Peter’s couple therapy blog

Lucy & Bart 2


Lucy and Bart’s capacity to know and feel their experience in the moment is at an embryonic stage of development. This is true of all humanity. We place all sorts of interruptions in the way of experiencing what is happening inside ourselves. Lucy and Bart react before they can feel into their experience with a kindness and elegance. It is almost as if they they are overwhelmed by the experience of living a full, strong and tender life. They reach for the lowest common denominator rather than for the stars.

In order to manage that overwhelm we all distract ourselves, numb out, go shopping, pick a fight, withdraw from relationship, project our disavowed experiences onto others and then blame them or disown them socially, psychologically, spiritually.

These four horseman of Gottman’s at first glance appear to be adverse reactions to a partner response to us – a patterned, automatic re-activity. On closer look they are about inter-actions gone awry. A daemon dance as Sue Johnson calls them.

At another and deeper level of knowing our soft spots, however, they are trans-actions. A deal or a bargain struck with our partners probably from the get go, to keep us distant from ourselves, to help us hide our core vulnerabilities even from ourselves. It’s a trade off – less troubling contact with our core needs and our feelings/beliefs about those needs but more disconnection from our partner and impoverished intimacy.

“I’m home’, he sings out.
“What have you bought”, calls out the youngest.
“The best burritos from the shop with your favourite meat sauce”.
In the distance he can hear Lucy groan, predictably, as she rolls her eyes in contempt. She walks toward him ready to pick a fight, but zips her lip and counts her steps mindfully. She had an uplifting day at work.

“What’s wrong’, he says.
“I have to tell you?”, she asks pointing, at the take away food containers.
“Is it the plastic,”, he asks defensively/provocatively and simulataneously signals he will walk off in silence if she criticises the shop.
“How many times do I have to tell you. It’s the meat and where you source it from. Come on honey, you know this, right?”
“Nothing’s ever good enough for you”, he says, defensively whilst attacking her integrity.
“Come on hon, let’s not do this tonight”, breathing deeply and counting her breaths.
But its too late for Bart. He puts the walls up and checks out.

His core needs were to be welcomed home, acknowledged and valued for being a good provider. Her core needs were to have her beliefs and values respected at home rather than covertly undermined. He set her up to be seen by at least one of the kids as a spoiler. She set him up, reciprocally, to be seen as the cause of the trouble. However, both of their reactions guaranteed their core needs would again be missed and the quality of their connection reduced. Do they co-operate at some level, to produce that outcome? Have they buried the ability to own and speak about those core needs and can now only articulate them indirectly?

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