This is the first in a series of blog posts about couples therapy. In this post I want to talk about what Mary Morgan from Tavistock Relationships calls a ‘couple state of mind’.
Why if our partner is ‘right’ for us don’t they understand us completely? There are limits to how much we can ever fully understand or know another person. As we move from away from the early stages of being in love or infatuation it can be disappointing when our partner doesn’t live up to our expectations, ‘You aren’t the person I married!” or “You’ve changed since we first met.”. What we mean is “You haven’t become the partner I imagined you would be.”
When we become a couple we are two separate people with our own ideas of what it means to be a couple and what each of us should be prepared to offer and can expect to receive. These ideas are likely to be based on how we experienced our parents’ or carers’ relating to each other, as well as the community and culture we grew up in. As a couple we will inevitably be sharing psychic space as well as physical space, the tension between wanting to be held and close and wanting our own space and freedom can be challenging.
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At times, we might find our sense of our self and our reality is threatened by our partner’s version of what is happening. For example, we might feel our frequent phone calls and texts show how attentive and caring we are but our partner may feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic. One of us may feel it is important to regularly spend time apart to not become tired of each other, but this might make our partner might feel rejected and isolated. These polarised positions highlight the difficulties of holding two perspectives on what it means to be in a couple relationship.
Couples coming to therapy often do not have a sense of themselves as a couple. Thinking about what your relationship needs is not the same as thinking about what you need. This may sound obvious but it is easy to lose sight of when you are finding life is a struggle. One role for the couples therapist is to help partners contain or tolerate their differences long enough to create a shared space to think, a couple state of mind. A couple state of mind can be understood as a third perspective, a position which gives a couple a chance to step back, look at their relationship and explore what they could hope for and create together.
Couples therapy also gives each of us the chance to see our partner relating to the therapist, showing ways that two people can think together in a close and trusting way. Seeing someone as familiar as your partner connecting with another person can be surprising, they can be revealed in a different light. The therapist offers a safe and supportive environment where a couple can think together and explore a couple state of mind, to see if they can continue to develop as individuals whilst enjoying the closeness and intimacy of being a couple.
Morgan, M. (2018) A Couple State of Mind: Psychoanalysis of Couples and the Tavistock Relationships Model. London. Routledge.