Couples Challenges: the Series – In-laws

The old saying, “You’re just not marrying me, you’re marrying my entire family” can be more true than one thinks. On one hand, this could be wonderful; the more the merrier. However, more time than not, this can be dangerous for the couple.

Many cultures embrace the inclusion of the extended family in a powerful role with the couple. Relatives may help with childcare, offer emotional and financial support, and contribute with household tasks and chores to name just a few. All of which can be wonderful.

However, what if one member of the couple feels threatened by the blurred boundaries and seemingly intrusive presence? This typically will become a point of contention between the couple: one fighting to include their family while the other fights to keep them out. This situation typically leaves the one fighting for the inclusion uncomfortably stuck in the middle between their partner and their family or origin.

Many times, struggles with in-laws present at very important, special times. For example, religious events, holidays and birthdays can become hotbeds for the couple to get in a major fights subsequently taking any fun or enjoyment out of the occasions. Plus, splitting your time between in-laws racing around trying to make everyone happy usually makes for a miserable time.

Here are a few helpful tips to avoid the potential conflict created by in-laws.

  1. The relationship comes first: When both partners know that they are the priority and in the number one position, they can tolerate the inclusion of others as assets to the experience rather than threats to the relationship. Verbally tell both of your extended families where your allegiance lie; with your spouse.
  2. Communicate clearly: Try to discuss both of your feelings about including and excluding the extended family. Perhaps utilizing couples counseling or marriage therapy at this time may prove very beneficial. Many times, when one is able to clarify their feelings and needs to their partner and feel their partner actually hears them, they become more flexible about the situation and can tolerate more.
  3. Make an over-riding rule: Perhaps deciding that you and your partner will not attend or include either side of the family in important events but instead spend it alone with just the two of you, makes a powerful statement that no sides are being taken and the relationship comes first.
  4. Divide and concur fairly: Take out a calendar and mark all the important occasions that could potentially include the in-laws. Divide those dates up fairly and send an email to all family members letting them know of your decision. This way they can express their gripes ahead of time and not when the occasion actually occurs.
  5. Weight the cost/benefit: Including extended family into your lives could be a huge benefit; not only financially, but emotionally. Look at how much money you could save by sharing daycare with a family member instead of paying for it out-of-pocket to a stranger. Also, use of the in-laws to take care of the children on occasion could free up valuable time the two of you could spend together nurturing your relationship.
  6. And lastly, maybe it’s not about the in-laws: There is a very good chance that this powerful conflict is not about the in-laws at all. Instead, it’s about the couple itself. The old sayings, “It’s not about the trash” or “What it’s about is not what it’s about” are probably true. Seek out couples counseling to get to the core issues of the conflict and improve your chances of moving on from this issue instead of being stuck fighting about something that isn’t even the problem to begin with.

In-laws can be both wonderful and terrible. Establish, with the help of your partner, a strong commitment to each other first making sure extended family comes second. Through the strength gained by knowing you are the priority to your partner, you may come to the place where the in-laws are no longer seen as a threat, but instead as an asset.

If you would like to learn more about how to strengthen your relationship to handle the various couple’s conflicts that may arise, contact me through my website or blog by clicking on the links provided below.

Mark A. Kaupp. A Psychological Corp.

2525 Camino Del Rio So., Suite 107. San Diego, CA 92108

or at my blog

The Couples Therapist Blog

How to Get Your Husband into Couples Counseling

Although there is a slight change in the trend, women are the primary initiators of counseling. Perhaps it’s because, in our culture, women are raised to be responsible for relationships. Or maybe it’s because men see counseling as a sign of weakness and they don’t want to “talk about their feelings.” Whatever the case may be, women do call to set up more therapy sessions than men.

But, what do you do if your husband or boyfriend doesn’t want to go to couples counseling? You’re unhappy, feel the two of you could improve your communication skills and don’t like the direction the marriage is heading. Maybe you don’t feel he is hearing how serious the situation is. Whatever the reason, he just won’t go to counseling.

Here are a few tips to try and increase your chances of getting him into couples counseling:

1) Write him a letter: Sometimes putting feeling, experiences and desires down on paper helps to organize one’s thoughts and takes the intensity out of the communication. It may help to defuse the power struggle by allowing for time and distance from the initial conflict. Plus, he can read the letter on his own time and as many times as he needs to hopefully come to understand how you are feeling and being affected by the relationship.

2) Ask him at a time of no conflict. Express to him your love and desire to make your relationship with him strong and fulfilling for both of you. He may be in a better place to hear you when you are away from the fighting and not so angry.

3) Allow him to pick the therapist. Perhaps he would feel more comfortable with a male therapist because he feels a man would be more understanding of his experience and therefore not feel ganged up on. Additionally, he may want a therapist within a certain age range or of a certain religious affiliation. If he picks the therapist, he may take more responsibility in the counseling process.

4) Start therapy by yourself: Maybe by working on your own perspective of the problems will help create a better way for you to communicate the negative effect the relationship dissatisfaction is having on you and the marriage. It could also help you to see what you are contributing to the discord and once you explain your role in the struggle, make him feel more comfortable with couples counseling and that it could have real value.

5) Collaborate with a therapist. Perhaps you can find a therapist that will invite your husband into therapy initially as an observer or “Holder of fact”. Have him come into therapy as simply an expert in your life to tell the therapist his experience of you and what he thinks you have to work on. This technique, if worked well by the therapist is an excellent way to expose your husband to what counseling is really like; that it’s a safe place to express one’s experiences and have them validated. Through this initial therapy experience, he may start to see that therapy isn’t so bad and a place he can actually start to get some of his needs met too.

6) Threaten separation or divorce: This technique should only be used as a last ditch effort and can only be used once, maybe twice in a relationship. If you are going to play the divorce card, you better be ready to follow through with your threat. This approach signifies that the marriage is hanging by a thread and that thread is about to break. If you are in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who is unwilling to try and make it better, you must either resign yourself to it and stop complaining or walk away knowing you have tried all you could and that your happiness has value.

A marriage is something worth fighting for. Try everything you can to help save it; even if this means leveraging your mate into counseling. With a well thought out plan of attack and a willing therapist who recognizes the importance and value of couples counseling, you can rescue a troubled marriage. He will be glad you did.

If you would like more explanation on how to leverage your partner into therapy, please feel free to contact me through my website or blog by clicking on the links provided below.

Mark A. Kaupp, Psy.D.,

Marriage, Family Therapist, License #MFC33213.

or at my blog


I Need You: A Story of Attachment

A grandfather had taken his two year old grandson to the beach for the first time. And as he took him to the water’s edge, he held out his index finger for toddler to grab hold of. The little boy reached up and held onto the very tip of his finger as they walked slowly a few steps into the moving water.

The grandfather could see the anxiety and excitement building in the child and noticed the boy consistently looking back and forth between the water and himself; checking to make sure everything was ok. The little boy was using his grandfather to know that everything was going to be ok as they stepped further and further into the water.

As the water approached chest high level for the child, he continued to hold onto the very tip of his grandfather’s finger. It was imperative for him to maintain a connection and the grandfather could see his grandson using him to regulate the anxiety caused by the oncoming waves of water. The child would grip the fingertip tighter as a wave would come and splash against his body and then ease on the grip as the wave passed. This pattern repeated over and over again until the child gained confidence that he could handle the oncoming waves by himself, without the aid of Grandpa’s finger. However, once a larger wave approached, the child reached back up and grasped for the finger again. It was there for the child to hold because Grandpa never took it away.

It was always there for him to use when he needed and the child knew it.

This is a story of Attachment. The child reaching for the Grandfather’s finger is not a learned behavior; it’s an instinctual action, hardwired in our brains by evolution, never to grow out of. When we are faced with fear, we reach to others. And the waves in the story are a perfect metaphor for the waves of life that keep rolling toward us everyday.

It’s a general consensus that in this country that from a very early age we need to be strong, self-sufficient, and able to handle things on our own and not need to turn to others. Turning to others is viewed as weak, a sign of immaturity and co-dependent.

It’s at this point that the question of “Which comes first?” enters the picture. Is it because we are self-sufficient and able to handle life on our own that makes it easier to reach and bring others closer to us? Or, is it because we are able to bring others close to us at times of need that makes us better able to deal with difficult times on our own? It is true that we need to be able to self-soothe when no one is available to share our anxieties and we need to be able to reach to others when life’s waves come rolling toward us. Mental health is a balance. We need to be able to do both; to reach when we are scared and know someone will respond to us and be able to make it through the tough times when we are forced to be alone. This dual process is constantly at work within us all. And, moving to either one extreme or the other gives us the labels of “too clingy or disconnected”. Neither is healthy for us or for our relationships.

Evolution has hardwired in us the need to reach to others when stressful times approach. Relearning or reinforcing this process is the number one key to achieving and maintaining positive mental health and positive successful relationships.

This concept of Attachment is a focus in the work I do when working with couples in therapy. Teaching and reinforcing a couple’s ability to reach to each other for support and nurturing in times of need creates a strong emotional bond of connection, trust and safety. I will be discussing in future writings the importance of Attachment. I will be presenting examples of positive, successful attachment and examples of difficult, trying times when attachment was not utilized. I hope you find this example of the little boy and his grandfather helpful in conceptualizing the power of relationships in dealing with the waves of life that keep rolling at us.

Mark A. Kaupp, Psy.D.,

Marriage, Family Therapist, License #MFC33213.
or at my blog

Couple Challenges: the Series – Infidelity

Few issues a couple may face have a more devastating impact as an affair, infidelity or cheating. Infidelity erodes the basic foundational reason the couple exists; their emotional bond. This emotional bond is substantiated by the couple’s believe that they are the most important person in their partner’s life, that they are the most special and the most trusted. No one is more intimate than their spouse or partner. All that makes this emotional bond safe and sacred for the couple is eliminated in one fell swoop by the destructive effects of infidelity.

A myth in the couple therapy world is that if infidelity takes place, the couple has to divorce or split up. Although this is certainly the result on many occasions, it does not have to be the case. Many couples successfully navigate their relationship through the rough waters of infidelity. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Here are some basic steps for helping save a relationship.

1) Get into couple therapy. Find a therapist that believes couples can survive infidelity and knows how to guide the couple through the emotional process needed to reestablish that secure emotional bond in which the relationship was build in the first place.

2) Get educated. Read books and articles on what to expect emotionally from the experience. Normalization of the experience is critical to accepting that what you are feeling is ok and expected. You are not crazy for feeling the way you are.

3) Process your emotional experience with a therapist. This goes for both the one who was cheated on and the one that did the cheating. This process is typically done without the partner in the room. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the immense hurt and losses created by this situation. Losses such as no longer feeling special to your spouse or partner, the loss of trust, the loss of world order and quite possibly the loss of the lover.

4) Make an honest decision to stay and work on the marriage or relationship. By processing in therapy the emotional experience caused by infidelity, one can and needs to come to a decision to stay or leave the relationship. Without an honest decision one way or the other, the couple will be stuck and held in the pain of disconnection. If both decides to stay and work on the relationship, then every effort possible needs to be done to work through the infidelity and reestablish the trusting and loving bond.

5) Risk trusting in the relationship again. This process is tough. It’s like jumping off a cliff and hoping your partner will be there to catch you. And, the only way someone is going to reestablish trust is with the active participation of their partner. Without this participation, trust is not going to happen, no matter how hard one tries. Trust is not a one-way street, it takes two.

6) Once trust has begun to take hold and the foundation begins to rebuild, deepen the emotional experience through intense couple therapy, preferably Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT). This form of couple therapy is the most empirically supported form of couple therapy in psychology and works to create a deep, safe emotional connection between partners.

Infidelity is hard but not always too hard to overcome. Make a clear and honest choice to either stay and fight for the relationship or cash in your emotional chips. That decision is yours to make. As long as your partner is willing to work to reestablish trust, then the couple has a fighting chance to defeat the devastating effects infidelity can cause.

If you would like more explanation on how to survive infidelity, please feel free to contact me through my website or blog by clicking on the links provided below.

Mark A. Kaupp, Psy.D., Marriage,

Family Therapist, License #MFC33213.
or at my blog

How to choose a Couple Therapist

With couples divorcing and splitting up at the highest rate modern time, quality couple therapy is a must. And, finding a qualified couple therapist is essential. Only 14% of therapists in the United States that state they do couple therapy have actually had training in how to do couple therapy. Most therapists claiming to be competent in working with couples are applying training they received in working with individuals to the couple dynamic and think that this will work; it doesn’t. Here is a quick list of things to ask a potential couple therapist during the interviewing process.

1) Have you actually had training in working with couples? If so, what where the classes/seminars titled? This will help you know if the therapist is being honest with you about their qualifications.

2) How many couples have you seen in your practice within the last 12 months?

3) What theoretical perspective do you conceptualize your couples with? There are two very well known theoretical perspectives designed specifically for working with couples. They are Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) and IMAGO therapy. If the therapist does not incorporate a theory then they will have no idea where they are going with the couple and you will be wasting precious resources and time in their care.

4) Does the therapist work on communication skills? This is a tricky one. If the therapist answers “Yes” and does not qualify their answer, you may be in trouble. For example, research clearly states that working on teaching a couple how use “I” statements and other basic communication techniques does not work. Communication is about trust. If the couple does not trust their partner then the words coming out of their mouths will not be taken in and listened to.

5) Does the therapist split the couple up and work with them individually? If they do, then they are not a couple therapist; they are an individual therapist. Only in extreme cases should a couple be split up and worked with separately i.e.: domestic violence, unprocessed trauma, active substance abuse. Splitting a couple up for one (1) session for assessment purposes is ok as long as that is the reason for the division.

6) How does the therapist ensure that they do not take sides? This question will help understand how the therapist conceptualizes the couple’s dynamic. Do they see the couple as two people impacting the other and therefore causing a reaction that further impacts their partner? Couples are systems and just like interlocking gears, one can’t move without affecting the other.

7) Does the therapist see the couple as an “Emotional Bond” or a contract that needs to be renegotiated? Therapists that give their couples tasks to complete such as going on more dates or doing more chores around the house are missing the point. “It’s not about the trash!!!” It’s about the emotional bond between the couple and when that emotional bond is not strong enough, the couple will respond with distress. These tasks to do more chores or bring home more flowers try to get at strengthening that bond. However, without directly focusing on how that bond is weakened, the couple therapist will be wasting more time and missing the point completely.

For more information please visit my website at:

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Mark A. Kaupp, Psy.D., Marriage,

Family Therapist, License #MFC33213.