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Interesting Ideas from Recent Conferences

In years past, I have shared valuable ideas I’ve heard while attending major conferences, either as a speaker or guest. With so many virtual meetings taking place over the past several months, I’ve had the chance to gather many useful thoughts from a wide range of presenters. I hope these short summaries capture your interest and even stimulate your thinking as they did for me. From attorney and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy Stevenson’s talk to therapists was designed to stimulate action. He stressed how in the United States, we continue to accept the unacceptable. We must push back against the narratives of fear and anger that surround race relations in the U.S.… 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...

Endurance Rides and Relationships

  Our daughter Molly has taken up endurance horseback riding. Two years ago, she rode 600 miles across Mongolia in 9 days. Now she is training for the Tevis Cup, a 24-hour 100 miler from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, CA in July.  This is a recent passion for her, although she has loved horses since she was six. Pete and I asked her why she loves these long, draining, intense rides. To answer us, she sent an article by Jody Buttram that helped capture Molly’ feelings for Rocky(her horse teammate) and the race. Buttram wrote the article to help folks understand the true endurance distance rider. When I read it, I thought, “Isn’t this something all couples should hear when they get married?”  … Read more...

A Couples Therapy Session After Infidelity: Transcript of a Role-play, Part Two

I’ve been highlighting ways I’ve used Initiator-Inquirer when working with couples who have experienced infidelity. Recently I shared a role play with a couple we called Logan and Marta. I demonstrated how I might work with Marta, who had been cheated on in the Initiator role. You can find that exchange right here. Now today, I’m going to shift to the part of the role play demonstrating how I might work with the other partner, Logan, in his role as the Inquirer. I began by feeding him a question:   Ellyn:Can you ask her to tell you what it's like to be tracking you? Logan:Can you tell me what it's like to be tracking me?… Read more...

A Couples Therapy Session After Infidelity: Transcript of a Role-play

Infidelity can be devastating to a couple’s relationship. Even before we walk into the room and learn anything about the couple, we can be sure the crisis has them deeply unsettled. In my last blog post, I gave an overview of some of the issues you are likely to confront when working with a case like this. If you missed it, you can find it right here. Many times, a couple will want to rush you, or you may want to rush yourself to move faster than a couple is ready. So, in your work, it’s crucial to slow things down. One way to slow things down is to use the Initiator-Inquirer process with them. The Initiator-Inquirer is a powerful exercise that gives partners specific skills to learn and apply so they can manage their own emotional volatility during tense discussions.… 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...

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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...

Sharing Inspiration from my Volunteer Work

  There’s a scene in The Little Mermaid after Ariel trades her voice for legs and makes it to land to have dinner in Eric’s palace. New to the human world, she picks up a fork – and starts brushing her hair with it at the table. The audience laughs, knowing surely this is not what a fork is for! This whimsical and lighthearted scene may seem fit for just Disney movie fantasy, but I can tell you it also rings true for a group of kids in Africa. Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working in resettled refugee communities in Kenya. With the organization Village Impact [formerly called World Teacher Aid], Pete and I and our daughter Molly have helped build 14 schools including 120 classrooms and helped educate over 5,000 students. … Read more...