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(Vignette - by Rob Fisher, marriage and family therapist)

Mary began the session complaing that she could not rely on Thomas.  She held herself stiffly, her neck extended above her shoulders like a small girl being a good little soldier.

Thomas sat nearby looking helpless.  She said "I just can't lean on him.  I said "let's find out. Let's see what happens if you have an opportunity to actually lean on him.  Do you want to try?"  She indicated that she would be interested in this, so I said, "okay let's actually have you physically lean against him, and let's find out what comes up inside. Notice what  thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, images, sensations, tensions or relaxations, or nothing at all may come up for you.

Why don't you take a moment and go inside so you can notice any subtle changes that occur when you let yourself lean on him.  And Thomas, you can notice what it's like to be leaned on". Mary found a way to do this.  She let her head slowly come to rest on his shoulder.  After a miute or so, she looked at me and said "I can't stand this!".

I asked her what was so uncomfortable about it.  She told me it had brought up memories of her past boyfriends, and her tendency to give herself up in relationships.  She had sworn never to do that again. Even though she wanted to lean on Thomas, that was the last thing in the world she would permit herself to do.

I asked her if I could help protect her from losing herself in the relationship.  I offered to support the part of her that advised her not to depend on a man.  My support for her defences allowed her to feel the impulse underneath it.  We continued on with the process.

When I checked in with Thomas to see what it was like for him to be in the role of supporter, he grinned and said that he finally felt useful to her.

Working with couples experientially in this way, accesses real experiences as opposed to just talking about them.  Rather then discussing change, the couple can try out new behaviours and beliefs immediately in the session.