Key Elements

    The Couples Health Program (CHP) is a short-term, cognitive-behavioral approach to Couples Therapy that teaches couples effective negotiation and conflict-resolution skills to help them resolve their own interpersonal differences.  As such, it is conceived to be an intensive, skill-building program that empowers the couple - not the therapist - with the necessary understanding and tools to solve their own interpersonal differences over time.  A specific conflict-resolution model - the heart of the program - is taught in which couples learn a dynamic process that teaches them how to express, understand, and negotiate their individual differences, and then to customize the process itself to better reflect their own personalities and relationship needs.

    Specifically, the program is structured to teach couples the cognitions and behaviors needed to sequentially move them from their often polarized starting points, to an appreciation of their individual differences, to learning new communication skills that reflect and respect these differences (thereby deepening their understanding of each other), to using the knowledge gained to creatively invent (brainstorm) solutions that address both of their underlying needs, to agreeing and committing to a preferred “Plan A,” and finally, after trying it out in good faith, to reviewing and refining their agreement over time to increasingly reflect their growing needs.  A P.E.A.C.E. acronym is offered as a mnemonic to help couples remember the process and navigate their way through future disagreements.


    A multi-modal approach to learning is utilize that both  a) promotes behavior change through cognitive shifts, and  b) promotes cognitive shifts through behavior change.  It is important to understand how both of these learning processes operate and are represented in the program, because if participants can observe themselves learning new ideas (cognitive shift), and trying out new action patterns (behavior change), they can then recognize their own capacity for change.

Behavior Change Occurs Through Cognitive Shifts

    New ways of thinking give rise to new ways of behaving.  When hollow action strategies or formulas are taught without being anchored in personal understanding and experience, the behaviors lack durability and generalizeability.  Each unit in the CHP builds upon concepts already learned, experienced, and internalized during the prior weeks.  For example, understanding boundaries and ownership - having practiced and experienced what this feels like - gives rise naturally to “I-Statements” and “Active Listening Skills”.  Similarly, the program itself is based on a progression of cognitive shifts that ultimately make the final PEACE Process appear self-evident by the time it is presented at the end of the course.

Cognitive shifts Occur through Behavior Change

    Mental and emotional habits actually subscribe to the same learning principles as do behavioral habits.  Regardless of whether they are thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, with sufficient practice and repetition, we can learn new responses that eventually become dominant and familiar, and that eventually replace the old habits.  We do this by creating a new history of experiences that get reinforced over time and that “train our brain” to know something new.
    In the CHP, structured exercises are carefully constructed to stretch one’s comfort zone and encourage participants to try something new.  By experimenting with new behaviors, participants can both experience new feelings, as well as elicit new responses from others.  If these are positive, the new behaviors will be reinforced and with practice, will replace the old, dysfunctional habits.


 Individual Differences

    Individual differences occur in every relationship because all couples are composed of different individuals!  The question is, therefore, not whether individual differences will occur, or even to what extent two people will differ from one another, but rather, how will these inevitable differences be negotiated when they arise?

Conflicting Points-of-View

    By the same token, all people view the world through their own lens (perspective); through their own “point of view”, which is the simple result of their unique history of experiences.  Naturally, therefore, any two individuals will experience different, and often conflicting viewpoints.  But do conflicting viewpoints have to be experienced as adversarial and divisive when they occur?  Could conflicts possibly be viewed as a kind of growing edge; the source of essential materials for growth rather that the source of despair?

    These concepts form the conceptual base of the CHP; they are the foundation on which the PEACE Process is built.

    A metaphor of building a home together runs through the Workbook: key concepts are represented as the structural supports at the beginning of each module, and the process of building a home together parallels the process of building a safe, healthy, and strong relationship.  The above concepts of “Individual Differences” and unique “Points-of-View” lay the foundation for the entire structure.


    “You are you; I am me.”  The ability to see one’s partner as a separate individual, and the ability to be accountable for one’s own feelings and reactions, are represented in Units 1 and 2 by the two separate pillars or cornerstones that support the entire structure.  The concept of boundaries is thus predicated on the foundation that all individuals are different, which necessarily gives rise to separate points-of-view.


Communication Skills

    Speaking so your partner listens, and listening so your partner speaks:  in Unit 3 these essential skills are taught and form the basis for Productive Dialogue, which connects the two separate pillars by forming a bridge of understanding across them both.


Creative Brainstorming and Negotiation

    Keeping windows and doorways open to the flow and exchange of new ideas.  Fresh possibilities, new options for growth and change - all are welcome, and represent receptiveness to the creative exchange of ideas when two people are able to communicate productively.  The process of brainstorming requires that partners invent an array of possibilities that meet the underlying needs of them both, by learning to create ands from ors.


Evaluate and Refine: the feedback loop

    Nothing is permanent:  houses, like relationships, need constant attention, maintenance, updating, and repair.  Essential to the very integrity of the PEACE Process is its inherent appreciation of growth and change:  because life happens and needs change over time, Plan A must grow into Plan B as new information comes in.  This very property of change, of dynamic growth, is what makes a relationship safe and secure and ultimately creates a sanctuary within.


    By the end of the Workshops, these concepts have been presented and experienced in multiple ways and through multiple media, in hopes that a new process for negotiating differences has been internalized and customized to fit the personality of each individual relationship.  By incorporating the notion of growth and change into a dynamic conflict-resolution process (The PEACE Process), couples own the tools to navigate their way through future problems, thus preventing dysfunctional behavior patterns from recurring, escalating, and causing future functional impairment.