Conflict Avoidant Couple

Tough Couple Challenge #1: Do You Take On Too Much Responsibility?

A few weeks ago, my husband and Couples Institute co-founder Peter Pearson and I were talking with fellow therapists about a pattern we’ve all fallen into at one time or another. We’re working with two partners who seem hopelessly stalled. One or both have such deep defenses that we feel ourselves walking in circles, session after session. Conversations may be laced with denial, blame, and resentment, yet neither partner will look deeper at the possible causes. Or things might bounce along brightly, suggesting the denial that often feels like sunshine over troubled waters. Over time, we begin to feel frustration, feeling the urge to do something, anything to break the deadlock.… 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...

Peace at Any Price: The Conflict Avoidant Couple

When couples are in the symbiotic-symbiotic stage of their relationship, it’s often characterized by “peace at any price.” While minimizing differences and building a strong bond early in the relationship can help couples weather the storm later, you don’t want them getting stuck in this stage. If they do, they can be arrested in a conflict avoidant pattern. In moving couples from the discomfort of being alone, clinging to constant togetherness, or fights around times of separateness, you can help them self-soothe and maintain attachment through their feelings of frustration and disappointment. Take a look at the handout below, taken from the In Quest of the Mythical Mate kit.… Read more...

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...

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...

Working with Couples Who Are Stuck – How The Developmental Model Helps You

As relationships grow and develop, we often see couples who have gotten stuck in a particular developmental stage. In a previous blog post, I outlined what I see as the normal, predictable stages of couples relationships development. If you missed it, you can check it out here. When you approach couples therapy from a developmental framework, you can assess and diagnose each partner’s developmental stage and use stage-specific interventions to help both move into the next stage. In my experience, I often see couples get stuck in the very first stage of development in one of two ways: 1. Hostile-angry Couples These are couples whose relationship is characterized by tremendous hostility and competition and, in the worst cases, domestic violence.… 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...

Building Effective Collaboration with a Highly Anxious Client

couples in therapy sessionA common scenario that many of us see in our practices is the over-functioning wife with the anxious-avoidant husband. He is a highly anxious procrastinator  and is often not accountable for what he says he will do.… Read more...

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.