I love my work, and I enjoy thinking about things whilst experiencing a change of scenery and culture. On a recent trip to Bali, I was walking through the streets of Seminyak taking pictures. I found myself reflecting about therapy and some of the clients that I see in my practice, both individuals and couples.
Anyone who has been to Bali in recent years would know that travelling on the streets can be…. let’s say, interesting! It might seem a strange comparison to make, but my experience of working with couples and individuals who are grappling with relationship issues, have a resemblance to the flow, or sometimes lack there- of, on busy urban Balinese streets.
Clients often come along to my practice at the beginning of therapy and talk with me about a sense of somehow “feeling stuck’’ in areas of their relationships.
These stuck areas often include some of the following:
- Repetitive behaviours that result in people feeling hurt, fighting or withdrawing from each other.
- Issues with intimacy and differences in perceptions about what this is.
- Contrasting feelings about sex and different levels of desire.
- Controlling or avoidant behaviours that can leave people feeling alone or stifled.
- Recurrent misunderstandings in communication.
So how do the above relate to the streets in Bali? I think about some of the stuck areas that I have highlighted as types of emotional ‘Gridlock’. Just like in the picture above, things in these areas are at a standstill. Despite one or both partners trying to get somewhere, it just doesn’t feel possible to get things moving in some different ways.
Realistically, sometimes Gridlock is a sign that things can move no further. Severe addictions or very abusive power dynamics are examples of this. More often however, movement and change are possible. Good Therapy skilfully integrates helpful theories about attachment, family of origin dynamics, unhelpful thinking patterns, managing powerful emotions, effective communication strategies and phases of Couple Development. This can work to create new possibilities that work to free up movement for positive change.
Whilst my second picture above of a busy Seminyak street might look chaotic, there are some important things happening which resemble progress in therapy, and the freeing up of Gridlock in parts of couple relationships. Most obviously, things are moving. More importantly, things are not moving in simply one direction. Some mutual negotiations are taking place. There are moments of patient waiting and instances of room being made to understand and accommodate the needs of others. Some decisions and allowances are being made for assertive manoeuvres in different directions.
I have highlighted just some of the ways that Gridlock can manifest in couple relationships and how good therapy can help to free these up. I understand how hard and challenging these stuck places can be. It is frustrating being caught in repetitive and painful standstills. However, there is hope. My work has shown me that where a collaborative therapeutic relationship is given the opportunity to develop – movement and flow can be restored, so that couple relationships can continue to grow in their own unique way.