Hostile Angry Couple

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...

Getting Started: Disrupting the Cycle of Externalization and Blame

Many of the couples who come to see us are stuck organizing their complaints around an external symptom or problem. It’s easier for them and preserves individual self-esteem when partners deflect the focus away from themselves and place blame on the other partner for problems in their relationship. Surely you’ve heard examples such as “He drinks too much. She always puts her work before me. His clutter drives me crazy.” And when externalizing has become entrenched, it can be a challenge for you to shed light on each partner’s role and move them toward increased differentiation. So how do you disrupt this gridlock and help each partner create more of an internal locus of control?… Read more...

10 Skills for Early Sessions

Each year I mentor a small group of therapists to help them set goals for their business and clinical skills. I often ask them to assess themselves by being brutally honest about their ability on a variety of criteria that I believe make for strength and effectiveness as a couples therapist. I am including some of these here so you too can assess yourself. Couples Therapist Self­-Assessment First, read the following statements and respond with a simple yes or no. Later, come back and use a 1­-7 on a continuum from very strong to very weak. Early Sessions with Couples: __ I have a plan when I talk to potential clients on the telephone.… Read more...

Losing Control: When Couples Fight

control-imageIt is very common for angry partners to come in saying they had a great big fight during the week and they want to talk about it. Sometimes they’ll even call you to request an emergency session. At that moment they are like a powder keg in search of a match. Don’t light the fuse!… Read more...

Losing Control: When Couples Sessions Spin Out of Control

control-imagePlease think about a time when you lost control of a session. Were you too caught up in your own discomfort, anxiety, or discouragement to contemplate specifically how it happened?… Read more...

Clinical Example: Transcript of a Hostile Angry Couple

Young Couple Having Argument At Home   In my last blog post, I gave a list of practical suggestions to support your work with hostile angry couples.  To end my series on working with hostile angry couples, I offer you a transcript that demonstrates the last two principles that were on that list. These were my last two suggestions on that list: … Read more...

Goals of Early Therapy with Hostile Angry Couples

Young Couple Having Argument At HomeGoal Setting is always helpful to drive progress in couples therapy, and with hostile angry couples the use of goal setting in early therapy is particularly important. Goals will help you focus the session even when partners arrive for their appointment reverberating from their last fight – or launch into a new one!… Read more...

First of Four-Part Series: Challenges of Hostile Angry Couples

Young Couple Having Argument At HomeI consult on so many cases where therapists are struggling to be effective leaders with hostile angry couples, I know it is a widespread problem. The more disorganized a couple is and the more hostility there is, the more difficult it’s going to be for you to structure sessions and arrive at effective goals for each session.… Read more...

A Disarming Confrontation in Couples Therapy

Choice Traffic SignA very distressed, acrimonious couple comes to see you for couples therapy. They’ve done significant damage to each other over the years. It seems they will fight about anything and you feel like you are getting nowhere. All your best efforts are thwarted. You say to them, “I’m sorry to give you some bad news. You are faced with two ugly choices. This is probably not what you want to hear. Yet, it is your current reality.”… Read more...

Self-Reflection in Chronically Angry Couples

  This month I’m writing about the chronically angry couple. These couples often wait too long to go to therapy or may have tried therapy with a therapist who did not provide enough structure for them. At the beginning, these couples need structure and they need for the therapist to be especially clear about the direction of their work. Chronically angry couples have several traits in common: 1. Frequent, rapid escalation of hostility (either overtly or passive-aggressively) 2. High demand for intimacy without the developmental capacity to support the demand 3. Minimal self responsibility paired with an avoidance of vulnerability 4.… Read more...
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