Can Your Couples Do the Couple Huddle?

Beth O’Brien, PhD 

PACT Level 3 Therapist

PACT therapists help couples create what Stan Tatkin calls a couple bubble. In this relational space, each partner can be themselves and accept each other as is. The bubble is an ecosystem that fosters safety and security for partners. Once their couple bubble is established, couples may benefit from taking action to proactively solve problems by couple huddling.

Partners tend to underestimate the rewards of mutual influence. They deal with their couple problems independently without consulting their partner. In doing so, they fail to realize that their partner brings helpful insights and resources to challenges. Learning to couple huddle applies the secure-functioning principle that partners protect their relationship and workshop problems together via collaboration. 

What is Couple Huddling? 

When partners come together to solve a problem or reach a common goal, they are huddling. Partners can feel stuck in a pressing situation. A couple huddle gives partners space to express their reactions, share their perspectives, and decide how to move forward.

  • Partners meet as equals. 
  • Partners are face to face, eye to eye, and physically close enough to offer touch if needed.
  • Partners are transparent while sharing information.
  • Shared perspectives are neither right nor wrong; opinions are mutually valued.

Why Huddling Makes Sense 

When partners turn to each other instead of struggling alone, they bring more brain resources to the challenges facing them. Couple huddling promotes innovation by creating space for additional information, multiple opinions, and feedback. Additionally, when partners assist each other, they have an opportunity to co-regulate their nervous systems when either individual is stressed. 

Couple huddling can amplify secure attachment, as partners lean on each other during challenging times and build confidence in their ability to resolve problems together. They begin to view themselves as belonging to a successful team who can forge good-for-me, good-for-you outcomes.

When to Huddle

Huddling pays off in many situations. Couples will find better parenting solutions by huddling, especially when children play one parent off the other. Sometimes a partner’s work supervisor may press them to make a decision that will impact their family. Taking time to consult one’s significant other can result in thoughtful, more equitable decisions. Couples also face interpersonal demands from extended family, ex-spouses, and friends. Huddling helps partners manage their thirds together. Partners huddle together before making impactful decisions rather than making commitments that could displace their partner.

How Huddling Pays Off 

Partners who consult together build confidence in their shared ability to resolve problems. They talk in the “we” and are open to being influenced by their partner. These couples develop skills in collaboration, negotiation, and cooperation. Power is shared within the couple system, so that one partner is less likely to be burdened as “the fixer,” or the one who does the heavy lifting. Communication improves as partners express their viewpoints, listen closely to each other during discussions, and aim for mutual understanding. The couple huddle intervention honors the principle of the two-person system: both parties believe each person’s voice matters and actively consider each other’s perspectives and needs.

Huddling Scenarios and Solutions

Scenario 1

Joshua and Jeremy are driving to a party and notice the road they usually take is closed. Jeremy points out a detour sign and says they should follow the sign. Joshua insists they ignore the detour and push through anyway. The couple ends up arguing in the car, both resenting being told what to do. They get lost and arrive at the party an hour late. Their stand-off continues into the next day.

If this couple had huddled, they would have likely resolved their dilemma in a timely way. The couple could have paused and pulled over, giving themselves a face-to-face opportunity to discuss their options and reach agreement. Either partner could have gone with the other’s suggestion. Or, Joshua and Jeremy could have created another option, such as skipping the party altogether, having wine at home, and indulging in much needed intimacy.

Scenario 2

Samantha feels anxious every time she and her husband visit their daughter Ashley and Ashley’s partner, Matt. Their son-in-law occasionally leaves a tool in the living area, and Samantha fears that their grandchildren will play with the tool and get hurt. At a recent visit, Samantha takes her daughter aside and demands that a hammer left by the television be put away immediately. Ashley becomes irritated and tells Samantha she should talk to Matt about it. Matt feels annoyed that Samantha doesn’t come to him directly. Samantha’s husband Bob is angry that Samantha takes matters into her own hands. Their longed-for family visit ends with hurt feelings on all sides.

Family fallout could have been averted if Samantha had first huddled with Bob about her concern. She could have shared her distress, and together they could have decided if and/or how they wanted to intervene. Bob knows that Samantha saw her brother become seriously injured by a lawnmower when they were children. As a result, Samantha moves into full helicopter mode whenever she is with her grandchildren. Taking time to huddle, Bob could soothe his wife’s nervous system by touching and speaking with her in a way that calms her. With Samantha centered, her frontal cortex would be online to process options. She and Bob could then find a solution that would be helpful and relationship preserving.

The Power of Huddling 

Counselors can help their couples learn to huddle by pointing out opportunities when consulting with their partner is advantageous. They can identify and work on obstacles that prevent partners from turning toward each other. Couple therapists can then stage situations during the counseling session so couples can practice their huddling skills and experience the benefits of working together as a team. 

Partners often underestimate the power of two — they struggle and manage alone even though they are in a relationship. Couple huddling provides a cooperative method for resolving interpersonal challenges and reinstating harmony. Counselors who foster couple huddling in session can empower their couples to move even closer to secure functioning.


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