Young admits this technique can seem awkward in the beginning. As therapy progresses and communication improves, the flash cards can be left behind. "Eventually, the partners catch their pattern much more quickly, and they don't have to have time-outs," Young says. They can head off the conflict before it arises. "When therapy is successful, it doesn't mean the schema inside each person isn't being triggered," he says. "But they learn that they don't need to let it out." As patients come to recognize their schemas, they realize that, although they are not entirely to blame for their strong feelings, they are responsible for learning to control them better.

Schema therapy saved Chloe and Dan's relationship. "We have a very high success rate with couples like this," Young says. Both partners genuinely wanted to change, and, still more important, both of them were willing to accept the idea that there was something wrong with their behavior. (Young estimates schema therapy succeeds with about 70 percent of couples he and his colleagues see.)

Those who have benefited from schema therapy have one thing in common: They felt the thrill and relief of learning that there was a name for the impulses that had directed their actions for so long. They could see there was a more accurate explanation for the unhealthy patterns in their lives and relationships than the one they'd been telling themselves. They stepped back from their lifetraps and studied the map of their behavior. And slowly, but perseveringly, they dared to set out on a different course, with a new understanding not only of the direction they wanted to take but of themselves.

Keep Reading: Which schemas do you fall into?


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