Many patients consult me for having “consumed information” on the web, through psychological posts and memes, about supposedly true information about relationships . These are ideas, concepts and images that are viralized or massively replicated through social networks, blogs, emails and passed from person to person.
On many occasions, these units of information that are shared massively on social networks talk about experiences that in theory happen to many people, making doubts arise as to whether this is also happening to us without us realizing it. In some cases, it sets off alarms in some homes, and leads one to think… should we consult with specialists?
Academic concepts appear in popular knowledge, loose, out of context and with a forceful power: “That’s what’s wrong with me!” “That’s my partner!” “Ours is toxic!” Science says so, specialists explain so. They offer symptoms, standardized diagnoses and of course efficient treatments within our reach. Once the poison of “wisdom” has been instilled, it stings and an antidote is sought.
The decision to go to couples therapy
The decision to start a couple’s therapy is made in most cases when there are communication failures, project incompatibilities, differences perceived as irreconcilable, distrust , feelings of loneliness and disaffection. Fights, silences, distancing appear, while sexual desire diminishes or disappears.
The problem is that the antidotes are too many and all of them hold the promise of healing or salvation. There is a doubt as to which one will be the best, the only one capable of freeing us from this disorder, from this toxic relationship, from mistreatment and emotional dependencies. We must decide which one is best for us, which one will help us “save” our partner or solve our conflicts.
It is perfectly understandable that we look for alternative solutions when sadness gains ground, forces waver, and answers seem exhausted from using them so much. But we must make the effort to explain with our words the problem that afflicts us. A serious mistake is made when conflict is reduced by applying a “psi” lexicon or alluding to uncertain hormonal or neural disorders.
Speaking with psychiatric or psychological terminology does not help , on the contrary, it fills with a denomination, that which could be said in a unique and particular way in the words of the consultant. If we professionals respond by quickly accepting this knowledge brought to the consultation, we would be validating other people’s diagnoses and would be subject to proposing the corresponding treatment. This is generally done by the medical model (disease/treatment), but with the uniqueness of the subject (one by one) it does not work the same way.
The search for the causes of the problem
We psychoanalysts have a reputation for listening and not rushing answers. This is because to analyse is to think in detail, to reflect, to break down into its parts in order to obtain causes and effects . The challenge is to make the passage from the saying “she is toxic, she is jealous, she manipulates me, etc.” to the saying of each one. This requires a time of commitment and the acceptance of the possibilities within our reach. Finding out how much we can gives us an idea of the value appropriate to our circumstances.
We humans depend on others . The first nurturing and personal care functions are performed by adults called mom, dad, grandparents, etc. Throughout life we learn to live, to relate to each other through our closest people, family members, school and/or sports environments. They “love” us through their teachings, advice, warnings and urge us to respond with good behavior, effort, and achievements among many other things. We are the result of their beliefs, their traditions, their fears and expectations.
When you reach adulthood, you have a choice. The culture allows the encounter (link / wedding / sexual union) with someone outside our “tribe” (no blood ties / prohibition of incest) to build a bond where you can unite the sexual or erotic with the tender or loving in the same person. We will call that lucky person “My partner”.
In the best case scenario at this stage we will have a pretty good idea of the type of link we want to have with another person . How we should be cared for, respected, accompanied, tolerated and supported. In other words, there is an idea of what we are willing to give and what we want to receive. Reciprocity, correspondence, equality are terms that we use to propose serious and lasting relationships.
See yourself reflected in the mirror of the relationship
What we are (or think we are) is reflected in the way we “give ourselves” to others: “I give myself, I open myself, I suffer, I renounce while you do not”. What we receive is perceived in a different way, it can be over or undervalued and in comparison doubts appear in relation to values. Who loves more? Or who does it better? I listen to him/her, I understand him/her, he/she should… If I care so much at least… If I lose heart then I hope…
Absolute parity, equality or equity between two different people (it is not a gender issue) is an impossibility that we humans rationalize but do not elaborate upon. Convenience is the order of the day. What do I get if I am with this person? Will I be able to count on her in the future? And the children?
Couples therapy is a research project . The analyst puts “communication” into circulation and can help each member to discover the effect of his or her words, reactions and gestures, while at the same time promoting understanding by relating the past to the present moment and recognizing unconscious pacts and fantasies. The aim is to promote security and empathy in order to be able to observe what is happening to them in a different way.
It implies an openness to explore the particular attachments at play in the relationship by facilitating the processing, regulation and integration of the emotions that are activated in it. Without the desire and commitment to make a problematic relationship more pleasant, or to understand in a more friendly way for both of them what causes them discomfort in the relationship, in order to make some changes in this respect, it seems an unviable undertaking to propose couples therapy, being then advisable the individual approach.
It often happens that the personal or intra-psychic conflict of one of the members is damaging or hindering the relationship . Although both come to therapy, it is common that they are cited separately in order to solve the personal problem. Likewise, in joint sessions, priority is given to respecting the needs of the other person, identifying the problem and seeking solutions to address it, and leaving strengthened once it has been overcome.
It is important to note that most couples who come for consultation believe that it is worthwhile to find the solution and fight for the relationship.