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John C. Friel, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

My Couple Therapy Assumptions

  • I work on the well founded clinical assumption that people in long term relationships always pair up with an emotional equal, so if you believe that you are either significantly healthier or more dysfunctional than your partner, be prepared to confront yourself about this.
  • The opposite of dysfunctional is dysfunctional. The cure for being violent or mean is not to become overly "nice" and passive-aggressive. The cure for strict, rigid parenting is not to baby children and give them no limits. Being dependent and clingy is not remedied by becoming "needless" and over-independent. The cure for boredom is not chaos.
  • do not try to waste your time and money by using our meetings as "complaint sessions" in which you come in and tattle on your partner and then look to me to pass judgment on which one of you has been better or worse since our last session. It is your marriage, and only you can make that determination. My job is to help you confront yourself.
  • While it may take a number of sessions for this to occur, when both of you make the all-important shift to asking what your own part is in the problem instead of how things would be better if your partner would just change, the therapy work begins to accelerate dramatically.
  • By definition, marriage is a sexual relationship.
  • The problems that we all have in our sex lives have the identical structure to our financial conflicts, our battles about children, our struggles with in-laws, and so on. In systems, this is called isomorphism .
  • The distance between an awful and an awesome relationship is often minimal. What makes change difficult for some people is that they either want a dramatic, quick fix-there is no such thing-or they are unwilling to change one small belief about life that will turn their relationship from a disaster into a blessing.
  • Passion does not leave a relationship after six or ten years. Passion and chemistry are essential and permanent fixtures in healthy romantic/marital relationships. If the passion is dead or dying, it is most likely because the couple is either afraid of conflict, or has engaged in destructive conflict for so long that they have become more or less constantly frightened or numb. In either case, learning to have a clear, strong self and clear, healthy conflict without doing damage is key to having deep intimacy.
  • People need to learn to both express and also contain their emotions. Doing one without the other creates big problems in a romantic relationship.
  • Rage is always preceded by one, or some, or all of the following: fear, hurt, shame, sadness, and loneliness. These "softer emotions" are the keys to relationship violence, but they are also the keys to the deepest connections imaginable. It all depends on how you use them.
  • Grown-ups fight about little stuff-being late, leaving socks on the closet floor, using your partner's favorite pen, etc. If you believe you shouldn't fight about these things because that's not what grown-ups fight about, you're wrong. You might ask yourself why you believe that.