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Apr 11, 2017

A Simple Guide to Healthy Relationships

If you work with couples, non-monogamous relationships, are in a relationship, want to be in a relationship, or are recovering (and reflecting) on what went wrong from a recent break-up, then this is a good place to be.

I’m an LPC in Missouri with an emphasis on relationships and relationship counseling. I’ve PREP certified, PREPARE/ENRICH certified, and have completed levels one and two of the Gottman Method Couples Therapy (one level to go and then I’m off and running towards certification). I’m writing all this to let you know that I love couples and successful relationships, and I love to help people get to that place in the therapy office.

There are two things that I tell people (based off the Gottmans’ Sound Relationship House, which is what I’m biased towards).

  1. We have to work on your friendship.
  2. We have to work on successful fighting.

And that’s it. Seriously, that’s what I tell people. I throw in that there’s fun things to do, like work on the existential issues and heal from broken trust, but these two factors are what brings the vast majority of people into my office. If we can’t get these two down, then we can’t move on to the more fun things (like the shared meaning, life dreams, positive perspective, etc.).

When I frame it that way, it seems overly simple, but I’d rather it be overly simple in the beginning than completely overwhelming and include every detail and aspect of couples counseling.

Not to make it seem as though I don’t address questions or go over the structure of the work we do (both I which I do), but I just don’t give all of the information at one time because it would be way too much to take in.

SO. As stated – two simple concepts, friendship and fighting. With friendship, we’re looking at three pieces that all interrelate with each other and impact the rest of the “house.” We’re interested in the cognitive room they give each other (i.e. does each partner feel known by the other); their fondness and admiration of one another (i.e. does each partner feel cherished, respected, admired, liked); and their tendency to turn towards their partner or to turn away (if it’s not obvious, we want turning towards). These things are the basis for a positive friendship system, which makes managing conflict/fighting significantly easier.

The second piece (fighting) is equally important as friendship. I mean, our friendship system absolutely influences our fighting, but it’s important that we know how to fight. For example, there are specific concepts that we want to address when conflict and discussions arise. These concepts include flooding, accepting each other’s influence, the four horsemen, and compromise. This is not an exhaustive list, but is a good place to start.

Like I said, simple. I try to keep it simple when I work with couples and I try to keep it simple when I teach interventions (and point things out as they’re happening). And, of course, we all know that simple doesn’t necessarily equal easy. So keep that in mind, but hopefully walk away with a slightly clearer view of conceptualizing couple’s work. 

Tara Vossenkemper is an Assistant Professor and counselor educator with Central Methodist University, along with the founder and a practicing counselor with The Counseling Hub, LLC (located in Columbia, Mo). Tara specializes in working with relationships (using Gottman Method Couples Therapy), anxiety, existential issues, and spirituality. You can read more about Tara and The Counseling Hub at


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