EducationPremarital Counseling Tip #3

Craig Toonder, MFT. Oakland Couples Counseling

Premarital Counseling Tip #3


In the first “Premarital Counseling” blog I discussed how couples nervous systems and hearts electromagnetically “wire together”. In the last blog, I discussed the importance of choosing love and committing to repairing any injuries with your partner. I wrote about common roadblocks to “repair” and the need of a commitment to the concept of “mutuality.”

In this “Premarital Counseling” blog, I will elaborate on how one creates “mutuality.” I will also discuss three of the common counter positions that lead to the opposite effect – relational distress.


Premarital Counseling Gift #3, Repair Part Two: Creating The Win-Win.

When it comes to “repair”, successful couples fully understand that they are “tethered” to each other. That sense of “togetherness” provides a powerful resource for providing a sense of security, comfort, and confidence with which to face the world. If they present themselves as “antagonists”, they must understand that there is never a true winner in an argument. If one goes down, both go down.


“What is good for me must also be good for you.”

                                                                       – Stan Tatkin


I love this quote by Stan Tatkin. It is a perfect mantra for mutuality. Compare it to these other three statements:

  • “What’s good for me is whatever is good for you.
  • “Because it is good for me, that must mean it is good for you.”
  • “You do what is good for you and I’ll do what is good for me.”


In the first statement, there is a lack of recognition of Self. The person has somehow learned that their needs and desires are secondary to the needs and desires of the other. Sometimes to the point that they are no longer even aware of their own needs. They thus organize their sense of selfhood around the needs of another. These people lack sufficient differentiation, the ability to maintain a sense of Self and Other when you are in close relationship. This is the common position of the “co-dependent personality”.

In the second statement there is also an absence of differentiation between Self and Other, but in the opposite direction…lack of recognition of Other. This type of person struggles with accepting the possibility that their point of view isn’t necessarily the “right” point of view or the only point of view. This type of thinking often shows up in the heat of battle, but it can also be one of the major underlying dynamics in the relationship leading to marital discord.

The third stance outwardly prioritizes differentiation, but at the expensive of connection… lack of recognition of Relationship. Thus, while it may appear differentiated it is actually pseudo-individualization as a coping strategy for the inability to successfully navigate differences between Self and Other. These people often feel walled off and emotionally inaccessible to their partners. Because they are more “self-contained”, they can easily fool themselves into thinking they are more “put together” than their perceived “irrational” partners. The truth is, these people are “self-contained” because they never learned how to depend on someone in a healthy way in their childhood. They are thus limited to “auto-regulation” and lack the ability to participate in “co-regulation,” an essential part of mutuality.

“Mutuality”, on the other hand, is a commitment to the “Win-Win” resolution. It is the ability to hold Self, Other, and Relationship as equally important entities. When there is discord in the relationship, mutuality allows us openly examine each side of the equation and negotiate a solution that is fair and just for each person.

Successful couples embrace this concept and are mutually committed to protecting the fact and importance of their relationship even in times of distress. They know that if anyone’s feelings are left unattended to that the relationship and both parties in it will ultimately suffer.

Learn to see each other’s points of view. When someone feels hurt take the time to really get clear with each other about what the behaviors or interpretations of those behaviors meant to each other. And most importantly, hold a sense of compassion for the struggle that you and your partner face in learning how to deal with differences and disappointments.


Here’s an example:

During an argument, couples are often unconsciously organized around perceived threat – something they need will not be given or some thing undesirable is being imposed. Typical examples, “He/she never understands my pain and continues to ignore my needs and feelings.” Or, “He/she always attacks me for not being enough and I never feel accepted for who I am.”


  1. Take some time to slow down. Breathe!
  2. Shift your focus from threat to friendliness.
  3. Take time to think about what it is you both really need from each other? What is the real issue?
  4. Take responsibility to make the necessary repairs.