Michelle Wangler Joy, MFT

In my practice, I hear many couples say, ” I just want my partner to understand me.

Who wouldn't want that? You tell your partner things, they truly get what you say and you feel understood. And vice versa: your partner shares their deepest feelings and thoughts with you, you receive what they say, and everyone in the end feels understood – and loved.

It doesn't always work that way though, does it?

In my practice I’ve noticed many reasons why couples don't feel they have the understanding relationship that they desire. Or, why they don't feel as understood as they wish they did.

I have also found a powerful shift in thinking that can change this.

Imagine this conversation between two partners:

Partner A: What you just said felt offensive to me.
Partner B: Offensive?? You need to toughen up. I always have to walk on eggshells around you.

Those partners are on now their way down the rabbit hole where no one feels understood. These types of exchanges happen all the time.

But what if the partners acknowledged this simple principle:

One partner does not have to agree with what the other is saying.

Think about it. You probably disagree with some things your partner says. You are two different people, so you won't always see things the same way. That is not the problem. The problem is what you do with that difference.

You might argue that you are right. Or, you might cave in and agree with your partner in order to keep peace, at the risk of building resentment. Neither approach works very well.

Let’s imagine a different conversation using the principle above:

Partner A: What you just said felt offensive to me.
Partner B:  Oh? I didn't mean it to come across that way (representing Partner A’s truth).  Why did it feel that way to you? (eliciting Partner A's truth, and then holding it without defensiveness).

Here’s the bottom line. Your goal should be to represent your point of view, but to make room and hold your partner's point of view as well, even when you don't agree with it. This takes practice, skill, effort and motivation.

In return, you and your partner can reap some prolific rewards.

Learn to create and sustain a loving and understanding relationship with your partner. Join Michelle Joy, MFT, for the next Couples Communication Workshop on Saturday, August 26. Space is limited!

For more information or to register, click here.


Michelle Wangler Joy, MFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2002, and is currently a therapist on staff. She trains with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D to deliver state of the art tools for couples. Michelle provides both couples and individual counseling, teaches communication workshops, and conducts training seminars both locally and nationally for therapists on how to help more couples.

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A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.