Peter Pearson

What if a good marriage was not about focusing on fixing problems? What if a good marriage was not learning a new set of skills or tools?

The most common requests couples who are starting therapy have is for communication skills and tools for a better relationship.

This is an understandable but misguided request.

What if couples were taught skills and tools, with penetrating insights on how to improve, but there was no underlying dedication to growth?

What if a great marriage is about character? The sum of moral strength, fortitude, self-discipline, integrity, curiosity and caring.

Tools are about using your mind. They neglect the heart. Merging your heart and mind is what creates the transformation.

You want a relationship transformation? You want the rewards of working as a team? You want the sweet rewards of your kids looking up to you?

Good. But you gotta earn it.

Everything has a price. There is a price to pay to transform your relationship, just as there’s a price to pay for muddling along the way you are.

The “lizard brain” wants the rewards with no risk, minimal effort. (Read my recent blog post on the lizard brain if that’s a new concept for you.)

Highly dysfunctional couples dominated by the lizard brain hope that repeated complaints will get their partner to become responsive, sensitive, and loving. They also want their partner to be self-sufficient. They might as well wear a sign saying, “Don’t ask me to inconvenience myself for you.”

Most partners want a better marriage without becoming a better person. It’s a very rare client who recognizes or says they want to become a better person to create a better marriage!

A better person is more than skills and tools. It is living your values and principles.

A better relationship is not a quick fix. But the lizard brain wants simple and easy. It wants tools and skills that will not take time, effort or the risk of rejection.

Ironically, as you grow so will the size and number of your challenges.

If you forever stay in second grade your personal growth will be limited by a second grade mentality.

Enticing? No. The human spirit wants more. In life we do more and learn more because we have a desire to explore and grow.

Now the big questions become: Do you have an uncommon desire to grow as an individual in your relationship in order to create a better relationship? When you want your partner to change, are you really willing to support the change you seek?

Fixing is about repairing what is broken. Fixing does not explore the land of possibilities and creating something different and better.

Wanna know what makes getting a better marriage easier? Become a great couple team. Work together to support and realize your individual and collective dreams.

Becoming a collaborative team is not easy or effortless. And sometimes it is not enjoyable. It’s just worth it.

This is the second blog in a series. Click to read the first blog or the third blog.


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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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.