Tag Archives: couples counselling

When Fixing Doesn’t

fixingI think that before I became a couples counsellor, it’s possible that my wife said to me once or twice, “I don’t want you to give me suggestions about what to do, I just want you to listen.” Maybe it’s even happened since.

It’s a common issue in couples counselling.  One partner needs to share something and the other partner sees it as an opportunity to show they care by offering solutions or “fixes”.

I don’t like to bring gender into this, because too often we make assumptions about gender that simply aren’t true.  (Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on sexual desire levels in relationships…)  However, in this case I think traditional assumptions about gender play a role.

We have been taught that men are supposed to fix and repair things and women are supposed to take care of emotions in the family.  This is, of course, just so much rubbish.  Women make fine mechanics and engineers and men have all the same emotions as women and can, with a little effort, even learn to do things like being Emotionally Focused therapists.

As a result of these assumptions, though, it does seem to more often be men who want to offer a “fix” when their partners are sharing that they’re in a difficult place.

The thing is, research and experience tell us that the key questions in any relationship are:

Are you there for me?

Do you approve of me?

Do I matter to you?

Do you have my back?

Will you be here when I need you?

Questions such as:  “Can you help me figure out how to deal with the coworker who drives me crazy?” and “Do you know why I can’t get this app to work?” don’t have even a fraction of the importance of the questions listed above, in relationship terms.

We have to reorient our thinking to accepting that being there, listening and empathizing aren’t just “enough”; these are the points upon which the whole relationship turns.

As with many other situations, it’s not enough to simply be putting effort into showing you care.  You need to be tuned into your partner closely enough to understand how they need you to focus that effort.

Is there a narcissist in your relationship?

Warren_Beatty_-_1975Our household has been in the process of rediscovering some classic rock and pop tunes, largely as a result of our 14 year-old son exploring his own emerging musical tastes.

One of the songs that has emerged from this is Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain – a song that I’ve come to think of as “Ode to a Narcissist”.

It’s not clear whether the song is about someone who would meet the clinical definition of a narcissist, or whether it’s about someone whose narcissism is perhaps, shall we say,  more situationally generated by fame and wealth.

To be diagnosed in clinical terms as a narcissist, there are a number of specific features that have to be present.  In my time as a clinician, I’ve only worked with one person who I thought could perhaps have benefited from assessment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

However, as a couples counsellor I regularly hear the word “narcissist” as one partner in the relationship describes behaviour in the other partner.  Behind these descriptions there’s often pain and fear about the future of the relationship.

Your partner can seem like a narcissist to you because when the most important relationship in our life is not working the way we want and need it to, we do things to protect ourselves.  Sometimes those protective behaviours can seem quite self-centred, and hence, narcissistic.

However, resorting to protective behaviours in these situations is quite rational and understandable.  The basic problem is that when both partners have to focus on protecting themselves, the relationship doesn’t get nurtured and it is difficult to feel close and safe in the relationship.

Your couples counsellor can help you understand the protective pattern that you’ve fallen into in your relationship and can help you develop a new pattern where your needs are met in the relationship and you don’t need to protect yourself when you’re with the person you love the most.