Peter Pearson

Picture an attractive pond in a park or resort garden. It’s surrounded by beautiful little trees and bushes. Maybe there’s a bridge. And always koi, those bright ornamental fish that come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Even though I don’t know you, I’m willing to make an imaginary wager that your marriage is like a koi fish.

I have seen this parallel repeatedly in my thirty-two years specializing in couple’s therapy.

Here’s the little known fact about koi fish. They grow to the size of their environment.

Put a koi fish in a small tank and it will not outgrow it. Move it to a larger tank and it will get bigger and stronger. Move it to a pond and it can grow to two feet or more, with sufficient nutrients.

Marriages that are filled with power struggles, criticism, distancing and lack of collaboration will absolutely limit the emotional growth of each person.

Couples counseling can really help couples add space and nutrients to their marriage, especially as partners begin to function as a team.

When you begin to function as a team you EACH begin to think, “What can I do to contribute to making our roles and responsibilities go more smoothly and collaboratively?” Or, “What can I do to enhance the quality of our emotional and physical connections?”

You probably learned the acronym for TEAM in middle school. It takes on new meaning in a marriage: Together Each Accomplishes More.

When we don’t think as a team, our knee-jerk reflex is, “I’m not getting my needs met so my partner has to do better.” When both partners think like this they are just like two koi fish living in a very small tank.

The divorce rate of 50% would suggest there are a lot of koi fish couples in this country.

If you are ready for a bigger pond, try thinking about a TEAM approach.


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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.

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debbie hecker
debbie hecker
5 years ago


Love this blog. It is so “Petesque,” – creative, clever, full of great information. I can see the wheels in your head spinning, spinning, spinning.

I miss you guys. Best, Deb

5 years ago

Can you comment on how a couple where infidelity happened can use this approach. Especially when the betrayed partner feels as if they aren’t getting their needs met for healing and reconciliation, how can that person be willing to put more effort into enhancing the quality of the relationship when they have been so deeply violated and the cheating partner down’t take full responsibility.

Sue Diamond Potts
Sue Diamond Potts
5 years ago

What a great analogy for ‘growing’ a relationship – to be as happy and fulfilling as both are willing to allow. It’s really important for all of us to recognize when the pool of our marriage is too small, there is no one to blame but ourselves. More importantly, growth is possible and it will take new skills and even, professional guidance. I love this blog – the simplicity of it is so profound. Thank you.

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