Sunday, March 31, 2013

Learner therapist (33)…… More couples stuff…Hugs and hope

Torrey Orton

March 31, 2013

“Hold the hug for as long as you can stand it…”

Some years ago I came up with the following small step for couples who are so separated by their family management tasks that they seldom talk, even about the tasks. They needed a way to get started again which was truly doable within the confines of their very task straitened lives. It had to be probable as well as possible. As a side light, it had to put them in touch with their real differences in attachment style in a manageable way which could also be extended into repair work on attachment.

Often a distressed couple has almost ceased physical contact with each other and the conversational contact his receded into non-verbals, held there by the enormous weight of the pile of unspoken matters they both know lies in wait. They know because occasional outbreaks of dysfunctional attempts to connect reaffirm their feelings of catastrophic powerlessness to take charge of their own joint affairs…so they rock along on autopilot, each doing what they’ve acquired as their contribution to the joint tasks. Stuck, but in motion, in that special stuckness which includes both members knowing basically what each other’s concerns are, what needs to be addressed to increase their joint stock in the relationship and at the same time aware that they can’t keep track of where they are at with their unspoken concerns – the just keep coming up.

The Hugs Regime

So I propose the following at the end of the first session:

You might like to consider the Hugs Regime as an undertaking to engage with the problems we’ve just got on the table between you. It goes like this –

At the moment you see each other at the end of the day the first thing you do is hug, holding it for as long as you comfortably can. When you have stopped you ask each other, in turn, ‘How are you?’ This is a serious question. An authentic response is required. If you also have something you need to talk about you mention it at this point, including roughly how much time you think you want of the other, and inquire about when would be good for them that evening.

Do you think you can do that? (If yes,) then please try every day between now and our next session. You may not succeed every day. Do not despair. The minimum point is to have thought about it. That counts as an effort.

NB – the Hug Regime also has the effect of confronting them at a low key level with the experiences they have of rejecting and being rejected by each other. This matters because fear of rejection is one of the most common underlying trip wires in relationships. Deciding when they have had enough of the hug each time and noticing when the other has similarly decided, or not, opens the door on more subtle responses and requests of each other.

Keeping track of business

Commonly a couple’s favorite issues keep getting lost. They come up, get a bit of attentional air and then slip back into the obscurity of the minimal conversational spaces the joint tasks allow them. It is repeated fruitless efforts at engagement, and especially the lack of mutual acknowledgment of respective issues actually being there, which fires the engine of despair.

So, I encourage couples to keep a public chart (side of the fridge often a good space, which can also be used with whiteboard markers) of their issues and any agreed approaches to handling them. This makes it possible to keep joint track of jointly undertaken efforts (which includes individual tasks on joint behalf!). Keeping track does two main things: one, allows reconsideration of agreed solutions as implementation efforts reveal shortcomings in them, and two, encourages appreciation of progress by keeping it in view.