Working with couples is something of a passion for me. Even when there’s no passion any more. In fact, that’s when they’re most likely to turn up. Working with more than one person in the room is always a challenge. But the rewards can be very high. For everyone sitting in a chair.
Moving forwards does not, for every couple, mean staying together, and rebuilding their relationship. I have been privy to some very hard decisions and a great many tears have been shed in the room whilst clients have together acknowledged that a relationship has come to the end of the road. But taking these steps with each other has made the difference. Whilst, with insight, the relationship cannot continue as it has been, vitally something shifts to enable something to emerge where respect is possible.
When working with couples, and families, it is imperative that I take risks. Staying within my own comfort zone is unlikely to help anyone. I find myself playing difficult cards, and hopping lightly between different, sometimes conflicting roles. I position myself very precisely, and do so deliberately. At some points it is useful for me to temporarily join the systems that I am introduced to, at others it may prove vital for me to resist the temptation to do so, in order to retain a bird’s eye view of what it is that is happening. All the time, I am locating myself in the midst of complex dynamics which may have developed over years.
I have skills at my disposal born of trainings I have undertaken to equip me to work in this way, but above and beyond anything I can read in any book (and there are many excellent books written on working with couples and families), is my felt sense. Somewhere between the narratives I hear, and my cognitive response to that, is an internal response to what is happening in the room, and this is probably the most useful asset I have. This is what helps shape my interventions, what I say, and when I say it. By tuning and in and listening both to what I am being told, but also to what I’m not hearing, I am able to offer myself in service to everyone in the room. This will often involve holding different opinions, histories and agenda. To find my way I may have to make difficult observations, ask challenging questions. My mission is not to provoke, but rather to probe. Working with couples is rarely a fairytale but an effective therapy may make it possible to cut through scripts authored, edited, continued and replayed by their unhappy characters, so that the story might have a different ending.
I see my role as witness and facilitator of a process that is unique to the couple. They hold the roadmap and select their destination, but I may well enable them to see the weather conditions before they get stranded in a snow storm. Hurt people hurt people, and this is never truer than when things break down with people we have loved. Attending therapy can bring the temperature down, and diffuse some of the tension that can sway couples off course and cause them to get stuck in anger, resentment and vindictiveness. By having a safe space in which things can be looked at for what they actually are, rather than what they have been, or may become, truths can emerge and possibilities explored. One possibility may be that there are numerous truths.