When couples come in for the first time there are one or two common questions which they ask. How many sessions will they need and how long will it take are both very familiar to me.
This is very helpful in terms of trying to listen and hear their story and how they perceive themselves. It seems an obvious and necessary question but it tells me many things. Some of which might be a clue as to their couple’s sense of self. The couple being the third client in the room.
Do they see their partnership as unique or do they see themselves within the couple as they hope others will see them? Do they realise how valuable they both are and how precious their couple is? They have built it by themselves and formed it into many shapes and sizes to fit their story. It is all their own work, not a copy of other couples or a ‘normal’ couple. There is no rubber stamping of a couple. It is their couple and the shape of it is how they formed the way to be together, often with great difficulty.
I tell them this right at the beginning so we can refer back to that question and see how the answer changes as a result of what we are all learning about their couple. Some, feeling under pressure to change quickly, find this hard to bear. With time, however, and with careful listening and hearing each other we all begin to understand how much is invested in their case..
Following the start of the work when the questions were asked they begin to value themselves in a much more personal way. We learn how they have negotiated, compromised and tolerated the difficulties they have encountered and how each individual has found it intimate to carefully wend their way through the difficult episodes they encounter. At the beginning when things became unmanageable they felt compromise might be a sacrifice and loss of a part of themselves.
As we journey week by week through their ups and downs, we are all surprised by either the length of time or by the little time it has taken to arrive at a more manageable place.
I marvel at the ability of two people coming in, sometimes in despair, reaching a place where they feel closer and how they get in touch again with the origins of why they chose each other at the beginning.