Conflict Avoidant Couple

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...

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. It is extremely difficult for him to recognize that she has her own struggles separate from him.… 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...