Working with couples can be tricky. It’s a highly emotional environment doing psychotherapy with a couple. It usually involves someone doing something that has caused hurt, caused guilt, caused shame, caused embarrassment, caused pain. Working with couples, it’s just the kind of different world for us as psychotherapists.

But here’s the thing. Here’s the really important thing is you can immediately expose the couple to empathy. You can help them develop really connected empathy feelings. And in this video, I’m going to tell you exactly how to do that. Somebody sent me a question saying, “How do you do that? How do you allow couples to have empathy for one another rather than resentment and animosity and hurt feelings?” And this is exactly why I think Solution Focused Brief Therapy is like the best approach to use when you’re working with couples.

And the reason I love this, the reason I think that is because we talk about two things in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and that’s a future in which they’re hoped desires are happening. Their most hoped desires are happening. And we also talk about the past in a positive way. And the best thing about every couple is no matter how difficult the current circumstances may be, there was once a time in their past when things were going better. So my favorite way to increase empathy is to ask a couple how they met. When you ask a couple how they met, you’re going to get a ‘where’ response as opposed to actually ‘how’ it happened. So for example, if I ask a couple, “How’d you guys meet?”, they’re gonna be like, “Oh, at work”.

But if you really, really get clear and detailed in your questions that follow that, “What did you notice about them at work that let you know that you wanted this person to be more than a colleague?” “How did you approach this person in a way that invited them into your life and allowed them to come in?” “What did you guys first start noticing about yourself that gave you a clue that this was a relationship that could have a future to it?”

When you ask questions like that, the couple starts thinking about how they actually built the relationship and what they used to do that was good for one another. And that immediately builds empathy and connection. Now that in and of itself does not solve the current problem. Like if there’s been an affair or if there’s been some level of difficulty or if there’s been whatever the trouble is, just having a conversation about ‘how we met’, that doesn’t inherently fix that problem. But what it does do is set the foundation, builds like the building blocks to allow the solution to start to be built from there. And I think that’s the key message here. I think that’s the important thing is to be able to recognize even amongst the difficult circumstance, there was always a more positive past.

And if we can have a conversation about how we created that positive past, then it allows us to build from there. It allows us to regain trust. It allows us to reconnect the relationship. It allows us to rebuild the connection and in sometimes an even stronger way than it was before, because people don’t think about that stuff while they’re building a relationship. So when you’re using the Solution Focused Approach, make sure you ask about the couples’ positive paths, because that’s the most effective way to build empathy in a couples relationship and in a couples session, which can be very tricky. But once you master this skill, it becomes so much easier to do this type of work.