COUPLEMENTARY episode one

My target as an emotion-focused therapist for couples is to find out and define the signature “dance” of each couple I am working with. With regard to relationship issues it does not matter if I am working with both partners or if I am seeing an individual. The approach in Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) remains the same.

In this and some of my following blogs I want to highlight some of the typical dynamics seen from the perspective of one of my individual male clients. He has been married for a few years and since the beginning felt strongly affected by their quarrels. Each time they fight he suffers greatly from an overwhelming sense of being stuck and trapped. He realised that they seldom moved forward from these fights. They reconcile as a couple in their daily lives, but the underlying triggers remain unresolved and unspoken about.

Most men in committed long-term relationships really only have one mission: to make their spouses happy. It hurts to feel accused to have done something that the other would not approve of or without consent.

This client of mine had a recent couple experience in a restaurant that went like this: Coming back from the ladies’ she asks him if he had ordered while she was away. She wanted him to order her favourite beverage – let’s say a certain kind of tea that she admires. He smiles at her and tells her in a loving way that he did exactly that. A few minutes pass and she asks again. He looks at her and re-assures her that he did order exactly what she likes. They have been to the same restaurant many times and the chances of him getting the order wrong are very slim. Frail actually.When the waiter arrives with a pot of coffee, she turns to him in an uneasy way and asks in a harsh tone if he really ordered her favourite tea. He clarifies that he ordered coffee for himself plus her usual pot of tea. Internally however, he registers that he feels annoyed and a bit accused and mistrusted. His wife’s questioning and her tone of voice seem unfair to him.

In a very similar situation the day before, she questioned him several times if he had actually ordered brown rice to their dishes, because one dish is being delivered with white rice. They always order brown rice when there is a possibility. In this restaurant patrons have to write down their orders on small pieces of paper. This is how he can later proof to her, that he had written “BROWN RICE” to each dish. Unmistakably.

Showing her evidence of his right-doing is of utmost importance to him, when he feels wrongly accused. And that is exactly how he feels right now. His previous attempts to reassure her that he DID order on her behalf and in her best interest went unheard. It is so hurtful for my client because deep down he feels not trusted and part of him feels trapped in a relationship with a partner who at times loses her sense of ease – at times so suddenly that he then feels helpless and soon after hopeless.