Monday, August 29, 2016

Case #186 - Doubts about marriage

Wanda had some doubts about getting married.
She definitely wanted children.
She loved the man she was with, and wanted to get married to him.
But she had recently consulted a psychological professional who had told her that she should just accept that she wouldnt have kids, and get on with her life. These kind of authoritative pronouncements are highly problematic from my point of view, and are the opposite of the phenomenological approach we use in Gestalt - working from within the person's reality, rather than imposing ideas from the outside.
Wanda was upset, confused, and not able to find a clear path forward as a result of working with that professional.
I asked what the central issues were.
Wanda said that she was concerned about her partner's financial stability, and the financial stability in his family (whom she had not met).
She mentioned he was not happy in his work, and not earning a great deal.
She had lent him money to study massage, but the work he had got was not working out very well.
I said - this seems to be about boundaries. This is core in Gestalt work - to clarify boundaries, to differentiate between one persons needs/thoughts/feelings and the other. What often happens in relationship is what we call 'confluence' - the dissolving of boundaries. This appeared to be the case here - who is minding whose business becomes blurred. And accompanying that, there are feelings of powerlessness and rage.
So I asked her a simple question: what is the minimum amount you require him to earn. She named a very modest figure. I asked if she thought it was possible. After some discussion, she agreed.
I then suggested that this was her clear bottom line. The rest was none of her business - how he earned that money, whether he enjoyed his job, etc.
I suggested that she also need a boundary around how much complaining she was willing to listen to from him about his work situation.
Immediately, she felt much more relaxed.
But she still felt some tension. This was because he gave money to his family, even when he didnt have enough.
Again, I wanted to help her draw a boundary.
This time, I asked about how she wanted their finances to be - separate, or shared.
She said she wanted them to put equal amounts into a joint account, and them make joint decisions about how that money would get spent.
I pointed out that this arrangement had an inviolable boundary. That is - her partner coudnt spend money without her agreement under this arrangement. He could for instance request to send some money to his family, but it wouldnt happen without her agreeement.
This again calmed her, gave her a sense of boundary, control and the possiblity of how to do that in relationship.
There was one more thing she said. She was worried about her partner bringing his family neurosis into their marriage and into the child-to-be.
Here I stepped into my own viewpoint. I told her, at my age (56), with the experience of raising kids, having grandkids, having seen many relationship, I had an opinion. I wanted to share this with her, with the understanding it was my perspective, not the truth. I then told her I thought no matter who she married, they would bring their family baggage with them.
I said, 'are you ready now to marry?', and she agreed - her fears were put to rest.
Next, I asked about having a baby. The previous psychological professional had been very negative, and Wanda was still uncertain and distressed about her future as a result.
She said they had been trying to conceive for some time, but hadnt. So, I suggested they take fertility tests, to find out the facts firstly.
Depending on what the results were, then there were a range of choices available. If the tests came out clear, then it is possible that some psychological dynamics were at play, and those could be examined.
Its important in therapy not to get too 'magical' in its thinking. Practical, grounded approaches are most helpful for clients, and a heirarchy of explanation works from the physical up to the psychological. Starting with more esoteric explanations for a situation such as not getting pregnant is in my view an ungrounded and unhelpful place to start. Gestalt takes a holistic view - looking at a phenomena from as many levels as possible.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Case #185 - A heart to heart connection

Trisha's husband, Mac, was in the group. They were a couple in their late 50's. After Trisha's personal work, the group gave feedback. They were impacted by her deep but wordless feelings.
Mac however, was silent.  
I invited him to give feedback.
He said  that he was glad she was able to feel supported. But in Gestalt terms, this is not the feedback we are after. What is important is not simply appreciation, approval, or acknowledgement. The inclusion of self is essential - the impact someone's sharing has on the other person, especially on an emotional level.
Mac found it very difficult to share on this level. He seemed as wordless as Trisha when it came to feelings.
So I invited them to sit in front of each other.  
I asked them to place on hand on each other's chest, to breathe, and look in the other person's eyes.
They did so, and there was clearly much emotion going on.  
I invited them after some time to see if they could say a word or two, expressing their experience.
Trisha said 'connected'.  
Mac said 'me too'.
This was a very strong intervention, meaning, this would not have naturally occurred. Such interventions always need to be thought through very carefully, weighed up, and permission sought. They can have a radical effect on people, opening up whole new experiences, outside of their famliarity or comfort zone. But they can also be impositions, and of little use unless people are really able to integrate them.
This experiment provided the scaffolding for a level of intimacy in this couple. The question is whether such an experience opens up possibilities for them, or is a little frightening, and they simply go back to safer and more familiar ways.
This is the reason that ongoing therapy work is so important. Single interventions, no matter how powerful, need to be embedded over time. We need to check back as to the impact, how much the person was able to absorb, and whether they may need the therapy process to proceed much slower. There is no point going at the therapists's pace - it is the client's pace that is important. When we do experiments, we try to find the right balance between challenge and support. 'Right' meaning what is right for the client - our brilliant ideas are of little use if they are too far/too fast.

© Lifeworks 2012


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