Many a couple start their treatment with this statement or something similar. They have decided that their circular conflicts are being created by being too different and that perhaps they should just go their separate ways. Their brains are working overtime to avoid consciously feeling their matching pain from childhood.
Almost every couple has some aspect of themselves that is opposite, e.g. the talkative one and the quiet one; the one who has to do things right away and the one who has to think them through first, etc. When these opposite traits are appreciated and non-conflictual, they do not represent matching unmetabolized childhood pain. However, when couples end up in our offices because their disparate characteristics have led to that “We’re just not compatible” experience, those opposite-looking aspects do represent matching childhood pain. For example, one partner struggles with being disorganized. He is attracted to and marries a man who is obsessively neat, thinking, “Great! He’ll help me become more organized.” But, of course, it doesn’t work. One gets more disorganized, and the other becomes frustrated and disdainful toward him.
Neurodynamic Couples Therapy does not approach this couple by discussing preferred organization skills. The therapist knows that their seeming oppositeness is a window into revealing often deep-seated unmetabolized feelings from childhood that are highly similar. Discovering their matching pain requires slow, respectful, and exquisitely attuned questioning about the precise words that both partners are expressing as they describe their relationship conflict. Every single word is important and must be thoroughly explored and understood.
As therapists ask their patients which feelings are activated by their incompatibilities, partners gradually hear the same words coming out of each other’s brains. Couples are often absolutely astounded that the ways they seem the most different are actually a cover for very painful feelings from childhood which are the same. In the case of the disorganized/organized couple, their brains were naturally drawn to opposite paths for dealing with a chaotic family of origin. Being guided to their common pain by the therapist sparked a newly conscious empathic bond.
A pattern of hidden similarity that is frequently seen in couples therapy is one in which one partner is consciously aware of having come from a highly dysfunctional family of origin and one partner declares that his childhood history was “perfect”. The partner from the dysfunctional family believes that becoming part of the “good” family will magically heal all of her wounds, until she begins to experience things in the perfect family that her partner does not see. Gentle but persistent in-depth exploration in therapy reveals that they both felt unseen and unheard as children.
The neuroscientific discoveries that underlie Neurodynamic Couples Therapy have proven over and over again that it is nonconscious matching childhood pain that is the primary source of passion and attraction in couple relationships. Helping couples discover their matching pain restores their passion and literally makes their incompatibilities disappear.
Next post: Integration–the”holy grail”