The best Couple therapy is Individual therapy
We all carry baggage. Some of us are so adept at carrying the load that our legs and back don’t buckle under the weight of it. The problem with baggage and relationships is that the baggage (regardless of how comfortable you are with it) bumps against your partners and eventually you start blaming each other for all the strain you are feeling. It’s hard to tell when you are on a journey together, whose baggage belongs to whom. One would assume that the load is shared (like a problem shared is a problem halved) and although it initially feels that way, the opposite is true -a couple doubles up on baggage.
1000 words= 4 minutes reading
In the romantic phase we bump up against each others ‘stuff’ and it’s palatable, almost cute. We have all the patience and tolerance in the world for it. That’s thanks to a special chemical in our brain called dopamine which gives us the equivalent feeling of being high. And thank goodness for it otherwise we would never stick it out long enough, we’d be like “Jeepers, you’ve got issues” and move on. Instead we’re like, “Jeepers, you’ve got issues but I believe in you, I believe in your potential, I believe in us, I believe in love so I’m in for the long haul”. And long haul it will be.
Despite the warning signs that serious baggage exists, we hang in there because:
- we believe we can love the person better,
- we can change them over time,
- we believe we are special and won’t end up mistreated like all the other exes
That would be your baggage speaking.
It is because of your own issues that you struggle to discern the difference between ‘my stuff’ and ‘your stuff’.
Enter individual therapy/counselling/coaching:
The purpose of a professional ‘helper’ is to help you take responsibility for your contribution to the problems in your life. To help you recognize and own ‘your baggage’. To raise your levels of awareness. Even if you are in a relationship that is destructive emotionally/ verbally, your ‘contribution’ would be not standing up for yourself. For allowing someone to treat you that way. For being so trusting, you are gullible. For being so loyal you are blind. For being so devoted you are subservient. For being so caring you are submissive and so supportive you are self-sacrificing. Read more about overdone strengths in an article ‘when your strengths are also your Achilles heel’. Who would have thought that the most endearing and loving people could also be some of the biggest baggage carriers?
Taking responsibility for our roles in the mess is the equivalent of seeing your baggage for the first time.
So what happens when we see our stuff?
When we can see how our ‘stuff’ has us interacting in ‘problem patterns of behaviour’ we can understand better how we got ourselves into the mess we are in. When we understand, we can choose to do something different.
Marital counselling can be more difficult because we get to blame our partners for the mess we find ourselves. And if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself with a therapist who obliges you in the ‘he said, she said’ crap, it can take a lot of time and money to figure out whose baggage belongs to whom. Talking about our problems doesn’t help. The endless blaming has you all circling around and around, baggage flinging off the merry-go-round and no one taking ownership.
Seeing someone in the helping profession doesn’t get rid of your stuff. It exists always and will continue to interfere in your relationships until you evolve into enlightenment. What it does do however is help you to discern
- how much of the problem is you? (when you are your own worst enemy in relationship),
- how much of the problem is your partner? (when they are not cut out to be in relationship or to collaborate as part of a team- think self absorbed/self involved/selfish/self indulgent/narcissist)
- how much is due to incompatibility ?(you have aligned yourself with someone who is an awful match for you). You can read more about that in ‘shopping for a partner’.
When it comes to family relationships, there is little we can do to escape 2 and 3. When it comes to our partners, there is much we can do. With new awareness and understanding, it becomes a matter of choice to experiment with the intention of transforming any relationship.
We can view the relationship as a feedback loop of trial and error processes. A relationship is a ‘system’. Only one thing in the system needs to change to affect the system. If that one changed thing is you and now you are engaging differently – there will be a different response. If you are the one changed thing that interacts differently, it will elicit a new pattern of interactions. And, because you now know what baggage belongs to you, it is easier to be effective. Instead of defaulting to blame/helplessness/hopelessness, we start to notice how our stuff was bumping against our partners stuff and then take our stuff out of the picture it which has the side effect of them moving their stuff out of the way. There begins much more collaboration on baggage handling.
Sometimes you carry or tolerate your partner’s baggage, and sometimes they tolerate yours. When our partners are not expected to carry the load all the time and instead we have the insight to lighten the load, respect and appreciation grows. There is something liberating about seeing and owning our stuff. It can really make a difference to how we show up in a relationship.
It can make a difference to the way we relate.
The way we connect.
The kindness we show ourselves and other people.
That’s why the best couple therapy is individual therapy (read support/help/counselling/coaching).
Inbox me if you want to give it go.