When couples first come to see me for an initial consultation what I always say to them as, “one of the things you will get from this appointment is a relational diagnosis.” What I mean by that is by the end of the meeting, I’ll tell you what’s wrong, what the dysfunction is, why it’s happening and most importantly what to do to fix it. For most couples this initial meeting is a game changer. Couples make a critical first step toward a healthier relationship. When couples are in distress they’re always caught up in one or more of the following “5 losing strategies.” This information is part of Relational Life Therapy (RLT) developed by Terry Real.


Individuals characteristically respond to their partners in dysfunctional ways during times of stress or when they are being triggered in some fashion. These responses typically fall into one of five areas or losing agendas. These are termed losing agendas because they are self-defeating and lead to relational discord rather than connection.
Everyone does all or many of these losing agendas at some point, however each of us uses two or three predominantly. Look for the blend that you use in relation to your partner during times of discord.

  1. Being right: Self-righteous indignation. This losing agenda occurs when someone is trying to prove their point or tell others what the “real” issue is. They are convinced that they are right and the way they see it is the correct way. When embroiled in this agenda there is no desire to negotiate; the only desire is to be right. Terry’s saying is, “You can be right, or you can be married.” You can’t be both.  Being right will eat away at your relationship.
  2. Controlling partner: trying to…”Get them to…” Trying to get your partner to listen, or to be kinder, or to do what you say, is controlling and a huge barrier to emotional intimacy. In reality we can’t control anyone. Short of putting a gun to someone’s head, you can’t control a person. The one person you can control is you. You can change your reactions, your tone, and your behaviors – you can’t control your partner’s. Direct control: telling them what to do, punishing. Indirect Control: manipulation
  3. Unbridled self-expression: “I have to tell you what I feel”. Telling our partners everything that is on our mind without regard to the impact our words will have on them is insensitive and relationally defeating. This is termed the “barf bag approach” and is as if one partner “throws up” everything in their head and then says, “Here honey, hold this, now I feel much better. Thank you.”
  4.  Retaliation: Offending from the victim position. This losing agenda happens when one partner treats another partner poorly because the other partner “deserves” it. They feel justified in their behavior and often want the other person to feel the pain that they feel.
  5. : Walled off and superior or walled off and hopeless/defeated. Withdrawal occurs when a partner is emotionally unavailable and has either shut down or closed themselves off to any type of connection. They are not listening, participating on any real level and ultimately just check out.