When psychologists Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson first met in the late 70s — and then married in the early 80s — there was no such thing as a specialization in marriage or couples therapy,
“The common wisdom was that you’d go broke specializing in couples because your clients could only come at night,” recalled Ellyn, sitting in their offices at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park.
Today, the majority of their clients are heterosexual couples who have children, although they also see gay/lesbian couples as well as people who are deciding whether to marry or divorce.
“Children are one of the most disruptive things in a relationship,” said Ellyn, explaining one of the reasons for the high percentage of couples seeking their services who are also parents.
According to the two psychologists, one of the biggest success factors in a marriage is learning how to manage differences successfully.
“Individuals bring a number of expectations about marriage and/or our partners,” said Peter. “There is this notion that if you are with the right person, you don’t need to do any work. But it’s important to keep tending the relationship.”
Added Ellyn, summing about one piece of advice: “Learn to be curious, not furious.”
In addition to seeing clients, a big part of Ellyn and Peter’s work is training other psychologists and counselors about couples therapy, something they do internationally. They also oversee a staff of other counselors with offices throughout the Bay Area.
“When we first started practicing, the focus was on behavioral therapy,” said Ellyn. “Now it’s a lot more focused on the brain and how emotions work…how trauma gets stored and how it gets triggered by a partner. We know a lot more about neuronal connections.”
Ellyn and Peter also offer couples workshops and have penned a a number of books; more information is available online.
Photo by Irene Searles