Reshaping Couple Configurations that Get in the Way of Relationship Repair and Healing


couple therapy, view of self in relation to other, ego position, self-concept, circumplex typology of couple configurations, couple conceptualizations, patterns of engagement, egalitarian balance


In the context of relationship trauma, partners' reactive patterns of engagement can disrupt and derail attempts at relationship correction and healing. A circumplex typology of couple patterns of engagement in relational trauma context is defined in terms of partners' underlying views of self in relation to other (VSIRO). VSIRO is conceptualized along a continuum anchored at opposite poles by inflated (self‐aggrandizing) versus collapsed (self‐abnegating) VSIRO, with a balanced (egalitarian) VSIRO, characterized by accountability and forbearance, as the target position. The circumplex model delineates four problematic couple configurations—a dejected couple, a taker–enabler couple, an ultimate fighting couple, and a debtor–collector couple. Where problematic engagement occurs, therapists need to reshape couple engagement toward the balanced, egalitarian position prior to relational trauma work. Clinical vignettes depict these couples and springboard an analysis of unique needs and interventions associated with each couple configuration. Reshaping couple patterns of engagement using a circumplex model of couple configurations is an essential prerequisite to effective and ethical relational trauma work.

Original Publication Citation

Butler, M.H., Spencer, T.J. and Seedall, R.B. (2020), Reshaping Couple Configurations that Get in the Way of Relationship Repair and Healing. Family Process, 59: 1334-1352.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Family Process




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor