The Relationship Institute of
Santa Barbara
Dora L. Dunlap, LCSW  •   Mark Dunlap, MFT
A Center for Imago Therapy
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Frequently Asked Questions
How does couples therapy work?  What will we be doing?

All couples have a collection of problems they're dealing with:  financial issues, parenting conflicts, housekeeping issues, health challenges, sexual difficulties.  We'll help you address these concerns.  But there is something even more important that must be addressed.

When most couples come in for therapy they are stuck in some version what we call a negative cycle of relating.  Some important needs are not getting met, they're having experiences that they don’t want, they're losing track of their good feelings for their partner, and instead are feeling frustrated, angry, sad, disconnected or hopeless.  Their sex life has often gone in the tank.  And they’re behaving in ways just feed the problem:  they are criticizing, scolding, trying to control each other, or withdrawing, pulling away, shutting down or shutting each other out. The way that they are relating to each other around their issues has become a big part of the problem.    

We will help you identify the negative cycle, and more importantly, understand what is going on underneath the complaints you have about each other and the relationship.  We will help you learn new communication skills, especially focusing on listening, which will increase your understanding of each other.  We will help you learn how to ask for what you really want from each other.  We will spend time understanding what went in the family where you grew up, and how this is being played today, and what you can do about it now.  And we will spend time identifying what is positive in the relationship, what has worked in the past, and help you get started doing more of that now.  We will help you create a positive vision of the future which you will begin actualizing now.


We're not considering divorce, we just want to sort out a few things.  Is couples therapy right for us?

Some couples come in to see us highly distressed, on the brink of divorce.  Many others are "doing OK," but are stuck around some specific issue, or just know that they could be having a much more fulfilling, satisfying relationship, they just don't know how to get there.  Whatever your situation, in an initial session we'll find out what's going on in your relationship and together we'll determine how to help you.


We're not married, but are arguing a lot and want some help.  Is couples therapy appropriate for us?

Yes.  Many of our clients are dating or living together.  Couples therapy can teach you better relationship skills, and help you determine if you want to deepen your commitment to each other.

How often will we meet?

Most couples start off meeting with us once a week.  Later, many taper off to every 2 weeks.  There comes a time when it's clear that goals have been met and it feels no longer necessary to meet.  Many couples come back in for a brief "tuneup" of a few sessions some months or years down the road.  


I'm single.  I've had many relationships but they don't last. Can you help me?

Quite likely!   Click here for more info.


What is your success rate?

The majority of couples experience "success" in the sense that they not only stay together, but feel good about staying together, and feel good about the progress they made in therapy.  Obviously some couples, even though they've worked hard on their relationship, decide they do not want to continue together.  Some couples simply do not work out their issues.  For others, the relationship may have served its purpose, and growth, and success, for those couples is to actually move on.  We're not interested in couples staying together just for the sake of staying together.  A well-known family therapist, Carl Whitaker, once said, "I've had 11 marriages...with the same woman."  Couples often need to tranform their current marriage into a new and more vital one.  Our hope is that we can help you have your next marriage with the same partner, but sometimes it may have to be with someone else.

What is your theoretical orientation?

We have been studying and practicing Imago Therapy, which was developed and written about by Harville Hendrix in his book, Getting the Love You Want, for more than 15 years.  Imago remains the theoretical foundation of our work with couples, but we constantly incorporate the many new and interesting approaches which come along.  We have been influenced by the work of Jordan and Margaret Pauls, John Gottman's "Scientifically-Based Marital Therapy," Susan Johnson's "Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy," Pat Love's approach to sexual enhancement,
Ellyn Bader and Paul Pearson's developmental approach, and gender difference theory, such as written about by John Gray and Helen Fisher.  To learn more about Imago, click here 

Other questions?  Please call us and we'll do our best to answer them.
(805) 683-8183

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