Updated: Jun 9, 2022
I love working with couples. One of the first things we do in couples in counselling is to recognize the pattern is the problem, not the person [Sue Johnson, creator of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)]. If you’ve been in any kind of longish, intimate relationship, you likely have experienced that once the honeymoon period fades, you and your partner develop recognizable patterns of conflict. It's as though the two of you together created a third element: a system of interaction. This system of interaction is the "problem" we focus on.
Each partner brings into the relationship their unconscious attachment needs, born of their early experiences in their family of origin. These attachment needs for safety and connection begin to battle it out with each other in misunderstood attempts to get their needs met. This is what underlies the patterns of disharmony.
The pattern of conflict is not us, it is not who we are as people, it is simply the interplay of our various attachment needs and fears .
At the root, our conflict is just our attempts to seek a secure connection with our partner.
As a counsellor, my role is an objective observer (who knows something about how adult attachment relationships play out). I help the couple see more clearly their patterns of conflict. This new perspective can be transformative for a couple, who may be so immersed in the intense emotions of attack, rejection and withdraw, and villainizing their partner.
In addition, it can be a game changer for a couple to recognize that the points of conflict are demonstrations of their desires for connection. This then sets the groundwork for starting to learn a new pattern of engagement where partners learn to speak for their underlying attachment desires, and learn to recognize and receive their partner's bids for connection.
In continuing sessions, I act as a "process consultant" (Sue Johnson again) where I guide couples in practicing new ways of recognizing, speaking, and listening. These new ways have the potential to help couples continue to deepen their connection with each other throughout their lives.
According to Sue Johnson, a good relationship should feel like a safe haven or a secure base. We should feel that we matter to our partner, that they are accessible to us and able to engage with us.
Johnson writes that emotional presence is the solution to couple’s conflict.
Most of us want to be there for our intimate partner, but we cannot figure out how to get past the patterns of conflict that stand in the way. Partner's counselling can help you achieve your goals of harmony and deeper connection in your relationship. Partners counselling is an investment in this goal, not an indication that something is wrong. No couple is immune to patterns of conflict- it is what they choose to do about it that sets them apart.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you (both) soon!
A note: I combine three different approaches: Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, Internal Family Systems (IFS) for couples, sometimes called IFIO, and psychoanalytic approaches. I am not a trained specialist in any of these approaches. Rather, I draw from these approaches in addition to my family therapy training as a registered clinical counsellor.