It’s Monday morning. My new clients, Rita and Brian, are due to arrive in my office any moment. I pour myself a cup of coffee and prepare to enter “the zone,” the focused place inside myself where I go when doing couples therapy. Because I prefer starting with a clean slate, I know little about them except that they’ve traveled from Texas to work with me in my Boulder, Colorado, office for a two-day intensive. I also know that two months ago, Rita found out that Brian had been having an affair for a year and a half with a coworker—a shocking discovery, which had eventually prompted their call to me.
As I sip my coffee, I become aware of a positive feeling stirring inside. Despite what I anticipate will be a day filled with intense therapeutic challenges, I sense a confidence that grounds me. It comes from having a clear, clinical road map, which keeps me from getting lost or becoming emotionally hijacked when things get heated, as they always do in these cases.
This therapeutic North Star wasn’t always apparent to me. In my early years as a couples therapist, I was clueless about how to help clients navigate beyond the pain of betrayal. I thought I could rely on the tenets I’d learned in graduate school (which was long on theory, short on practical how-to’s) or the ideas I’d discovered as a Solution Focused therapist. But while these strategies were helpful at times, progress was rarely consistent, leaving me feeling adrift and less than helpful. In truth,…