I do great deal of couples counseling. Over the years, I've come up with something of a model for understanding how relationships should work that seems to be fairly consistent. Interestingly, the consistency of the model is validated by what I have seen not working in relationships and marriages.
The first element considers that there are always three people in the room -- the two partners, and the relationship. The two individuals bring to the table their personal histories, their socialization and acculturation and their ideas, expectations and assumptions, as well as all of the attendant predispositions that go along with that.
The interplay of these things is what creates, and serves to cultivate, the relationship. It is very important to understand that, when you are in relationship to another person, the two of you are responsible for creating and cultivating that relationship, for good or ill - it doesn't just happen on its own, nor are the flaws the fault of only one of you.
The second element considers that this interplay, this creation of relationship, is based on what I call "deep structures". The deep structures of any relationship are established very early on, and they tend to remain fairly consistent throughout the life of the relationship - they are part of what keeps us stuck in patterns of behavior. Just as you can remodel a basement, however, you can change the deep structures of a relationship.
If we recall that these deep structures are created by the interplay of the two individuals who are creating a relationship, then changes in those individuals, and consequent changes in the interplay, will change the deep structures, transforming the relationship.
Couples counseling is not about fixing the relationship. It's about the two individuals who have created the relationship making changes in themselves, holding space for one another, and developing compassion and consideration for their partner. The relationship will take care of itself.
One of the things that I do, and I suspect one of the reasons that my couples counseling is so successful, is what I call triple treatment, which goes back to the idea that there are three people in the room. I address each of the partners individually and help them to understand how their individual actions create the interplay that generates the relationship. As the two partners begin to see their own circumstances and positions, they begin to discuss the interplay of the circumstances and, as I said, the relationship takes care of itself.
Supporting and informing these deep structures in the interplay that creates the relationship are seven core elements, in no particular order: the social, the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual, the sexual and the material, which we will consider in detail in Part II.
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