It is a sad predicament when a couple fights over who is “right” and this becomes more important than anything else.

Sometimes this happens when the couple have given up on ever being close to their partner, but they are still needy of the other. These people stay together trying to salvage what is left of their wounded egos by having fights about power: who is more right, who is on top.

It can be helpful to have this pointed out, because often the couple is aware of being unhappy but not fully aware of what they are doing. It can be a hard pattern to break, worse when one person is better at self awareness than the other. What is needed is both people to become aware first is when the power fights get started, and second what is underneath their jabbing at the other – what is motivating the criticism and put downs.  Most often it is feeling hurt, and not feeling safe enough to admit it.

In therapy session, if the therapist can demonstrate that safety will be provided, the couple can more likely begin to discover the underlying pain and hurts.  Family of origin habits of relating often show up here. For example: if they learned in their families of origin that no one is interested in their feelings, they are naturally reluctant to say how they feel. They have a whole world of expressing emotion to learn about. Healing individual hurts from childhood are often a part of couple therapy. This can be done quite successfully with the couple therapist in the presence of the partner when there is enough trust in the relationship.  Often seeing your partner working on themselves brings up compassion and understanding; with other couples it may be necessary for each person to see a therapist separately to do their own work safely.

Power fighting sometimes happens at the end of a relationship, and yet alternatively, coming in to a professional can make this unhappy situation the beginning of learning to be truly intimate.



People have affairs for all kinds of reasons, depending on who they are and what’s going on in their lives. The important thing to remember is – it’s not true that their insufficient partner caused them to go to another for love, etc. It’s not  their partner’s fault. Being dissatisfied with one’s partner is a legitimate experience, and being unfaithful is one option, but it often turns out badly for all concerned.

If you want to heal your marriage, the unfaithful partner has to deeply understand the amount of damage that has been done to trust, and they have  to know what  being betrayed by your life partner really feels like. Saying your sorry, even terribly, terribly sorry, and that you won’t ever do this again,  isn’t enough. Once lied to, your partner has every reason to question what you are saying now. You have to demonstrate how sorry you really are, you have to show your partner how you have changed in tangible ways so that there is reason to believe what you are saying now. You have to hear what your partner needs from you in order to ever trust you again. Listening to what your betrayed partner wants from you and being very willing to do what ever you are asked is a demonstration of your truly being sorry.

There’s another piece to this problem – if some one has hurt you and you want to trust they won’t do it again, it seems to me the one that hurt the other has to understand why they did it. If they don’t fully understand why they acted this way, what’s to keep them from (having the same reasons and) doing it again?  The unfaithful person needs to learn what motivated them to be unfaithful and make whatever changes are needed so they won’t want, or be motivated, to do this again. Sometimes that has mostly to do with the unfaithful partner, and sometimes it has to do with the relationship, the marriage, also.

There is a lot of work for the one who was unfaithful to do to heal their relationship. In my experience as a therapist, seeing one’s partner doing this work makes a huge difference, and can be the salve that heals the wound.

If there are problems in the relationship that need to be addressed, then, once trust has been re-established, the couple also has work to do. It is important to remember that being a part of what went wrong between the two of you and needing, therefore,  to do your part of making changes, does not mean you caused the affair.  Your partner had a choice, no matter what you did or didn’t do.

So what do you do if you recognize that you or your partner is not not so mature and self aware that couple therapy will be a breeze and work quickly and well. Give up, don’t try couple’s therapy?

Clearly no.

You may find the couple therapist suggesting individual therapy first, or at the same time, as couple therapy. You may find the therapist showing you how these less than helpful traits show up, and how to signal* each other when you see them occurring. The therapist also needs to show you what to do about the disturbance that is likely to follow.

Here is a very helpful tool to learn for an couple when these disturbances come. I  call it “Minding The Store”, as in, “Is anybody minding the store?”

“Minding the Store” is what is happening when one or the other person remembers to watch the process of what is going on between the two of you, and bring it to the other’s attention. That could sound like “” OH, we’re doing it again -we both need nurturing at the same time so neither of us is in a place to give it, and we are both getting piss-y.” Then, “Do you see it?”

If the couple has agreed to stop the conversation and step back together to look at their interaction at this point, without blaming, the results can be so helpful.  The task at hand is to own up to your needing nurturing, and maybe not asking for same very clearly, or whatever else you see about your contribution. And the other person also does this. Often this can bring on wry, cocked eyebrows or a light laughter, which is always helpful.

Suppose some one of you says  “Maybe we should take turns?” and  the other replies “I feel like a kindergartner, this is too silly.” “But I still want you to listen to me” “OK, lets take turns listening to each other.”  And so you do.

Problems magnify when no one is minding the store, and  that is perfectly understandable. This is your major support person, your life partner, and emotions run high.  Learning the techniques of watching your interaction, seeing it for what it is, and bringing it to the other’s attention is a very useful tool for couples.

Couple therapy is as effective, in my experience, as the couple is ready to use it. Here are a qualities of the couple  that are needed for their therapy to be successful:

(1) Both people are mature enough and healthy enough to see their own contribution to what isn’t working for them as a couple. “Mature enough” means that each person likes themselves enough to not be overly defensive when their negative contributions become obvious. “Healthy enough” is referring to psychological health – that they are not so deeply troubled that they literally can’t see that what they are doing that is a problem. Usually the person who literally can’t see the other is one who has a personality disorder or has psychological impediments to seeing reality – is delusional, etc.

(2) The couple has come in for help ‘soon enough.’ Some couples wait too long to seek professional help and they have gotten so disengaged with each other, moved so far apart, that they don’t have the motivation to make the changes, do the hard work, that may be necessary.

Related to these two necessary qualities are others that are part of the two listed above:

A piece of being mature enough is having empathy and the ability to set themselves aside, at least temporarily, so that they can learn more about their partner.

A part of having ‘come in soon enough’ is there is still enough passion between them. Here I mean urgency/ importance, not sexual passion. So much of this can be seen in how these two people sit in the room – on separate furniture? turned slightly away from each other?  Another action that can be visually seen without content is  – are they more interested in stating their position to the therapist than talking to their partner?

It seems to me that I could add to this blog post, as more things occur to me, for a long time. Hopefully these ideas are useful unto themselves. I will  post this blog.

 I get a lot of questions about this topic also.

The questions come in the form of : “How do I know if my therapist thinks I’m ever going to get better?” or  “Should I tell my therapists things I am ashamed of” or “How do I tell if my therapist is about to tell me to leave?” or “How do I know if my therapist thinks I’m crazy/have a personality disorder/ finds me hard to  work with?” or ” My therapist is suggesting I go to another therapist – is it because she doesn’t like me?” or “I think my problems are pathetic and I should just wise up and get over them. Is  that what my therapist thinks too? How can I find out?”

Questions in this vein are all about being afraid to talk directly to the therapist about whatever is on your mind.  First of all, I want to remind anyone who decides to go to therapy – us therapists are only hired help.  But I also understand that when one makes themselves so vulnerable by baring so much to a therapist, while the therapist of course tells very little about themselves,  it can be an uncomfortable, often one -down feeling situation.  In my opinion it is part of the therapists job to let the client know that they find the client interesting and likable.  I can’t open up to a therapist unless I feel accepted and OK.  Since it is the young parts of ourselves that are being aired , these young parts don’t have  the cover of our adult modes in the world making us all the more vulnerable.   Therefor it’s all the more important to know you are liked and accepted; even parts of yourself that you don’t like very much yourself!

My suggestion is to ask tell the therapist whatever you are feeling in this area of being acceptable to the therapist. Then observe how you are responded to.  If you get any of the attitude “What’s the matter  with you, of course I accept you as my client or I wouldn’t be here working with you.”  In other words ” What’s your problem? This must be about your family” you have got a defensive person as your therapist, an uneducated one, or somebody who has very little empathy.  None of  these traits make a good therapist. You have a right to look elsewhere.

I don’t think much is accomplished in therapy if you can’t talk freely. You should get a warm, positive response, full of reassurance and intelligence when you tell your therapist your feelings. I hope you do.





This is a question I’ve been asked many times, by clients who come to me and on Quora.  Here’s my answer:

I don’t recommend seeing more than one therapist at a time.  In fact I won’t see a client who has another therapist, they have to choose.

There is the obvious reason that the two therapists are different people with different ideas and may disagree or take the client in different directions, which could be confusing. But a deeper problem has to do with transference:

If the client had a parent who was abusive or just inadequate, that same parent was probably occasionally functioning well as a parent also. The child, to deal with this uncertainty about what they are going to “get” from the parent often does that the psychiatric community calls “splitting.” In the child’s mind (s)he divides the parent up  as “the good Mommy” and “ the bad Mommy” even though the parent is one person. So if the client starts having a negative transference with one therapist that one becomes the “bad Mommy” and the other the ‘good Mommy” which makes it very difficult if not impossible to help the person work through the negative transference. Working through transference problems is often the most important work of therapy.  Allowing two therapists is a  set up for “splitting,”and it is totally counterproductive to that person having a successful therapy experience. I think it is a bad idea even with clients who appear relatively well; the “walking wounded” successful adult who comes in with a minimum of problems. An exception can be that the primary therapist encourages the client to go to a specific kind of therapy for a specific amount of time for a specific reason,  and it is something that the primary therapist doesn’t offer. Examples might be joining a group or going for EMDR therapy.

There are sometimes particular reasons for a client to want two therapists. One not so good one that I have encountered is that  having 2 therapists  keeps the client from getting close to either therapist. That might not even be conscious for the client, and that avoidance of intimacy won’t be dealt with if they are allowed to have two therapists.

The Trump Effect

I have seen this among my own  clients so I am sure this is  happening  all over the country: People with a tendency for anxiety or depression have been triggered by Trump’s election and the chaos and disregard for the Constitution that has followed

You are more likely to be effected if you (1) are low income (obviously – you are more effected because Trump is doing nothing  to take care of the poor),  (2) if you were traumatized by abusive parents as a child, and (3) if it is bothering you that the Trump  agenda is to take away safety nets like Medicare and Medicaid, Affordable Health Care and other government sponsored assistance programs (including protection for the Environment, attacks against certain minority groups.etc.).  There is a great Resistance going on also, and although much of  the power is still with those that support Trump, the Affordable Care Act was not lost.

For those who have been abused as children this all feels like an abuser, again,  using his power to hurt without concern for who he is hurting.

I think the most empowering thing any of us can do, whether we were abused as children or not, is to participate in the Resistance in the way that bests suits you.  For those who were abused, remember  this abuse isn’t hidden and there are people fighting for you.