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This is what you’ll find from an IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy) Couples Therapist:


Since everyone has a SELF qualities available to them (curiosity,calm, compassion, confidence, courage,  clarity, connection, and creativity), there is no need for IFS couples therapists to to teach you these things.  When they see something missing in your relationship, they look for the Managers and Firefighters that are obscuring your natural abilities.

Partnerships are better when contempt is absent, there is more appreciation than criticism, problem solving is done with connection and humor, and partners accept influence from each other. (Gottman, l999).

But IFS couples therapists don’t usually teach these skills.  Instead they ask questions about what’s in the way.  Are there reasons to criticize, disconnect, or reject input?  Maybe you’ll find out you have parts that believe that criticizing is the best way to get your partner to change, that accepting influence means losing control, or that distance is safer than engagement.     Once you understand the logic behind unproductive behavior, your natural couples skills can emerge.  You’ll find yourself being spontaneously gentle, creative, open, appreciative, and assertive.

When you formulate your own plan to change, it will be more specific, elegant, and productive than anything a couples therapist could have suggested.

IFS couples therapists want to collaborate with you to find solutions.  They are respectful of your own abilities, and do not present themselves as experts who know the answer to your problems.  In fact, you will probably find that your IFS couples therapist is willing to be wrong, and happy to be corrected or re-directed.  The answers lie within you, and your IFS couples therapist has the skills to help you find them.


IFS therapist do not try to figure out how your early environment damaged you.  Rather, they focus on getting to know the Managers that developed extreme behaviors to help you adapt.  For example, IFS therapists wouldn’t usually say, “You are mistrustful because your early family interactions were too unpredictable.”  Instead, they would say, “Wouldn’t you like to get to know the part of you that is mistrustful?” How do you feel towards it?  Would you like to understand it better? Would you like to ask it what would happen if it weren’t so mistrustful?

By answering these questions, you will find out if you have a part that is trying to protect you by being mistrustful, and if there is an Exile within you that was hurt, for example, by unpredictable behavior?  Instead of “How can I help this person develop more trust? an IFS therapist thinks, “How can I help this person understand and validate her mistrusting part?”

IFS therapists see problematic behavioral problems as the well-intentioned work of Managers and Firefighters trying to do the best they can under difficult circumstances.  With the presence of Self Energy, you can get to know these protectors and help them relax.  The solutions that arise from Self-part relationships will be far superior to anything you could have imagined beforehand.

IFS couples therapists accept both partners unconditionally, no matter ho they act in their worst moments.  Instead of judgment, there will be curiosity and compassion.  IFS couples therapists know their extreme behaviors result from Managers and Firefighters trying to do their jobs, not from innate badness or character flaws.  IFS couples therapists will not usually see on partner as the victim and the other as the perpetrator (remember, we are not talking about physically or emotionally abusive situations).  Even though it might look as though one partner is controlling or demeaning, the other might have parts that think they need to accept victimization.  For instance, are there parts that think they deserve bad treatment, feel helpless, or feel frightened?  Once such parts have the opportunity to relax, partners who seemed like victims find new resounces to respond assertively.

(An excerpt from “Bring Yourself to Love: How Couples Can Turn Disconnection into Intimacy” by Mona Barbera, Ph.D.)