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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...

Building a Foundation for Working with Highly Distressed Couples

When working with a couple that’s in deep distress, it can be a challenge to get each partner to look at his or her own role in the problems. More often than not, both partners blame and try to make the case that the other is at fault. What neither partner wants is for you to expose their vulnerability. I have an example from nature that illustrates what this looks like in couples’ therapy. It’s about the killdeer – a bird that lays its eggs on the ground. When a fox or a predator gets close to the nest, the momma bird jumps up and spreads her wings wide to attract attention. Then the bird drops one of its wings to the ground as though injured.… Read more...

Working with Partners Who Aren’t Equally Committed to Their Relationship

In a recent blog post I outlined some of the ways I work with couples who are caught in patterns of externalization and blame in their relationships. If you missed it, you can check it out here. In that blog post I presented some ideas for pushing the growth edge in these partners. I ended with the question, “But what if you’re beginning to sense that one of the partners isn’t as invested in this process as the other?” If you’ve been working with couples for any length of time, you’ve likely seen instances where one partner doesn’t seem as invested in the relationship as the other. For example, let’s say that you’ve been working with a couple and given them an assignment to come up with a plan for spending more time together.… Read more...

Intimacy Avoidance Comes with Externalization and Blame

  In spring of 2018 I wrote a blog post about the cycle of externalization and blame. This dynamic is a familiar one for couples therapists because so many of the couples who come to see us organize their relationship issues around external symptoms or problems. How many times have you heard complaints like these? “He drinks too much.” “She spends too much money.” “He never makes time for me and the kids.” “She treats her parents like royalty and me like dirt.” For people in discomfort about their relationship, it’s much easier to deflect responsibility and attention from themselves and blame their partner than it is to self-reflect.… Read more...

6 Steps to Developing Leadership in Couples Therapy

If I could recommend just one skill for you to develop to become a successful couples therapist, it would be leadership. Leadership is the number one skill that gets your work off to a strong start and allows you to manage almost anything in your office. However, you can’t be a strong leader if you don’t know where you are going, and you are just reacting to your clients. There are so many things that can go haywire with two clients in the room and so much damage that can be done if things go badly. Couples therapy requires a different level of leadership than individual therapy so I thought I’d share with you the 6 primary characteristics that the Developmental Model recommends for your leadership right from the beginning.… Read more...