Arissa & Mark's Journey from Hostility to Healthy Loving
The following case study is an example of the types of journeys my clients go through in Relationship Counselling. All the case histories on this site are a composite picture of a range of different issues and situations bought to Counselling to ensure confidentiality and protect the identity of previous and current clients.
Arissa and Mark came for couple counselling both feeling helpless and exhausted by the constant fights and bickering they had been experiencing over the last couple of years. They had been married for 6 years and had a 4 year old son, James, who had recently been woken up by one of their rows prompting them to come for relationship counselling. The couple were both really concerned about the impact on James and despite their differences could agree to work towards a shared goal of improving their family life together.
Arissa and Mark found themselves stuck in repetitive arguments where blaming and criticism escalated the tension between them leaving them both in a withdrawn and helpless state. Sometimes they would not speak for days leaving them feeling alone and misunderstood.
Becoming aware of how they got caught in this destructive pattern
Through the couple counselling Arissa realised that she was being critical and blaming Mark as a means of trying to reach out to him and get her point across. Her feelings of insecurity and fear about their relationship was fueling this behaviour. Mark interpreted this approach as an attack and instinctively protected himself by becoming defensive or sometimes he placated her although inside he was feeling unloved and helpless as to what to do.
When he became defensive she would then get angry as she felt increasingly alone and misunderstood whilst Mark took Arissa's anger to mean that he could never make her happy and he then withdrew by walking away feeling miserable and inadequate. Arissa interpreted Mark's withdrawing as a sign that he didn't love or want to be with her making her insecurities even more worrisome. By this point she gave up and would withdraw too feeling alone and rejected.
Through gaining awareness of the patterns they had fallen into they could see where to intervene to break the negative cycle before it got going again. They learnt to speak to each other in new ways in the couple sessions expressing what was happening for them underneath their surface reactions. Understanding could then be reached around why they were interacting in this manner so they could then start asking for what they needed and wanted in this relationship. Both expressed a great sense of relief that the arguments had lessened as they were both working together to create a new pattern of relating based on openess, trust and the willingness to really listen to one another.
Using the past to heal their relationship hurts
As part of the counselling process Arissa and Mark started to make links between what was happening to them as a couple in the present and their childhood relationship histories. Arissa was originally from Thailand having migrated to Australia as a young girl whereas Mark's parents were from rural SA. Arissa could relate her feelings of insecurity in the relationship to the first few years living in Australia as they were difficult and she missed her homeland and extensive family. When under stress in her arguments with Mark these feelings of not belonging and insecurity would arise within her again making her feel vulnerable and alone.
Mark's father was the dominant one in the relationship with his mother and he would often get angry with her and raise his voice; on one occasion he hit her. Mark would witness his mother withdrawing from these fights and hear her crying in the bedroom. Mark as the youngest child in a family of 4 was at a loss as to how to make things better between his parents. Mark realised that when Arissa gets angry with him he feels like a little boy again not being able to tolerate the feelings of fear and failure that remind him of his helplessness where his parents were concerned.
Sharing past histories enabled Arissa and Mark to be compassionate towards one another whilst helping to heal past childhood hurts.
Arissa & Mark felt closer and more connected
After 10 sessions of counselling Arissa and Mark said they had moved closer to one another and felt hopeful for the future of the relationship. They spent more family time together with James and when they disagreed on a topic they were able to step back and listen to one another without the hostility taking over. Couple counselling had given them the space and safety to rediscover the intimacy and connection they initially felt in the first few years. After contacting them 3 months later Arissa informed me that they were trying for another baby something she said would have been impossible without going through the counselling process.