Intimate relationships are difficult. We know that.
Even though we decide to commit ourselves to someone else and love him or her, we inevitably face conflicts and challenges.
The object of our affection seemingly becomes the root of our problems; paradise becomes hell.
Intimacy, vulnerability and conflict
The more intimate the relationship, the more vulnerable we become, and the more our own issues and conflicts arise. Arguments trigger our own insecurities and suddenly an innocuous disagreement over who did or said what becomes a desperate battle from which only one person can emerge a victor. Why does this occur? How do molehill arguments turn into mountainous fights?
In those moments when an argument intersects with our vulnerabilities, we may become flooded in our experience and find it difficult to retain or understand the perspective of the other person. As we all know, this rush of emotion can feel unpleasant and we may need to quickly move into a more tolerable space.
The need to move into a more comfortable emotional space, coupled with the breakdown of holding the other’s perspective, often leaves us blaming the other. When that happens, the ability to experience the “we” is lost, making it difficult to remain united as a loving couple. With the breakdown of the we, only two spaces remain – me and you.
In this space, problems can’t be shared, and they are either taken on by one member of the couple, overburdening them, or each member of the couple attempts to push the blame onto the other. This is a common phenomenon that many couples struggle with.
How can couples counseling help?
When a couple is experiencing this state with relative frequency, couples therapy can be of great help. Some individuals or couples may be resistant to this idea, believing that outside help isn’t needed or won’t make a difference.
While this perspective is understandable, allowing a qualified third person to temporarily enter into the relationship can be immensely useful to help rebuild the recognition of the “we”.
My primary focus is to help the couple better understand what’s really going on, and to give each person the freedom and space to speak honestly and be heard differently. When things are going smoothly, each member of the couple is able to hold three different spaces in his or her mind: you, me, and we.
When conflicts become fights, the “we” is lost, leaving you vs.me. Thus, when couples are struggling to regain the sense of “we” in the relationship, a therapist literally occupies this lost, yet crucial, third space for the couple until a point when each person can reconnect with and reintegrate that psychic space within each of them.
With the help of couples counseling, conversation can begin to flow more easily, topics can be broached that were unreachable before, empathy returns, and resolution can become a reality.
About the Author
Cameron Yarbrough is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and founder of Well Clinic. In addition individual and couples therapy, Cameron specializes in executive and leadership coaching in the San Francisco Bay Area.