Couples Work 



  It takes courage to love. 

- anonymous

Being in relationship with others has its joys and challenges. The good news - when its working, there is nothing sweeter. Conversely, when your partnership is not going well, there is almost nothing that can feel worse to our spirit. In the hyped-up, multi-tasking world in which we live, it is little wonder that we finds ourselves sometimes adrift and sometimes oceans apart. Lifestyle choies are often at odds with the partnership we dream of having. How can we grow a conected and loving relationship if we are focused on so much else? Relationships need to be front and center if they are to blossom and continue to grow and thrive.


Intimate relationships are like a garden. When a relationship is nourished and lovingly attended to, it feels alive and feeds our spirit. Healthy partnership does not magically occur on its own, but evolves from the rich soil of communication and the willingness to feel and express our vulnerability with one another. In couples counseling, this means that guidelines are established so that you can begin to talk with one another in ways that reduce snags. Skill sets are developed to help partners find new ways of expression, where everyone feels respected, heard, and listened to. Early on, we will talk about what is working and what is not, using this data to creat a vision of your best relationship, one that you both desire, so that we can begin  to work towards this end.


Couples come to therapy for many reasons. Sometimes there is a very specific incident that has prompted the need for professional guidance. Or, perhaps a couple has been feeling distant and desires some help finding their way back to one another. And sometimes, couples come to counseling as a final stop as they prepare to separate. Whatever the issues, and there are many to be had, the purpose of therapy is the same . . . to bring the two of you onto the same page. As long as both partners are willing to engage in the therapeutic process, teh result will be a deeper connection, even if you should decide to part. 


Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, 

there is a field.

I'll meet you there.

- Rumi


One of the most important pieces of the relationship puzzle finds its roots in each partner’s childhood history. We come to our partners with suitcases filled with outdated ideas about love, intimacy, conflict, and expectation. When we engage with our partner, particularly during times of stress, we are apt to do so from a purely reactionary place, rather than a responsive one. We may have learned protective mechanisms early on that served us well, yet no longer operate in our own best interest today. It is these very defenses that keep us from living relationally. We stay stuck in the same patterns of interacting, unable to find a way out. 

Couples counseling provides an opportunity for you to educate yourselves about the developmental passages of marriage and couplehood. Build on your strengths together and come to understand how your individual history contributes to the difficulties you may encounter. Move beyond blame so that you can see the patterns that get in the way of the meaningful connections you would like to have. Come back to the time when you enjoyed the shelter of one another, when times felt easier and more joyful. This is my invitation to you.


I work with heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples and anyone interested in strengthening their bonds in the spirit of deep respect and care.



The Ham Story

Once upon a time, there was a happily married couple. They sometimes argued, but were always quick to make-up . . . except when it came time to make the yearly Easter ham. This became the one time of year that she felt her blood boil, and he felt criticized and misunderstood. The story goes something like this:

He likes to make the traditional ham every year for the Easter holiday.

HE: Honey, I’m ready to make the ham. Where can I find it?

SHE: (She says) It’s in the fridge. (She thinks) Here we go again. Where does he think it would be? Geez He never stops to look for anything.

HE: Thanks. Now I need the sharp knife. Where would that be?
SHE: (do I even need to tell you what she is thinking?!) She tells him where to find the knife.

And so it goes. He prepares the ham in the usual way, making sure to cut off about a 1/4 of the ham at each end. She, of course, silently fumes as she sees him waste so much of the ham, as he does each year. 

Well, on this particular Easter holiday, her Aunt Bessie was in the kitchen chatting with the cook while he was busy preparing the ham. Imagine Aunt Bessie's surprise when she saw him cut off almost half of the the ham and discard it in the trash. (She thought: )Why would he do such a thing,?

Now, Aunt Bessie was known to be a talker, and as soon as she had a thought in her head, it fell right out of her mouth!

Aunt Bessie: Why in the name of Pete would you throw away a good piece of ham?

HE: That’s what you’re supposed to do.

Aunt Bessie: My heavens, who taught you to do that?

HE:  Well, no one actually taught me. When I was a kid,  I would see my mom cut the ends off the ham and throw them away.

Aunt Bessie: I never heard of such a thing!

Later that day, his Aunt Sue arrived for Easter dinner. His mom and dad had died many years ago, and Aunt Sue was his closest living relative.

Aunt Sue: This ham is Dee-licious! Just like your mother used to make. Can I have some more?

HE: I’m sorry, Aunt Sue, there is nothing left to eat.

SHE: That’s right, Aunt Sue (said with a classic roll of the eyes).

Aunt Bessie: Well, truth be told, your nephew threw away half of the ham right before he cooked it! I just can’t believe he would waste so much good meat.

Aunt Sue to her nephew: Why would you do such a thing?

HE: Because that’s what my mom used to do when she made the Easter ham. Don’t you remember?

Aunt Sue: Yes, I do. But what I remember even more was that her one pan wasn’t  large enough to hold the meat. The ends were cut to make the ham fit inside the pan. 

SHE: (didn’t have to say a word!).

And that’s the HAM STORY !

The purpose of the HAM STORY is to remind us that we often operate much like he did, going about our business on automatic pilot, based on our experiences growing up. Our younger, more naive selves, sought to make sense of our surroundings the very best way we could. We took in all kinds of information and rules for living that were not stated overtly, yet acted out in our homes each and every day. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is our duty to serve our adult self today, which means taking the time to understand all that we took away with us as children and evaluate what works for us today and what may get in our way. For couples, this is a crucial and liberating aspect of growing together. Once partners explore their own history, they are free to make better choices for themselves and for the well-being of the relationship.


Workshops for Couples

Relationship Tune-Up For Couples: Finding Your Way Back Home 

Just as a garden needs loving care and attention to grow, committed relationships require the very same thing. Join us for this workshop designed to bring some joy and laughter into the business and busyness of your every day lives. This workshop will provide some easy tools to help you along your way. Be inspired and reconnect with the person who once stole your heart! Please Note: Both partners in the relationship must attend. 

Growing Up Again

We must “grow up again” if we are to do the very best by our partners. The ways in which we respond to our partners have their very roots in the soil from which we were parented. Without mindfulness about our own childhood challenges (and we all had them), we live in reactivity rather than response. How did we learn about ourselves? What was in the mirror that reflected back to us? What beliefs do we carry that may be archaic, no longer serving us or our families? Learn how to nurture the best in yourself, so that you can truly nurture the best in your relationship. Nothing seems to shift difficulties more that when partners are committed to doing their own, inner homework, side-by-side.

An interesting article about the impact of children on marriage.

Till Children Do Us Part

By Stephanie Coontz

February 5, 2009


HALF a century ago, the conventional wisdom was that having a child was the surest way to build a happy marriage. Women’s magazines of that era promised that almost any marital problem could be resolved by embarking on parenthood. Once a child arrives, “we don’t worry about this couple any more,” an editor at Better Homes and Gardens enthused in 1944. “There are three in that family now. ... Perhaps there is not much more needed in a recipe for happiness.”

Over the past two decades, however, many researchers have concluded that three’s a crowd when it comes to marital satisfaction. More than 25 separate studies have established that marital quality drops, often quite steeply, after the transition to parenthood. And forget the “empty nest” syndrome: when the children leave home, couples report an increase in marital happiness.

But does the arrival of children doom couples to a less satisfying marriage? Not necessarily. Two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Philip and Carolyn Cowan, report in a forthcoming briefing paper for the Council on Contemporary Families that most studies finding a large drop in marital quality after childbirth do not consider the very different routes that couples travel toward parenthood.

Some couples plan the conception and discuss how they want to conduct their relationship after the baby is born. Others disagree about whether or when to conceive, with one partner giving in for the sake of the relationship. And sometimes, both partners are ambivalent.

The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.

Marital quality also tends to decline when parents backslide into more traditional gender roles. Once a child arrives, lack of paid parental leave often leads the wife to quit her job and the husband to work more. This produces discontent on both sides. The wife resents her husband’s lack of involvement in child care and housework. The husband resents his wife’s ingratitude for the long hours he works to support the family.

When the Cowans designed programs to help couples resolve these differences, they had fewer conflicts and higher marital quality. And the children did better socially and academically because their parents were happier.

But keeping a marriage vibrant is a never-ending job. Deciding together to have a child and sharing in child-rearing do not immunize a marriage. Indeed, collaborative couples can face other problems. They often embark on such an intense style of parenting that they end up paying less attention to each other.

Parents today spend much more time with their children than they did 40 years ago. The sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie report that married mothers in 2000 spent 20 percent more time with their children than in 1965. Married fathers spent more than twice as much time.

A study by John Sandberg and Sandra Hofferth at the University of Michigan showed that by 1997 children in two-parent families were getting six more hours a week with Mom and four more hours with Dad than in 1981. And these increases occurred even as more mothers entered the labor force.

Couples found some of these extra hours by cutting back on time spent in activities where children were not present — when they were alone as a couple, visiting with friends and kin, or involved in clubs. But in the long run, shortchanging such adult-oriented activities for the sake of the children is not good for a marriage. Indeed, the researcher Ellen Galinsky has found that most children don’t want to spend as much time with their parents as parents assume; they just want their parents to be more relaxed when they are together.

Couples need time alone to renew their relationship. They also need to sustain supportive networks of friends and family. Couples who don’t, investing too much in their children and not enough in their marriage, may find that when the demands of child-rearing cease to organize their lives, they cannot recover the relationship that made them want to have children together in the first place.

Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College and the director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, is the author of “Marriage: A History.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company



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