Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Couples and intimacy

I actually had a good one today. You earn your money when one does couples counselling. It is usually not easy work and often the couple get locked into argument in the session, usually with no result as that is why they are there in the first place.

Getting ready for a couples

counselling session

Over the years I have just got more matter of fact about counselling couples and lay it out on the table. “If this continues then the marriage will end”, “Relationship change can occur if both parties are invested in that and willing to be introspective. If at least one party is not then there is not much use getting counselling” are the sorts of comments I can make these days. When stated the couple usually sort of sit back a bit wide eyed and don’t really know what to say. I don’t think they expect me to be like that.

However I saw a couple today who sort of got to me by accident and they had good communication patterns and showed effective problem solving. It was a delight to see and work with. Unfortunately they don’t really need to come back as they got a few things cleared up and they are quite capable of solving their difficulties with out a referee present.

The usual scenario is not that and these are the ones that need further assistance. Also sometimes/often couples get to counselling too late. The damage has been done and the emotional scars are too deep. If they had come earlier then more could have been done.

If any relationship is to last over time and be of a decent quality then you have to have this type of transaction persisting.

Free Child to Free Child contact is imperative. Without it the quality of the relationship will deteriorate. The problem is that the Free Child part of us includes our sensitive emotions and if it gets verbally assaulted then it will withdraw and be reluctant to come out again. If the couple have been at each others throats for an extended time then the Free Child ego states will be well and truly withdrawn and most reluctant to return. That is what I mean when I say the emotional scars are too deep by the time they get into my office.

In relationships the Free Child displays intimacy and vulnerability between the couple and this is why marriage as a western structure is really not conducive to such intimacy. When two people are living in close quarters as husbands and wives tend to do, sooner or later they get angry at each other. What happens then is pivotal. In such situations it is not uncommon to lash out in some way and want to hurt they other because you felt hurt by them first. As soon as that happens then the Free Child of both parties will retreat and be reluctant to return.

This is why it is easier for people to display intimacy and vulnerability to a stranger who you know you are never going to see again. Why it is easier to display intimacy over the internet because you know you are not going to see them tomorrow morning at the breakfast table. The Free Child feels safer and thus is more willing to come out.

Wilma and Fred felt

safe with each other

How we can talk to the person next to us on the plane and be quite open with them and say things we wouldn’t normally disclose because both parties know at the end of the flight they will never see each other again. Why holiday romances and freindships can be emtionally intense and intimate as both partites know in the near future they will part and probably never meet again or not for a long time. Why clients can be quite vulnerable with therapists because they know they don’t live with them and the therapist’s Free Child does not have some other relationship agenda that could be hurtful.

So what do couple counsellors do? Well those who work at a behavioural level will do things like provide lists of fair fighting rules. Common rules found on such lists are things like: No name calling or hitting below the belt, time limited fights, no old movies, stop expecting the partner to change and so on.

Fair fighting

If both parties kept to such rules when fighting then the Free Child would be much less hurt and thus not withdrawn. However like any behavioural contract in therapy it wont work unless both parties have introspection, good will and intent. If that isn’t there then you can have as many fair fighting rules that you like and it wont make a cracker of a difference. If the Free Child has been scarred by ‘dirty’ fighting in the past then good will and intent is less likely to be present.



  1. I think we can generally be more 'intimate' on-line anonymously. I had never thought of it as free child. It seems that it is easier to experiment / take risks and put thoughts 'out there.' Is it about the free child being the risk taker?

  2. Hi Kahless,

    Emotional intimacy would generally be seen as a function of the Free Child.
    Perhaps I will write a short post on this my pommy mate. Aussies going well in the cricket whch is being palyed of all places, Wales!!


  3. Tony, dont get to excited about the cricket; it is forecast heavy rain this weekend!!! So may end up a draw.

    I saw your post up top. Does sexual intimacy = emotional intimacy?

  4. Maybe I better explain on reflection. I have had a very mathematical day today and still thinking in such terms.

    I mean obviously sexual intimacy leads to emotional intimacy. but are they wholly the same in your language?

    Am I explaining myself?

  5. And I like the fact that this blog doesnt have the run of comments down the side. So I can ask such stupid questions without necessarily the whole world knowing.

  6. Spoken like a true woman Kahless,

    "obviously sexual intimacy leads to emotional intimacy"

    For females I would concur. For males maybe yes and may be no. For females relationship and sex are intimately intertwined. For men that can be the case but does not have to be. A prime examlpe being prostitution.

    From a psychological point of view I would see the two as quite different.


  7. Oh, i finally found out how to comment. Its changed again. I don't like this place at all. Blogspot sucks!

    I can't imagine sexual intimacy unless emotional intimacy has first been established. For me, Trust is the whole lot of everything. With out it being established (not assumed or felt but established), forget intimacy in any way shape or form.

    By the way, i came here last night and alerted you that i'm home finally - Yay!

  8. Spoken like a woman Roses.
    I think you summed up the feelings of many of your gender.

    But I think for men it can be quite different.

    I did not hear from you last night but welcome home anyway


  9. Well Tony,
    I don't know about that Tony. But aparently you do so - gender to gender... what ever.

    I'm so happy to be home! It's all about my parents (well, for me its all about them for now), so i'll still be buzzing up and down the Princes Highway, for the next few months/years depending on the outcome.

    But (same as last night) i get to sleep in a bed tonight! And my bed too boot! Yay!

    I don't understand why family stuff has to render everyone totally incapasitated (sp?). Stress is different for everyone i guess.