Doubling is the premier way to accomplish the principal task of Collaborative Couple Therapy, which is to turn arguments into conversations and disengagement into engagement. When I double, I kneel next to one of the partners and speak as if I were that person talking to the other partner. I translate that person’s angry, defensive, or avoidant comment into a collaborative, confiding one. I’m going to use an example from a previous blog entry to describe the essence of doubling.
Jack (to Anna): You fuss too much with the baby. You—
From what I know of this couple, Anna is almost certain to react angrily, and the two are about to slip into the kind of escalated exchange that they’ve come to therapy to stop. I pre-empt the fight by moving in and replacing Jack’s “you” statement with an “I” statement (a vulnerable feeling).
Dan: Jack, let me soften that and see what you think. Here, I’ll be you talking to Anna. And for you, I’d say, “Anna, I miss the alone time we used to be able to have before Ella was born.”
Since I’m making a speculation—although an informed one—I quickly add, “Where am I right and where am I wrong in my guess about how you feel?”
Anna is almost certain to find my restatement easier to hear. She’s likely to turn to Jack and say something like, “It would make all the difference if you put it that way” or “Is that how you feel?” I prepare for the possibility, however, that she might say to Jack, “He said that, you didn’t!” My task then would be to double for her. “Anna, are you saying, ‘Jack, it’s too good to believe that you might actually feel that way, but it would be wonderful if you did’.” I’d be reshaping Anna’s fight-inducing comment into an intimacy-inducing one, as I did a moment before for Jack. Again, I’d add, “Anna, where am I right and where am I wrong in my guess about how you feel?”
But how does Jack feel about my replacing his “You fuss too much with the baby” with “I miss the alone time we used to be able to have.”? He might welcome it, seeing that my translation is more likely to get Anna to listen. He might feel relief in having his tender feelings brought into the open.
On the other hand, Jack might not want at the moment to talk about vulnerable feelings. He might say, “What I feel is that Anna fusses over the baby too much” or “No, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s what I said, which is….” But let’s say he welcomes the opportunity to confide his softer feelings. Turning to Anna, he says:
Jack: I feel foolish being jealous of my own daughter. I miss the intimacy that you get breast feeding Ella. I feel so left out.
Jack would be confiding feelings in a way that could jumpstart an intimate conversation. This example demonstrates how in doubling the therapist:
- Provides an in vivo demonstration of intimate talking.
- Serves as spokesperson, translator, and advocate for each partner.
- Recasts what each partner says in an effort to make it more satisfying to that partner and easier and/or more positively engaging for the other partner to hear.
- Interrupts an escalating exchange (and, in other cases, breathes life into a devitalized one).
- Turns what the couple is concerned about or struggling with at the moment into an opportunity for intimacy.
- Ends each doubling statement by asking in one form or another, “Where am I right and where am I wrong in capturing how you feel?”
But is it such a good idea to skip over Jack’s complaint that Anna fusses too much over Ella and to suggest the issue is also within him? Couldn’t he feel embarrassed or undercut? Couldn’t he believe I’m siding with Anna and putting the blame on him? He could. Accordingly, before making my intervention, I ask myself, “Is there a chance that my comment will alienate Jack in a way I can’t easily repair?” If I believe there is, I content myself with a less chancy intervention such as:
Dan: Here, I’ll be you, Jack, talking to Anna. And for you, I’d say, “Anna, I know we disagree about Ella, but don’t you wonder sometimes whether there might be at least a little something to my concern?”
I’m getting behind Jack in what he has been trying to say, reshaping his angry statement into one that might actually start a conversation. Instead of pressing his case, which is what he was about to do, I show how it might look if he were able to step back from the intensity of the moment and present what he wants to say in a more convincing and less accusing way.
If I stick more closely to what Jack has been saying—if I meet him where he is and pay attention to what he’s trying to express—he may be able to look at his vulnerable feelings, if not immediately, perhaps later in the session or in future sessions. People need to feel heard in order to feel safe enough to confide their vulnerable feelings or even just recognize that they have them.
Doubling reveals to partners the problematic aspects of their way of relating. By giving the partners examples of what confiding, acknowledging, and listening look like, the therapist shows by contrast how they have been accusing, dismissing, and not listening.
Doubling—speaking as one partner talking to the other—enables the therapist to intervene directly into the couple system.