Theoretical assumptions about relationship therapy:
1) People enter relationships for a variety of reasons and essentially form a contract between each other that is both overt and covert, conscious and unconscious. Life experiences and individual growth over time shifts the expectations, needs and desires of both members but rarely is the contract openly renegotiated. Often an event is seen as the impetus for one or both members to want the contract dissolved or renegotiated. Couples therapy (hetero or homosexual) is the process of understanding the terms of the original contract and the negotiation of terms suitable and appropriate to the individuals, as they are in their lives today. In some cases the appropriate action will be to respectfully dissolve the relationship contract, while retaining a relationship because of ongoing commitment to areas such as children, business or family etc.
2) People enter into relationships from the filter of their own historical experiences of other relationships. It is my assumption that these histories not only influence who we find attractive, but what dynamics we may still have as unfinished emotions from our past. These dynamics of the past may be unconsciously projected on to the current relationship, and likewise, our partner is acting out his or her own history. Thus, conflict arises when unconscious acting out in the form of behavior, is confusing or disruptive, to the current relationship. The process of relationship therapy, is to deconstruct behavior, in order to, understand its motivations on behalf of each partner. It is also to clarify what is appropriate and relevant to the relationship, in the here and now.
3) Relationships are constructed similarly like the foundation of a house. The aesthetics and functionality of the house will be dependent on a number of factors. These include the quality of material used (individual strength of each partner) the quality of the workmanship (history of what each partner brings to the relationship) and also the environmental factors that test the structure (kids, family, finances, life). The function of relationship therapy is to assess structural repairs, or in some cases, to isolate environmental factors that may be impinging on the structure.
Communication is the most basic of tools. Most of us feel like we are saying things clearly. Often we are, but the other person is unable to hear us. Perhaps they are simply not listening clearly. But there is also the possibility that we are speaking clearly and they are listening intently and communication is still not adequate.
Consider the following synopsis from the story Albert’s Impossible Toothache. Albert the youngest member of his toothless turtle family wakes up one day claiming he has a toothache. Despite his passionate attempts to expresses this information to his family, they are convinced that he must be wrong, because he doesn’t have teeth. Each family member embarks on their own strategy to dissuade him from his position, through their own unique lens. Albert’s mother tries to distract him. His siblings try to bully and compete with him. His father applies a mixture of logic and shame. At the end of the day, Albert retreats to his room feeling misunderstood.
At the story’s conclusion, Albert’s grandmother sits with him in an attempt to understand his dilemma. She asks him where he has a toothache and he willingly displays his left toe, claiming that a gopher bit it, when he stepped in a hole.
Albert was using clear communication. His toe ached because of a tooth (belonging to the gopher). His family attempted to listen intently, but there was a gulf between their shared understanding of the words.
And so it is in relationship. Words both unite and divide us depending upon how they are used. Often the role of the therapist, is to listen without personal investment, to how words are shared in a relationship, and then to attempt to bridge the gulf of understanding.