A Review of The Power of Two

A Review of The Power of Two

Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we covered the second basic of cooperative dialogue, verbalize feelings. We continued our conversation about ‘I statements’ and discussed the importance of knowing and communicating our emotions in an appropriate way. Today we will be diving into the third basic of collaborative dialogue, No Trespassing.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern


Per usual, before diving into this post’s topic I would like to outline some important definitions to understand first.

Trespassing: an unwarranted infringement

Boundaries: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent

Crossover: comments that trespass on your spouse’s turf, violating his or her personal boundaries

à Types of Crossovers

  • Mind reading: guessing your partner’s thoughts
  • Emotion reading: guessing your partner’s feelings
  • Labeling: attributing qualities to your partner
  • Criticizing: talking negatively about what your partner does or has done
  • Advising and Commanding: telling your partner what to do

As we grow into a relationship often people will start to use the term ‘we’ to refer to both the individual and their partner. While initially this comes off as a compliment and presents the couple as a united front or a team, in some instances, what it really does is take away the autonomy of the individuals. That is not to say that Hietler is working from a belief that a couple should not work and make decisions as a team, moreover, she highlights the importance of being able to function and come to a conclusion as an individual outside of the relationship and then be able to bring that into decision making with your partner. In a couple you remain two separate people, so to speak for your partner alludes to the idea that you are in fact one person and share the same thoughts, feelings, etc. Family therapists will identify that the most important aspect of mental health is the individualization of a person. This is not only empowering, but very growth oriented in addressing personal concerns and distress. This leads us back to our first basic, say it.

Rather than speaking for our partner and coming to our own conclusions about how they feel or what they think about something, Heitler encourages us to ask our partner instead. In doing so, we reduce the likelihood that our partner interprets our conversation as antagonizing. We can only take ownership of our own thoughts and feelings so to try and interpret and conclude those of our partners is where we notice trespassing. By continuing to use I statements and provide questions over conclusions, we are inviting our partner into our private world and asking to be a part of theirs. Again, this evokes closeness and will build upon the relationship rather than minimize the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of our partner.

Another way that trespassing and crossovers present themselves is as an attempt to share or develop insight into the experience or feelings of the partner. This is seen when one or both partners are trying to guess what the other person is thinking, feeling, or how they will inevitably respond to something. When this happens, it pushes both individuals into their own corners where they must defend what they have said rather than confronting the underlying insights that the individual has developed about themselves in relation to a certain situation, emotion, thought, etc. According to Heitler, when you speak in crossovers you lose the following opportunities:

  • To understand your own concerns
  • To generate a compassionate response from your mate to those concerns
  • To invite your mate to respond with similar personal self-revelation
  • To gain insight into the problem
  • To find constructive solutions to the problem at hand

Utilizing crossovers within conversation allows us an opportunity to redirect our focus from internally too externally. On paper this sounds great, but how effective is it really to ignore the distress we experience by focusing on the distress or response of someone else? I’ll give you a hint; it really isn’t effective, especially in the long term. In the short-term though we see what Heitler calls ‘spaghetti talk’. This happens when the conversation becomes tangled because each individual is speaking for the other and trying to maintain a line of focus and direction but are in turn creating more confusion. When this happens we are brought back to our ‘I’ statements, questions and requests; sticking to the basics of what we do know, our thoughts, feelings, and responses, allows us to stay away from accusations and assumptions.



Follow along as we continue to dive into The Power of Two and its use with married couples, dating relationships, and single people. Bear in mind all information provided comes as a review of Heitler’s book and from a clinician actively learning and utilizing the tools.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Trespass. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 26,             2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trespass

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Boundary. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 26, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boundary


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