Transitions in life stages can create dissonance in family members making change harder; this applies to patterns that are positive and problematic patterns that have evolved in families.
Both stability and the capacity for change are important in functional families. At times of stress families can hang onto stability as a way of stopping chaos and change. The ability to be open to change and address changing needs of different family members can be the point where couples or families come to therapy.
In couples and families there can be different degrees of motivation to attend therapy and different fears about this. It can be useful to talk in the first psychotherapy meeting about who is the customer and what it would take to turn ‘visitors’ into customers exploring patterns in the relationships , which are helpful and which ones no longer work . There can be a real tension between change and stability; change can be the more frightening prospect even if the stability no longer works.
Difference and disagreement is inevitable in relationships but the thing that causes conflict is the intolerance to differing views or the inability to reassess as necessary e.g. a 10 year old may be happy to do as their parents want but a 15 year old will need a more negotiating style .
Parents may also disagree with each other about what is needed in this example. Classically parents sometimes try to ‘right the wrongs ‘of their own adolescence or alternatively repeat a pattern that worked previously.
Similarly couples may seek therapy at a new life stage e.g. when small children are becoming more independent couples may need to think together about the next stage and what they want from their couple relationship after being immersed in parenting.
Recently while talking to someone enquiring about an appointment he said to me, “I want to come but the others are ambivalent, I’ll do all the talking and they’ll sit in silence.” As a therapist it is my job to sure everyone’s voice is heard and that is sometimes the difference that starts change as it interrupts a usual pattern.
Angela Betteridge is a couple and family therapist working at The Barn in Lewes. She works with any combination of family, including adult sibling groups and different generations. Family is whoever you define as such.