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Maude and I know from our direct experience that relationships without conflict are possible. This is an uncommon position to take, and many people are doubtful, so it is a pleasure to find similar writings.

I came across “How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free” by Tina Tessina and Riley Smith in our local library, and was delighted to find a sympathetic view. Chapter 1 starts out: “In 15 years of working with couples in private therapy and workshops, we have found that no matter how unsolvable a problem seems to the couple presenting it, when we help them apply Cooperative Problem Solving, a solution can always be found.”

How could I not be entranced?

They decry competition: “The belief that someone has to ‘win’ in a relationship encourages us to compete rather than to cooperate,” and offer a detailed procedure: “The unique aspect of Cooperative Problem Solving is that both parties attempting to resolve a conflict or make a decision can negotiate so that both get what they want.” They have, like many therapy books, formalized their approach and include many charts, guidelines and exercises. The Negotiation Tree is a multi-page flowchart guiding you through the steps. You might feel this structured approach to be a useful map or a limiting straitjacket.

Their focus is very much on The Negotiation Tree, which is similar to what we have described as Our Process, and they break it down into five steps:

• Define and Communicate the Problem

• Agree to Negotiate

• Set the Stage

• State Your Wants

• Explore Your Options and Decide

I liked this book so much, I ordered a second-hand copy from Amazon, and what arrived was the 1987 2nd edition, with the authors’ names reversed. This is a very different book, and although the five steps are identical to the 3rd edition, the guidelines and exercises are not included. It still uses examples of couples working through problems to illustrate its points, and goes into less detail, which in a way makes it clearer.

Either of these editions will be a rewarding read, and they differ so much that you could start with the 2nd edition and then enjoy the more detailed breakdown in the 3rd edition.

NOTE: The new 4th edition does not include the Negotiation Tree.



We are Phil and Maude Mayes, and we blog and publish about the reality of peaceful relationships.  Besides our weekly blog, we also write an occasional Friday Feature on people who share our viewpoint. We have featured Dr. Susan Heitler, Lawrence Gelber and Dr. Gail Brenner .

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HOW TO BE A COUPLE AND STILL BE FREE is a manual designed to teach couples to work together to sort out differences and make decisions so that both parties are completely satisfied. No compromises and no power plays. The experience strengthens and deepens the relationship. Trust and safety are profoundly increased. The friendship and partnership quality of life together is enhanced. Love flows freely.

The process is not new. My co-author and I learned of it in the mid seventies when we were living with a group of friends in a big old house in mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles. We adopted it, honed it, practiced it with our friends and used it in decision-making in our group house. Then, being Marriage and Family Therapists, we adapted it for couples, began teaching it to our clients and wrote it in How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free.

FOR ALMOST 40 YEARS this book has been recognized as the established handbook on relationships between equals.

The book is designed for couples who:

• seek a model for equal partnership.

• want to transform struggle into teamwork.

• are married, cohabitating, or dating.

• are in a heterosexual, same-sex and/or polyamory relationship.





The new 4th edition of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free is now available from as Publish On Demand and also formatted for Kindle.

David Lincer, Fumbled Book Press, contacted Tina and me recently for permission to publish the book which has been out of print for several years. He knew the book from years past and had used it in his own relationship. Over time he has given the book to friends who have found it helpful.. Recently he has been unable to find the book and decided he would like to publish it himself.

EMAIL Fumbled Book Press at: 

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Riley K. Smith, MA, LMFT