Couple Therapy: How do we pick the other half?
6th November, 2007
Coupling is where all human life starts. When the members of a partnership can see one another as whole human beings, as a mixture of good and bad, and when they can accept the inevitable differences and separations that are the counterpart of intimacy and passion, things are likely to go well.
But, unfortunately, things are not as smooth as this. …Each member of a couple brings to their relationship a complex set of working models and their unique experiences of relating.
One of the first questions I ask at the couple therapy is “ What attracted you to your partner”
Couples are attracted to one another if there is some kind of “fit” between their inner world and that of the other. Couples choose one another unconsciously because of this “fit”. The more intimate they are able to be with one another, the more their own inner world will be exposed.
According to the attachment theory, an internal working model of relationships is constructed from early attachment experiences and this model, “ which is primarily unconscious” is carried forward and re-enacted in our adult relationships. The results of our research shows that there is profound influence of early attachment relationships on the development of later attachment relationships. How partners attempt to resolve the differences between them is shaped by each one’s earlier experiences in their relating.
In adult couple relationships each partner functions as an attachment figure for the other. Because of this reason, the partnership arena is the arena where the past emotions played out and if the person’s closeness has been difficult with their care givers, they cannot trust to get close to their partner or cling to their partner at the expense of one’s own autonomy and individuality.
In secure attachments, couples are likely to form intimate relationships in which both partners act as safe haven and secure base for one another. In the ideal form, or if we say, in a secure attachment, each partner can tolerate the anxieties of being dependent on the other and of also being depended on by the other. The partners have the ability to move flexibly between dependent and depended-upon positions. There is an open expression of the need for comfort and contact, as well as an open reception of that contact.
In insecure attachment ( which covers most couples) patterns, such as; avoidance, fear and dismissal, or preoccupation and clinginess), there is avoidance of close contact with others. Because of the history of rejection or unresponsive attachment figures, they have learnt not to turn to others as a source of security. In the insecure couple attachment, there is lack of flexibility, mutuality, and there is a rigidity in the relationship with one partner typically in one position and the other in the other position with little movement between them. They lack the capacity to understand each other’s experiences, therefore natures. They also lacks self awareness and these experiences’ impact on the self and on the other.
These are the major themes we need to look at in a relationship:
Maintaining a boundary around the couple-one that is sufficiently permeable for children and others to have access to their parents and yet close woven enough for the couple to protect their privacy and distinctiveness as a unit
The power relationship between the dyad- the resulting contractual relationship and the extend to which the negotiations around it are based on mutual respect or driven by dominance and submission
Roles- how they are parcelled out between the couple and how rigidly they are adhered to
Communication between the members of the couple-how open or restricted it is
From this perspective the well functioning couple as protected by a semi permeable boundary, able to share power and roles but in a flexible and interchangeable way, having a clearly adhered to overt and implicit contract, with broad and open channels of communication-especially of feelings- and with the capacity for mutual enjoyment. .
These are the points to bear in mind for the couple therapy to have a successful outcome :
Establishing a secure therapeutic base
Focusing on the couple’s relationship as the patient in order to develop its secure base function for each partner.
To understand the internal worlds of each couple and being able to make links with past and present.
Encouraging play and exploration within the session so that what is feared as unsafe becomes less frightening.
Recovering and reliving trauma to facilitate a joint mourning process by addressing unresolved aspects of past experience, as unresolved trauma and losses get in the way of creating healthy relationships.
Providing opportunities for accessing and reprocessing feelings.
This last point is very important, the experience of breaking a negative interactional cycle thorough accessing and processing feelings and fears is likely to be profound, as it breaks the negative vicious cycle and encourages new patterns of healthier relating.
Related articles from our experts
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- Why relationships need empathy
Susan Hooper MBACP12th July, 2018
- Who do you think you are? 'Connecting the dots' through therapeutic genograms
Cinzia Altobelli (MSc RGN UKCP reg Psychotherapist/Counsellor & Supervisor)12th July, 2018
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