Couples’ Cross Complaints: “I Want… but She/He Doesn’t Want to…”

  • Valentín Escudero
  • Myrna L. Friedlander
Part of the Focused Issues in Family Therapy book series (FIFT)


This chapter begins with a case example, the common situation of couples beginning therapy when one romantic partner, in this case the wife, has previously decided that if therapy does not “work” quickly to change her husband, she will leave him. Other situations are described, such as when one partner insists on engaging in therapy and the other partner actively resists treatment and when the partners’ gender or religious differences play a role in their difficulties. We discuss the specific challenge of working with couples that cross-blame, that have differing motivations for help seeking, and that define their conflict as a polarizing “zero-sum problem,” where one person is expected to “win” and the other to “lose” (e.g., decisions about whether or not to marry, to have a child, to relocate, to separate/divorce, etc.). Additionally, we describe particular alliance challenges in working with high-conflict couples: a lack of safety in the conjoint context, poor within-couple alliances, and the potential for split alliances (where one partner is notably more connected with the therapist than the other partner). Finally, we recommend strategies to use the alliance with each partner to foster a within-couple alliance, such as reframing the zero-sum conflict in terms that can facilitate a compromise. An extended case example, with dialogue, illustrates successful therapeutic work with a heterosexual couple that began therapy with contradictory, blaming problem definitions related to the frequency of sexual activity (his perspective) and the loss of self in the relationship (her perspective).


Couple therapy Within-couple alliance Cross complaints Individual differences Zero-sum conflict Gender differences 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valentín Escudero
    • 1
  • Myrna L. Friedlander
    • 2
  1. 1.University of A CoruñaA CoruñaSpain
  2. 2.University at Albany/SUNYAlbanyUSA

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