Conflict Avoidant Couple

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...

How do you create change with conflict-avoidant partners?

conflict-avoidant couple with therapist Ask Ellyn #1: I find conflict-avoidant couples more challenging than hostile couples. At least the angry couples have a lot of energy. How do you create change with conflict-avoidant partners?  … 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...

Shifting Relationship Impasses, Part Four

conflict avoidant couple at impasseTranslating Internal Conflicts as an Emotional Bridge Before sharing the final part of this transcript from a session on shifting relationship impasses, I want to answer the questions I asked you last month. What are some of the wife’s struggles?   As I listened to the wife, I was aware that she drives herself very hard. She has a lot of expectations of perfection. She must do all her tasks well. It is rare she feels any break from multiple responsibilities and from being parental at home. Performance dominates her life. How is the husband doing with my assists? Her husband is struggling in this dialogue.… Read more...

Conflict Avoidance: Shifting Relationship Impasses, Part 3

Helping partners develop clearer separation between self and other This is the third part of a series in which I have shared sections of a session on shifting relationship impasses in a couple with conflict avoidance and encouraged comments and questions from readers. Thank you to those of you who have participated in our dialog on the blog. In this portion of the session, because the wife has taken more of a risk, I decide to stay with helping her express more while simultaneously seeing if her husband can get any separation from her.  … Read more...

Conflict Avoidance: Shifting Relationship Impasses, Part 1

About a year ago, I wrote a series of newsletters dissecting one session with a particular couple. It seemed to motivate readers to exchange ideas on the blog. I’d like to revisit that format and ask you to think developmentally along with me, this time about shifting relationship impasses in a couple with the pattern of conflict avoidance.… Read more...

Overcoming Passivity and Passive-Aggressive Behavior

…in the Early Stages of Therapy Couples therapy has numerous challenges in the early sessions depending on the type of presenting problem. Our next few newsletters will focus on some unique challenges and what to do about them, beginning with passive behavior and passive-aggressive behavior. A common pattern of highly distressed relationships is each partner wants the other to change first. The complaining partner wants massive personality changes. The “request” is more or less stated as a demand or accusation, with no awareness of how much is being requested. When this happens, the pressure is on either you or the partner to do something to relieve the distress of the complainer.… Read more...

Challenging Communication with your Conflict Avoidant Couples

About two weeks ago late on a Monday afternoon, I sat in my office listening to a couple describe twenty years of conflict avoidance and intimacy avoidance.  Their communication was packed with vague unspecified references and their reported behavior was overflowing with examples of passivity. I thought, “This is going to be a challenging session. Do I have the energy for it? Am I up for the task? Will I be able to have an impact, to make a difference?” Some couples work very hard to avoid any intensity. They seek stability, security, and harmony. I know from experience that they do not change from insight.… Read more...

Conflict avoidance comes in many forms.

  Conflict avoidance comes in many forms. Do you recognize these? 1. Some couples avoid so many issues that you feel enormous tension just sitting in the room with them. For years they have shied away from discussing any issues that are potentially high-conflict. 2. These friendly conflict avoiders are warm, gracious and engaging. They just can’t bring any depth into their conversations. In fact, their shadow side is often completely denied. To avoid shame or humiliation, they won’t acknowledge negative feelings or impulses. 3. Passive-aggressive partners rarely set positive goals and won’t initiate much positive action.… Read more...
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