January 10, 2012

Is It Time to Close Your Exits? ~ Joe Elliott, MA


One of the constant running jokes in my family has to do with my mom’s wardrobe.

When I was a teenager I remember my mom picking me up from school functions and her bizarre choice of attire. My mom was perfectly comfortable in moon boots, a down coat that was mended with tape and yellow sweat pants.


My sister and I never resisted the opportunity to come to her with our observations about how she looked. I can recall how much my mom loved us because she never took it personally and justified her dress by simply explaining how cold she was.

As I grow older, I notice more of my own eccentricities. The last time that I visited my parents, my mom started making fun of me for my multiple changes of clothes and all of the supplies that I needed to go on a short trip.

When I think about it as a couples and family therapist, I get to continue making observations about the ways that people make themselves comfortable and the ways that they avoid the normal discomfort that accompanies life.

Sometimes it makes me chuckle when I hear someone describe an addiction to stupid human tricks on Youtube, and sometimes I recoil in fear when I hear about the violent or compulsive behavior that people have resorted to in order to protect themselves. At the heart of these behaviors is an existential need to feel safe, to escape the intensity of the moment, and to return to a calm and harmonious state of balance.

Stephane BETIN

While a bit of therapy involves helping clients to titrate the intensity that they feel in their lives, it also involves helping people build the courage to begin to cast aside those activities that have dulled their awareness and lead them to miss out on experiences of connection with the world around them.

In Imago Relationship Therapy there is a practice that involves ‘closing your exits.’ Closing your exits involves limiting the time spent on activities that foster avoidance in intimate relationships.

In this clip from Mama Natural Blog, Genivieve and Mike share with you the exits that they have identified in their relationship and discuss the impact that it can have to begin to reinvest that energy in their relationship.

Making a list of your exits can create awareness and deepen intimacy.

It can also reveal a deeper pattern of denial that both partners participate in. In my last blog entry, I discussed what happens when couples begin to power struggle and make ultimatums to each other based on their projections about what they want their relationship to be.

The problem with making ultimatums isn’t that they aren’t sometimes fair, it’s that they don’t acknowledge the unconscious agreements that couples sometimes make in order to avoid dealing with the deeper threats to the relationship.

These deeper threats may be things like physical or emotional affairs, hiding finances from each other, or withholding crucial information that affects the health or well-being of one or both partners in the relationship.

The reality is that when you ask someone to give up on their exit strategies, you have to be willing to give up some of yours.

Ed Yourdon

In healthy relationships, couples push each other to let go of old habits and ways of coping and to adopt newer, more skillful strategies. In less ideal circumstances there is stagnation. When couples can agree on a set of values that lead them towards a more conscious partnership then they are ready to put together a Relationship Vision. In Imago Relationship Therapy the Relationship Vision acknowledges that partners can fulfill a deeper purpose to each other to assist in a process of mutual awakening. Please continue to follow me as I discuss how to put together a relationship vision.



Joe Elliot has been working to help families for the past thirteen years. His specialties are in couples counseling, family therapy, death and dying, parenting, financial management, and adoption. Joe received his undergraduate degree from Naropa University in Psychology and Religious Studies and his Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver. Joe completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Denver Family Institute. Joe has also taught Family Therapy to students at Metro State Community College. Find out more here.

Read 5 Comments and Reply

Read 5 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,510,285