When we come together as partners in a sexual relationship, we may first enjoy a ‘honeymoon period’ if we are lucky, but sooner or later conflict, misunderstanding, hurt and disappointment inevitably arise. This is natural and happens even if the relationship is basically good and has real potential.
This is because intimate relationships challenge us in ways that bring up unconscious and disowned parts of ourselves – those sides to us that we find painful and which we may not want to see. Our partner, simply by being their self, often unwittingly does us the service of touching us in these sensitive places, so revealing our vulnerability, or more usually the ways in which we put up barriers to defend ourselves against feeling vulnerable.
When this happens we may feel rejected, abandoned, fearful, intruded upon, or simply hurt and disappointed that we are not treated as we would like to be by the one who is supposed to love us. At this point a loss of trust can take place. In an attempt to protect ourselves against what we perceive as threatening to our sense of feeling safe and secure in ourselves, we may withdraw, block, blame, fight, build up resentment, run into issues of commitment, or repeat a Pushme-Pullyou dynamic. If communication breaks down at this point, unconscious patterns of behaviour develop between us and become entrenched, eventually leading to stuckness, despair, or crisis.
These days it is common for people to give up and move on quite quickly at this stage, usually to repeat the same basic patterns with another partner. Others fall into the old school of defeated resignation, or simply grin and bear it. But rather than perceive the pain and disillusionment as failure, deny it, or see it as a sign that we are incompatible, we can relate to the relationship and all its challenges as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the other, and begin to explore new levels of intimacy, both with ourselves and with the other.
If we can begin to be curious about our own fears and vulnerabilities, and without judgement take responsibility for them, and if we are willing to really listen and be open to seeing ourselves and our partner afresh, we can engage in a process of understanding and transformation. In this process the relationship serves as a mirror, urging us to wake up to our vulnerabilities, be compassionate with ourselves, and lower our defenses in order to let the other in. This needs courage, attention and commitment, but it opens a door that leads us to grow in our capacity to love and be loved. It also frees the relationship to fulfill its potential, whether that is towards a deepening commitment or recognizing that it has run its course.
I offer both individual relationship counselling and couples counselling in Norwich. Sessions for couples last an hour and fifteen minutes. If you think couples counselling might be suitable for you and your partner, but you’re not sure, I would be happy to discuss it with you first.