How Do You Know If a Couple Is Secure Functioning?

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT

PACT Founder

In PACT, we expect couples to be secure functioning. But even secure-functioning couples have problems. You will see secure-functioning couples in your office.

How do you know if the couple in your office is secure functioning?

  1. They come in with a therapeutic alliance — fully collaborative, cooperative, on task — and they stay that way.
  2. They (mostly) come in with a collaborative narrative and talk fluidly about one thing, usually without disagreeing with each other or continually getting into conflict.
  3. They show no problems going face to face or with eye contact.
  4. They protect each other in front of you, the therapist. They do not throw each other under the bus.
  5. They will ask each other permission before saying something.
  6. They are able to talk clearly and honestly without any sense of deception. They seem to be as they are. They are serious about working on their relationship and not on each other.
  7. They benefit quickly from each session and show it. They integrate the work, and they enjoy couples therapy.
  8. They demonstrate that they are able to recognize good and bad in themselves and in their partners simultaneously without signs of splitting.
  9. They are easy to work with, and you enjoy having them in therapy with you. This is not to be confused with simply liking them.
  10. Their problems are usually related to real environmental and developmental stressors or change of life circumstances, such as financial stress, children and empty nest, illness, or death.

These couples understand that they are in each other’s care and not simply their own. The partners take care of each other and themselves at the same time, rarely sacrificing one for the other.


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