Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Gift of Understanding

March 7th, 2012

I am pleased to announce that my article “The Gift of Understanding” has been published by

The article discusses a common dynamic between couples when they argue where they both rehash the same point over and over again, trying to get their partner to understand their point of view, but too upset to understand their partner’s point of view. The article then discusses a three step techniques to help couples shift for this adversarial role of needing to get the other to “understand me,” to one of “mutual understanding.” The three step are:

Step One: Awareness of the Pattern. Awareness is such a key element to change. If you don’t know where you are, how can you no how to get to where you want to be. The article offers helpful tips on how to build this awareness.

Step Two: Naming the Pattern. I often call this the “Rumpelstiltskin Effect.” If you can name the pattern, the pattern can’t take your relationship away. The article discusses how to use this to create the shift form fighting towards mutuality.

Step Three: Moving Towards Mutual Understanding. This is the key feature of the article. The article gives advise on how to approach each other in a new way to create not only mutual understanding of each other, but a deeper understanding of what is not being shared in the heat of the battle. Uncovering these things, leads the couple back to intimacy.


To read the article, please visit self at the web address listed below.



Craig Toonder, MFT

“Push You In Front Of A City Bus”

February 26th, 2012


 Part of being successful as a couple is the ability to tolerate your partner’s negative feelings toward you without taking it personally. It means understanding the person you love will “hate you” sometimes, but it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you.

My favorite story about a couple “getting it” is by one of my most influential mentors, Dan Wile. He told me about a session in which the wife turned to her partner and said, “There were so many times this week that I wanted to push you in front of a city bus.”

This is what John Gottman calls a “harsh opener.” Dan prepared himself to help the couple manage the conflict that was sure to ensue. Fortunately, this was the session in which the husband “got it.” He turned to his wife and responded, “Wow, I must have done a lot of things to piss you off this week.”

This was the turning point in their therapy. The couple had developed enough trust and security in their relationship that negative affect toward one another was no longer threatening. The husband was able to move past typical reactions of defensiveness and meet his wife on an emotional level where both could work through the feelings of disappointment that are inevitable in relationships.

This story points to an odd concept I too had to struggle with. True love involves the ability to tolerate negative feelings toward each other. Yet as I’ve work on this concept through the years, I’ve really noticed that those I am closest to are those I feel most free to be angry with. Being met when we are feeling joy or love is easy. But when someone is able to meet us when we are feeling afraid, disappointed, or angry toward them, that is when you know they are truly there for you

 Keep in mind that tolerating and understanding another’s anger is different from allowing someone to be abusive toward you. Accepting another’s emotions and creating boundaries around behavior are not mutually exclusive. Often we need to let our partners know we care about their feelings, but we will not tolerate abusive behavior.


Side note: My favorite part of the story is that the next week when Dan asked how things went, the husband replied, “We were walking down the street and a city bus was coming the other way. I turned to her and said, ‘Now is your chance.’”

Couples Counseling Video Announcement

February 16th, 2012

Oakland Couples counseling is pleased to announce the release of it’s first video, “Behind the Argument.”

The video describes a model by Jon Eisman, founder of Re-Creation of the Self, and how it applies to couples’ arguments.  The video proposes a belief  that a fundamental aspect of being human is that we possess a drive towards love and connection with others. It explains how when our desires for connection get thwarted at a young age, we all develop coping strategies to manage the feelings that ensue. Unfortunately, these very strategies that helped us survive our childhood, all too often, end up creating problems in romantic relationships as adults.

The video explains how these strategies also create a system or “cycle” in which the couple’s attempts to interact with each other productively, inadvertently become  triggering to our partner and thus the cause of the conversation becoming counterproductive.

For example: Sally feels disconnected from John. As Sally’s loneliness turns to frustration, she complains that John is “never there for her” in an attempt to get him to show up more. John gets trigger. He feels like he is failing Sally, like he is not good enough. He also feels that this is unfair. He becomes distant and complains that Sally is “never satisfied.” He defends himself by explaining how he is there for her, hoping that this will convince her that he is there. Sally gets triggered. She feels unheard and even less connected to John. She feels like what she’s asking for is so basic, and she feels disappointed that she can’t seem to get this through to him. As her disappointment turns to frustration, she can’t believe that John “doesn’t get it.” So, she naturally increases her argument around his lack of availability to try to get him to understand. John feels the heat. He gets anxious about a possible fight. He starts thinking: “her she goes again.” He starts getting upset and tells her she is being “irrational.” Sally is now not only feeling disconnected, she is feeling rejected and shamed by John. She starts wondering why she is even with such an “emotionally-unavailable man.” The cycle runs a few more loops until Sally eventually storms out of the room, slamming the door behind her. John then retreats to the garage for the rest for the day. Neither understand why the other is “acting that way.” Neither is aware how their behavior contributed to their partner’s behavior.

The video then goes on to explain how couples can use this model to map out their fights and begin to develop the tools to understand each other better. For mapping out the fight does three things. First, it slows everything down and helps couples gain the awareness of the cycle they are trapped in. Second, the map allows them to trace their steps back to more vulnerable emotions (which are hard enough to share when we are not fighting.) Third, it frames the argument as an attempt to feel some aspect of love: connection, acceptance, safety, etc. With these new perspectives, the couple can then develop ways to communicate with each other about what they need or feel without triggering each other as much.

If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it by clicking below:


If you are interested in taking classes on understanding couples’ arguments and what to do about them, visit my workshop page or contact me for a free phone consultation.



The Couples Counseling Channel is a You Tube channel dedicated to providing couples with educational material to help them improve their relationships. Videos will explore issues around how relationships got off track as well as offering advise on how to improve the quality of your relationship.


Jon Eisman is a therapist in Oregon and one of the main instructors for the Hakomi method of psychotherapy on the West Coast. Jon has created existential approach to psychotherapy similar to Hakomi called the Re-Creation of the Self. Jon has been an invaluable teacher and guide in my journey as a psychotherapist.

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