The Marriage Dance
Most of us who are married remember with clarity our first dance with our spouse at our wedding. Like Jim and Pam Halpert, we take mental pictures of this moment and our brains lock them in: what we saw in that moment, the song that was playing, who was there, etc. We danced in front of our friends and family after we promised before them that we would be faithful and love each other until death. They explicitly or tacitly affirmed their support and encouragement for the union. For most of us, this was a moment of bliss and peace.
But then, over time, the music of the emotions of that moment fades. It's just the two in an argument late at night, no friends or family around to witness or support. The dance turns into jostling for position and stepping on toes. She attacks, he withdraws. He blames, she defends. The rhythm disappeared long ago and they're not sure they're both even dancing to the same song anymore.
Relationships are incredibly challenging. It's why we say those vows and promise those things. Implicit in a wedding ceremony is the understanding that a remarkable thing is occurring, not to be taken lightly. We bring our wounds, our histories, our emotions, our communication styles, and our deepest longings and dreams with us into the relationship along with the questions "Will you stick this out with me?" "Can I count on you?"
There is a sacred gravity in those questions, in the reaching out and vulnerability of one to another. It's why the rejection hurts so much. It's why the misfires feel so heavy. Because those questions are ultimately not about communicating effectively or managing schedules or taking the trash out. They are about the importance of the relationship as an attachment bond. When that bond is under attack or threatened by the out-of-step-dance, there is great fear involved. When there is a wound in the relationship, it can make the entire world feel unsafe.
With this understanding, good couples counseling focuses on these attachment needs and the emotions underlying the patterns that just aren't working. I often tell my clients that communication skills and problem solving strategies are important, but if they just wanted to learn skills, they would've gone to Google which is free and open 24/7. But that's not what brings them in. They want hope. They want security in their relationship. They want healing.
The stakes are often incredibly high, because the relationship is so important and the fear of losing it can be crippling. But a competent counselor can help identify the conflict patterns and the attachment needs and emotions underneath the conflict in order to help the couple imagine new interactions and possibilities in the relationship. These challenges don't have to be insurmountable and there is hope. We can find the rhythm and the music again.