Communication

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.

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...

“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 We Lie, and How to Get Back to the Truth

We’re going to talk about lies. Why do we lie – ever? And while it’s easy to perhaps scapegoat people who aren’t telling the whole truth – as with anything in relationship – it takes TWO to tango – so how does the person who’s being lied TO help create the dynamic? Most importantly – how do you bring your relationship back into balance, so that you can experience the power created by telling the truth and being in integrity. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson are two of the world’s leading experts on couples therapy and the topic of honesty in relationship, and their groundbreaking book – Tell me No Lies – explores exactly these questions about how to undo the damage caused by all lies – big and small – in relationships.… Read more...

5 Ways Your Wedding Vows Will Save Your Marriage

Did you think your wedding vows were just a check off the list for your wedding day preparations? Here's how they could save your marriage. 1. Wedding vows are an antidote to your worst self. You’re mean, picky, and you hide the truth.  All of us have done this as some point. And most of us are secretly ashamed of our worst selves. But there’s no way to act perfectly all the time. Why? Because Mother Nature gave our brain two different systems: The limbic system, aka the ‘lizard' brain, and the prefrontal cortex, aka the ‘visionary' brain. And every single day, you're in a constant struggle between the two.… Read more...

He could have told a lie, but he didn’t.

In a recent couples therapy session we were talking about Taylor’s memory. He forgot (yet again) what we had discussed the previous week. Interestingly, this is a common occurrence for many couples I see even though they are intelligent, high-achieving, and powerfully positioned in major corporations. It turned out his memory problem went beyond forgetting our meetings. And it bothered him a lot. We discussed the impact of his bad memory on his partner Ashley. She had to compensate in multiple ways. She would feel unimportant to him and react in pouty punishing ways which then triggered him. She then asked if the reason he didn’t ever call her during the day just to say “Hi” was because he couldn’t remember.… Read more...

What’s better than fixing your marriage?

What if a good marriage was not about focusing on fixing problems? What if a good marriage was not learning a new set of skills or tools? The most common requests couples who are starting therapy have is for communication skills and tools for a better relationship. This is an understandable but misguided request. What if couples were taught skills and tools, with penetrating insights on how to improve, but there was no underlying dedication to growth? What if a great marriage is about character? The sum of moral strength, fortitude, self-discipline, integrity, curiosity and caring. Tools are about using your mind.… Read more...

Mother Nature’s cruel marriage trick

Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on your marriage. Although your partner thinks you’re responsible for most of the troubles in your relationship, it’s not you. It’s Mother Nature.     The lizard brain Mother Nature gave each of you two brains inside your skull. One brain developed hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is primitive. It cares only about avoiding risk, pain and threats. It wants to feel fine fast. Among other things, this primitive brain governs four “F functions”: Fight Flight Feed Reproduction This brain is so primitive that it is sometimes called the reptilian or lizard brain.… Read more...

The affair, the discovery, the betrayer’s first task…

Many people say the worst marital crime is having an affair. It breaks the bonds of trust that were assumed at the beginning of your relationship. Imagine you are in a start up company that is struggling. Then it is discovered that your partner has been embezzling funds. You started your company together with optimism and hope. Of course you assumed you could trust each other, so you never dreamed of such a thing, let alone “planned” how you would handle it! The aftershocks and consequences of the discovery ripple through the entire business and partnership. I am reminded of Gandhi’s observation about trust: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything else he does becomes tainted.” You don’t know what is truth or deception when you talk to the embezzler.… Read more...
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