Tell me your love story?
It's how relationships begin, it might be a friendship that evolves, a grand passion, love at first sight, a shared look, you might work together, you might meet at school, but most relationships have highs and lows. Sometimes it's careers, sometimes it's kids, sometimes it's mismatched desire that starts to wear at what was once easy and effortless and you end up on different sides. Terrible couples therapy is sadly easy to find, One well known provider of couples therapy peopled with miserable duo's walking in on a grim Tuesday night made me reflect. A reluctant partner found himself outnumbered 3 to 1 by women in a room, seriously who thought this was a good idea. It's such a big deal to do this work, to make the call, to take the first step, there is often a feeling of desperation with couples often feeling all out of ideas and new ways of trying to solve old problems, feeling unheard, unseen and resentful.. Too many people wait too long, too many people find out too late that they were programmed for a collision course by choosing a family dynamic they thought they were escaping. What Freud called "The Repetition Compulsion", what on the surface looks opposite may underneath be the same as what they were trying to escape and thought they had, but actually unconsciously they are just drawn to the familiar because it's home. But I am an optimist and a huge believer in love and also evolution. What is unconscious is a reflex, but what is made conscious in therapy or life, well then it's a choice, something you potentially have agency and ultimately maybe even mastery over.
...And so it is.that I always start asking my couples for their love story. It's interesting how it affects those telling the story, what happens to facial expressions, does the sadness dissolve for a moment and do they start smiling, how their body language changes or doesn't? How watching this story retold lands for their partner. Do they share it, come alive together? Does it leave them sad and hollow? Do they smile at one another? Has one forgotten it, unable to accept that they were once each others best friends and favourite people on the planet? For me as the couples therapist in the room, there's so much going on at this point, and it's where I find out who has skin in the game, who is still able to hope, and who may be too scared to. It's the most beautiful and moving work but it's also incredibly important. Heartbreak can be brutal, separations particularly with kids acutely painful and scary for both partners, the loss of homes, particularly for men is horrific often trying to do their best for their kids and be decent at whatever cost, sometimes leaving their former partner riddled with guilt. I am really alive to all of this and feel so protective of all parties, I know the damage that is possible and how vital it is to be kind because I have seen it go the other way, a war that never ends, a relational game that never stops being replayed in or out of the relationship in which nobody wins and the children are the ultimate losers.
Stepfathers or stepmothers moved in before the dust has even settled and children completely lost. I have also seen some incredible stepmothers and fathers or new partners who really add something to the lives of the children, but these people are rarely in a hurry to move in and change the family status quo, their language is care, respect, and kindness. They know it is always their job to keep the kids first, so they feel safe. There is so much to think of, and it's also so important for the therapist to illuminate and call out behaviour or things that may be said that it could be hard to recover from or forget. The therapist really needs to understand the huge importance of the role they play for each partner. I have been thanked for saving marriages and one of my clients recently said she felt I was a good "translator" of her, that I got her. For me some of this comes from the fact I also see both partners alone before we work together. Sometimes my job is to help people walk away kindly, to leave something great behind that both can hold onto, it's better than a war full of old grudges, this is a huge motivator for meI'm a big fan of love, I know how life changing good love is and how brutal a love full of pain and loss can be. .
Send me your love story at email@example.com if you are happy to share it.