There's something interesting about couples. People who can get along with others at work and who navigate stressful disagreements elsewhere often find themselves arguing over seemingly "small" issues. Apparently, the people skills that work with others fail at home. Understanding what's going on can be the key to creating a more loving way of relating to each other.
People are attracted to each other for multiple reasons. The obvious are things like having a shared vision, enjoying each others company, and a sense of being a "good fit" together.
Unfortunately, there's often an additional powerful attractor at work; the opportunity to confront and resolve issues created around unmet basic needs during childhood. What makes these old issues so hard to deal with is that they are not a part of our conscious awareness. "You can't do what you want until you know what you're doing"* If the forces that are influencing our behavior are below the surface, then we're limited in our ability to have the kind of relationship that we want. I call these forces "the System." And the System has it's own agenda.
Since the sources of the System are the Survival Strategies that we developed as children as ways of getting our basic needs met when they were not being directly provided by our family, the key to lasting change comes down to our own individual work.
It's my experience that the individual work can often be best done in a couple's setting. One of the difficult things about starting individual counseling is accessing the parts of ourself that are causing us difficulty while in a counseling setting. This is much less of a problem when working as part of a couple. Couples coming to counseling are usually very good at "pushing each other's buttons."
The work usually has two stages. First, we identify the form that the System takes and how to recognize it. Every time the System runs it course, it does damage to a couple's love and connection. Therefore, we learn to identify its early signs and symptoms and develop a method for unplugging it. That stops the damage and creates time for us to deal with the old experiences and beliefs that fuel the System.
Next, we explore together the experiences and beliefs that keep them stuck. Normally, each person takes turns being the focus and their partner acts as my helper and assistant. Supporting your partner as they do their inner work can be a powerfully bonding experience. It is truly an intimate experience.
Other possible formats include simultaneously working with both as issues arise or seeing one partner on one week, the other on the next, and both on the third week.
These are decision that we all make together.