The Art and Science of Love: Bringing Empirical Rigor to the Intuitive World of Couples Therapy
By Katy Butler
Are You There for Me?: Understanding the Foundations of Couples Conflict
By Susan Johnson
When Three Threatens Two: Must Parenthood Bring Down the Curtain on Romance?
By Esther Perel
Scoreboard for Couples Therapy: Which Are the Winners in the Latest Research
By Jay Lebow
Bad Couples Therapy: Getting Past the Myth of Therapist Neutrality
By William Doherty
It Takes One to Tango: You Don’t Need Both Partners to Do Couples Therapy
By Michele Weiner-Davis
Content Search Overview: Therapists, social workers, counselors and others found these articles helpful in learning more about helping couples in therapy practices. People searching for information on the following terms and concepts found these articles helpful:
Imago Relationship Therapy
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Sample from: Are You There For Me? by Susan Johnson
With one couple, for example, every time the man--who completely avoided his wife and wouldn't sleep with her--tried, in a kind of embarrassed mumble, to justify himself, she'd respond, "That's ridiculous! You're just so incompetent!" After slowly helping them uncover and experience the emotions beneath their interaction, however, I noticed that he began to talk about his feelings in a different way--more openly, straightforwardly, without his usual awkward embarrassment. For the first time, he was really able to look at her, and say that it wasn't that he didn't care about her, but that he was so afraid of her rejection that he felt paralyzed. Again she responded "That's ridiculous," but her voice was softer, and as he repeated his message, she began to look at him with puzzlement--seeing something that had been invisible before. "I never knew you were afraid," she continued softly, looking him full in the face.
The look she had at that moment I now know well. I call it the "dog and recorder" look. It's named after the cocked-head and deeply nonplussed look my dog sported the first time he heard a human voice come out of a recording machine. Its best translated as: "What new thing under the sun is this?" I knew by that look that my dismissing client had begun to see her husband differently. It was moments like these, in which primary emotions were spoken clearly and pulled out new responses from a spouse, that seemed to make the difference in my sessions. What was going on here? I wondered.
Once when I was still pondering these issues, I went to a conference and got into an after-hours bar conversation with an eminent researcher in the field, who argued that getting and staying married was like entering and sticking to a bargain. I disagreed, saying, "The only time marriages are like a bargain is when the relationship is already as good as dead and all hope of intimacy is gone." Then I heard myself adding, almost without conscious thought, "Marriages aren't bargains. They're emotional bonds."
At that moment, it felt as if a door had suddenly opened in my mind and I could begin to truly see what was happening with my couples. I realized what should have been the most obvious truth of all: marriages were primarily about the emotional responsiveness that we call love; about fundamental human attachment. These bonds reflected deep primal survival needs for secure, intimate connection to irreplaceable others. These needs went from the cradle to the grave. How had we ever decided that adults were somehow self-sufficient?
From Psychotherapy Networker, September/October 2006
Sample from: Bad Couples Therapy, by William Doherty
In one of the early sessions, the therapist, who was highly experienced in couples work, empathized with the wife's feeling caught between the needs of her husband and those of her children, and supported the wife's decision to prioritize the children. The therapist explained that these years of raising school-age children are ones in which the children's time demands are huge, and the marital relationship inevitably has to take a back seat. She said that, as a wife and mother, she herself knew about these demands, which ease when children get older. In other words, the therapist normalized the marital gap in terms of the family life cycle, recognizing especially the unique strain on a wife who couldn't meet everyone's needs. The wife burst into tears at feeling so deeply understood and accepted. The therapist then turned to the husband and gently asked him for his feelings and thoughts as he'd followed the conversation and seen his wife's pain and tears. The husband, a "good guy," who didn't like conflict, owned that he'd been selfish and pledged to back off on his demands for more time with his wife, promising he'd be more understanding in the future.
The session ended with a warm glow. The couple agreed to continue working on other issues that had brought them to therapy. The therapist was pleased at how she'd been able to combine her clinical skills and her own experience as a wife and mother to help this couple. A few days later, the husband called to end the therapy, saying tersely that they'd decided to continue to work on things by themselves.
The therapist was stunned and consulted with me. I helped her see that she'd missed that there were two distinct family developmental stages at work in this case. Yes, the parent-child development stage was one of intense time demands (leaving aside for the moment the overscheduling supported by the wider culture), but the marital-developmental stage had its own pacing needs: a puppy marriage needs time for play and nurturing. To put aside their new marriage for years on end is dangerous. Of course, it's dangerous even in long-term relationships, but at least there may be a strong foundation and memories of good years. The husband was appropriately worried about the viability of a neglected new marriage. What struck me was how even a skilled, experienced couples therapist had misunderstood the special needs of a remarried couple.
From Psychotherapy Networker, November/December 2002