Differentiation

Trauma, Part 3: Bringing it Together

  Over the past two months, we’ve examined some key principles behind trauma-informed care for couples. Now it’s time to take a closer look at what these concepts look like in practice. We will explore a case brought to my training group by a seasoned therapist who has been trained in emotionally focused couples therapy and the Gottman method, as well as the Developmental Model. The couple she is treating offers us a chance to see the dynamics of trauma-informed care in action. What we know from the beginning The couple in this case present a complex set of issues. The female partner has a long history of difficulties with attachment.… Read more...

Couples and Trauma, Part 1: Understanding the Challenges

It’s been said that the past is never really dead. All our prior experiences have the power to shape our thoughts and perceptions – which in turn influences our closest relationships.  The couples you meet with every day are dealing with issues that took root long before they came to you. Yet even after you’ve uncovered signs of past trauma in one or both partners, it’s not always clear how to help them move forward. In some of the next posts, we’ll take a closer look at trauma and couples therapy, offering insights and techniques that will help you plan a highly effective course of treatment. How the past distorts the present  Trauma configurational reflex is a concept that explains how, as humans, we tend to configure what we see in front of us through the lens of our past experiences.… Read more...

Working with Couples Where One Partner Has A Severe Anxiety Disorder

When you apply the Developmental Model in your work with couples, sometimes you will encounter issues that add an extra layer of complexity. Examples of this include addiction or severe depression. An even more common example is when one partner struggles with a severe anxiety disorder. This month let’s look at some ways to begin a session when you encounter a couple with a very anxious partner. When one partner is extremely anxious, the process of defining what belongs to each partner can be frustrating and quite confusing. You will notice that if you are trying to encapsulate each person’s issues, the anxious partner will continue to circle back to anxious thoughts he or she has. … 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...

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 Closer Look at Early Differentiation

What is real developmental progress? How do we recognize and support it? Many couples in therapy are starting to move from the symbiotic stage into early differentiation. It’s not the kind of progress that comes with fanfare and celebration. In fact, the couples might not even recognize their progress. So it’s especially helpful for you to know exactly what’s happening in this stage. Let’s examine what is going on during early differentiation and look at how you can support your clients at this stage. Clients in early differentiation start to express their own thoughts, feelings, and desires more actively.… Read more...

A Developmental Model for Healthy Couples

Throughout my experience as a couples therapist, I’ve observed that couples relationships typically progress through 5 normal and predictable stages. In healthy relationships, a couple’s development closely parallels the stages of early childhood development originally conceptualized by Drs. Margaret Mahler and Fred Pine. In what ways are these developmental processes similar? And how does understanding the Developmental Model increase your effectiveness working with couples? The Beginning: Symbiosis Mahler describes a brief period of time in early childhood development during which a newborn becomes acclimated to being alive.… Read more...

Differentiation in Couples Relationships

  Recently I was interviewed by Diane Heller for her membership program. My topic was “Differentiation in Couples Relationships.” The hour-long interview covered many aspects of differentiation and why I am passionate about couples therapists really understanding the essence of differentiation. I share this with you because differentiation is what makes the difference between relationships that are stuck or boring and those that are alive and growing. I’ll be sharing some sections of the interview with you in my upcoming blogs. Today’s post introduces and discusses Differentiation in Couples Therapy.… Read more...

Are You Smarter Than a Fox?

killdeerHave you heard of the Killdeer? No, it’s not a mammal, but an amazing bird from the sandpiper family. The Killdeer do not build much of a nest. They lay their eggs in a nest on rocky ground areas. This makes them especially vulnerable to predators like foxes. So, the very smart killdeer developed special behavioral adaptations to protect the nest. What could this have to do with skillful confrontation in couples therapy?… Read more...

Losing Direction: When Intimacy Avoiders Lead You Astray

Direction-imagePartners who desperately want intimacy often push it away. It’s easy to lose direction with them. They demand more openness from their partners but then deflect, attack or give double messages when their partners are more open.… Read more...