Sunday, August 3, 2014

Three marital therapy sessions

Marital counseling is a valid but part-wizardly activity.  A client in individual therapy finds it difficult or impossible to change deeply, structurally, yet two can transform to become loving or learn to compromise (for example, Hendrix’s “conscious partnership”*) for the rest of their lives.  Is two simpler than one?  Is there something about wanting to be two that simplifies the one?  Or does marital therapy succeed by leading you down a garden path of wishful feeling that you want to go down anyway?

Depth psychology sees the individual as a walking wounded child, and depth marital process works with this, teaching each partner to be the other’s inner healer.  But radical depth knows the child will prevail, in some way, from cradle to grave.  I am reminded of two middle-aged men.  One, though a well-established professional, knows in his bones that he is destined to end up impoverished and a stumbling, bleeding failure out of a junked van by the river.  The other is instinctively aware that “success” in any of its imaginable meanings is not merely unreachable but meaningless in his life: He was born to never reach the starting gate.  These are psycho-templates, and people’s perinatal and early lives plant them as the universe planted its laws.  A husband can grow branches and leaves above depressive childhood roots that say, “I don’t like to do things,” and marriage neither sees nor changes them.

A young couple is in therapy because of the wife’s sexting infidelities.  Both had horrid childhoods of drugs and rape.  It’s almost humorously absurd, to me, that they are sitting in these chairs rather than splaying their flesh through a sieve in a cosmic berserker, smearing feces on restraint room walls.  Their version of this, though, is true: He is a drudge with three jobs, does nothing but work and suffers silently; she is a sexual body, starved.  I already know that whatever will be done in therapy, it will have little to do with love.  In only the third session she confessed to not knowing what the word meant.  And a man cheated on by “every woman I’ve been with” doesn’t know it, either.

But still there is a garden path, at the end of a river and fire.  The young husband may be like me, growing a backbone only in the harshest climate, enabling him to leave.  His wife is like a child described in Bromfield’s Playing for Real.**  The girl had been “molested . . . in every conceivable way almost daily since at least her second year.”  Adopted by a caring couple and brought to therapy at age six, she showed her body and sat on the male therapist’s lap, innocently prostituting herself.  My client, with different nerves, felt right about wanting to prove her attractiveness to strange men.  With different eyes, she could not see that wearing half the clothing of other married women was questionable.

Marital therapy is warm and powerful when we promote Hendrix’s “reromanticizing” and “relationship vision” and instruct against Gottman’s “stonewalling” and “defensiveness,” talk spirituality and teach the Couple’s Dialogue.  It’s more difficult when we want to dismantle two lives of defenses and ask the soft child – crossing the river and fire of grief – to complete the full developmental arc to adulthood and selfless compassion for the other’s needs and pain.

That’s for the fourth session.

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* Harville Hendrix, PhD, Getting the Love You Want, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2008, (1988), p. xxviii.  “1. Accept the reality that your partner is not you.  2. Be an advocate for your partner’s separate reality and potential.  3. Make your relationship a sacred space by removing all negativity.  4. Always honor your partner’s boundaries.  5. Practice the Imago Dialogue until it becomes second nature and you can interact spontaneously once again.”

** Richard Bromfield, PhD, Playing for Real, Exploring Child Therapy and the Inner Worlds of Children, Basil Books, 1992, 2010.  Excerpt from Chapter 14, “Going Forth.”

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.