How Dialogic Analysis can be used as an eductional tool in Narrative Therapy for Couples


In an interesting paper referenced below Michael Guilfoyle refers to a wonderfully refreshing notion that argumentation is not at all problematic but the prototypical manner of being in conversation for lovers, friends, family members and work colleagues; indeed for all human beings (Guifoyle, 2003, p. 335).  Guilfoyle then goes on to illustrate how the presentation of distinct points of view can be a crucial aspect, indeed the most distinguishing aspect, of dialogic therapy for therapists working with couples and families.

In a first illustration, he demonstrates how two friends, Joe and Mark reconcile their different points of view about how to spend an evening in an argument that enables them to come to a partial synthesis of their different positions.

In a second illustration, he demonstrates how the therapist’s understanding of the “most burning issue” for a client can be embedded in “a performance of not knowing.” The issue is: How the client and her lover can salvage something in their relationship.

And in a third illustration, Guilfoyle shows how the uncertainty in the second illustration is removed by the therapist when she becomes the sole author of and actually defines rather than tentatively suggests the burning issue for her client to consider: “…is there any chance…that the two of you can salvage something in your relationship…that both of you would like to have?” Extract 3 is especially convincing because it appears to be an actual transcript of the conversation between therapist and client.

In this post I want to demonstrate how two poems, presented as emotionally moving, dramatic metaphors, can function as potent pedagogical tools in demonstrating a completely subjugated position versus a fully agentive position in lovers’ dialogs. The first poem is entitled “You Must Accept” by Kate Light and the second, “I Married You” by Linda Pastan.

“You Must Accept”

You must accept that’s who he really is.
You must accept you cannot be his
unless he is yours. No compromise.
He is a canvas on which paint never dries;
a clay that never sets, steel that bends
in a breeze, a melody that when it ends
no one can whistle. He is not who
you thought. He’s not. He is a shoe
that walks away: “I will not go where you
want to go.” “Why, then, are you a shoe?”
“I’m not. I have the sole of a lover
but don’t know what love is.” “Discover
it, then.” “Will I have to go where you go?”
“Sometimes.” “Be patient with you?” “Yes.” “Then, no.”
You have to hear what he is telling you
and see what he is; how it is killing you.

In a first reading of this poem, one might be inclined to understand it as a compelling, dramatic example of Foucault’s notion of power as a total structure of action that incites, induces and seduces (Foucault, 1982). The poem seems to grippingly portray a powerful authoritative monologue delivered to a subjugated, passive subject. And in our patriarchal culture, of course, the subjugated, passive subject has to be a woman. But if we take a deeper look, is the voice of the woman really the woman’s or Kate Light’s? Indeed, why is the poem so emotionally gripping? I think this would be like asking Jane Austen if the voices of some of her female subjects (my favorite is Lizzie Bennett) are really so passive. Furthermore, the woman in the poem clearly knows that she will have to go where he goes only sometimes and that this will require patience and an on-going struggle to hear what he is telling her. What hard work! One would also hope that the man to whom she is speaking would also take on the same killing work for her and that he might be inspired to do so because of her brave modeling behavior in the poem.

After “You Must Accept,” the poem “I Married You” is like a deep, delicious breath of fresh air.

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.
I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity –
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

Though expressed in the voice of only one of the lovers, this poem clearly evokes a spirited, humorous relationship in which for many years the two lovers have each enjoyed fully agentive positions in which they have entered each others hearts from well differentiated positions of power. I suspect Murray Bowen would have been inclined to give the degree to which they’ve achieved self-differentiation in their relationship his benediction, that is if he weren’t Jewish.

I wonder how Michael White would respond to the notion of using good metaphors in narrative therapy embedded in a performance of not knowing, metaphors that move clients emotionally.


Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject of Power. In H. Dreyfus & P. Rbinow3 (Eds.). Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics (pp. 208-226). New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Guilfoyle, M. A., (2003). Dialogue and Power: A Critical Analysis of Power in Dialogical Therapy, Family Process, 42, No. 3, pp. 331-343.

Light, K. (n.d.). You Must Accept in Gevity’s Dream: New Poems and Sonnets. West Chester University Poetry Center.

Pastan, L. (n.d.). I Married You in Queen of a Rainy Country. New York: W.W. Norton.


This entry was posted in Couples Counseling, Couples Therapy, Healthy Relationships, Marriage Counseling, Relationship Problem Advice, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • NAP Details:

    Marriage Couples Counseling & Life Coaching
    160 Bleecker Street, 9C East, New York, NY 10012
    (212) 673 4618