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.

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

“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... ““I just want my partner to understand me.””

Taking the stress out of holiday preparation

Sisyphus 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... “Taking the stress out of holiday preparation”

Disaster Preparedness for Your Marriage

I live with my wife, Ellyn, over a major earthquake fault line in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s an area famous for past and inevitable future quake distasters. Geological experts predict another big one is coming. Be prepared. Ellyn and I have stored a few bottles of water and a camping stove. Do you think that is sufficient? Neither do the experts. They say if we retrofit the foundation of our home we can withstand almost all but the most severe shake rattle and rolls. Have we taken advantage of this knowledge? Or do we wait until disaster hits with the violence that could wreck our lives for years. We wait.… Read more... “Disaster Preparedness for Your Marriage”

Is there a corpse in your living room?

Realtors and carpenters alike say that when a couple moves to a new house, they’ll see things that could use some fixing up. The carpenters and realtors also say the couple has about six months to take action on the repairs. After that the repairs fade into oblivion even though they continue to get worse over time. One realtor said to me, “There could be a corpse in the living room, but if they don’t get rid of it in six months they will just keep stepping over it.” Humans have a natural ability to adjust to some pretty bad situations. What's the lesson for the first six months of marriage, or for the first few months after a big change in your relationship?… Read more... “Is there a corpse in your living room?”

What if your spouse said this on your honeymoon?

“Honey, I’ve been thinking. Nobody who says, ‘I do’ ever thinks they will split up. Yet 50% of marriages fall off the cliff. It seems like most of those marriages have a lot of arguments or unresolved conflicts. So here’s my proposal.… Read more... “What if your spouse said this on your honeymoon?”

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... “5 Ways Your Wedding Vows Will Save Your Marriage”

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

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... “What’s better than fixing your marriage?”

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... “Mother Nature’s cruel marriage trick”