My Approach: Theories and the three cornerstones to a good relationship

Although I don’t follow one particular theoretical approach rigidly and consciously - and they all seem to intersect and overlap at points - the ideas of Systems , Psychoanalysis and Attachment theories influence me most and underpin my approach. They all suggest that we can not simply change what we do without understanding what it means.

Systems theory emphasises that all relationships exist, reflect and interact within a system of many relationships. So, we’ll explore your thinking about lots of relationships.

Attachment theory emphasises our lifelong need for encouragement, understanding and security from our relationships and sees distress and illness as the expression of their breakdown. So we’ll look at how secure you have felt and ask when you’ve felt distressed, how have you gained comfort or coped without. We also might explore if you have had a sense of others thinking of you and keeping you in their mind, and how you manage to do this with others.

Psychoanalysis offers ideas about the unconscious and looks to the constant and meaningful dialogue between the internal world of our private and very individual thoughts , fantasies and feelings - with their links to the past - and the external world which we share with others. So we’ll explore and make explicit the implicit assumptions and unrecognised or unquestioned beliefs which you both have as individuals and as a couple.

In the Relationship Therapy I offer, these theories translate into “things you need to remember back home”, or the ‘three cornerstones to a good relationship’: Empathy, Understanding and Communication

Empathy: We all need support and empathy especially when we’re distressed. Empathy involves wondering about the thoughts and feelings which lie behind the visible behaviour and spoken words of someone else. We can never know exactly what it’s like to be someone else so we’re never going to be completely perfect, even with our close partner, but we can try on their shoes and reflect on their experience alongside them and, sometimes, just making the effort to do so is helpful enough. Without a sense of empathy we all remain emotionally isolated and alone. I try to offer empathy and encourage practises which enable you to develop it and hone it yourself in your relationships. Empathy connects, improves tolerance and respect and fosters intimacy and, paradoxically, the effort required reminds us that we are all different and separate.

Insight: In order to feel more in control of our life and less at the mercy of outside forces, we need insight and understanding. I try to help you become more aware of yourself and your partner by becoming more curious and questioning together. We learn why you both are the way you are and we think about how you ‘fit’ together. We also might investigate whether survival strategies from the past are tripping you up in the present.

Communication: Saying things well, so they can be heard and their meaning grasped can be difficult. Language is imprecise and words and gestures can often mean something quite different. Sometimes we might shy from articulating feelings because we feel exposed, or we may find ourselves showing our partner what we feel rather than putting it into words and saying it. Little acts of unkindness, may express something powerfully, and the message may be grasped, but not clearly and not with any potential for reflection, apology or retraction, nor for forgiveness. I help put difficult thoughts and feelings into words, so they can be looked at and thought about, made meaningful to both partners so that they can be translated into lasting changes.

Listening is difficult too. It requires you to put aside your own needs for a while, and enter into your partner’s thoughts, feelings and ways of seeing. It also requires you to trust your partner: the willingness to believe that what they say really is their experience, even though you may feel differently about it. Doubts here often take a lot of exploration and unpacking but are usually a rich seam of insight and understanding. When you are feeling needy and want to be heard, listening is even more difficult. During rows or disagreements our natural “flight or fight” mechanisms operate to prevent us being able to take in and think about anything. I try to help you recognise when to talk together and when it’s best not to talk; so that the important things you need to say have the best chance to be heard and thought about.

Importantly we also need to explore the barriers which have made all three of these difficult for you both to achieve in the past.