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.

Endurance Rides and Relationships

  Our daughter Molly has taken up endurance horseback riding. Two years ago, she rode 600 miles across Mongolia in 9 days. Now she is training for the Tevis Cup, a 24-hour 100 miler from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, CA in July.  This is a recent passion for her, although she has loved horses since she was six. Pete and I asked her why she loves these long, draining, intense rides. To answer us, she sent an article by Jody Buttram that helped capture Molly’ feelings for Rocky(her horse teammate) and the race. Buttram wrote the article to help folks understand the true endurance distance rider. When I read it, I thought, “Isn’t this something all couples should hear when they get married?”  … Read more...

Are You Working Harder Than Your Clients?

Over the years, I’ve talked with many therapists who told me they feel exhausted after seeing certain couples. They describe the sensation of dragging partners along a path that might lead to change, only to find that, in the very next session, they’re starting all over again.  Why and how does this happen? And how can you avoid falling into the trap of overworking with passive or disengaged clients? How do you reset when clients magically hope you’ll do all the work for them?  The assumptions we make – and some habits to break  In a recent training session, a therapist raised the question about how to get unstuck when a husband and wife seemed to be leading her in circles. … Read more...

Couples Who Avoid Conflict, Part 2: Principles & Techniques

  In my last post, I shared 4 key insights that can help you lay the groundwork for counseling couples who shy away from conflict.  In looking at the challenges posed by this pattern, it’s clear that conflict avoidance reveals itself in many ways. Your first clue may be the long, tense silences that follow when you pose honest questions. Or the fact that one partner tends to dominate the conversation, offering lengthy explanations that gloss over the issues you’re trying to explore.  Whatever pattern you’re seeing, you will benefit from having a strong strategy that addresses the couple’s unique situation and helps them move forward. … Read more...

Understanding the Dangers of Conflict Avoidance

  You’ve seen the pattern before. A couple comes to you, seeking help with tension that they just can’t understand or resolve. As you’re working to build openness and trust with them, you begin to notice that one or both partners react strongly when there’s the slightest hint of difference or disagreement.  What happens next may vary widely. Perhaps one partner withdraws from the conversation, almost seeming to disappear from the room, while the other rattles on. Or both fall silent, shooting glances at you as if to ask, “Where do we go from here?”  This is a well-worn path, and every couples therapist must develop a set of sound strategies for helping partners who withdraw or disengage when intensity or conflict arise.… Read more...

A Couples Therapy Session After Infidelity: Transcript of a Role-play, Part Two

I’ve been highlighting ways I’ve used Initiator-Inquirer when working with couples who have experienced infidelity. Recently I shared a role play with a couple we called Logan and Marta. I demonstrated how I might work with Marta, who had been cheated on in the Initiator role. You can find that exchange right here. Now today, I’m going to shift to the part of the role play demonstrating how I might work with the other partner, Logan, in his role as the Inquirer. I began by feeding him a question:   Ellyn:Can you ask her to tell you what it's like to be tracking you? Logan:Can you tell me what it's like to be tracking me?… Read more...

A Couples Therapy Session After Infidelity: Transcript of a Role-play

Infidelity can be devastating to a couple’s relationship. Even before we walk into the room and learn anything about the couple, we can be sure the crisis has them deeply unsettled. In my last blog post, I gave an overview of some of the issues you are likely to confront when working with a case like this. If you missed it, you can find it right here. Many times, a couple will want to rush you, or you may want to rush yourself to move faster than a couple is ready. So, in your work, it’s crucial to slow things down. One way to slow things down is to use the Initiator-Inquirer process with them. The Initiator-Inquirer is a powerful exercise that gives partners specific skills to learn and apply so they can manage their own emotional volatility during tense discussions.… Read more...

Using a Developmental Approach and the Initiator-Inquirer Process with Cases of Infidelity

Few situations are as painful for a couple, and as difficult for a couples’ therapist to work through as the experience of infidelity. The bottom-line questions you’ll inevitably be working with include: What is trust? Can it be restored? If so, how is it going to be restored? Who gets to define trust, and how does all of this happen? As I’ve worked with couples around this issue, I’ve seen several specific challenges that typically come up. I thought it could be useful to you in your work if I outlined some of the important steps that are involved after infidelity is revealed. Stage 1: Stabilize the Conflict For many partners, betrayal is likely one of the worst experiences they encounter.… Read more...

Clinical Transcript Reveals Symbiotic Yearnings and Hidden Barriers to Commitment

Therapists who train with me know that many couples who come to therapy are stuck in symbiotic patterns that impede the growth of each partner and also impede the tremendous growth potential that exists in any committed relationship. Today I want to share with you a transcript of a couple where the female partner’s symbiotic yearnings have been hidden. In past sessions, the male partner has been attentive to her requests. She has frequently danced away from what matters to him. This couple is trying to decide whether or not to get married. The reason they are stuck has been hidden. The female partner presents as the more mature grounded partner.… Read more...

Is Confrontation Important in Couples Therapy?

Confrontation is much more of an art than a science, especially in the intricacy of couples therapy. What comes to mind when you think about confrontation in couples therapy?  Do you confront a lot?  Or rarely?   Does thinking of doing some specific confrontations make you feel anxious?  Or, perhaps creating a well-crafted confrontation leaves you feeling enthusiastic and excited? Do you dread confronting an angry partner for fear that you will be attacked or aggressively challenged?  Do you worry that an untimely or poorly worded confrontation will result in a permanent rupture or at least a significant disconnection in a relationship that you have carefully built? … Read more...

This Book and Comedy Show Hit Close to Home

Today’s blog is meant to bring some smiles your way! It’s about a video and book that are guaranteed to make you laugh – and help your clients, too. It is a poignant look into a husband and wife’s journey when a new baby comes. The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad, by Mike Birbiglia takes you on an emotional ride. After all, when one spouse wants kids and the other doesn’t, what could possibly go wrong? Mike started with a strong skepticism of children. He said, “I’ve lost a lot of great friends to kids.” His book begins, “I live in Brooklyn with my wife, Jen, and our cat, Mazzy, and we have long decided that we are not going to have kids.”… Read more...