Message of Hope for Couples in Conflict: San Francisco’s Leading Couples Counselors & Sex Therapists Can Help You Have an Intimate Healthy Relationship

 Message of Hope for Couples in Conflict

It seems like almost every time you talk to your partner, you can immediately feel the tension between you. You can sense the conversation is not going to go well. It’s become very familiar. That circular arguing and fussing that seems to go nowhere but planet hurt.

When faced with re-occurring negative relationship patterns that trigger stress, anxiety, and a plethora of other uncomfortable (to say the least) emotions, there are four common thoughts that can come up that are extremely de-stabilizing and can make the situation worse than it is. I want to address these false and tricky mindsets head-on.

Negative thought #1: Are we meant to be together? Are we incompatible?

As if it isn’t challenging enough that your partner isn’t meeting your physical needs triggering feelings of being deprived and unloved, your mind also starts to wonder, “is this really my ideal love?” That makes the deprivation feel worse, and now it seems like the situation went from tremor size to full blown earthquake size. Overwhelming. I’ve been there!

That you are experiencing stress and challenge in your relationship is not enough to determine whether you are incompatible. Relationships of absolute compatibility always have challenge built in. That is part of the reason why they are compatible. Each partner triggers the person to grow in the deepest way. That’s what your soul wants from the relationship. Compatible and incompatible relationships both experience challenge. Both are prone to having the individuals engage the situation in a negative way, and both are prone to the individuals feeling the fear that they are not ultimately meant to be in that relationship. So let this idea go. You may or may not be long term compatible with your partner. Nevertheless, you are in a relationship now, so use what you have created in the most positive way to learn and transform yourself now. This way you can show yourself that it either is the ideal match, or you have changed in such a way that you have created a version of yourself that can be capable of attracting your ideal partner. Either way, the process is the same. Grow from where you are NOW.

Negative thought #2: My partner is the source of my unhappiness, and I need them to change.

When you express this viewpoint you are out of alignment with the true purpose of relationship. This viewpoint will always cause you stress and not result in any change within your partner. Please see my previous post “The True Purpose of Relationship.” The true purpose is to reflect back to each other what you need to become your higher selves. This means that no matter what your partner is doing it’s up to you to change to create the version of them you want to see. Are YOU being the inspirational version of yourself? Are YOU using the situation to grow and mature and evolve yourself? The blame game is part of the old paradigm. When you are triggered and unhappy, you don’t have access to truth, but that’s exactly the moment you start creating a story about why you are in this mess. Let go of the story and work on yourself.

Negative thought #3: There must be something wrong with me to be creating this mess.

“Why do I keep attracting the wrong person or a negative version of my partner?” This is when the blame turns internal. Drop the guilt. I know, I know, easier said than done. But it really comes down to this: By thinking there is something wrong with you, you are creating negative energy and that attracts more negative energy. So, if you believe there is something wrong with you, then there is. If you don’t believe something is wrong with you, then there isn’t. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about being in alignment with your true self. Your true self has positive qualities and engages every situation in a powerfully positive way. Choose to BE that, by believing that you ARE that. Act from that state. Center yourself first, then act. 

Negative thought #4: Maybe I was delusional about true love in the first place. The reality of human relationships is ultimately disappointing.

What you are experiencing is a result of the magical technology of relationship. It’s telling you that the relationship must transform now. The time has come (or has been there for a while) to upgrade the way you relate to each other, the way you communicate, and to develop your individual selves. The conflict won’t go away at this point and comes up at nearly every conversation because it is telling you now in no uncertain terms: TRANSFORMATION IS NEEDED. If this wasn’t happening, you probably wouldn’t be inspired to evolve, and that’s why when you understand that this is ultimately happening to help you grow, you can relax and be grateful.

What must be done?

Stop. Seek help, and change the way you relate. No more postponing. If you have been trying to resolve but it’s not going anywhere, then you don’t have the right tools. Seek help. It’s sad that we are not taught the tools to use conflict in the most productive and positive way for all involved. That is the current state of the world, but it’s changing. Relationship coaches and therapists are devoted to that. Use us. Reach out.

When you engage the matter in this way you will see that the repeating cycles of negativity will end. You will be more mature and will both have grown if you each approach it in this way. This does not mean you won’t have challenges in the future. They will never end, but you won’t see it as a problem. When you are able to use the challenges to grow, you will anticipate and look forward to them, as they are the blessing leading you to more fulfillment. As you transform in this way, you gain the tools to work through the challenges, and each time it gets easier and easier. Eventually you will not experience negativity, but will only feel the propulsion and expansion of positivity within each challenge that comes up. That is the master level which you can look forward to. That is the reward for those brave ones ready to claim their birthright of ecstasy. You only get it by diving in head on.

The exercise is to say the following empowering beliefs out loud. Do it as many times as you feel you need to. Notice that it is a calming exercise. At the same time, notice that you may feel resistance or tension in your body when you say some of them. Breathe into that, and say the statement again, allowing yourself to relax into it. You can use this as a centering mechanism. Feel free to come back to it as many times as you like. This will transform your relationship to the situation. When you are in a productive emotional state, only then will you to be able to make positive change that WILL ultimately transform the circumstance.

• I accept this situation as a challenge.

• Challenge is an inherent part of life that helps me grow.

• I accept that I have created this situation completely.

• Even though there is co-creation in relationship, I am also creating the version of my partner

that I see based on how I choose to engage the situation.

• If the situation is not to my liking, then I must change.

• I will change and grow from this, regardless of what my partner chooses to do.

• I understand that what has happened is the result of the relationship helping us to face the

very issues that our soul desires us to experience to grow.

• It doesn’t have to be painful, with the right tools we can engage this in an evolutionary way,

and that always has a positive result.

• I choose to use this in a positive way.

• Even if my partner is not showing the version of them I prefer, I release any idea that it is

them that is holding me back.

• I step up and act on behalf of the version of MYSELF that I want to see.

• I trust that by focusing on MY ideal version of myself (which includes setting boundaries and

asking for my needs), that I will then manifest the version of my partner that is my ideal.

• I allow this process to take the necessary path it needs to take, with no time limits.

• I trust the timing and the magic of relationship to always be in service of my highest good

even when I can’t see it.

So.....Who wants to be a master level relationship partner?

Please reach out to the California Relationship Center as our Relationship Transformation Coaches and Therapists are here to help.




It's Inevitable. All couples will argue and push each other’s buttons at times. In fact, partnerships often bring up our core wounds and needs, bringing to the surface that which most needs attention.

Our San Francisco Couples Therapists are extensively trained in helping partners identify, understand and repair their negative cycles and find ways to effectively express their feelings and needs. Contact us today for a free phone consultation. We have over 35 San Francisco Bay Area Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy Center locations. All of our licensed and highly skilled psychotherapists, sexologists, coaches, clinical psychologists and marriage & family therapists are trained to help partners have the relationships they strive for.



In order to maximize the work you are doing in Individual, Couples or Sex therapy, our San Francisco psychotherapists & psychologists recommend that you do some reading in between sessions.  

San Francisco North Bay Napa Valley Couples Counseling, Couples Therapy, Sex Therapy












•    Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child by Laura Davis

•   The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis

•   Healing Sex by Staci Haines

•    Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call It Rape? by Lori Gershick

•   Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships by Claire M. Renzetti

•   Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships by C.M Renzetti

•   The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani

•   Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence, by John Dececco, PhD

•   Surviving Sexual Violence: A Guide to Recovery and Empowerment edited by Thema Bryant-Davis



As the year draws to a close many people create lofty New Years resolutions and set intentions and goals to have their best year ever. For many single people, finding love often ends up in the center of their vision board or top of their New Years goals list. What happens to couples once they have found the love they so desperately once longed for? Often love no longer makes it on the New Year’s Resolution list because we already have our partner, so why focus on more love? We tend to get more of what we focus on, so if we put energy and focus on love, the more love we can have in our life. Unfortunately, we often do the opposite and instead focus on what is not working, so we get more of that. It’s time to put love back on the list and keep it as a top priority.

Many couples end up in my therapy office because they have somehow drifted apart and have lost that feeling of love, intimacy, and connection they once had with each other. In today's fast-paced world it is so easy to get caught up and distracted by things like work stressors, children's schedules, family obligations, technology, and social media, just to name a few. When this happens couples may lose sight of each other and often one or both may start to feel neglected or taken for granted. During a recent session, one partner confessed that "I just assume that I'll catch up with my partner whenever because, after-all, were together for life". Meanwhile her partner has been feeling like they've become more like roommates, seeing each other in passing and not knowing what the other is going through. This lack of connection led one of them to question the relationship and seek out couples therapy.


In renowned Couples Therapist and researcher Dr. John Gottman's “Sound Relationship House Theory”, he uses the metaphor of a house having different areas which need to be maintained and worked on in order to have a strong house. If one area is weak, over time it can cause the house to fall apart. In couples therapy there are exercises that couples can do to maintain and strengthen the different areas of the house. The foundation of the house is what Gottman refers to as “Enhancing Your Love Maps” which is essentially knowing your partner and staying current about what is going on in their world. This level often gets neglected in long term relationships because partners assume they know their partner already and they assume they will be alerted to any new information as needed. 

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Our North Bay Relationship Counselors and Couples Therapists can help you build lasting, loving and satisfying relationships.


This assumption is a false one because just like the world is changing rapidly every minute, so are we and our partners. It’s a challenge to keep up with all of the new information coming at us from different directions and so much can happen in a day, let alone a week. Without staying current on each other’s worlds, partners may find themselves feeling distant, lonely, and like they hardly know their partner who lives under the same roof. Knowing your partner not only deepens your connection, but helps prepare couples for stressful events such as illness of a parent or having a new baby. In one study of new parents by Dr. Gottman it was found that after the birth of their first baby 67% of couples experienced a decline in marital satisfaction while the other 33% saw an improvement. The difference between those that saw an increase versus those who had a decline was, love maps. Those who knew their partners deeply and kept current of their changing worlds, continued to feel closer and more connected versus those who did not.


Dr. Gottman created a fun game that can be used by couples to assess how well they know their partners, and to get current on each other’s world, using The Love Map Game, available as a card deck or free phone app. I’ve included some sample questions below if you want to try this at home with your partner or any other person you consider close to in order to deeper your bond and connection.

The way this game works is one partner pulls a card or picks a question from the list. They read the question out loud to the other partner and then that same partner answers the question. The other partner then confirms they are correct or provides the most current information. For example, Partner A picks the question: Name your partners two closest friends. Partner A then proceeds to name the people who they believe are their partners two closest friends (Jill and Jane). Partner B responds by confirming that they are right or gives them more current information. For example, Partner B may respond, “Yes, you are right that one of my close friends is still Jane and we talk daily, however I am no longer close with Jill because I don’t feel I can rely on her ever since she agreed to help with my party and then bailed on me last minute. That’s the 3rd time she has let me down, so I no longer consider her my close friend. Now I would say my second best friend is actually Patricia.”  Then you would switch turns and go back and forth picking and answering questions.

This is meant to be a fun and lighthearted game with the goal being deeper connection and allowing yourself to know and be known by your partner.

With this in mind, when giving your partner up to date information, do your best to keep it positive and acknowledge your partner for trying to answer the question even if they are wrong. It won’t feel fun if every time they get the answer wrong you criticize them for not knowing you. Instead, try to keep in mind that your partner is actually interested in knowing you and what is current in your world so it helps to encourage them to do this.


1. Who is my favorite artist or composer?

2. What was my worst childhood experience?

3. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life?

4. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)?

5. What are some important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?

You can see all of the questions in the Gottman Card Deck App- under Love Maps. These decks are currently available for free in the app store: There are several other card decks included that are great for deepening your knowledge of each other providing other insightful questions around life and sexuality.


In some relationships there may be resentment and conflict present which may prevent you from being able to interact and have these sorts of deep, connected conversations with each other.  One of our trained and highly skilled therapists and coaches can help facilitate your reconnection.


Our expert NORTH BAY AREA SEX THERAPISTS & COUPLES COUNSELORS help people have healthy, loving and equitable relationships. All of our psychotherapists and psychologists are highly trained in working with sexuality, relationship dynamics, communication, intimacy and attachment issues.


As San Francisco Bay Area Relationship Experts, Couples Counselors and Sex Therapists, we help couples and individuals learn to deepen intimacy, desire and pleasure.  




Blog Author: Victoria King, LMFT, Sex & Relationship Therapist



How Sex Therapy Can Help You

How Sex Therapy Can Help You

Sex therapy addresses the root of the sexual issues and helps you develop understanding, compassion and skills to heal together. Couples often can’t solve these intimate issues on their own because they don’t have the tools needed and because sex and intimacy is closely connected to attachment issues. Our Napa Valley couples counselors and sex therapists can help you to have the satisfying sex life you long for. 

What is sexual health?

What is sexual health?

Napa Valley Sex Therapy can help you cultivate sexual health. Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences. 

The Pursuer / Distancer Dynamic in Intimate Relationships


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We can help you

to understand & break your negative relationship patterns, learn effective communication skills and deepen your intimacy.

Early in relationship, couples typically experience an idealized bonding commonly referred to as the honeymoon stage. From a neurological standpoint, this occurs when the partners’ brains are awash with attachment hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins. The couple is largely positively focused on the other and is easy to overlook potentially problematic issues. Typical attachment styles may not manifest in this stage.

 However, once the couple’s shifts past the honeymoon stage, the individual relating styles, behaviors and communication patterns reemerge. This transition may trigger the distancing and pursuing behaviors in some couples.  This occurs when one partner, seeking security and to relieve anxiety, metaphorically reaches for the other (wanting more contact) and in response the second partner may feel overwhelmed and relieve anxiety by withdrawing. Once the withdrawn partner distances, the other partner often pursues even more, perhaps with criticism and anger. The cycle is then born.

For example, if Steve feels anxious because his partner Alice is spending more time with her friends then previously in the honeymoon stage, he may react by demanding more attention from her. In return, Alice may feel pressured and withdraw from the relationship by making more dates with friends and working late Steve, feeling insecurely attached, may then attempt to make emotional contact with Alice by texting and calling often. Alice feels invaded and withdraws further. This is the dance of the distance-pursuer cycle. Without an understanding and insight into each other’s styles and underlying needs, this cycle can spiral into a painful situation where neither couple feels secure or satisfied. The cycle can occur over everyday interactions.

Steve: “Why do you always do that?”
Alice: “Do what? I'm not doing anything”
Steve: “You ignore me when I talk.”
Alice: “No, I don’t. There is nothing to say”
Steve: “We need to talk about this, Alice. You’re doing it now!”
Alice: “I don’t a need to talk. It's no big deal. You’re overreacting.”
Steve: “No, I’m not! We need to talk!”
Alice: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Steve is pursuing and Alice is distancing.

In order to transform the distance-pursuer pattern into a healthy relationship, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of this power struggle.

Pursuers in Intimate Relationships

In order to feel secure and cared for, the pursuer wants and needs attention, closeness, and affection with her partner.  She is sensitive to being ignored or perceived rejections. A pursuer will feel afraid, disappointed and anxious when her partner withdraws from the relationship. She may ask many questions, make complaints, or criticize her partner to try to establish reconnection (despite its infectivity). However, the underlying need is a desire for deeper connection and reassurance. Unfortunately, due to her reactive behaviors, the pursuer tends to inadvertently push away her partner, thereby creating more distance.

 Distancers in Intimate Relationships

Someone who is wired to be a distancer when feeling anxious in relationship is much more likely to become quiet, turn inward and avoid problems/conflicts. He may resist being/feeling controlled by others by attempting to seek control first.  The distancer tends to get “in their head” and use intellectualized defenses, refuse to cooperate, and become rigid and critical of his partner. While he actually does want and need connection with his partner, the consequences of the avoidant behaviors provoke criticism from his partner, which leads to further withdrawal.

The Path to a Healthier Couple’s Dynamic

Pursuers are generally skilled in communicating their needs and wants, but typically look for external soothing from their partners. It is important that a pursuer learn ways in which she can meet her own needs in the relationships before looking to her partner to soothe her anxiety. Also pursuers are very observant and often point out what is not working in the relationship (in an attempt to have their needs met). One way to shift out of the cycle is for the pursuer to consciously name what she appreciates in her relationship and about her partner.

As the pursuer learns more skills to self-sooth her anxiety, show appreciation for her partner, and trust the process of the relationship, she will cultivate the safety and emotional space for her intimate to move towards her. This will create security between the partners.

A distancer can do his part to end the power struggle in the relationship by speaking up when he feels upset, troubled or uncomfortable. He must learn to share his feelings in a vulnerable way and openly listen to his partner. Sharing more time and attention with his intimate will cultivate closeness, intimacy, trust and safety in the relationship.

Expressing love to one’s partner in the way that the partner likes to receive love will also go a long way towards creating harmony in the relationship. The pursuer needs to receive affection and soothing while the distance needs the space to come forward and trust he will not be criticized.

Couples & Marriage Counseling cultivates insight into the dynamic, leading to greater awareness, self-compassion and practice.  With these new tools people can choose healthier ways to respond to their partner’s needs, rather than unconsciously reacting to their partner’s pursuing or distancing behaviors. Attachment styles can be changed through couples and individual therapy, leading to secure attachment and healthy intimate relationships. The wonderful news is that it only takes one person to end a power struggle and begin mending the relationship. Secure, loving, intimate and equitable partnerships are possible!


Napa Valley Couples Counseling

 In order for couples therapy to be successful, both members of the couple must be engaged in the process and motivated by a desire to make things better. If one or both members of the couple is mostly interested in playing a blame game and looking for the therapist to “fix” their partner, then therapy will not work. Each member of the couple must become dedicated to working as a team in order to understand their ineffective patterns of relating, learn how to deepen trust and intimacy and to repair the relationship.

One key task of the couple therapist is to help each partner to understand his or her own patterns and specific contributions to the negative dynamics in the relationship. Once the individuals can identify their problematic thoughts, feelings, behaviors and beliefs about themselves, each other and the relationship, they can team up against the negative cycle. The therapist helps the couple to prevent and heal the distress caused by these unhealthy patterns so that healthy communication can be exchanged.