It Takes Two To Tango…
People come to therapy when they are not satisfied with something in their life, and believe that talking with a therapist might bring a change for the better.
Couples come to therapy when at least one of them, is not satisfied with the life of the couple. Sometime, they hope, or expect that the partner would change for the better as a result of therapy. That usually means wanting the partner to comply with some request or demand that is currently not fulfilled or perceived to be unfulfilled.
The common phrase in the title comes from the 1952 popular song by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning:
You can sail in a ship by yourself,
Take a nap or a nip by yourself.
You can get into debt on your own.
There are lots of things that you can do alone.
Takes two to tango (repeat).
As a therapist working with couples, I try to make clear that my client is the couple; that abstract entity that is not either individual member. Yet, occasionally I tend to take sides, supporting the position of one partner more than the other. Naturally, I attempt to not express my opinions or preferences. Still, my stance is surely communicated, even if only between the unconscious minds of all the people involved. Couples in therapy often check whose side the therapist is on.
Sometime it is clear to me that the partners love each other, even when there is a difficult conflict or a deep rift. At other times I am left puzzled; what are these two people doing together? When I cannot get a sense of the glue that holds them together, I ask that very question: “Why are you together?” or “What holds this couple together?” explaining that for the sake of good therapy I need to understand the basis for this union.
I try to remember that the people who made the choice to be together are adults and have a path to walk together. Even when I witness them cause suffering to each other, it is not my role to determine the faith of the couple.
I remain curious and try to understand from a deeper place what are the motivations and forces that keep these two people together. Staying connected with the unconscious minds, mine and the clients, is an ongoing challenge that requires self awareness and clean conscience. I might try to share my observation and invite the couple to be curious with me. The more truly interested I can be, the better the chance for inspiring a positive move in the life of the couple.
They came to therapy because at least one member of the couple is dissatisfied with the current form of their togetherness. A positive change would include greater awareness, for both partners, regarding the suffering of the other. A further step can include acknowledgment of the other’s needs.
The choice between growing intimacy or increasing distance and possibly eventual separation, is completely up to the couple. Thus, even when it seems to me fairly certain that the issues showing up in therapy must soon lead to a decision point, I do not force or hasten the process. Stalling between these two routes: more intimacy or greater alienation, brings pain to both members of the couple and usually also to the therapist. Yet, it is an essential developmental and learning phase for all involved. Just like the chrysalis in the cocoon. If it is taken out prematurely, the developing butterfly will never be able to fly.
The therapist must be able to hold the tension between the realistic observation of actual conflicts and unresolved issues on the one hand, and the promise of support, love and connection on the other. It is also the therapist’s responsibility to create the therapeutic relationship, the container that can sustain such tensions. That is the vessel of the alchemists and it must be capable to endure high heat. Otherwise the magical transformation cannot take place.