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.

What do you say when a couple wants to rehash a huge fight?

In our recent mini workshop, “What Do You Say When…?” we looked at what happens when a couple starts a session by dumping the fight of the week on you. They are feeling the raw pain of it. Here is one example of what you might say. Before we jump into discussing your fight, think of our time together today not as conflict resolution, but instead as a time to learn. You are here to learn from me and from each other. You’re here to learn about your emotional triggers. Solving this one fight won’t help you in the future. Instead you’re here to learn about what triggers you and your partner. You’re here to learn how to avoid triggering each other and what to do when you do trigger one another.… Read more...

What do you say when a client has been lying to you and their spouse for months?

Finding out that a client has been lying to you and their spouse about ongoing infidelity is very tricky. Suddenly what was already a difficult infidelity repair case gets a whole lot tougher.   For some therapists it is just more grist for the mill. For others, it forces us to think about our role as a therapist in this situation and whether we want to continue seeing the client. A couple named Sue and Joe initially came to therapy when Sue discovered Joe was sexting another woman. Joe totally denied anything beyond innocent texting and insisted he had stopped. Several months into therapy he was confronted with indisputable proof that he had been lying to his wife and to Pete.… Read more...

Quotable Moments From Recent Conferences

This spring I presented keynotes and workshops at The Couples Conference in Oakland and at a UCLA conference called Relationships and the Health-Promoting Power of Connection Across the Lifespan. Both events featured faculty that trained, enlightened and entertained participants. I’m still reviewing in my mind some of the great things I heard there. And I thought I’d share a few quotable moments. It’s impossible to paint a complete picture using just snippets, but I think you’ll agree that these are some memorable ideas and turns of phrase. I hope you enjoy them – and remember them when they might be helpful!… Read more...

Searching for Intimacy and Aliveness

Here is the transcript I promised you in my most recent blog post, “Moving Couples Through Defense and Ambivalence Toward Intimacy.”  In that blog post I said that when I hear clients “intellectualizing” a desire for intimacy, it’s an indicator that they’re in the “Adult-ego state,” and probably covering vulnerability and fear. This transcript demonstrates the Gestalt two-chair work that I discussed in that blog post. Two-chair work can be extremely helpful in identifying parts of the self that are blocked. Notice how difficult it is for Sue, the client, to feel her aliveness. Wanting it and experiencing it are two different things.… Read more...

Moving Couples Through Defense and Ambivalence Toward Intimacy

It’s easy for partners to say, “I want more intimacy” while having no idea what they mean and no history of expressing their desires to one another. They may be afraid to pursue what it is they really want. Or perhaps they don’t really know what it is. Clients often mask this ambivalence by talking intellectually about the issues that are getting in the way of closeness. Or they may complain, “There is never enough time for us.” To help deepen their connection, we often have to help each partner face their ambivalence and stand behind what they truly desire. When I sit in a session and hear an intellectual discussion of intimacy, I know the intellectualizing is often covering up something that’s painful or scary.… Read more...

Integrating Goals and Growth in Couples Therapy

The other day, a therapist in my Developmental Model training program asked me the following: “How do you integrate a couple’s goals for therapy with the specific developmental tasks that a couple needs to accomplish?” I want to be direct and collaborative about this with the couple. Once I get a sense of the stage, I want to involve them by giving information, by giving them feedback, by giving them a sense of where I see them stuck and where I believe they could move. For example, with a couple who are conflict-avoidant, I might talk to them about the cost of lost intimacy that occurs in conflict avoidant relationships.… Read more...

Getting Started: Disrupting the Cycle of Externalization and Blame

Many of the couples who come to see us are stuck organizing their complaints around an external symptom or problem. It’s easier for them and preserves individual self-esteem when partners deflect the focus away from themselves and place blame on the other partner for problems in their relationship. Surely you’ve heard examples such as “He drinks too much. She always puts her work before me. His clutter drives me crazy.” And when externalizing has become entrenched, it can be a challenge for you to shed light on each partner’s role and move them toward increased differentiation. So how do you disrupt this gridlock and help each partner create more of an internal locus of control?… Read more...

Utilize the Initiator-Inquirer Process in Couples Therapy

Stop Angry, Hostile Fighting and Immediately Structure More Effective Interaction Are you interested in a way to get out of the middle of a couple's conflicts and work with both partners at the same time? One important and powerful aspect of our Developmental Model is the Initiator-Inquirer process for effective communication. The guidelines are simple, but the process is rich, and quite revealing. It can be used with couples at all of the different developmental stages. In the “I-I” process, there are 2 roles, the Initiator and the Inquirer. The Initiator: Brings up only one issue/problem Uses “I messages” to describe thoughts and feelings about the issue Describes the issue without blame or name calling And most essentially is open to learning more about him/herself than was known before he/she started talking The Inquirer: Listens actively and recaps a description of the issue Asks questions to understand the partner's feelings, thoughts or desires Responds with empathy Continues with empathic responses until a soothing moment occurs for the Initiator At first glance the roles sound easy.… Read more...

Becoming Savannah: One Man’s Transgender Journey

I am sharing the story of Julie, a friend of mine. Daniel, her husband and the father of their daughter, transitioned two years ago to become a woman named Savannah. Australian TV produced a 2-part special on their story. It is a story of love and loss, of pain and freedom. I admire their ability to open themselves to sharing their story as a family with the world.   Part 1 runs 14 minutes and Part 2 runs just over 7 minutes. Of course I hope that seeing these videos will help you with any transitioning partners in your practice. But equally importantly, I share them with you because I believe that compassion and understanding helps the world in everyday life as much as in the therapy office.… Read more...

10 Skills for Early Sessions

Each year I mentor a small group of therapists to help them set goals for their business and clinical skills. I often ask them to assess themselves by being brutally honest about their ability on a variety of criteria that I believe make for strength and effectiveness as a couples therapist. I am including some of these here so you too can assess yourself. Couples Therapist Self­-Assessment First, read the following statements and respond with a simple yes or no. Later, come back and use a 1­-7 on a continuum from very strong to very weak. Early Sessions with Couples: __ I have a plan when I talk to potential clients on the telephone.… Read more...
Menu Title