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Therapy for Your Marriage - Without the Therapy

By UM News

Therapy for Your Marriage - Without the Therapy

By UM News
Instead of trying to get your way, find a “third way,” advises new book co-authored by University of Miami professor.

Is it possible to observe an argument with your spouse from the vantage point of an objective observer? If you could, would you behave differently?

“Advice, especially about marriage and relationships, is easy to give, hard to take and even harder to implement,” said Andrew Christensen, UCLA professor of psychology and lead author of Reconcilable Differences: Rebuild Your Relationship by Rediscovering the Partner You Love — Without Losing Yourself (Guilford Press). The book avoids simple-minded, one-size-fits-all advice and helps readers to solve issues in their own relationships.

Book cover for Reconcilable Differences‌Reconcilable Differences was first published to wide acclaim in 2000. The new second edition is substantially enhanced with insights gleaned from an ongoing five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, awarded to University of Miami (UM) researcher Dr. Brian Doss. The new edition takes couples through a three-step process that can be an effective, convenient, inexpensive alternative to face-to-face therapy, said Doss.

In the first step, readers assess their relationships and relationship conflicts, and receive instruction on how to interpret the answers. Based on this feedback, readers select a core relationship problem they want to solve.

In the second step, readers develop what Doss, an associate professor of psychology in the UM College of Arts & Sciences, calls a “DEEP” understanding – a more comprehensive and accurate view of their relationship – by examining how natural Differences, External Stress, Emotional Sensitivities, and Patterns of communication cause and exacerbate the problem.

Finally, in the third step, readers learn about the best ways to achieve lasting and meaningful change – usually through a combination of acceptance and specific actions. To aid in that change, the new edition offers new exercises and tips. “To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer”, said Doss, “we’re hoping the book will give readers the ability to ‘accept the things they cannot change, tools to change the things they can, and the knowledge to know the difference’.”

The new volume applies not only to married heterosexual couples, but to any committed romantic relationship – including couples living together or gay and lesbian couples.

In relationship conflicts, Christensen said, there are often three sides to every story — the points of view of both participants and that of a hypothetical outside observer, who might see partial truth in each of the other two versions. Couples therapy attempts to develop that third side of the story so that both partners achieve some, but not necessarily all, of their goals. 

Questions posed in the book include:

  1. Thinking of a conflict you've had, what comment could you have made early on or before the conflict got heated that might have altered the course of the discussion? What comments could you have made afterward taht might have led to recovery from the conflict?
  2. Are you engaging in any behavior to create change that backfires and decreases the chances that your partner will do what you want?
  3. What might you have said that would have acknowledged what your partner was feeling or shown interest in your partner's point of view?

The questions and exercises are based on a broad range of research on an approach called Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy, including studies by Doss and Christensen, as well as the late Neil S. Jacobson, which were funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Unhappy couples often find themselves stuck in their same old patterns,” said Doss, “because their efforts to fix the problem only make it worse.  I might want more closeness in my relationship, but pushing for more time with my partner only drives my partner further away.  Or, I may feel that my partner needs to be more fiscally responsible; unfortunately, my efforts to set a family budget might make my partner feel controlled and lead to her spending even more (or doing so behind my back).”

Indeed, one of the book’s themes is that people are unlikely to change fundamentally no matter how much their spouses or partners demand it. The book advocates emotional acceptance of each other. Instead, the book recommends, see your spouse’s faults in the full context of who the person is. Then you may be able to see those shortcomings as “an offshoot of other characteristics – even one of the things that initially attracted you to your partner,” Doss said. 

Doss and Christensen have also developed a free online treatment program for couples based on the book, at  In this free program, as part of an ongoing research study, couples follow a similar process to that suggested in the book, and receive support from a “coach” through four brief Skype calls.