The above quote by Mary Wakefield in Water Babies sometimes comes into my mind when I set a task for a couple who are having difficult communication problems.
The task involves them talking about what their idea of a ‘couple’ is and what they feel they need from each other. They bring five needs to me at the next session without showing each other before we all share the results.
Within the separate lists are almost always one, two or three common needs.
Being heard. (Communication seems to break down when each feels unheard, argued with and patronised).
Compromise (this includes the ability to negotiate, conciliate and respect the other’s view point even if not agreed with). This often has the benefit of learning from each other without feeling lectured to or that they are speaking to a closed ear.
We look at the shared needs which can lead to a closeness which hitherto they had missed out on by not realising they were shared.
When the needs which neither feel they can guarantee to carry out begin to surface, we all three try to work out a shared plan whereby they try to mediate and deal with the inability to comply in a fair and respectful atmosphere. The ‘do as you would be done by’, begins to make total sense. Both may have to give up a stance they have previously maintained when they realise that if they start to compromise they will begin to either feel the need is no longer so necessary, or carrying out the need for the other becomes a good feeling instead of losing a part of themselves.
Affairs can happen when one or the other or both find someone who appears at the start of the affair to be able to satisfy the needs which the partner has found impossible without a sense of damage to their own persona. The affair can be avoided by working together with the things which seemed to drive them apart. If we achieve this aim, the sense of being on the same side becomes an intimacy which till that moment the couple have felt was unavailable to them.