Therapists’ Blog

Welcome to our Therapists’ Blog, where we post insights and innovative techniques for couples therapists. Just scan and click to read the articles below, choose by category on the bottom right, or use the search box above. You can also sign up to receive these by email by providing your name and email address in the boxes to the right.

Choice Points in Disrupting Symbiosis in Conflict-Avoidant Couples: Moving These Couples Forward

When you are working with a conflict-avoiding couple, it is especially difficult to create positive forward moving momentum. These couples merge boundaries often and it can be a challenge to disrupt the status quo. If you search for openings in the issues they present, you will find choice points that enable you to disrupt their symbiosis. First, start by supporting their interactions that are truly positive and that are part of a healthy relationship. This is important because, once you start disrupting their symbiosis, it will be scary for them. So, the more they sense that you're in their corner – with them as a couple and as individuals – the safer they're going to feel, and the more able they will be able to risk new behavior.… Read more...

What Would You March For?

Dateline Hong Kong August 18, 2019 Protestor March, 5:03 PM I am standing in front of a mall in the middle of Hong Kong as thousands of marchers parade by me in the rain. No violence. No threats. No police brutality. Some chants in Chinese but not too much or too loud. Some marchers are couples holding hands. Some couples are pushing strollers with babies and toddlers getting an early taste of what it means to march for freedom. They walk past me by the thousands. It seems like a never-ending stream of peacefully moving humanity. So far this parade has been 45–minutes long and still no end to it. Watching this flow of frustrated freedom seekers, I feel as safe as I would on Sunday afternoon in quiet Menlo Park, California. … Read more...

Using Initiator-Inquirer to Support Growth in Couples

One of the reasons I find the Initiator-Inquirer process especially valuable in our work with couples is that it exposes so much about where they are developmentally. It helps us see the cutting edge of their development and reveals ways we can challenge each of them to work at their growth edges. Now if you are unfamiliar with the Initiator-Inquirer Process, you can find out more about it here. As you use this process, it’s important to learn how to look at what your clients’ edges are. What are the places where they fall apart with each other when you’re not around? For example, I often see couples who are stuck because they lack the self-capacity to allow one of the partners to come forward.… Read more...

Getting Started with an Enmeshed Couple Moving to Early Differentiation

Couples who marry young often establish enmeshed relationships that inhibit individual growth. They have not had the opportunity to mature and do much differentiation work prior to getting married. When partners organize their relationships in an enmeshed way, their own desires are usually obscured and are often presented in terms of: “We are alike in so many ways.” There’s very little self-definition or ability to articulate individual desires. Everything is framed in terms of “we” or “us.” When they arrive for therapy, they may have one partner still trying very hard to maintain symbiosis, and the other partner making tentative forays out of it.… Read more...

Working with Partners Who Aren’t Equally Committed to Their Relationship

In a recent blog post I outlined some of the ways I work with couples who are caught in patterns of externalization and blame in their relationships. If you missed it, you can check it out here. In that blog post I presented some ideas for pushing the growth edge in these partners. I ended with the question, “But what if you’re beginning to sense that one of the partners isn’t as invested in this process as the other?” If you’ve been working with couples for any length of time, you’ve likely seen instances where one partner doesn’t seem as invested in the relationship as the other. For example, let’s say that you’ve been working with a couple and given them an assignment to come up with a plan for spending more time together.… Read more...

Intimacy Avoidance Comes with Externalization and Blame

  In spring of 2018 I wrote a blog post about the cycle of externalization and blame. This dynamic is a familiar one for couples therapists because so many of the couples who come to see us organize their relationship issues around external symptoms or problems. How many times have you heard complaints like these? “He drinks too much.” “She spends too much money.” “He never makes time for me and the kids.” “She treats her parents like royalty and me like dirt.” For people in discomfort about their relationship, it’s much easier to deflect responsibility and attention from themselves and blame their partner than it is to self-reflect.… Read more...

A Powerful Exercise to Promote the Work of Differentiation in Couples

The differentiation stage is, by far, the most difficult for many couples. Helping each partner set self-focused autonomous goals is crucial to their growth as individuals and to push the development of the couple. In my last blog post, I gave you a glimpse into how I work with couples to tease apart individual goals when their issues are highly entangled and enmeshed. If you missed it, you can find it here. But sometimes, you as the therapist will assess that a couple’s level of differentiation is so low that you’re going to have to start with them at a very basic, fundamental level. When a couple operates with each other almost totally out of reactivity, it takes a fair amount of psychoeducation to help them recognize emotions and pay attention to what’s going on in their body.… Read more...

A Dialogue for Individual Goal-Setting with Conflict-Avoidant Couples

When working with couples within The Developmental Model, it’s crucial to help partners set self-focused, individual goals to support the process of differentiation. This presents more of a challenge with some couples than with others. I’m thinking in particular about conflict-avoidant couples. These are couples who likely have developed well-established patterns of shying away from conflict. They may have little or no recognition of their differences. A couple like this can merge and enmesh their issues very quickly and easily. It can be a challenge to tease out what might make a difference if each of them were to get focused on themselves.… Read more...

The Couples Conference 2019

This year’s Couples Conference explored 5 major models of couples therapy. These included PACT, Gottman, EFT, Relational Life and the Developmental Model. I had the honor of opening the conference, and I would like to share with you the poem I wrote to highlight five different approaches to couples therapy that have advanced our field. I was inspired by the poem, “The Blind Man and The Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe, which begins like this:   It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.… Read more...

Helping couples realize it takes two to manage long-standing pain

Anxiety, anger, and jealousy are emotions I see often in many of the couples I have worked with over the years, and I’m sure it’s no different in your practice. Untangling the roots of these feelings and helping couples adopt strategies to deal with them becomes a central challenge for you. Recently my therapists’ online training group discussed a case where insecurity, jealousy, and conflict were quickly taking over a young couple’s relationship. Partners Jane and Bob had a history of feeling rejected and unloved. Life had handed them interlocking scripts, but each partner dealt with these feelings in a unique way.… Read more...
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