Helping Fighting Couples

Video: Helping couples see the best in each other

It’s like watching a storm roll in. One moment, everything seems fine. Then the couple you’re working with hits a stressful point. Tensions rise. Voices, too. Or maybe a hostile silence falls over the room.

Whatever the pattern, the result is the same. As the conversation turns bitter, progress stalls — and you find yourself searching for a solution.

When partners lose sight of one another

If this couple’s anger seems like a blind force, this might be exactly the point. Trauma from earlier relationships often makes it impossible for them to see each other clearly in the moment.

Partners who lived with emotional abuse and neglect, especially in childhood, may lack any model of constancy and love. They will tend to project the worst qualities of their abusers onto their present partners, which can launch them into fight, flight, or freeze mode.

When this happens, we need to guide them gently back into the present. Even though they’re feeling scared, can they acknowledge the loving, positive things they know about each other?

Small, memorable changes that move couples forward

Fortunately, there are practical techniques for helping couples see and acknowledge the good in one another. As their therapist, you can help them create memorable moments where small but significant changes happen. In noticing these behavioral shifts, you reinforce the repeatable steps that move them toward trust, intimacy, and mutual respect.

We had a great conversation about these patterns in a recent couples therapy training session. Here’s a 4-minute video clip that captures some of the discussion tips and insights you can use in your practice.

Let me know what you think of these suggestions. As always, my goal is to offer meaningful support and advice that will help you feel more competent.

Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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Novia
Novia
7 months ago

insightful 3+ minutes. thank you.

Kay
Kay
7 months ago

Thank you. Please offer ways to help client who holds on to the painful events of the past understand that relentlessness List. And how to stop the pattern of going back

Elise Bon-Rudin
Elise Bon-Rudin
7 months ago

“Insufficient libidinal object constancy” – Wow! It was very good to hear this concept from object relations (if I remember correctly) flow easily in Ellen’s analysis. Marvelous. Thank you.

Namita ( Corinne)
7 months ago

Gently guiding them back to the present during the session and helping them find ways to do so outside the session. My challenge is often how they integrate the experience ( repeatable steps) during the session into moments of challenge outside the office.

Dr. Jose A Gonzalez LMHC

If you go deeper in your encounters you will be aware that it is your personality what works.

Joy Zeglinski
Joy Zeglinski
7 months ago

Love the little sound bites. Thank you.

Joan Crimmins
Joan Crimmins
7 months ago

Thank you for sharing this. I have a tough couple right now, so every little bit helps.

Ruth
Ruth
7 months ago

Very useful and inspiring. Thanks!

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