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The Couples ConneXion
Tattle Tale!
by Dr. Steven Cohn
Dr. Steven Cohn

Many people enter couples counseling with little or no previous experience with individual or couples therapy. These clients are often concerned with how long they will need to be in counseling. Statistics aside, no one can say for certain how long the process will take, but here are some tips for ways to reduce the number sessions that a couple may need.

One of the most important things to remember is that the couples counselor is not there to be a referee. The therapist is not there, whistle in hand, to make calls from the sidelines about who is right and who is wrong or to preside over and determine the winner of an ongoing relational debate. Constantly arguing about who is right and who is wrong is an enormous waste of time in couples therapy.

Neither is the therapist there to play mother or father while the couple reenacts sibling rivalry or seeks parental praise and admiration. One of the biggest time wasters in couples therapy is the use of the couples therapist as a listening post for the child-like tattle-tale. People reverting to tattle-tale behavior use couples therapy, week after week, to report all of the negative things their respective partner did to hurt their feelings or make them angry or frustrated. They are often stuck in constant blame mode with little or no insight into their own role in relational difficulties. Something akin to: “Daddy, Beth is saying mean things again”… and again, and again, and again.

It is important to help the couples therapist understand the dynamics that are at work in the relationship, and couples do have to tell the therapist about painful relational events. There is, however, a difference between describing painful events while taking personal responsibility for what is happening and describing hurtful events from the perspective of a self-imposed, hapless and powerless victim. (There are, of course, situations where a client truly is a victim of abuse – and these clients are not to be discounted.)

At some point the tattle-tale has to learn to stick up for himself or herself without the intervention from a couples therapist in the form of a surrogate parent. With all due compassion, if a client is having a difficult time being centered in their own power, that client would do well to begin working with an individual therapist to bolster the effectiveness and efficiency of their couples therapy.

If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm yourself or someone else, please phone the 24 hour per day Crisis Line at 215-7082. A trained counselor will help you through your crisis.

Dr. Steven Cohn is the Director of the Portland Couples Counseling Center and Co-Founder of the Irvington Counseling and Healing Arts Center. He specializes in treating couples from all backgrounds. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cohn or if you would like to request a complimentary brochure, please phone 503-282-8496.