Monday, September 8, 2014

The Holding Experiment

During a third couples session, and since the wife had been more of the maximizer when it came to talking, I invited the husband to share what he’s been going through.  He described having a mind that is constantly racing, hard to slow down, and, in relation to their interactions, coming to premature conclusions before he’d given himself the opportunity to let the communications with his wife play out and see what she was hoping to get from him. Lately, she has been sharing her thoughts, worries and fears about a new, deeply important but scary project she wants to start. To be helpful, he finds himself giving opinions and offering advice, but sees, from her reactions, that this is not what she’s looking for and actually makes her mad.  She wants his support, but not his advice, and neither knew what would work better.  As we sat mulling this over, I suggested that maybe it’s a different kind of support that he could provide, and asked him, just as an experiment, to hold out his arm and invite her to lean against him.  This was presented as ‘let’s see if this kind of support might work’. 

The results from this physical connection were quite astounding; there was an immediate emotional reaction in both of them.  They sat there getting teary, moving closer, him kissing her cheek and she nuzzling against him.  As we began to speak, they described intense comfort and relief:  she, the comfort that came from being in his arms; he, the deep relief that he could still provide what she needed to make her feel better.   They spoke about not realizing, these days, how important it was to take the time to hold each other.  They stayed this way until the end of session, about 10 more minutes.  During this time, I took the opportunity to describe Attachment Theory, how it plays out in a relationship, and that no matter how old we are, how successful, powerful, independent, etc., we still need the opportunity to rest and relax into re-experiencing those early feelings of being cared for, held, looked in the eye, touched and stroked, comforted and told appreciative things, just like we got (hopefully) as babies and young children.  I shared how I personally identified with this theory, and joked about how annoying it was, since sometimes, just like everyone else, I wish I wasn’t dependent on my partner for this feeling of inner peace and could refuel my own self before going back out in the world.  

Occasionally in working with couples, I will sense that it may be time to explore the effects of a physical connection right there in the room.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is highly dramatic and rewarding.  When presented as an experiment, results of which the three of us will evaluate together, it seems to take the pressure off and allow them to relax into the resulting feelings, even though I’m sitting right there.  I am very much looking forward to the next appointment with this couple to see if this holding connection has had a lasting effect.