Therapists’ Blog

Welcome to our Therapists’ Blog, where we post insights and innovative techniques for couples therapists. Just scan and click to read the articles below, choose by category on the bottom right, or use the search box above. You can also sign up to receive these by email by providing your name and email address in the boxes to the right.

Using a Developmental Approach and the Initiator-Inquirer Process with Cases of Infidelity

Few situations are as painful for a couple, and as difficult for a couples’ therapist to work through as the experience of infidelity. The bottom-line questions you’ll inevitably be working with include: What is trust? Can it be restored? If so, how is it going to be restored? Who gets to define trust, and how does all of this happen? As I’ve worked with couples around this issue, I’ve seen several specific challenges that typically come up. I thought it could be useful to you in your work if I outlined some of the important steps that are involved after infidelity is revealed. Stage 1: Stabilize the Conflict For many partners, betrayal is likely one of the worst experiences they encounter.… Read more...

Clinical Transcript Reveals Symbiotic Yearnings and Hidden Barriers to Commitment

Therapists who train with me know that many couples who come to therapy are stuck in symbiotic patterns that impede the growth of each partner and also impede the tremendous growth potential that exists in any committed relationship. Today I want to share with you a transcript of a couple where the female partner’s symbiotic yearnings have been hidden. In past sessions, the male partner has been attentive to her requests. She has frequently danced away from what matters to him. This couple is trying to decide whether or not to get married. The reason they are stuck has been hidden. The female partner presents as the more mature grounded partner.… Read more...

Is Confrontation Important in Couples Therapy?

Confrontation is much more of an art than a science, especially in the intricacy of couples therapy. What comes to mind when you think about confrontation in couples therapy?  Do you confront a lot?  Or rarely?   Does thinking of doing some specific confrontations make you feel anxious?  Or, perhaps creating a well-crafted confrontation leaves you feeling enthusiastic and excited? Do you dread confronting an angry partner for fear that you will be attacked or aggressively challenged?  Do you worry that an untimely or poorly worded confrontation will result in a permanent rupture or at least a significant disconnection in a relationship that you have carefully built? … Read more...

This Book and Comedy Show Hit Close to Home

Today’s blog is meant to bring some smiles your way! It’s about a video and book that are guaranteed to make you laugh – and help your clients, too. It is a poignant look into a husband and wife’s journey when a new baby comes. The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad, by Mike Birbiglia takes you on an emotional ride. After all, when one spouse wants kids and the other doesn’t, what could possibly go wrong? Mike started with a strong skepticism of children. He said, “I’ve lost a lot of great friends to kids.” His book begins, “I live in Brooklyn with my wife, Jen, and our cat, Mazzy, and we have long decided that we are not going to have kids.”… Read more...

I Can’t Live With You, I Can’t Live Without You: The Hostile-Dependent Couple

Earlier this week, we talked about how the symbiotic-symbiotic stage of a relationship can present as “peace at any price” conflict avoidance. This week, I’d like to take a look at when the symbiotic-symbiotic stage presents as “I can’t live with you, I can’t live without you,” hostile-dependent. These couples have a simultaneous fear of abandonment and engulfment. You’ll recognize this stage when partners have difficulty in identifying and articulating what they want, think, or feel. You’ll notice rapid escalation into regressive behavior. Or, since there is very limited capacity for autonomous interaction, as soon as one errs the other will punish or withhold.… 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...

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...

Cabin Fever Couples

Couples around the world are being impacted by this challenging time. According to surveys we conducted recently, here are just a few examples of how people are reacting to sheltering in place: Some love it. They enjoy having more time together and a slower pace. “We are really getting to know each other better.” New couples decided to quarantine together and moved in hardly knowing each other. They’re finding out quickly whether they’re compatible or not.  Divorce filings increased in Wuhan and New York. Domestic Violence hotlines are busier than ever. The rate of calls to the suicide and help hotline in Los Angeles went up more than 8,000%.… Read more...

Couples and Mental Health Challenges in the Era of COVID-19

Since the inception of The Couples Institute in 1984, we have been dedicated to supporting therapists and improving their expertise, no matter where they are in the world, or what’s going on in the world. So when the “shelter in place” order first hit us in March, we were anxious to find out how the news was affecting therapists and what we could do to help. We conducted a survey asking therapists about their biggest challenges and concerns, and we shared the results with those who answered.  And today we’re writing to report not only those initial survey results but also main points from a follow up survey we conducted more recently.… Read more...

The Timed Tantrum

My wife Ellyn and I are hard at work looking for new and innovative ways to support your clients in these trying times. We’ve asked therapists in our online training group what’s working for them, we surveyed thousands of therapists about their ideas, and we’ve asked friends what has helped them stay sane at home in quarantine with their partner. Recently a great idea came to us from our daughter, Molly. Her #Quaranteam is herself and her partner, Jake. To deal with the mounting stress and anxiety they’ve come up with something they call the Timed Tantrum.  It was born in reaction to one of them just walking into the room and spilling their doom and gloom dread all over the other one, while the other sat there in stunned silence over how dark the thoughts were.… Read more...