The High Conflict Couple

Alan E. Fruzzetti, Ph.D
New Harbinger Publications; December 3, 2006
 The High Conflict Couple

This is a highly recommended resource when one spouse (or significant other) has Borderline Personality Disorder. This is an excellent book to share with your BPD partner as it doesn't make direct mention of BPD - other than that the authors are all leaders in the field of BPD.

"BPD" couples need more than just the run-of-the-mill relationship advice to solve relationship problems. According to Fruzzetti, when out-of-control emotions are the root cause of problems, no amount of intimacy building will fix the relationship. What high-conflict couples need is help regulating the emotions that provoke the "escape or win" mode of interaction that has come to define them.

In this book, Fruzzetti, adapts the emotion regulation tools of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for use by couples. Using mindfulness and distress tolerance techniques, you can hopefully learn how to deescalate conflict situations before they have a chance to flare into serious fights. Other techniques help partners in the relationship disclose their personal fears and vulnerabilities and validate one another’s experiences. The idea is that, with practice and commitment, the couple can learn how to manage problems with negotiation, not conflict, and find better acceptance and closeness.

As an example, Fruzzetti suggest analyzing the relationship and identifying the issues ("triggers") that cause conflict - and then identify more constructive ways to handle them. Once you have identified the typical triggers and also identified more helpful alternatives; put them together:

  1. Imagine a trigger;
  2. Imagine remembering your goal (to improve your relationship); and
  3. Imagine responding in a self- respecting and respectful way.

The books tone is more analytical than most marriage guides - it is not written is the chatty style of most self help books. We feel that this is actually its strength, speaking in a straight-forward way. The message is the same as many guides, that validation (supportive loving communication) is the key to a happy, intimate relationship. What is unique is the use of dialectical behavior therapy to help BPD couples regulate out-of-control emotions, tolerate distressing situations, and resolve problems-an approach proven to help even the most highly reactive couples build healthy relationships.

Read member comments here.

Alan E. Fruzzetti, Ph.D., is associate professor of psychology and director of the DBT Therapy and Research Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the coauthor with Perry Hoffman, a professor and The forward was written by Marsha Linehan, PhD, of Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Couples and Families.


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