On television we see couples sharing complaints like: "We fight a lot," or "We don't communicate," and the TV therapists have them do something dramatic, like smashing a dining room table. (!) This magically relieves deep-seated problems.
Our couples don't want their pain to be public. But for many of them, it spills out anyway. They are angry, or sad, sometimes panicked, and often confused. They know they are in pain. They know that the way they are interacting is a problem.
But they are sensible enough to realize that smashing the living room set won't help.
...We'll cover why you've come, but not in a "complain-a-thon!" Answering that question is going to require you to know your partner's complaints as well as your own.
The couples we see have tried to fix things themselves. Is that true of you? Have you made promises to 'bite your lip' and not respond to snide remarks? Or to "look on the bright side," and be more patient and understanding?
You may give yourself pep talks to begin a conversation, after a long period of silence. When you do try, you feel shut down or misunderstood.
Do your fights over "nothing" escalate to absurd levels? End in angry accusations, and counter-accusations? Or resort to stone cold silences?
You may need to learn specific skills that are lacking.
You are caught in a sort of delusion. All couples are, whether you are happy together or miserable. There is little in-between. It's like a light switch: when it's up, you see things brightly, and forget about the problems. But when it's down, you have a hard time remembering the good times. You actually become blinded to the positive things that your partner says or does.
They tell us: "we don't communicate," but that is not a complete understanding of the problem.
We conduct an extensive relationship assessment, because relationships are complicated, just like the people in them.
To help us, help YOU, we need a lot of information from you, first.
Most couples can easily tell us how their partner is relating poorly.
They can talk about their annoying habits, their selfish behaviors, how inconsiderate they are.
But that's the easy part.
"What's your role?" is a tougher question for most of us.
What changes do YOU need to make to dramatically improve your relationship?
What's preventing you from being your "best self?"
We want to know.
And we want your partner to help you to get there.
It's easy to point the finger. Harder to look at yourself.
This isn't a "cookie cutter" approach.
The analysis takes clinical skills and the capacity to integrate many pieces of a complex puzzle involving two intricately-related individuals. It isn't only a matter of what particular skills you are missing, or which interactional patterns are problematic. That's part of it.
So when you ask for our help, we complete a very though assessment to learn about you, as individuals, and as a couple.
Only when we understand each of you as real, complicated people, with real, complicated emotions and interactions, then, only then, can we can tell you what help we can provide. And we'll let you know the role you'll have to play to change things around.
Because you've told us.
But it's also about:
One other things (and this is important...) It takes a certain type of personality to value the truth, and be able to tell other people the truth in a way they can hear it. In Ireland, the phrase is: "To tell a man to go to hell in a way that he looks forward to the trip"! In therapy, that way is full of empathy.
Some therapists seem to miss clinical truths and try to dodge it by empathy alone.
You may not like what we tell you. We share what the facts and figures tell us. It may be good news, or bad. But if you want flattering platitudes, we're not the organization for you...
But in intimate relationships, this is not only timidity, but it is unfair to the partner. The truth may be gently said, but it IS said.
You may not like what your therapist at Couples Therapy Inc. is telling you, even if they say it in the nicest way.
When you do an assessment, we are expected to share what the facts and figures are telling us.
If you're wanting flattering platitudes, we're not the organization for you.
Not the type, the hype, you see on television.
That's why we wait...and have you go through this assessment process, because, like a diamond, relationships are tough. Only knowing exactly where to impact them, the exact place to tap, will result in change. Bring out the brilliance. Real change.
Learn more about the theoretical approaches we use at Couples Therapy Inc, visit our Knowledge Base.
Length: One and one half to two hours.
Goal: In this session we'll answer any questions you have about treatment. We will provide both of you an overview of the Gottman approach, and this assessment process.
Part One: Next, we'll cover why you've come, but not in a "complaint-a- thon!" Answering "why you've come" is going to require you to know your partner's complaints as well as your own!
Part Two: The Oral History Interview. This is one of three 'Search for Meaning' exercises in the Gottman toolbox.
We know relationships are complex. That's why we give your relationship the attention it deserves. This assessment allows us to answer your complex questions.
The Oral History Interview serves these functions:
Part Three: What's it like when the two of you disagree or talk about something you don't see eye to eye on? We don't take your word for it, we want to see it. For 10 minutes we'll ask you to talk about an area of disagreement, and we'll tape this section. When we review it, we look not only at what is said, but also for micro-expressions, tone, pace, and interaction during this talk. We're looking for signs of The Four Horsemen.
In Online Couples Therapy, Part Three happens in the first session. In Intensive Couples Retreats it happens on Saturday Morning.
Ready to learn more? Gottman provides greater detail on his approach on the NPR station program: This American Life:
Prior to this final session, you will finish a Consultation Tool online our clients coined "The BIG BIG Book." This is the most thorough assessment of your relationship dynamics you will find anywhere.
It includes two parts, and you can read about this instrument in great detail here:
Each of you completes this online assessment tool your own.
Yes, it's online, so its easy to complete in the privacy of your own home and at your own speed.
Complete a page. Ready to take a break?
Sign off (after that one page is completed), and come back when you are ready to do more.
It's that easy to do.
Learn more about The BIG BIG Book here.
Some people have found it easier to meet with their couples therapist and answer the questions verbally. Do what you can, then schedule an appointment to complete the rest.
Length: 45 minutes. Meeting with each of you separately.
Goal: Here you can talk from your perspective about what you see that's not working. For those new to therapy, it is comforting and useful to share your perspective without worrying: "Is that going to anger him/her? Will they interrupt to give their side?"
Maybe you need to share what's not working between you sexually, and it's hard to talk about candidly. Maybe it's the freedom to say it plainly, from your heart. Or to talk about a fear or concern that is particular to you alone, that perhaps has been received unsympathetically in the past...or feels too private.
Come and talk to a skilled and caring professional who can hear you out with a trained ear.
Yes, it takes one hour 20 minutes to provide you with this detailed and vital information. There is a lot we want you to know! ~ Dr. K
Length: One hour, 20 minutes. Together.
Goal: Our final online session is a feedback meeting with you together. Feel free to take notes. We'll talk about:
Your answers helps shape the advice we give you.
Yes, it takes one hour 20 minutes to provide you with this detailed and vital information. There is a lot we want you to know!
Each level is its own set of skills, and these skills require time to acquire.
If you are working with a Couples Therapist Online, you will make a decision whether to continue onto treatment or not, after this session.
If you are in an Intensive Couples Retreat, you'll make a final decision on what aspects you want to devote your time to, and your clinical work begins at that point. This is usually late Saturday afternoon during a weekend Couples Therapy Intensive Retreat.
Sometimes people ask us this when they first call.
To answer them, we need to know:
Do you can understand why we don't provide a quick answer to that difficult question?
“Looking back, do you wish you and your ex-spouse had tried harder to work through your differences?”
There is one element that every couples therapist knows they are helpless to change: Motivation.
We can help you remember why you got together and appreciate your partner's better side. You can get to know one another more intimately, and strengthen your Fondness and Admiration system.
But goodwill and a willingness to give it another chance or a "Last Shot," is something only each of you can decide. And that's the mystery that remains in all of this science, and we've seen it:
Call it the remaining "mystery of love." There are some things science can't measure...
See our Fees page.
Couples Therapy has come a long way in the past 30 years, thanks to science. We now know what makes up the "Masters vs Disasters" of intimate relationships. This Consultation Tool, and the treatment that follows, is scientifically-based and the most cutting-edge work currently available to you. Congratulate yourself for taking this first step. You are committing to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
To sign up to fill in your BIG BIG Book, go here.
We look forward to meeting and working with you!
Dr. McMahon has been invited to be one of these "TV Couples therapists" on several occasions. Having been a "TV Expert" before, and knowing what it entails, she's said: "Thanks but no thanks."
Therapists are urged to recommend behavior that clinically they would never suggest to in actual practice.