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Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach that has gained popularity over the past few years for its ability to help individuals, families, and couples navigate the complexities of their internal worlds. This powerful method, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, views individuals as composed of multiple sub-personalities or “parts,” each with its own characteristics, desires, and roles. By understanding and working with these parts, people can achieve greater self-awareness, emotional healing, and personal growth.

One specific application of IFS is Intimacy from the Inside Out (IFIO), a model specifically designed for couples therapy. This post will explore how IFS and IFIO can be used with couples to improve their relationships and what to expect during the IFIO stages.

Intimacy from the Inside Out (IFIO)

Developed by Toni Herbine-Blank, IFIO is an adaptation of IFS that helps couples understand and work through their relationship issues by addressing the parts within each individual that contribute to their dynamics. This approach emphasizes the importance of self-awareness, self-compassion, and open communication in fostering a stronger, healthier connection between partners.

The IFIO process has five key stages:

  1. Creating a Safe Space: The first stage of IFIO involves creating a safe and supportive environment for both partners to explore their feelings and vulnerabilities. This is crucial in allowing couples to be open and honest about their experiences, fears, and desires without fear of judgment or criticism.
  2. Identifying Parts: In this stage, the therapist guides the couple in identifying the different parts within each individual that contribute to their relationship dynamics. Couples learn to recognize their “protectors” (parts that defend against emotional pain) and “exiles” (parts that hold painful emotions or memories). By understanding these parts, couples can begin to empathize with their partner’s experiences and develop a shared language to discuss their emotions.
  3. Unblending: During the unblending stage, couples learn to separate their own parts from their partner’s parts. This helps them differentiate their own emotions and needs from those of their partner, allowing for clearer communication and a deeper understanding of one another’s experiences.
  4. Accessing the Self: With a greater understanding of their parts, couples can begin to access their “Self” – a core, compassionate, and wise aspect of their being. The Self is capable of leading the other parts and fostering a healthy, balanced internal system. In IFIO, couples learn to communicate and interact from their Self, resulting in more empathetic, open, and constructive exchanges.
  5. Working with Parts in the Relationship: The final stage of IFIO involves couples working together to address the needs and concerns of their parts within the context of their relationship. This might include finding new ways to support each other, renegotiating boundaries, or developing healthier communication patterns. By addressing the needs of their parts, couples can create lasting change and foster a deeper, more fulfilling connection.

What Couples Should Expect During the IFIO Stages

Throughout the IFIO process, couples should expect to:

  1. Develop greater self-awareness and understanding of their own parts and how they influence their relationship dynamics.
  2. Gain insight into their partner’s parts and develop empathy for their experiences.
  3. Learn to communicate more openly and honestly with one another.
  4. Experience increased connection and intimacy as they work together to address the needs of their parts within the relationship.


Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Intimacy from the Inside Out (IFIO) offer a powerful approach for couples looking to strengthen their relationship and foster deeper connection. By working with their own parts and understanding those of their partner

, couples can develop healthier communication patterns, increased empathy, and a more profound understanding of each other’s needs and experiences. As they progress through the IFIO stages, couples will find that their relationship transforms into a more supportive, loving, and fulfilling partnership.

It’s important to note that IFIO therapy is not a quick fix, and couples should be prepared to invest time and effort into the process. However, the rewards of this therapeutic approach can be truly life-changing, as partners learn to navigate their internal worlds together and develop a stronger, more resilient bond.

If you and your partner are interested in exploring IFS and IFIO, consider seeking the guidance of a qualified therapist trained in these methods. They can help you navigate the complexities of your relationship and support you in creating the lasting change and connection you desire.

In summary, Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Intimacy from the Inside Out (IFIO) provide a powerful framework for couples to address their relationship issues by working with the parts within each individual. By understanding, empathizing, and collaborating with these parts, couples can foster a deeper, more intimate connection that allows for lasting growth and healing.

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