Couples and Marriage and Couple and Marriage Counselling

By Peter S. Silin, MSW, RSW

How do we go from the first rushes of excitement and joy with another person to a state where we are arguing, hurting each other, and feeling distant, lonely, and disconnected? From where we are so excited to see someone, to feel that they have our back and that we want to be with them always, to feeling we don't want to see them, afraid of what will happen next, and unsafe with them? And more important, once we have gone from the heights to the depth, can we get back again?

The answer to the last question is the simplest—yes. But it takes some work. And commitment. Someone once asked me which I think is more important in a relationship—trust or commitment? I answered commitment. In truth, they are both important, and it is the trust on which we can build everything else, and which we can build back. But when the trust is shaky or gone, we need the commitment to keep us going; commitment is what sees us through the dark times, the keel on which the boat keeps sailing.

How do we get into a storm that we cannot seem to pass through?

Relationships are made up of three parts—what each brings to the relationship, and what those things create as they come together. What each person brings is their history of previous experiences and relationships of family, friends, and partners. These are the experiences that dictate how we make attachments, what relationships look like, and what we can expect from someone in a relationship. They even can be the basis of what love should and should not look like. It is like we have two people bringing different drawings and trying to build a building together, fitting the two different drawing to make something new. We bring and use the best of each drawing but we also bring what may be the kernel of trouble. It is important to understand what each person brings and what the meaning of that is to them.

As a relationship grows and we spend more time with each other and the other person becomes more important, than we become more vulnerable. Vulnerability can be wonderful, but it can be hard too. In all relationships there are times when we hurt each other, when our needs come first, when we don't get what the other person is trying to tell us, or in which we are hurting and we then hurt our partner. When our partner responds in a way builds out trust, it builds a healthy pattern. But when they respond in a way that hurts, or incites us more, this is the beginning of a dysfunctional pattern or system. When we cannot find a way to break that pattern, it becomes more intense and stronger, the hurts keep building, and instead of turning to our partner for love, support and building, we end up turning away from them more and more. Eventually, the pattern becomes entrenched. We feel angry, hurt, unsafe and unknown by our partner, and we want to blame them. But we need to blame the pattern, and break it, so that we can return to what we had.

More often then not, when the entrenched patterns have continued for a while, both partners are feeling lonely and disconnected from each other. Both usually seek to come back, but do not know how to swim through the storm to get there.

A short example of pattern building may be something like these: In a couple, one person always finishes the leftovers. In their family, that is what was always done. In the other person's family, someone always asked, does anyone else want this? They think their partner is being a little selfish and it hurts. So they withdraw. Their partner sees them withdraw, and does not know why, and thinks, she doesn't care about me, and reacts. You can see where this could go. Or more sinister, for instance: in the family where one partner grew up, they never got reassurance that they were all right, and good. So they start to form a relationship with someone who truly loves them, but their experience tells them that in an intimate relationship they will never experience acceptance. So even when there is someone who is offering it, they are too afraid to really take it. So they are a bit closed off and keep their partner just a little bit away from them. The partner feels pushed away, and thinks they are being rejected, and does not understand that the other is too afraid to fully accept their love. And a pattern starts. In both of these, people may not even be aware that they are doing these things.

In the counselling which I do with my clients, I help them to learn to understand the patterns and shift them, to find new ways of relating and connecting to each other, new ways to reach out to each other. We do this partly by helping both partners listen and understand each other at a deep level and to understand the pattern, and recognize the hurt and loneliness and fear that sustains it. As it de-escalates, there is room for other kinds of interaction. These will build you back to what you had. You rediscover the person you wanted to be with in the first place. At first, doing this can take courage and overcoming fears of being hurt more. With my help, and commitment from you, we can make it safe and successful.

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Peter S. Silin, MSW, RSW


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