Differentiation Hold Onto Yourself in Your Relationship

As a counsellor of couple relationships and as a supervisor of counsellors who counsel couples, I often hear where one partner is often pathologised by the other partner as the one who has the problem, and therefore needs to be “fixed” in some way. Sometimes the partner who is being patholgised will “swallow” the belief that they are in fact at fault and therefore need to make some adjustment or change to the “broken part” of themselves that exists, so they enter counselling asking the counsellor for the help to fix the part of them that is broken. If the counsellor buys what the client is selling then the two of them collude, thinking they have to fix the problem that the other partner says the client has. What I am attempting to say is the very solution of attempting to fix the problem becomes the problem, and an unending visoucs cycle of trying to fix the problem keeps the problem alive.

If the counsellor is unable to get the other partner to come in to join in couple counselling then what the next best option is, is, to reframe the problem. I would suggest that while the stated problem may have some merit what will have more merit is to reframe the problem as one in which where one partner “the one with the perceived problem is in fact not standing up to their partner and differentiating themselves “in the relationshIp”. They are not having a voice and they are not saying what they think, feel, want or don’t want in the relationship. In other words they are allowing the other partner to dictate the terms of the relationship, and while this is going on, both are avoiding conflict and the hard work of being in relationship including the potential growth that could if they stopped avoiding.

This kind of vulnerable confrontation equals the power, and each partner gets a chance to face one another, often for the first time, and deal with the real issues of their relationship. It takes real courage and risk to hold on to yourself and stand up yourself in your relationship with your intimate other. However the benefits are worth it.

Triangles in Relationships

As a relationship counsellor, it is common for me to see client(s) who are caught into triangles. A triangle is a three-person relationship system. It is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. A two-person system is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles. (The Bowen Centre Website)

These triangles can render people impotent in being able to change their own patterns of behaviour, thinking, and emotions because the triangle is seductive to their emotionality and the ability to think clearly, and the ability to make decisions that are self-empowering goes out the window. This is more pronounced when the pattern has been going on for years and years. One of the initial reactions to get free of this triangle, is to withdraw emotionally, sometimes physically and geographically, however this only works for a short period of time, and usually the pattern is set up interiorly and movement away won’t change the internal pattern.

An example of this recently I saw in couple work was the wife’s parents were quite chaotic and dysfunctional and both parents would play her off between them and she would constantly feel caught in the middle to the point that it was affecting her own relationship with her husband. Another couple I saw years ago were in business together and rather than face the reality of their relationship (they were both conflict avoiders) they would both triangle in issues to do with the business rather than face one another about how their relationship was not working for them.

So what do we do, to break the impact of emotional triangles. I think the person who has summed this up the best is Edwin Friedman in a book he wrote called Generation to Generation:

“We can only change the relationships to which we belong. Therefore the way to bring change to the relationship of two others is to try to maintain a well-defined relationship; with each, and to avoid taking responsibility for their relationship with one another. To the extent we can maintain a self-defined, non-anxious presence that is able to maintain contact yet resist the pressure from the other two then the others relationship has the potential from within to change. The most triangled position in any set of relationships is always the most vulnerable; when the laws of emotional triangles are understood, however, it tends to become the most powerful”.

I would summarise Friedman as follows; 1. Self-define 2. Stay in Touch 3. Resist the Sabotage. We need to be clear about who we are, what we want and don’t want. We need to be “in relationship” to change relationship, and the others in the triangle will always attempt to bring us back into their pattern.

For more understanding on this I would recommend “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner.

And I am also available for consultation.






Valentines Expectations

True Love as the fairy tales tell us can break any curse and any magic that is bad for us. A part of us believe’s this, as love is a powerful force in our lives. However the road to true love doesn’t always run smooth. There can be many painful experiences in and through to true love. One of these areas of true love that doesn’t always run smooth I find in my work as a Relationship Counsellor, is unrealistic expectations when it comes to Valentines day. I have seen many couples around Valentines Day that often come in with hurt pain and anger to do with unfulfilled hopes to do with how their Valentines Day experience didn’t live up to their expectations. While these couples have hurts and wounds from other areas of their relationship lives that need to be addressed, these pains are often greater when the True Love day doesn’t go as planned. Valentines Day will not break the spell of difficulty in relationships and when it doesn’t, in the way unconsciously or consciously hoped for this can exacerbate the woundedness in the relationship that already exists.

Approach Valentines day with realistic expectations, enjoy your couple-ness, enjoy your love, celebrate the gift your relationship is, and acknowledged if there are challenges for you as a couple, don’t deny your integrity and honesty, because this is True Love and it can break the spell of living in fantasy and inviting you to live in reality, and to recognise Love as a way to grow together.