Collaborative Couple Therapy: Turning Fights into Conversations and Problems into Opportunities for Intimacy

Course Description:

Even the most experienced therapists can be challenged in their efforts to move couples beyond the patterns of intense adversarial interaction and withdrawal that frequently characterize couple conflict. Collaborative Couple Therapy, developed by Dan Wile, PhD, provides therapists with a unique model for moving couples beyond this spiral of alienation and into a cycle of connection.

The purpose of this workshop is to present the principles of Collaborative Couple Therapy and equip participants to begin to use doubling—the signature method of this approach—in their own therapeutic work. Doubling was originally developed by Jacob Moreno for use in Psychodrama. When you double, you speak as if you were one of the partners talking to the other. The person you’re speaking for now has someone on their side helping them make their point.

A couple problem is really two problems: (1) the problem itself (money, sex, kids, etc.) and (2) how partners talk (or don’t talk) about the problem. How partners talk or don’t talk is often the major problem and, in any case, the part of their difficulty where we as couple therapists can best help them.

Dan Wile sees the heart of the couple problem as loss of voice—the inability of partners to express their inner yearnings and fears. They feel alone in their experience. Hopelessness sets in. This is “loss of voice”—whether it takes the form of kicking and screaming or quiet withdrawn desperation.

In Collaborative Couple Therapy, we take the problem that is occurring at the moment and, by giving voice to each partner’s experience, transform it into a moment of intimacy.  If Joe says to Carol, “It’s always about you. You’re selfish. You never consider anyone else. You never think about me at all,” the therapist, doubling for Joe, says, “As you can see, I’m angry” or “I worry you’re going to leave me” or “I fear we’re drifting apart” or “I worry you don’t like me anymore” or “I miss the way we use to be” or “What happened to us?” The therapist transforms Joe’s blurted out accusation into a disarming self-disclosure by bringing out the wish or fear hidden in the complaint. Since the therapist is making a guess, she or he immediately adds, “Where am I right and where am I wrong in my guess about how you feel?” John and Julie Gottman, who use doubling in their acclaimed couple therapy approach, have granted Dan the honor of calling their use of this method, “Doing a Dan Wile.”

The ultimate goal of Collaborative Couple Therapy is to increase the couple’s ability to:

  • Solve the moment—tohave the conversation needed todeal with whatever comes up in the relationship and, in particular, to recover from the inevitable periods of fighting and/or withdrawing.
  • Create a platform—a vantage point above the fray—from which to guide the relationship and turn problems into opportunities for intimacy.

In this workshop, you’ll learn to:

  • Help each partner find her or his voice
  • Serve as each partner’s spokesperson
  • Recognize the wish or fear concealed in the partner’s complaint
  • Catch the fight before it escalates
  • Recognize the power of acknowledgments in turning fights into conversations and alienated exchanges into intimate ones
  • Bring partner in on what you’re doing in a manner that deepens the therapy and increases partners’ sense of safety.
  • Empathize with the less likeable partner
  • Uncover the conversation hidden in the fight