Your Marriage Is Like a Koi Fish

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.

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debbie hecker
debbie hecker


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


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

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.

Peter Pearson, Ph.D.

Dr. 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, Dr. 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.”

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