Archive for dynamic

Working with Family Members

As couple therapists, our training is focused on two people: a man and a woman, two women, two men, transgender couples. These are couples that have chosen to commit to a relationship. They have a history of meeting, dating, getting to know one another and (hopefully) falling in love. They come to therapy because their relationship is in trouble, and they want to understand why and how to resolve things.

So what happens when two sisters, two brothers, a mother and daughter, mother and son, father and daughter or father and son need help with their relationship?

When a client I have been working with asked if I would see him with his brother, I was in a quandary as to how I might serve them best. I decided that I would work with the issues that they wanted to address as I would with any couple. But was it as simple as that? What else did I need to consider?

I asked myself what the difference might be working with them, and what I came up with is that this ‘couple’ didn’t choose one another but were born into the same family. The other difference is that the family history is shared but not always experienced in the same.

What struck me about meeting these brothers was there was the same tension between them that ‘normal’ couples often bring into the consulting room. There was also a natural hesitance about delving into difficult feelings between them (opening the ‘can of worms’) and doubted that the other could understand them.

Mike and James grew up with a controlling and divisive mother who would keep one of them in favour and criticise the other. And then, periodically, she would switch. It felt good when they were the chosen one and both acknowledged how difficult it was to protect the other or name what was going on within the family.

By telling the story, the brothers were able to appreciate how they were caught up in a dynamic that they didn’t choose but were forced to adapt to.
As children, they had no guidance and did the best they could to manage, but it left them feeling unprotected and wounded with one another.

I worked with them for eight sessions and they started slowly to trust one another and move forward together. They consciously made a pact to protect one another when the other was out of favour and keep the communication between them open and loving. They realized that changing their mother’s behaviour wasn’t possible but they were determined to step into it, with one another, in a different more thoughtful way. After a time, they found that this made them stronger together and as a result, their relationship became closer and deeper.
Working with two people means simply learning to understand how they experience and relate to one another. Whether it is a romantic couple or siblings going through difficulties, therapy can help disentangle things between them.

Shirlee Kay

Stages in Couple Relationships

Falling in Love/getting to know one another:

How we negotiate the challenges of becoming a couple determines the way we communicate as a couple in the future.

As the initial excitement/passion dies, the couple is weighing up whether their other connections are sufficient for them to take the relationship further. It’s important to note that a couple needs to experience this idealization stage in the relationship in order to move forward together.

This is the time couples get to know each other and start to explore what is means to trust one another and to stay together even when they are no longer on their best behavior.

Decision to Commit:

Becoming a couple: This is usually the make or break stage in most relationships. Declaring to one another and to the wider world that you’re a couple can be very challenging. It can feel very serious, which of course it is, so it is no wonder we often feel anxious about it.

How we become a couple depends on what makes us feel secure and safe in a relationship. It doesn’t have to be what society tells us it should be but for the couple to agree what works best for them. For some, it might mean moving in together and planning for the future; which includes getting engaged, married and having children.

But when one partner wants to move forward faster than the other, difficulties often arise. Feeling pressured to commit or feelings of not being wanted polarize a couple. We see many instances where one person is holding the ‘wanting’ in the relationship and the other is withdrawing, feeling immense pressure to do something they don’t want to do. It’s a dance that many couples become entangled in and can follow them throughout their relationship. It can also set up a dynamic between a couple that says “ You forced this on me, I didn’t have a choice” or that “You never wanted me enough, I had to beg.”

People, for all kinds of reasons are delaying entering into serious relationships and causing huge anxieties for each other. Women want and need to start families and are torn between being clear about this and fearing they will scare their partner away. It often translates into a power play between couples and somehow, the goodwill environment a couple started off in becomes more like a battlefield with the loving relationship being slowly eroded.

These challenges and changes that these stages bring are a huge opportunity for us as individuals and as a couple to grow.

The Reality of Everyday Life:

Lets face it; it’s the everyday banality and irritation of living with others that begin to chip away at our relationship. It’s not the fact that the toothpaste cap isn’t on the tube, it’s the stories that we create like: ‘She knows this is important to me and I’ve asked her a thousand times and she still can’t manage to do it’. It’s also the way we ask and blame one another that impact on a relationship. All these pressures can impact even on committed and loving relationships.

  • Work/Life balance
  • Financial Stress
  • Family, friendships, etc
  • Banality of the everyday
  • Childcare and distribution of labour
  • Life Stages and Their Challenges:
  • Just when you thought you have dealt with what life has thrown at you and the relationship is finally settling down, guess what?
  • Children move home after university
  • Redundancy
  • Retirement/Illness
  • Aged parents

The way we, as individuals and as a couple are able to adapt to changes allows us the ability to roll with the difficulties life some times throws at us. Life isn’t always easy but it can be easier when we understand and appreciate some of the issues involved in the making of a committed and successful relationship.

Shirlee Kay