When two people are experiencing difficulties in their relationship it is usually best that both partners attend psychotherapy together. I believe this is beneficial because the process between you comes alive in the session. Therefore great awareness can be gained through reflecting on the experience you are having at that moment. This information is invaluable and can really help a couple gain new insight into their relational style and move through their tension or conflict.
But why do couples who were once madly in love now find themselves experiencing difficulties?
There are many complex answers to this question all of which are beyond the remit of this web page. But to summarise; when you enter into a relationship you are essentially entering into two relationships: the conscious relationship and the unconscious relationship.
When we are in the conscious relationship everything seems fine. We feel intimate, close and loving with each other. This phase can last a long time and is sometimes referred to as the honeymoon period. Eventually we meet the unconscious relationship which is when the nature of the relationship changes.
In the unconscious relationship the qualities that we once loved in our partner may now be the things that we most dislike about them. During this phase we experience our partners as a disappointment to us as they no longer live up to our romantic ideals. We are more focussed on our differences rather than our similarities. Often couples experience a power struggle, anger towards each other or a wounded relationship.
If we look closely at what is happening in our relationship we may realise that we are experiencing all the unresolved, unconscious conflicts which we have previously pushed away. The content of this conflict may be located within our present relationship but the “process” behind our struggle is based in our early experiences. We are now relating in our present relationship in a similar way we did in our family constellation. Essentially we are bringing our original family dynamics into our present relationship and it isn’t fitting.
Our original family culture is a blueprint for how we believe relationships work but our partner’s blueprint is different to ours and we are really feeling the difference. This difference often causes further stress to our psychology which may deepen the rift with our partner.
You may be wondering how couples can get out of this conflict and reconnect in their relationship.
Well it is true that some relationships do not survive this breakdown. But this pain is also an opportunity to change the relationship, heal past wounds and find a way to be in the present with each other by bringing the unconscious relationship into the relationship. Couples who address and work through their relationship difficulties and change the way they process their struggles usually experience a deeper and more satisfying relationship.
Soren Kierkegaard expresses this well:
Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy.
Mick Hartley is a graduate of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy Training under Ellyn Bader Ph.D. at The Couples Institute.