Couples use therapy for many reasons. They come in to work on differences in values and communication, breakups, make-ups, marriage, affairs, divorce, remarriage, deepening commitment, career, trauma, and issues related to their personal histories — to name just a few. A large part of my practice is focused on relationship/couples’ issues, I strive to be a non-judgmental source of support and education for both couples and individuals working on these issues.
If you come in with a specific issue such as an affair or communication problems, I will encourage you and your partner to take an active role in researching that subject. Information gathering is an important part of change! Of course, I will provide reading recommendations if you want them.
My approach to couples work is called Collaborative Couples Therapy, an approach developed by Dan Wile, PhD.
“I love Wile’s writing and thinking. They are entirely consistent with many of my research findings. I think that Wile is a genius and the greatest living marital therapist. I am blessed to have been able to exchange ideas with him.”
John Gottman, PhD
Regardless of the specific focus couples come to work on, most people say their relationship could benefit from more openness, better communication, and increased honesty. Many couples remember with fondness the spark and closeness that defined the early phase of their relationship—but for one reason or another notice that their communication has gotten stale and their love has lost some of its shine. Many couples feel cut off from sharing pointed honesty with one another—the danger of vulnerable exposure and the threat of their partner’s response may feel too risky.
When was the last time you told your partner what you thought they could handle, rather than what you actually felt?
Many couples become caught in a distant communication pattern in which they don’t fully express themselves. This results in a problematic cycle of distance, misunderstanding, resentment, anger, blame, and an overall deadening of the relationship.
I can help you explore your communication patterns and help each of you express your unspoken feelings, values, disappointments, and needs. Getting to mutual honesty with your partner can be scary, but it is exactly this honesty that revitalizes a relationship and gets the couple moving again. When each partner is able to identify harmful relationship patterns and express, with my help, what they truly want from their partner they set the stage for better communication, more intimacy, and rejuvenated spark.
If you have questions about my approach to relationship counseling or to schedule an appointment, please contact me:
Phone: (503) 757-6259
3050 SE Division, Suite 260, Portland, OR (In the ‘D Street’ building.)
Frequently asked questions about couples’ counseling:
How can I get my partner to come to couples’ counseling?
First, the obvious: Sometimes less is more. Try not to use threats or ultimatums to coerce your partner into couples’ counseling. Try letting them know what it would mean to you to do counseling together. If you are truly about to leave your relationship and see couples’ counseling as a last chance to save the relationship, you may decide to share this with your partner—try to be honest and calm. Connect therapy to positive feelings and outcomes for you and your partner—although it takes hard work, couples’ therapy results in more happiness and understanding for many people—that’s why it’s still around. For any relationship to work, both partners need to put in effort, and attending counseling is usually evidence that an effort is being made. Make sure your partner understands that any competent couples’ therapist will align with both members of the couple equally—neither member will be made to feel like the “bad guy”. Some people are particularly resistant to using couples’ counseling for fear that they will be judged and blamed by the therapist. This should never happen—it is the therapist’s job to support and understand both members equally, and help them to articulate their position so that it can be heard. Sometimes picking a therapist of the same gender as the most reticent partner can encourage them to try couples’ counseling.
What will couples’ counseling be like in session?
I typically open the first session by asking each member about the decision to use counseling, what their hopes are for counseling, and what their fears are about it. I ask about the history of the relationship—the good times, the hard times, etc., and assess for family and relationship patterns in your background. I will make time in each session for you to ask questions and check in with me about how counseling is going. If we need to shift our focus, we will. As counseling progresses I help each member give concrete, recent examples of times when things were going poorly or going well in the relationship. I help members articulate what they wanted in these situations that is different from what actually happened. I help couples talk about how they were feeling in situations and what particular outcomes meant to them. I tend to run a balance between talking individually with each member of the couple and having you talk to each other. The benefit of having each of you talk to me individually is that it gives the other member practice with listening and it breaks up whatever communication pattern has been established in your relationship. It also allows me to help each of you articulate where you are coming from without compromise or interruption. The benefit of having you talk to each other is that often the same patterns will emerge in therapy that you experience in your relationship—but I will be able to help you process what happened instead of shutting down. I will encourage both of you toward unedited honesty and toward articulating your uncompromised, ideal position. The idea here is not that your partner can necessarily meet all your fantasy needs, but that it is much healthier and more freeing to incorporate your dreams and fantasies into your relationship than it is to bury and ignore them.