Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle!

Help couples make three wise
Stepfamily-courtship choices

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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        This article is one of a series on effective professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance (dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical survivors of childhood neglect and trauma. These articles for professionals are under construction.

        This series assumes you're familiar with:

        Before continuing, pause and reflect - why are you reading this article? What do you need?

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       This article is one of a series on effective clinical interventions with low-nurturance family clients. A "low nurturance family" is one in which members seldom get their primary needs met in wholistically-healthy ways. An effective intervention is an instinctive or intentional behavior of the clinician which signifi-cantly raises the family's nurturance level in the opinion of all involved. The interventions summarized here are general and usually composed of related sub-interventions.


        To get the most from this article, first read:

  • This introduction to professional family-system clinicians and educators,

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 7 here

  • The basic premises underlying the model and this nonprofit divorce-prevention Web site;

  • This overview of the clinical model on which these articles and interventions are based;

  • Four requisites for effective professional service with these complex clients;

  • These key definitions and terms;

  • This overview of effective clinical assessment of these of client families;

  • this introduction to effective interventions with low-nurturance families and persons recovering from psychological wounds; .

  • This overview of the index of related articles; and...

  • The Table of Contents of the guidebook Stepfamily Courtship, by Peter Gerlach (, 2003).

Why Do Project 7?

        Recent estimates suggest that (a) over half of American first-marriages end in psychological or legal divorce, and (b) an even higher percentage of stepfamily unions break up. My clinical research since 1979 suggests that the main reason for this tragic social epidemic is an unseen, socially-condoned cycle of adult [wounds + unawareness]. If you can't describe this cycle (like most people), it's probably harming your present multi-generational family and living kids.

        Premise: this cycle manifests in four or five stressors in all families:

  • Unseen psychological wounds in one more more family adults (including ex mates and senior adults) and kids;

  • Family-adult unawareness of (a) these wounds, (b) several critical, primary topics, and (c) what this unawareness means to them and their descendents; and...

  • Toxic family grieving policies, and incomplete and/or blocked grief in adults and/or kids;

  • Courting couples making up to three unwise (uninformed, unaware) commitment choices and related irresponsible child-conception choices; and for typical stepfamily adults...

  • Little or no informed supports and resources in their extended families, communities, and the media.

        The Lessons in this site and model focus on preventing and reducing the impacts of the first three of these silent stressors. Lesson 7 applies the learnings from the first six Lessons to facilitate courting couples avoiding divorce by choosing the right people to commit to, for the right reasons, at the right reasons, This Web site exists to inform family-support professionals like clergy, counselors, legal, edu-cational, and medical pros, mediators, caseworkers, and legislators of the cycle, and effective options for ending it and preventing family stress and divorce.

Basic Project-7 Interventions

        These are primarily for courting co-parents; secondarily for families with couples admitting major relationship problems; thirdly for family relatives or supporters concerned about someone's courtship / commitment choices. You may have already made some of these interventions for other Projects. For useful process assessments and related interventions, follow the link. For more detail on each intervention, follow the numeral's link. The & symbol below indicates a printable article for clients and coworkers.

7-1)  Define human needs (discomforts), illustrate and discuss surface vs. primary needs, and explain why discerning primary needs is vital for effective problem-solving.

7-2)  Propose, discuss, and validate common primary-relationship needs.  

7-3)  Ask each courting partner to rate the satisfaction-level of their set of relationship needs

7-4)  Overview and discuss (a) the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and (b) the four or five related relationship hazards.

7-5)  Propose evaluating if and how each of these hazards has been affecting the couple and their combined families, including any ex mates. 

7-6 Overview and discuss co-parent Projects 1 thru 6 as needed, and relate them to the four or five hazards and the [wounds + unawareness] cycle. 

7-7)  Outline key criteria for choosing the right people (partner + relatives) to commit to, and...

7-8)  the right reasons for committing, and...

7-9)  the right time to commit. Then...

7-10)  Discuss these and assess (a) the couple's reactions, and (b) each partner's possible wounds.

7-11)  Propose inventorying the couple's status on these three courtship criteria

7-12a)  If they're willing, do an honest inventory, and discuss what the results mean

7-12b)  If the couple is ambivalent or unwilling, explore why, and related risks

7-13)  Option - weigh pros and cons of discussing  the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and Lessons 1-7 with relevant family members and supporters.


More Detail...

7-1)  (a) Define human needs (discomforts), (b) illustrate and discuss surface needs (symptoms) and primary needs & (discomforts), and (c) explain why discerning primary needs is vital for effective problem-solving (ref. Lesson 2 interventions).

        Why? Evolving healthy, satisfying relationships depends on each person's ability to identify and fill their current and long-term primary needs ("solve problems") effectively. Few adults and no kids are taught how to do this in our culture, which promotes epidemic family stress, wounding, and divorce

  • Propose that needs are minor to major emotional, physical, and spiritual discomforts, and (b) that all living things ceaselessly and instinctively seek to reduce their discomforts (fill their needs, or "problem solve"). Implication - being "needy" is normal and healthy, not weak, shameful, or bad.

  • Explain and Illustrate the difference between surface needs (symptoms) and primary needs, and seek client understanding and acceptance of this. Option - note that habitually trying to fill surface needs suggests that the person (a) may be controlled by a false self, which (b) lacks inner and environmental awareness. See Lesson-2 intervention 2-x.

  • Option - if appropriate, propose that different personality subselves have different and possibly opposing current primary needs at iven time. This can promote significant (a) internal and (b) social conflicts, confusion, and ambivalence, and suggests the value of each person being aware of which subselves are controlling their personality, locally and chronically.

  • Propose that typical unaware adults and all kids usually try to fill surface needs (symptoms), so that often their and any partner's primary needs remain unfilled - causing stress. Identify client examples of this and typically whether each person's primary needs get met or not.

  • Option - ask clients to read and discuss this article & together and with other family members.

  • Preview (or review) and illustrate dig-down skill & as an effective way of discerning primary needs from surface needs (Lesson-2 intervention xx);

  • (a) Define effective problem solving as all involved people filling their current primary needs well enough, in acceptable-enough ways; and (b) discuss this as needed. If appropriate, (re)do Lesson-2 intervention xx).

7-2)  Propose and discuss the common needs & that motivate typical primary relationships like theirs.


7-3)  Ask each partner to inventory the satisfaction-level of their set of relationship needs


7-4)  Overview and discuss the four relationship hazards (five, if prior kids are involved)


7-5)  Propose evaluating if and how each of these hazards has been affecting the couple and their combined families, including any ex mates.


7-6 Overview and discuss co-parent Projects 1 thru 6 as needed, and relate them to the four or five hazards and the [wounds + unawareness] cycle.


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Updated April 30, 2013