The Importance of Couples Boundary Work by Jan Bergstrom, LMHC

When a couple initially comes to see me for a 2-hour intake session, I have already asked them each to fill out my intake form. I study their intake sheets and am prepared with many questions. I ask each partner how they see their relationship and to give me specific examples of the presenting problem. I spend about 40 minutes with each one on how they see the relationship with the other partner present. I then formulate their “dance” or the pattern in which they communicate. Some couples experience this pattern as a vicious cycle that keeps them stuck in relationship, which results in building walls, distance, loneliness and frustration. In my work with couples, they get a clearer understanding of the old learned behaviors from their family of origin and how these patterns keep them stuck. Then, I teach ways to find new behaviors that create more satisfaction and intimacy in their relationship. Ultimately through this practice, couples make choices to move from habitual behaviors (relational patterns from past) to new learned and healthy functional behaviors. The relationship grows to become more about mutual sharing and intimacy and away from a vicious alienating cycle.

There are times when this “top down” approach to couples work is not enough. The couple keeps sliding back to the old patterns of behaving. I may then recommend that some “bottom up” work needs to happen. As I mentioned on the treatment page for individuals, this is more experiential and investigates the beginnings of family of origin trauma. I usually recommend that each individual of the couple do an “intensive” workshop to help create awareness and growth through an experiential process of treatment. This workshop is “Healing Our Core Issues”. I conduct separate workshops for men and for women in my private practice on a regular basis. Please see my page on workshops for further information. If these historical patterns or woundings are not addressed, they keep persistently erupting in a couple’s communication.

Using these, methodologies with couples create positive changes within 4-6 months. Couples start experiencing more connection in the relationship through the practice of using healthy boundaries and learning new skills. These therapies are unique and extraordinarily effective. After a couple of months, much of the couples work revolves around using their speaking and listening boundaries. This method of communication takes practice so that there is only one speaker and one listener at any one time. Through effective use of internal boundaries, the communication gets clearer, effective and authentic which creates truth and intimacy in their relationship.

I do offer Couples Boundary workshops in my private practice. Couples learn effective ground rules to achieve and sustain true intimacy, attain self-esteem and emotional stability, understand their strengths and limitations and acquire concrete tools for building healthy relationships.

Your ability to be relational lies in your ability stay relational in the face of someone else’s disconnection. — Pia Mellody