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My Approach to Working with Couples

Below I have broken down my approach to couples work in the following sections. I do believe that “one size does not fit all,” so within this framework I also incorporate other modalities of therapy. However, couples therapy is very specific and separate form individual therapy. Couples come to me for guidance and suggestions so I am very active in session. I meet with couples for at least 60 minutes – many times for 90 minutes. Research has shown that after the first 40 minutes the efficacy of therapy goes up significantly. I will meet with the couple and then schedule separate sessions with each partner for further assessment. After most sessions I assign “homework” for each partner to work on – sometimes together and sometimes apart.

Research Based Methods:

I use several principals when working with couples. The first principal I use is to utilize proven research-based methods to treat couples. What this means is utilizing clearly thought-out, scientifically grounded approach to the challenges that the couple are trying to address in their relationship. For example one proven research finding and one that you might have felt intuitively: Healthy relationships require that we honor and support one another’s differentiated experiences. Healthy relationships emerge from integration. Integration in a relationship entails the honoring of differences and the compassionate communication that links two individuals together as a whole. Integration is the source of the idea that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”


When I first meet with a couple I am assessing the health of the relationship and evaluating the full nature of what is exactly going on and then deciding on a course of treatment, while taking into consideration the expectations of each individual in the relationship. This process is a collaboration of goals to repair and or improve the health of the relationship.

It is necessary to understand each partner’s inner world. This means sensing each individual’s subjective inner experience, making sense of their world – their feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams.

Process Past Regrettable Incidents:

When a “regrettable incident” has occurred and stored in our memory, it can be both at an implicit and explicit level and can alter how we feel about another person in ways that may persist for long periods of time following the experience. It is crucial to repair the rupture. We do this by processing not only the rupture but also the cause of the rupture and its unintended consequences.

Gentle Conflict Management Skills:

Often the challenges to the couple’s relationship are the four ways in which they relate to each other: criticism; contempt; defensiveness; and stonewalling. The first two, criticism and contempt are used as active weapons against each other; the second two are used as isolating and protective shields.

Strengthen Friendship and Intimacy:

There are so many ways in which we can connect in a close relationship as a couple. It is important that we honor our differences while promoting compassionate communication as we cultivate an integrated relationship. We learn to foster and nurture intimacy. If you think about friendship and intimacy, you may notice how close relationships require that you honor differences and promote respectful, caring communication. Each person in the relationship is unique, and each person can be connected to the other without losing his or her own identity.

Couples therapy is an opportunity to learn the tools that will help each of you to find shared meaning, and bring more kindness and compassion into your relationship and into your lives.

Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS