Take-Aways for Couples

Sometimes when I am taking a course or listening to a lecture, the presenter will talk about “take-aways”. What is a take-away? It’s usually a summary of the session and can be a valuable tool to aid in review and help memorize key points. In thinking about this recently I realized that it would be great to present a package of take-aways to couples who have completed a block of counselling sessions with me. So, what could be in this package? Beyond including some exercises completed by the couple themselves, some other resources are contenders for this useful tool.

First, a list of feelings and emotions. When I went to a therapy group (yes, therapists go to therapy!) the leader told us to each give one word about how we were feeling right then – and we could not use the words “ok, fine, or good”. She had a chart of feelings and emotions on the wall, and we could choose from those words. Sometimes it’s hard to know how we feel, and it requires practice – thinking about how we feel, choosing a word to describe it, fine-tuning our expressions so that we can name the subtleties, and strengthening our vocabulary to reflect our inner self. A list of feelings can help!

Second, a guideline for the I-to-I Method. This method requires an Initiator to open a conversation about a specific issue that matters to them. The Inquirer’s job is to ask questions to:

1) help them understand their partner’s concern

2) help their partner to understand their own concern better

Practicing the I-to-I Method allows us, as an initiator to identify and explore what’s going on in our hearts and minds, and as an inquirer, to self-soothe and hold steady while our partner talks about themselves. When we feel heard it reduces our stress level dramatically!

Third, a description of the Tasks of a Couple’s Developmental Stages. Naturally, we start our relationship with a lot of love, and very little experience of each other. Our relationships go through predictable stages that lay the foundation for the work of creating meaningful, authentic intimacy. The heady, romantic whirlwind of the beginning weeks and months gives way to more reliable weather (that is sometimes sunny and sometimes stormy).

Fourth, a list of ineffective behaviours couples use to cope. It’s helpful to look at a list of coping strategies, and know that we are not alone in using them, and that once we recognize them we can begin to work with them. For instance, what does it mean if one of my coping strategy is to pout? It might mean that I was not encouraged to name my feelings, that I feel uncomfortable or unsafe naming my needs, or that I simply don’t know how to voice my unhappiness or anger. Looking at our ineffective behaviours gives us the opportunity to implement newer, more effective behaviours.

Fifth, Harriet Lerner’s Rules for a Remarkable Relationship. Relationship expert Harriet Lerner has put together a wonderful list to guide couples … click here if you’d like to read these exciting suggestions now!

Sixth, a depiction of the Dual Control Model. My colleague Helene Beddingfield creatively applied the Dual Control Model to a diagram of a heart. Each member of the couple identifies the behaviours that contribute to or detract from their emotional or sexual safety, with the accelerators shown as blue arrows, and the brakes shown as red blocks. Check out my previous blog post If you’d like to know more about the Dual Control Model.


Emotional/Sexual Safety – Dual Control Model




Well – that’s it so far! Do you have any suggestions about things you’d like to see in a couples’ package? It could be anything at all that you think could contribute to helping you remember and benefit from the tools picked up from counselling sessions.

Please send me your ideas here. Thank you!