Couples in counselling and genograms
Couples who come for counselling are often there because they find themselves completely unable to bridge the gulf between them. Normal conversation seems hopeless; the differences of belief and perspective between these two people seem unbridgeable, yet they share the structure of their lives. Years will go by and the gap between them makes intimacy a distant dream. Counselling is the last resort.
One way past the apparent impassé is through working with a genogram. This is a way of exploring and mapping the many layers of influence that are passed down from one generation to another through families. When working with couples, it can be liberating for each partner to see a graphic representation of the unseen influences that play out within their marriage. For example, the husband who did not know that his wife’s eastern European mother had been raped during the Second World War became aware of the ways in which that emotional damage was subtly passed down to his wife. As another example, a wife realised that the conflict in her marriage about attitudes towards spending and saving could be traced back to the very different economic cultures of the two families, her husband’s and her own. Finally, consider the husband who discovered that the reason he was so conflicted about being attracted yet repelled by strong women was because of the legacy passed down through the generations in his family.
It can be a relief to realise that we are the product of our family culture – a culture made up of historical experience and events, of spiritual beliefs or patterns of depression or addiction, gender style, secrecy or betrayal. The list is limitless and deeply personal. In working with a genogram, there is no right or wrong way to trace the patterns and influences.
The outcome of such an exercise in working with a couple can be transformational. In making these realisations, each partner feels that they are back in the driving seat of their own relationship. They are no longer blindly acting out the automatic assumptions handed down through the generations, but consciously able to choose. They may gain a new respect for the interesting and complex stranger they have been living with, and a fresh insight into themselves.
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