Case #47 - The end of a relationship is a new beginning

This couple had been struggling for some time.

The first thing Rhonda said in the session was - “my parents divorced, and I promised myself I would never ever do that to a family I created.” She was extremely distressed. Brian put his arm around her, but she pulled away.

I asked him to move opposite her so they could see each other.

The second thing she said was, “I am done. I can’t go on anymore. This relationship is over for me.”

Brian was shocked. He told her he had heard her say this many times before, and he had been working hard to make changes over the previous few months. He started to explain this...I stopped him. Explaining is seen as a way of avoiding the ‘what is’, from a Gestalt perspective

I asked him to just tell her what he felt. After a lot of support, he told her he felt panicked and abandoned. He started crying.

She sat there for some time, not saying anything. When I prompted, she said she was blank; it was too much emotionally, and she had exited her awareness. In Gestalt, we don't push someone when this point arises.

So I worked more with him - explaining that she was not available, so no point continuing to push; I sat with him in his feelings, and help him be with himself in that place. I acknowledged how he was feeling, how terrible it was for him in this place, and how it was hard that she had ‘pulled the shutters down’ and was not available at all for him in this hour of need and distress.

Then Rhonda looked at him, with tears in her eyes. She said - “this happened with your mother, and your ex wife, I never wanted to do this to you."

He broke down, and pulled into himself. I encouraged him to stay present, and see that she now had tears, she had become available, and to acknowledge the connection in that moment. This was very hard for him.

He told her he felt guilty, he felt he had failed, and he started to move into talking about how he wanted to keep trying. But I stopped him, because there was no emotional space from her for any talk of the future.

I then asked asked if she could take that what he said. She looked blank - so I suggested she tell him she had no room to take that in - this was the emotionally true statement from her.

It was very hard for him to hear that. I supported him to reflect that back to her. Her response was to note the anger, resentment and sadness she saw in his eyes. So I asked him to name what each of those emotions was about for him.

She listened, but then said, “I don’t want to keep going, and I feel terrible, because I know this is so hard for you.”

Brian just shut down, pulled into himself, and I could see was not available. I suggested he tell her that he wasn't able to hear her in the present, but it was hard for him to even do that.

So I told her to talk to me. This is a technique in couples therapy - to support one person, if the other is unavailable, so the pressure is off, and the other person can just be a witness. Rhonda said she wanted to give him lots of time to accept this situation, and I told her I thought he would probably never accept it. He loved her, and was not likely to give up. This was a bit of a shock for her.

So I drew out more of her feelings and personal statements.

Then Brian became available, and she told him she felt very guilty, and was very sorry. They cried together. He wanted to move closer, but she said - “no, please keep your distance.”

I asked her about this, she said she didn’t love him anymore. I challenged this statement - it’s based on a faulty idea of love as purely a feeling. Instead I asked her to make it a personal statement. She said, “I have shut down my feelings.”

This was a key statement, as it then becomes about action, choice, and volition.

But this was not the time to work with that - simply the acknowledgement of that was then an entry into future choice possibilities.

So I asked him to acknowledge he heard that, and to tell her his feelings. He managed to do so, and they both cried.

However, something had shifted. In the midst of the impossible - and who knows the future - they had managed to have some profound authentic contact. They had both reached a place of overwhelm, but with my support to the one still on board at those times, they were able to keep going, and be together in this place of loss and despair.

The ultimate outcome was unknown. But the Gestalt focus is on achieving this profound authentic contact; this becomes a bedrock of real relationship - the thing that was clearly missing to date.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther