But we were in love - how has it all fallen apart?
Why do we choose our partners – physical attraction, they make us laugh, we ‘get’ each other, we share interests, ways of thinking, hobbies. When we meet and fall in love some of the things that attract us to each other are our differences, but as time goes by these same attributes can become the things that infuriate, hurt or mystify us.
It can seem as though we can make up for things we didn't have through our differences. For example: M comes from a very close family who spend lots of time together and seem very supportiuve of each other and he has always felt he was loved for just being him, F has a very distant mother and a father with high expectations and she never feels good enough or cared about for herself, only her achievements. The attraction here may be to the warmth of a close knit family for her, and the coolness of an intellectually stimulating family environment for him. As they spend more time together, marry, have children these differences may start to become problematic – she feels smothered by the affection and attention of his family – they are interfereing in the way she is bringing up the children he is tied to their apron strings and the couple can never seem to do anything without reference to his family – it is stifling. He may discover that the stimulating discussions he used to have with her father are increasingly acrimonious and it is hard for him to feel that there is a real connection. They don’t show much interest in the children and he feels that his family is being unfairly depended on for babysitting and childcare duties and that her family are not pulling their weight – his Mum has even said so.
These differences become increasingly matters about which they row, the independent nature he once admired in her is now experienced by him as cold and unfeeling. The closeness with his family and the warmth he demonstrated to her in the early days now seems cloying and suffocating – he can’t let her be and she feels he is constantly making demands on her as well as his family.
They both feel isolated and misunderstood, uncared for and unhappy. That seems to be the only thing they share now.
They go for counselling – but how on earth can that help, they are never going to change their personalities. A psychodynamic counsellor takes an approach which tries to understand the way in which their family backgrounds and the attractiveness of the things they lacked in their own childhoods has become impossible to understand and experienced as foreign and distant. While it seems as though the other is being like this on purpose, or doesn’t care enough to change, what may actually be going on is a way of relating which has been taken in as a child and has become habitual and unconscious – they are each as they are without being aware of it. If they can each start to understand that the other is not deliberately being difficult and that they both feel isolated and unloved, perhaps they can start to talk about their expectations, disappointments and pains in a way which does not have to be accusatory, but can be about trying genuinely to explore and understand each other’s perspective and what the relationship feels like from that stand point. It may then become possible to recognise when a habitual response, learned in childhood, is being triggered by current events and to stop, think and talk about what is going on. This can provide a couple with the space to develop new ways of responding, both individually and together and thus establish a better understanding of what is happening for each of them.
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