The principal means for discovering the conversation needed to solve the moment—and the signature method of Collaborative Couple Therapy—is doubling, an intervention originated by Jacob Moreno. Doubling, speaking as if you were one of the partners talking to the other, allows you to go:
- Within to bring out thoughts and feelings partners might be experiencing but haven’t expressed.
- Between to turn the partners’ fight-inducing or withdrawal-inducing comment into a conversation-inducing one.
- Above to lift the couple up on the meta-level from which they can compassionately view their predicament.
Ingrid says to Mark, “It’s always about you. You’re selfish. You never consider anyone but yourself. You never think about me at all anymore.” In an effort to avert the looming fight, I reshape her “you” statement into an “I” statement. Speaking as if I were Ingrid, I say:
- “I don’t feel special to you the way I used to feel.”
- Or “We’ve drifted apart and I miss how we used to be.”
- Or “I worry that you don’t like me very much anymore.”
I’m going within in search of a vulnerable feeling that might trigger an intimate exchange. If my comment resonates with something in Ingrid, she might say to Mark, quietly and sadly, “What happened to us?”—words that could easily draw a warm response from him.
Or I could go above in an effort to describe the couple predicament. Speaking for Ingrid, I could say:
- “As you can see, I’m angry. And I imagine you’re not very happy with me.”
- Or “We’re dealing with issues that take a toll on relationships—Nathan [their emotionally disturbed 13 year old son], my getting sick, and you losing your job. No wonder we’re having problems.”
- Or, “We’re in this painful vicious circle in which you deal with stress by getting quiet, which leaves me feeling lonely, and I deal with it by getting irritated, which leaves you feeling criticized.”
My goal—whether I go within or go above—is to turn Ingrid’s fight-inducing statement into a conversation-inducing one. Of course, I wouldn’t have to double to achieve this goal. I could simply say:
- “Do I have it right, Ingrid, that you don’t feel special to Mark as you used to feel?”
- “I guess you’re saying, Ingrid, that you miss how things used to be.”
- “Ingrid, are you worried that Mark doesn’t like you much anymore?”
- “Okay, Ingrid, you’re upset with Mark. And Mark, you’re probably not very happy with Ingrid.”
- “You’re dealing with issues that take a toll on relationships.”
- “Here’s the painful vicious circle you’re in. Mark, you deal with stress by getting quiet, which leaves Ingrid feeling lonely. And, Ingrid, you deal with it by getting irritated, which leaves Mark feeling criticized.”
These are fine interventions. I like to transform them into doubling statements, however, in order to increase their impact.
- Instead of “You miss how things used to be,” I speak as if I were Ingrid and say, “I miss how things used to be.”
- Instead of “Are you worried that Mark doesn’t like you much anymore?” I say, “I’m worried that you don’t like me much anymore.”
Use of the pronoun “I” collapses the space between me and Ingrid. I practically disappear as a separate entity—a vanishing made visual if I vacate my chair and sit or kneel next to her. The person I’m speaking for now has someone literally on their side helping them (1) get their partner to understand or (2) just figure out what they want their partner to understand. They feel less alone.
My goal is to recast what each partner says to make it more satisfying to that person and easier or more pleasing for the other partner to hear. In my effort to turn the partner’s angry or withdrawn statement into an intimate one, I change the tone, add feelings, make acknowledgments, report anger rather than unload it, and turn that person’s:
- Overly-long, wandering, repetitive, or difficult-to-understand comment into one that’s crisp, straightforward, and easy to understand.
- Or overly-brief, said-in-passing, implied-but-not-stated, or easy-to-miss comment into one that’s fully developed, explicit, and hard to miss.
Restating what partners have just said provides them with an opportunity to re-evaluate whether they really believe it. After hearing my rendition, partners may say, “I know I said that, but now that I hear you repeat it, I realize that:
- it’s not what I really feel.”
- what I really feel is hurt [or fear, anger, or hopelessness].”
- I’m being unfair.”
- it sounds like an excuse.”
- it’s too harsh.”
- it’s too conciliatory.”
- that’s not the half of it.”
As Carl Rogers showed us, getting behind what clients say—giving them the experience of being heard—can enable them to go to the next level and discover more about what they really think and feel.