One of my favorite aspects of providing couples therapy is the individual growth that I see in my clients. Clients come in for their relationship and midway through they process, they end up with so much insight into their respective individual stories to find compassion for each other.
Because we define ourselves in and through relationships, couples counseling is actually an ideal venue through which we can learn to undo our life long defenses and become the best versions of ourselves we can be.
Most recently, I had been working with a couple with a variety of emotional injuries, including infidelity and deceit, that spanned over nearly 2 decades. It was a complicated and multi layered case. What made it extra challenging was the husband's life-long protective armor he carried around himself to guard against his deepest vulnerabilities. This man viewed life like a battlefield: the world was against him and he would have none of it. He had even made a career of it. Over the course of several months, we slowly began to peel away at those layers to uncover a truly gentle and sensitive soul; buried in there was a little boy who had experienced profound abandonment and loneliness. Through our work, his wife (who had started off understandably angry and bitter) was able to see her husband for who he really was and find compassion for his life narrative. The more he opened up, the more she softened, the more he opened up.... It was beautiful to watch unfold through our work together. At the end, he was finally able to see himself in 3D and be seen by the most important person in his life. Together they were able to rebuild their marriage, and just as importantly he finally committed and created a path for himself that nurtured his wholeness.
Then there was the perfectionistic and critical client, who just could not be appeased by anyone, let alone her husband. They had been together a few years, now with a young child at home, she was feeling at the end of her rope. She wanted everything to work like clockwork, which naturally having a toddler at home meant it was impossible. Any opinion or perceived selfishness from her husband sent her into tailspin. A lot of softening work was needed to attend to the part of her that had been protecting against this negative core belief she had about herself: "I'm not good enough." Growing up with a depressed mother (read emotionally absent) and a critical father, she had convinced herself that if she could just be perfect at everything maybe her mother would come out of her depression to be there for her and also maybe her father would be pleased with her finally. What she wanted was approval and being accepted for who she really was. As she softened and shared, she would cry out of sadness and grief for her story. Her husband began to understand and feel for her in the way no one ever had done so before in her life. She felt accepted with her innate human flaws. We did some additional individual work around letting go and how her perfectionism kept her tightly locked in a box. She began to to find humor in herself and in life. Her little baby boy was a perfect way to nurture herself as she nurtured him. Learning to be more present with herself allowed her to see that she too had always longed for being free to be herself and explore the world, just like her son was getting to do.