children how to do the same. The boys were up early to milk the cows and feed the stock, and in the summer, they cut, baled, hauled, and stacked hay. The girls also had their chores, which kept them as busy as their brothers: weeding the garden, gathering eggs, hanging out the wash, and cooking the meals it took to keep them all fed. Uncle Neil was a respected man, known in the community as friendly and helpful to others.… Read more...

What Would You March For?

Dateline Hong Kong August 18, 2019 Protestor March, 5:03 PM I am standing in front of a mall in the middle of Hong Kong as thousands of marchers parade by me in the rain. No violence. No threats. No police brutality. Some chants in Chinese but not too much or too loud. Some marchers are couples holding hands. Some couples are pushing strollers with babies and toddlers getting an early taste of what it means to march for freedom. They walk past me by the thousands. It seems like a never-ending stream of peacefully moving humanity. So far this parade has been 45–minutes long and still no end to it. Watching this flow of frustrated freedom seekers, I feel as safe as I would on Sunday afternoon in quiet Menlo Park, California. … 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...

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. We head for these cookies when we feel tired, mad, sad, glad or scared. These “cookies” are labeled… Procrastination Sloth Gluttony Booze Drugs Greed Anger Fighting back Withdrawing Retreating into our self-protective bubble Whining Blaming Grumpiness Irritability These “cookies” can become as addictive as the originals are.… 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 . . .

From 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...

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.