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.

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...

Working with The Brilliant Skeptic or Paranoid Adaptation

A while ago I was thinking about specific challenges that can come up in our work with couples – ones that may require us to go “off script” and take a more nuanced approach to therapy. In particular, I’ve been thinking about cases where at least one partner is entrenched in one personality adaptation. So I wrote a blog post about the work of Paul Ware, MD, and Vann Joines, PhD, in defining six specific personality adaptations and the 3-door model that allows us to connect with clients according to their personality adaptation type. With this awareness we want to start connecting with clients through their open door.… Read more...

6 Personality Adaptations and 3 Doors: a model for knowing where to connect with your clients

  What can we do when partners show resistance to our interventions? This is a question that came up recently in my online training group, when a therapist presented a case with several thorny challenges. Her questions led me to remember a set of concepts I learned early in my career. These ideas came originally from Dr. Paul Ware, the psychiatrist who first introduced me to Pete! So of course Dr. Ware’s concepts hold special meaning for me! Later these ideas were explored in Personality Adaptations: A New Guide to Human Understanding in Psychotherapy and Counseling by Vann Joines and Ian Stewart.… Read more...
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