Couples Skill Building with Alain De Botton

Here is a nice read . For 200 Hong Kong Dollar I bought Alain De Botton’s latest Novel and found it entertaining, therapeutic and insightful. Well worth a read for anyone in a committed relationship with many references to marital counselling, relationship skill building and couples therapy.

De Botton describes a marriage over the course of 16 years with typical ups and downs and how the individuals who form the couple are dealing with the challenges of married life. Developmentally speaking we are following the couple through symbiosis, differentiation of self and other, practicing and (maybe) rapprochement. At the end of the book Rabih has solidified his being ready for marriage and thereby able to move closer to Kirsten without losing his ability to move apart, to give even when it is inconvenient and to deepen their bond with emotional sustenance.

We don’t have to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane. De Botton

The author explores possibilities of mindsets and behaviours when the couple faces a crisis of infidelity. “…, she might have revealed the vulnerability that has lain all the while behind her annoyed demeanour: ‘I wish I could be everything to you. I wish you did not have those needs outside of me. I don’t really think your fantasies about Antonella are repulsive; I just wish there didn’t have to be – always – that imagined someone else. I know it’s madness, but what I want most is to be able to satisfy you all by myself’.”

Every couple in a long-term relationship will pursue one of three possible pathways. Two lovers can intensify and prolong their symbiosis, they can move forward into differentiation and beyond or facing a separation of some shape or form.

Learning how to be more curious, open minded and able to identify and deal with one’s own emotional reactions – not independent from the partner, but separate from the other – is the only skilful way forward. When Kirsten is labeled “materialistic” she could have reacted with a sense of ease and the willingness to find out more about what drove Rabih to such statement. She did not – for reasons that lie in between attachment figures.

“(Rabih”s) chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, shout at her and then, later, to slam two doors. … Had Rabih picked up some better teaching habits, his lesson might have unfolded very differently. For a start, he would have made sure both of them went straight to bed and were well rested before anything was tackled. The next morning, he might have suggested a walk, perhaps King George V Park after they’d picked up a coffee and a pastry to have on a bench. …

… Then, rather than accuse her, he would have implicated himself in the behaviour he wished to focus on. ‘Teckle, I find myself jealous of some of those types we know”, he would have started. “If I hadn’t gone into architecture, we could have had a summer villa, and I would have loved it in a lot of ways. I am the first one to adore the sun and the Mediterranean. I’m so sorry for letting us both down.” … “What I also want to say, though, and it is probably a lesson for both of us, is that we’re very lucky in a host of other ways that we should at least try not to forget. … and that we know how to have a lot of fun on our rain-sodden summer holidays in the Outer Hebrides in a crofter’s cottage that smells a little of sheep dung’.”

The challenges arise between the partners when they communicate and produce infinity loops of unhelpful and unfortunate mutual triggering of disappointments and trauma:

“… Throughout their relationship the two of them fail comprehensively at both tasks, teaching and learning. At the first sign that either one of them is adopting a pedagogical tone, the other assumes that they are under attack, which in turn causes them to close their ears to instruction and to react with sarcasm and aggression to suggestions, thereby generating further irritation and weariness in the mind of the fragile ‘instructing’ party.”

Quotes from De Botton, Alain. The Course of Love (2016). Penguin Random House. UK.