VIDEO BLOG: Breaking out of the cycle of blaming and defensiveness in your marriage

Some marriages get stuck in a brutal cycle of blaming and defensiveness.

Blaming and defensiveness happens because of “symbiosis”, a state of living together as if you are one.

It’s a place where you and your partner can only see your own reality but not the reality of your partner.

It’s the inability to see your partner as an “other” person.

The result of symbiosis is self-absorption and conflict. That’s when all the blaming and defensiveness begins and often becomes a destructive cycle.

In this brief video…

I talk about why this happens and how to break out of this painful place.

WATCH IT with your partner and then DISCUSS IT together using the questions below.

How to break the cycle of blaming and defensiveness

Discuss with your partner:

  1. Describe your own version of the blaming and defensiveness cycle.

    (Some couples share feelings openly, others “walk on eggshells” to avoid a conflict. Either way there is probably some defensiveness and resentment going on that you should talk about. An example of walking on eggshells would be: SHE: “I want to talk to him about his leaving dirty dishes in the sink but I’m afraid he’ll be defensive.” HE: “Every time she mentions things like that I feel like nothing I ever do is good enough so I defend myself and then blame her for being obsessive.” Now describe your own version of the cycle.)

  2. How is your conflict the result of “symbiosis” as described in the video?

  3. Differentiation by definition is seeing your partner as different from you but valid in their own view of reality. How can the Couple’s Dialogue process (that the couple with the “dishwasher conflict” used) help you achieve differentiation in your relationship?

To go further…

Click on the link and print out two copies of The Couple’s Dialogue and follow the steps of mirroring, validation and empathy.

The validation step facilitates differentiation and dissolves symbiosis. The empathy step facilitates reconnection at an even deeper level than before.

When doing the couples dialogue to share a frustration, always remember to begin with an “appreciation” (as directed on the sheet).

Have fun!

And if you haven’t already…

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

VIDEO BLOG: How to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

Most of us see conflicts in our marriage as bad.

But did you know that conflicts can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise?

In the video below, the story of Mario and Rosa shows us how to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner…

…and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how you can turn your conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

Discussion with your partner:

  1. What evidence do each of you see that you married your “Imago” match? (To explore further, fill out the “Brief Relationship Workup“, then transfer the info to “My Unconscious Relationship Agenda“. )
  2. Share with each other what needs for healing you see.
  3. In what specific ways will you both need to grow in order to bring healing to each other?

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

How one husband transformed his marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing!

Debbie said she had only one problem in her marriage! It was her husband, Will!

“Our counselor told us Will has to work on himself before we can ever have a healthy relationship!”

Debbie and Will were in a storm of conflict and she was blaming it all on him.

Will had “anger issues” so in Debbie’s eyes he was 100% to blame for their problems. He got labeled by their prior counselor as the “bad spouse” and she was the “good spouse”.

But we soon discovered that Debbie’s fear of intimacy was preventing her from connecting with Will. And her withdrawal from him during times of conflict was activating Will’s childhood feelings of rejection. That’s when he would react with  outbursts of anger.

His anger, in turn, made her feel smothered until she would then blow up. And the raging storm of conflict continued!

In a storm of conflict like this, the problem is not you or your partner, it’s the “space-between”.


Their problem wasn’t Will. And it wasn’t Debbie.

It was “the space between”!

The “space between” them was filled with negativity, making the relationship unsafe. Both were adding to that negativity in their own way. Will by his uncontrolled anger. Debbie by her fear of intimacy, retreating, and then blowing up.

An intimate partnership is not just two individuals interacting. It’s two people plus the “space between” them.

A marriage relationship is like the physical universe in two ways: (1) everything is connected, and (2) the space between planets is not just empty space. There are massive energy fields at work to hold everything together.

In the same way, you and your partner are connected, and the space between you is not just empty space.

The space between you is filled with either positive or negative energy. And that’s what determines the quality of your relationship and your life. Whatever you put into that space has the power to shape and change your lives more than any other force.

So, to fix your relationship, you can’t just fix your partner or fix yourself. You have to fix the “space between”.

Filling the space between with positive energy makes it safe to reconnect. And when you reconnect all the problems you want to solve actually dissolve.

That’s when the storm of conflict can be transformed into a refuge of healing.

Here are three powerful steps Will took to turn their marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

Marriage Transformed from Storm of Conflict to Refuge of Healing

1. Commit to Zero Negativity

If there is ANY negativity in the space between you in the form of criticism, judgement, an eye roll, or even going silent when your partner is overreacting, the relationship will not feel safe to either of you.  And negativity will always keep you from connecting with each other.

So make a commitment to eliminate ALL negativity in the space between. Then, when you slip up, repair it immediately so you don’t fall back into the same old pattern of allowing negativity into the space between.

Debbie could NOT stop her negative reactions, but Will tried hard to stick to it even when things turned ugly.

As Will continued to refrain from any put downs, the space between began to slowly change.

Will was demonstrating how one partner can change the dynamics of the relationship with a zero negativity commitment. Click on the link to download the tool.

2. Share 3 “Appreciations” with your partner every day.

The way to get beyond the one negative thing you’re stuck on about your partner is to point out the myriad of things that are positive.

What you focus on is what you will get.

If you focus on what your partner does wrong all the neural pathways of anger and fear will continue to get reinforced. Then the accompanying neurochemicals of cortisol and adrenaline – the neurochemicals of fear and anxiety flood your system giving fuel to the storm of conflict.

But if you focus on your partner’s positive qualities your brain releases the pleasure neurochemicals of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin – neurochemicals of pleasure that make you feel safe, wonderful, and alive.

Recent discoveries about the brain have given us new hope that we can change our way of relating and turn that storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

Turns out our brains are” plastic”. This means that we can reshape our neural pathways. By choosing what you think about, you have the power to change your own brain and your feelings as well.

The more we bring these appreciations into the “space between”, the more neurochemicals of well-being, wonder, and full-aliveness are released. And the more the space between is filled with positive energy and safety. Click here to download the Appreciation Tool.

3. Use Safe Conversation skills

Eliminating negativity doesn’t mean you don’t deal with negative issues.

You have to talk about negative things, but you can do it in a positive way, keeping the space between you a negativity-free zone.

Safe Conversations skills (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) can help you talk without put downs.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that makes it positive or negative.

The Couple’s Dialogue will help you slow down and mirror (listening to 100% of what your partner is saying), validate (letting your partner know she or he makes sense), and empathize (feeling what your partner feels). Click here to download this tool.

Will used these skills trying make it safe for Debbie, but it seemed to only escalate her anger.

Debbie began accusing Will of things that simply “were not true”.

It seemed like they would never catch a break from this storm of conflict.

Marriage Transformed from Storm of Conflict to Refuge of Healing

But a miracle happened as Will continued to regulate his own reactions by mirroring Debbie as she shared her feelings.

Even though her accusations were unfair, and her feelings seemed unwarranted, Will continued to mirror, validate, and empathize with her until he literally dissolved all her criticism and negativity!

That was a breakthrough! Why?

Criticisms are simply a wish in disguise.

Behind all Debbie’s hateful words and wrongful accusations was a hidden desire to be connected with Will.

When it became safe for her to reconnect with him, all those criticisms melted away.

When you make it safe for your partner to share ANYTHING, you can dissolve all their criticism, and melt all their accusations.

Isn’t that better than defending yourself and trying to prove your partner wrong?

What about you and your partner? Are you in a storm of conflict?

  • Get rid of ALL negativity.
  • Share 3 appreciations with your partner each day.
  • Use Safe Conversation skills to share your frustrations.

And you can quell that storm of conflict and transform your marriage into a refuge of healing!

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

How to resolve marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”

Jim and Patty’s marriage was in conflict. Jim was a logical, “black and white” kind of thinker while his wife Patty was more sensitive to emotions and in touch with her feelings.

They say opposites attract, and this was never truer than in the case of Jim and Patty.

Their conflicts usually ended with Jim arguing his point until Patty finally gave in to his “logic”. Patty would react emotionally, and she never felt like her opinion mattered.

For years, Patty went along with this until one day to Jim’s complete shock and surprise, she asked for a separation.

That’s when they sought help. Here’s what they said.

Patty: “Jim thinks he’s right about everything, and he tries to make me feel stupid.”

Jim: “I manage my team at work. I reason with them, and they all get my logic and everything goes smoothly. I can’t understand why Patty ‘doesn’t get it’ and it frustrates me because she’s so ruled by her emotions.”

Patty didn’t feel heard. And Jim felt like everybody in the world understood his logic but Patty.

What is the problem here?

Jim is a “separate knower” and Patty is a “connected knower”.

The theory of separate and connected knowing states that there are two different ways we know and learn. I’m no expert in epistemology, but I find this simple insight very helpful with couples.


What is “separate knowing”? Think Socrates. The scientific method. That kind of empirical, objective, linear thinking that western civilization is largely based on. That’s what’s meant by “separate knowing”.

Separate…as in detached from the object being studied. It’s the critical thinking approach.

It’s an approach that becomes adversarial and competitive, because it assumes that a group of random people can understand and describe a reality in the same objective way.

It has an attitude which says, “Prove it.” It holds that truth exists independently of who is doing the observation.

Nothing wrong with that!

The advancements in modern science and technology that we enjoy today are the result of brilliant minds engaged in “separate knowing”.

Jim is a separate knower. And who do separate knowers usually marry?

You got it! Connected knowers.

Separate and Connected Knowing 2


Patty is a “connected knower”.

Connected knowing adds to the knowing process things like intuition, emotion, and empathy. This kind of knowing is not detached and uninvolved.

It’s the kind of knowing that actively affirms the person you are attempting to understand. In marriage, it’s the kind of knowing where you seek to empathize with your partner.

While holding fast to your own view of reality, you stretch into your partner’s world to see and understand her or his point of view as fully as possible.

At first, Jim thought this was nonsense. He claimed that Patty couldn’t see truth clearly because her feelings distorted her perspective.

Connected knowers are often misunderstood in this way. Connected knowing is often referred to as “soft thinking”, and is not valued as much as clear, logical evaluation.

But connected knowing, when done well, uses the knower’s intuition, emotion and empathy as part of the knowing process, leading to even better independent judgments.

Connected knowing views the truth as a process that is evolving and co-created by those who are participating in it.

It realizes that observations from a detached, objective position will not necessarily result in an unbiased view of truth.

In marriage, you need your partner’s perspective to arrive at a fuller, more unbiased view of your reality as a couple.

Ok, enough theory. How did this help Jim and Patty?


We used the Couple’s Dialogue to first help Jim see Patty’s perspective. Then to help Patty see Jim’s perspective. (Click on the link to print out the Couple’s Dialogue guide for your own use).

Through the Couple’s Dialogue Jim began to suspend his own critical judgement long enough to enter into Patty’s world.


The first step was for Jim to “mirror” Patty (repeat back to her exactly what she said).

It went like this:

Patty: “When you argue your point, I feel like you’re not seeing everything. I feel like you have your mind made up and I have no room in the relationship. No room to be who I am and to have my own opinions.”

As Jim mirrored Patty, he began to see things he hadn’t seen before.

After mirroring, Jim checked for accuracy: “Did I get it?”

Then he turned on his curiosity with the question: Is there more about that?”

That powerful question that ignited curiosity in Jim’s brain also made it safe for Patty to get in touch with her feelings.

As Patty felt safe for the first time in a long time, she began to share how her childhood wounds were being triggered by this feeling of not being heard and valued.

She began to get in touch with thoughts she’d never thought, and feelings she’d never felt.

Patty: “Yes, it reminds me of when I was little and I felt like my dad never listened to me. And mom was so busy I felt invisible.”

As Patty added this meaning to the collective consciousness between them, you could see a shift happening in Jim.

Suddenly he realized there was so much more going on in their relationship than meets the eye.

He began to see that his “separate knowing” was limited, leaving him with just his perspective, and blinding him to Patty’s.


The second step in the Couple’s Dialogue is validation.

Instead of seeing Patty as emotional and illogical, the dialogue helped Jim to see that her feelings made sense.

Jim: “Patty, you make sense. Growing up you didn’t feel like your dad listened to you, and with your mom you felt invisible. It makes sense that when I don’t make room for your opinion, you would feel that way in our relationship.”

Mirroring and Validation brought Jim into a place of “connected knowing” intellectually, but it was the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue that helped them reconnect their hearts.


Empathy is the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue.

Jim: “I can imagine feeling invisible, and feeling like your opinion doesn’t matter really hurts. And I can imagine the fear you have that this will never change and you’ll never get to be who you really are in our relationship.”

Jim was now fully experiencing connected knowing. As he saw what he hadn’t seen before, and felt feelings that he hadn’t felt before, there was a transformation that occurred.

Before this dialogue, he saw Patty as simply emotional and illogical. Now he was seeing her reality.

He was becoming aware that there were past experiences that affected the way she saw everything.

Connected knowing was helping Jim gain a fuller picture of their reality as a couple.

This was the beginning of a new relationship where they learned appreciate both “logic” and “feelings”.

In time Patty began to feel safer and more able to share her feelings with Jim.

And Jim discovered how enriched his perspective and his life can become if he engages in “connected knowing” with Patty’s help.

After Patty had talked and Jim mirrored her, it was Jim’s turn to talk. And Patty went through the Couple’s Dialogue steps with Jim of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Through the dialogue, Patty came to more fully appreciate Jim as a “separate knower”. Because he made it safe for her and engaged in “connected knowing” with her, she was able to see the value Jim brings to the relationship as the logical “separate knower” that he was.

What about you? Are you a separate knower? Are you a connected knower? Or, are you some of both?

How is the imbalance to one side or the other affecting your relationship?

Do you have a tendency to exalt your own way of knowing while putting down your partner’s?

It’s not a matter of one way being better than the other. Both ways of knowing are necessary to arrive at a more complete and unbiased view of realty.

So let’s learn from our partner how to resolve our marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”.

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Turning marriage conflict into an opportunity for deeper connection

When Dennis and Marsha came to see me, their negativity toward each other was off the charts! Here are some steps they took to turn a nasty conflict into a deep and loving connection.

1. Start by sharing an “appreciation”.

When a relationship causes us pain, we begin to see our partner through the lens of negativity.

Using a tool called “Four Powerful Appreciations” every day can change this lens from negative to positive.

Click here to print out that tool.

Click here to read more about how gratitude can radically change your relationship.

Sharing “appreciations” regularly pushes negative energy out of the space between you, and fills it with positive energy.

That’s when your unconscious brain starts to identify your partner as a source of pleasure again. The result: feelings of safety.

When safety increases it makes connection possible.

It’s also important to share an appreciation before you share a frustration. Doing that helps creates a safer space between you, making it easier for your partner to listen to your frustration rather than react to it.

Marsha shared her appreciation with Dennis in this way:

“Dennis, one thing I appreciate about you is the way you always take care of my car, making sure it’s always clean and well maintained.”

As Dennis mirrored the appreciation, he saw for the first time how that act of kindness made Marsha feel especially loved and cared for.

You could feel the atmosphere in the room change, as the space between them was filled with positive energy.

2. Share negative feelings in a positive way.

After sharing the appreciation with Dennis, Marsha went on to share a frustration – something that typified the regular conflicts they had been having for years.

She said, “The other night when I was talking to you in bed, you just turned over and went to sleep.” Marsha was furious, and typically she would accuse him of not caring about her.

But instead of blowing up with a negative expression like, “You never listen to me!”, the Couples Dialogue helped Marsha use “I” language, focusing on what she felt rather than what Dennis had done.

“When you went to sleep, I felt so lonely. And I was so angry I didn’t speak to you the next day.”

Simply asking Marsha to describe what she felt, rather than what Dennis was doing, helped her get more in touch with what she was feeling.

Marsha’s anger was a surface emotion that was masking her deeper feeling of loneliness.

When Dennis drifted off to sleep while she was talking, it triggered that loneliness.

Her reaction to that feeling was anger toward Dennis. She expressed that anger by giving Dennis “the silent treatment” for a whole day.

3. Connect your frustration to a childhood wound.

As Dennis mirrored these words back to Marsha, she was able to go deeper into her feelings.

“It reminds me of when I was little and what I said never mattered.”

Marsha had grown up the third of four children. Her older siblings always dominated their conversations and made all the decisions. On top of that, her mom always seemed preoccupied with her younger sister.

Growing up, Marsha felt like her thoughts were inferior, and her feelings were not valid. As she entered school with this belief, it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy which limited her in life and in relationships.

As she was making this connection with her childhood, it became obvious that her reaction to Dennis was unfair. She was reacting to him with all the pain she felt from childhood. He was not the source of her reaction. He was only the trigger.

And, until now, Dennis could never understand Marsha’s “extreme reaction”. It would cause him to pull away even further, because her criticism triggered his own childhood feelings of inadequacy.  This, then, activated even deeper feelings of abandonment or rejection in Marsha.

This cycle of conflict repeated itself over and over again, almost completely destroying their relationship.

The Couple’s Dialogue helped them disrupt this pattern and begin turning their conflict into connection.


4. Validate your partner’s perspective.

Dennis validated Marsha’s perspective by saying, “What you’re saying makes sense. You always felt like what you have to say doesn’t matter. So it makes sense that my falling asleep while you were sharing important thoughts would make you feel bad.”

Validation helps you see your partner’s differences without judgement, and therefore without polarization and conflict.

It also makes your partner feel valued and safe and helps them drop their walls and defenses.

5. Empathize with your partner’s feelings.

Dennis was able to go even further into empathy with Marsha. “I can imagine how painful it is to be treated as if your thoughts aren’t important. It must be especially hard, because you expected that I would treat you differently from your parents. Instead I fell asleep, as if what you were saying was boring or not important. That must have really felt bad”

Back in that heated moment, Dennis had responded defensively saying, “Hey give me a break! I worked hard today and I was exhausted. That’s why I fell asleep. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?!”

But as he empathized with Marsha, defending his own position didn’t seem so important any more.

Empathy caused his perspective to shift so that he could see Marsha’s pain, rather than just his own frustration.

Empathy dissolves our defenses and makes connection possible.

6. Grant your partner’s request.

It’s in the safety and closeness of this kind of moment that Behavior Change Requests are powerful. BCRs should be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Marsha made this request of Dennis…

“The next time we’re talking, would you sit up, look in my eyes and listen to me…and perhaps mirror what I’m saying?”

Usually we encourage three requests that your partner can choose to grant, but this one request was on the money.

Dennis eagerly agreed to grant this request, and they talked about how their newly learned skill, “mirroring” (the first step in the dialogue process), would help Dennis stay interested and curious (and awake :-)). And it would ensure that Marsha felt heard and valued in the process.

The powerful thing about this little breakthrough was that this conflict was similar to most every other conflict they had.

Because they were able to turn this conflict into connection, they saw how every future conflict had this same potential! Wow!

Of course it’s easier said than done. But it’s exciting to see the journey that Marsha and Dennis are on – turning marriage conflict into deeper connection!

What about you? Try using these steps to turn your conflict into connection.

And share with us how it’s working in the comment section below! Add your insights to the pool!

Also if you have any questions, others are probably asking it too. So fire away!

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Don’t settle for an “OK” marriage”! Ask for what you need!

So many couples are staying together in an unhappy marriage. When you ask how they’re doing, they’ll say, “OK”.

That’s code for “I’ve settled”.

In more open and honest moments, they’ll admit, “We say we’re happily married, but actually most of our needs are being met outside our relationship.”


“Everyone thinks we’re doing fine, but we don’t really feel connected. He does his thing and I do mine. We’re like ships passing in the night.”

Can you relate? Would that describe your marriage?

Well join the crowd!

Experts tell us that up to 90% of couples who stay married report their relationship as “less than satisfactory”.


Some of these couples make it to the end of their lives, surviving in this prison. Life sure didn’t turn out like they expected, but they felt hopeless to change it.

But other couples don’t survive. Their relationship eventually blows up and ends.

And it doesn’t have to be a big problem that blows it up. You’ll hear them blame it on things like, “We couldn’t agree on whether to squeeze the toothpaste from the top or the bottom of the tube.”

But here’s what actually happened:

Years of living with someone without feeling connected resulted in pain that became unbearable.

And they put off getting help until it was too late.

Dr. John Gottman said that the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their heart to call for help is four hours.

But the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their marriage to call for help is seven years!

So don’t wait!

You can break out of that place where you’re stuck by learning to ask for what you need!

Change happens when we make it safe enough for each other to turn our frustrations into desires expressed.

Then when my partner gives me what I ask for, it brings healing to me and closeness in our relationship.

But for my partner, it usually means they must be willing to grow into parts of themselves they never developed.

And that’s hard.

“Wait a minute Chuck! You said to ask for what I need? I’ve done that a thousand times and it didn’t work!”

Did you make it safe enough to ask for what you need? Or did you just ask?

Asking someone who is in a defensive mode always comes across as nagging. And you’re right! That never works!

But in a safe conversation, asking for what you want gives your partner a great opportunity to stand tall and be your hero!

And that’s when everything changes.

Just ask Mark and Sunny.

One day Mark made a request of Sunny.

It was something he really needed from her.

He was tired of them both being ships passing in the night. After years of marriage, he wanted to know this woman he lived with in a more personal way.

Turns out that request was not easy for Sunny. It required of her something she had never done. It required that she stretch and grow a part of herself that was lost growing up and never developed.

Watch their story then discuss it together with the questions below.

(This is a powerful video by one of my mentors, Nedra Fetterman. Watch it as she tells the story of her own parents, Mark and Sunny.)

Because of privacy settings, you’ll have to watch it on Vimeo. Click on the blue tab to watch, and then come back and discuss what you saw using the questions below.

Discuss with your partner…

1. In what ways is your relationship like Mark and Sunny’s before Mark made his request?

Here are some steps that have to be followed in order to make a request that deepens the connection in your relationship.

– Create Safety
– Connect
– Make a Request (small, specific, doable and positive)
– Be Courageous

2. Why is safety important?

3. Why should the goal of a request be “to connect” rather than to just make a change?

4. Why do you think this takes courage?

5. What would you like to ask from your partner right now? If the conversation feels safe, do it and then talk about it.

When you’ve finished, please take a moment to share your thoughts with everyone in the reply section below.

And…if you haven’t already…

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 



How to break the cycle of blaming and defensiveness in your marriage

Is your marriage stuck in a vicious cycle of blaming and defensiveness? Here’s why that happens, and what to do about it.

Marriages get stuck in this kind of destructive cycle because of what we call “symbiosis”.

Symbiosis is living together as if you are one. It’s another way of saying “being dependent on one another”. But this kind of dependence goes way overboard and is not healthy.

In the romantic stage symbiosis is pleasurable, because I’m under the illusion that my partner and I are the same.

We think alike. We feel alike. We don’t need words to understand each other. We feel like we’ve truly found our soulmate.

But after the love chemicals wear off and the power struggle stage begins, symbiosis is painful.

Symbiosis is painful because I discover that my partner is an “other” person with their own needs, desires, hurts, experiences, and perspective.


That’s when I get stuck in my own self-absorption. So does my partner.

– I can only see my reality.
– I believe my reality is the only true description of reality.
– One of us is right and the other is wrong.
– “You and I are one, and I’m the one!”

Sound familiar?

Whenever I discover that my partner is different, my reality is challenged, and I can feel deeply betrayed.

That’s when the blaming and defensive cycle begins.

Here’s an example of symbiosis with two realities colliding.

SHE:“Make sure when you load the dishwasher you face the dishes inward, put all the silverware sorted in the tray, and don’t turn it on until it’s full so we don’t waste energy.”

HE:“You know it really doesn’t matter which way they are facing. They’ll get clean either way. And just put the silverware in there. We can sort it when we put it away. And really it doesn’t use that much energy.”

SHE:“You never listen to me!!”

HE : “You’re always telling me what to do!!”

Wow, Sandy and I have had that kind of exchange countless times! How about you?

So how do I break out of this cycle of blaming and defensiveness?

Differentiation is the process that helps us get unstuck.

Differentiation is when you begin to see and accept your partner as different, as an “other” person.

Differentiation is when you can hold your reality and your partner’s reality at the same time.

The Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that can help a couple experience differentiation.

Here’s what it might look like in the example above.

HE: Mirrors and validates his partner’s desire to have the dishes face inward, the silverware sorted, and the dishwasher full before being used.

In that safe context where he has regulated his own reactions, he sees that her  perspective really does make sense. And he lets her know that he gets it.

SHE: Having her reality validated, she feels safe and is open to seeing his reality.

She mirrors and validates his view that the dishes will get clean facing inward or outward. That the silverware can be sorted just as easily after they’re clean. And that having a few empty spaces in the dishwasher is not a huge expense.

Although she sees it differently, his view makes sense to her.

In the process, she realizes that there is really no right or wrong way to do it – just different ways.

She lets him know she gets it.

HE and SHE: They both feel safe and validated. As a result they both are now are open to new ways of washing the dishes.

Neither are holding on to their view for dear life. Neither are driven to prove themselves right.


Differentiation dissolves the symbiosis and self-absorption.

And, bingo, the blaming and defensiveness stops!

Watch the video below as Genevieve and Mike demonstrate the Couples Dialogue. Notice what happens to Genevieve when she feels validated by Mike.

That’s how it’s done!

Let’s turn symbiosis and self-absorption into healthy differentiation and deeper connection…

…and stop the blaming and defensiveness!

Let me know if I can help. I’ve been doing lots of Skype calls with couples over the past few weeks. I’d love to help coach you if you need it. Click here to find out more.

Post your comments below in the comment section. Share your insights and questions. See you next week!

My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.