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Couple Attachments

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The couple relationship is at the centre of this book. The complex nature of the couple attachment is emphasized, drawing both on psychoanalytic concepts and on attachment theory. The chapters aim to integrate theory with practice and can be seen, both separately and together, as offering new insights into the intricate web of psychic fantasies, shared unconscious anxieties and external realities that shape the attachment between the couple.The book is divided into four sections. The first focuses on ways in which the couple identity is shaped, perceived and presented. It does this through looking at how images of the couple are formed by the couple itself, the therapist, the artist, the writer and society at large. The following section explores the impact of some of the developmental challenges that couples may encounter as part of family life, such as dealing with adolescent children, the childless older couple, and managing sibling relationships. The third section investigates what can happen to the couple relationship when an emotional and psychic imbalance is altered, for example by encompassing racial differences, through the impact of mental ill health and the power relationship involved in prostitution. Finally, the fourth section focuses on the importance of theory as a resource for the couple psychotherapist, outlining ways in which clinical practice can be underpinned by theory and research. The authors are all experienced practitioners, several of whom are involved in ongoing research, attempting to further scientific understanding of couple interaction and its vicissitudes.This book will be of great interest to all practitioners involved in couple work and can be used as a well-referenced teaching aid. It however has a much wider appeal and is to be recommended to anyone with a wish to further their appreciation of attachment as it manifests itself in the couple relationship.Contributors:Philip A. Cowan; Carolyn Pape Cowan; Molly Ludlam; Viveka Nyberg; James V. Fisher; Adrian Perkel; Elspeth Morley; Jody Leader; Barbara Bianchini; Fabio Monguzzi; Noela Byrne; Jenny Berg; Penny Jools; Christopher Vincent; David Scharff; Jill Savege Scharff; David Hewison; Gullvi Sandin; Anna Kandell; Rika van den Berg; Christopher Clulow; Una McCluskey; Timothy Keogh; Maria Kourt; Charles Enfield; Sylvia Enfield.

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CHAPTER ONE: Our attachment to “the couple in the mind”

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Molly Ludlam

“The way in which Vuillard’s figures gradually emerge from the shadows, their presence uncertain, ambiguous amid the overlapping shapes and muffled tonalities of their surroundings may be attributable to those experimental productions at the Théâtre d’Art in which the actors were often only partially visible to the audience”

(Thomson, 1988, p. 84)

Introduction

The focus of this exploration is the couple as an internal object, or “the couple in the mind”, taking as its premise that human beings commonly hold a life-long bond or attachment to an internal couple. This dynamic inner object may assume a variety of forms, symbolizing both togetherness and conflict. Its presence helps to shape the individual’s relationships with couples and the making of couple relationships in adult life, be they heterosexual or homosexual, married or unmarried. This chapter explores how might we envisage this internal couple through our mind’s eye, and, given the requisite artistic skill, how it might be drawn. Perhaps artistic re presentations of couple relationships can offer insight and illumination to couple psychotherapists.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The marriage of the Macbeths

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James V. Fisher

Introduction

In this chapter I develop a reading of the marriage of the Macbeths, in parallel with my clinical experience in couple psychoanalytic psychotherapy, of a particular dynamic in couple relationships, that of the “shared proleptic imagination”. I shall seek to elucidate this concept here first by using Bion’s distinction between a “Work Group” and a “Basic Assumption” state of mind, and then by illustrating this dynamic in the relationship of the Macbeths and in a clinical vignette. The primary aim is to explore these couple dynamics with the help of Shakespeare’s characters, although it may also be interesting to see how this view of a couple’s relationship affects the reader’s view of the play as a whole. My reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth parallels a unique and insightful interpretation of the play by the RSC now available on DVD (Doran, 2001), the viewing of which, in conjunction with the chapter, would aid the reader in seeing the play in terms of the couple relationship.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Fusion, diffusion, de-fusion, confusion: exploring the anatomy of the couple psyche

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Adrian Perkel

Introduction

“It is as hard to pair a couple as it is to split the Sea of Reeds”

(Babylonian Talmud)

This ancient saying (cited in Goldwurm, 1993) offers a point of departure for this chapter about the struggle that many couple relationships encounter, and always have, in order to survive. Adult couple relationships are hard to sustain and marriages frequently end in break-up and divorce. This chapter explores the way couple relationships evolve and develop through recurring phases of fusion, diffusion, and de-fusion. As a leit-motif throughout the chapter runs an account of the marriage between Nelson and Winnie Mandela, an iconic coupling of the so-called “Mother and Father of the South African Nation”. The fate of their marriage illustrates how “fusion” is fraught with difficulties. The question for couple psychotherapists is “Why?”, and in this chapter I address this question through a psychoanalytic exploration of the couple psyche.

A couple is a living entity and it follows a developmental cycle. In the beginning, two individuals fuse together psychically to form a positive merger. This fusion leads to an exchange of mental contents, a process whereby psychic boundaries are loosened and become diffuse. With time, this exchange invariably becomes problematic and a renewal of individuation occurs, a de-fusion, but not all the exchanged elements are withdrawn or reclaimed. Instead, confusion and conflict can manifest, with its inherent drive towards dissolution. These trends are explored with a view to understanding the anatomy of the couple psyche.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: When siblings become couples

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Elspeth Morley

Introduction

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth, his themes of infantile sexuality and the oedipal–castration complex retain their place at the heart of psychoanalytic theory. The designations of pre- and post-oedipal phases serve only to emphasize this presumed centrality of the oedipal, even when its meaning is stretched to cover all movement from twos to threes. The psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell, the most prominent advocate of comparable attention being given to the hitherto extraordinarily neglected sibling relationships, is not seeking to displace Oedipus as the signifier of the universal trauma of all “vertical” (i.e., inter-generational, parent–child) relationships. She asks only for a comparable place to be given in “lateral” (i.e., intra-genera-tional, sibling) relationships to the equally universal trauma of the loss of sole status as “His/her Majesty the Baby” (Mitchell, 2003, 2006). Mitchell argues that this “strong” trauma is of a different order, but is as inescapable in the development of the human psyche in lateral relationships as the oedipal trauma must be in vertical relationships.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Ghosts of early sibling relationships in couples

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Jody J. Leader

Introduction

In this chapter I consider the impact family-of-origin sibling relationships can have on couples. After reviewing the literature on sibling relationships, I use clinical examples from couple work to illustrate how these issues might manifest in the consulting room. Finally, I offer some thoughts on technique and make some suggestions for future work in the field of couple therapy.

I have been inspired to focus on siblings and couples, in part, because of my experience of psychoanalysis. My first task in analysis was working through issues that sprang from my early rel a-tionship with my mother, and after a few years I started to engage with issues rooted in my relationship with my father. It was only then that I felt secure enough to look more closely at my relationship with my younger sister. I was surprised to discover that some of my most entrenched ways of looking at myself, family, friends, and the world around me were coloured, often in broad strokes, by my childhood relationship with her. The fact that it took so many years of analytic work to reach this realization speaks to the psychoanalytic discipline’s nearly singular focus on parental attachments, almost to the exclusion of the enduring influence of sibling relationships. My analyst, because of her training, focused more on the maternal and paternal transference than on sibling transference. Looking through the oedipal lens requires that therapists, analysts, and couple therapists focus on their patients’ mature, adult attachments as reflections of old parental imagoes, not sibling imagoes.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Dysfunctional aspects of couple relationships observed in a therapeutic group

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Barbara Bianchini and Fabio Monguzzi

Introduction

The aim of this chapter is to describe our method of treating dysfunctional couple and parent–child relationships by means of group therapy. We describe our experience of conducting a group consisting of parental couples who requested help in dealing, not with disturbances in their marital relationships, but with problems concerning their adolescent children. More over, they presented as parents, who, when facing difficulties in managing their relationships, experienced a profound sense of bewilderment, impotence, anger and inadequacy.

The presence of an adolescent in a family often reactivates unresolved problems in his or her parents. They find themselves grappling with the phantoms of their own adolescence while simultaneously, as parents, they feel ill-equipped to respond to the educational needs of a son or daughter who is increasingly less like the “child” they once knew. The children of the couples who come to us do have objective difficulties in their own right, and are perceived as being more fragile and less autonomous than their contemporaries. For them the organisation of the family is based on a suffocating tie of dependence and reciprocal control.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Love in a warm climate: a partnership between object relations theory and attachment theory

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Noela Byrne, Jenny Berg, and Penny Jools

“Until one has experienced the power of this psychotic process to lock two people together in what feels like hell to both, it is, I acknowledge, difficult to credit”

(Fisher, 1999, p. 456)

Introduction

Our aims in writing this chapter are to explore the source of the insecure couple attachment with reference to our two major theoretical frameworks:

1. The level of object relations functioning of the couple.

We have previously described a sequence of developmental anxieties faced by couples when involved in a therapeutic struggle to develop a more mature relationship (Berg & Jools, 2004).

2. Attachment styles in couple relationships.

Like Clulow (2001a) we have a particular interest in the impact of different attachment styles on the couple relationship.

Were the couples’ attachment styles fixed or did they change over time in parallel with changes we had previously observed in the capacity for more mature relating? How did the therapy facilitate the development of a more secure attachment?

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: An impasse in power relationships: an intersubjective view in a South African socio-cultural context

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Rika van den Berg

Introduction

The marriage between culture and psychology has been recognized, reviewed, and described in philosophical debates (for example, Barcinski & Kalia, 2005; Iborra, 2005; Tappan, 2005), but it has not be ensufficiently researched and described systematically through empirical work. Theorizations of socio-cultural variables are not integrated as strands in psychoanalytic formulations or in explanations of patterns of attachment. Individual, internal psychoanalytic theorizations are expanded to account for social phenomena such as racism or sexism (for example, Straker, 2004). The defence mechanisms of splitting, denial, and projection are most often applied in such explanations.

Through presentation of case material, this chapter begins by providing empirical evidence to substantiate an argument that racism may be viewed as the product of an interaction between the internal and the social world. The social and the internal world play an interactional, causal role in the construction of racism. Secondly, the chapter illustrates how these social phenomena intrinsically affect the development of the individual self and patterns of attachment. These phenomena similarly have an effect on the attachment between the couple, the attachment to the therapist, and the therapeutic process. In this case, it was manifested in an impasse in the therapeutic process with the couple. Thirdly, the concept of the intersubjective field has facilitated an understanding of the complex relationship between the individual and social world. The case material illuminates the multi-dimensional and multi-layered nature of the intersubjective field between the couple and the therapist. Finally, I argue that each of the layers of the inter-subjective field is historically based. A view of the marriage between the socio-cultural and intrapsychic variables has to be considered within the specific meanings of the historically constructed categories of race, class, and gender for a particular individual, dyad, triad, or group, at a specific time in history. The specific meanings will lead us to understand the ways in which power was internalized in the formation of the identities of the participants. These meanings are articulated in the therapeutic process and the dynamics that are played out in the therapy room.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Touching the void: the impact of psychiatric illness on the couple

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Christopher Vincent

Introduction

Since starting clinical work in a department of psychotherapy attached to a general psychiatric service, I have become increasingly interested in exploring the clinical and theoretical implications of what I wish to describe as “couple voids”. The particular “voids” I would like to explore arise between couples where one or both partners suffer from psychiatric illness. These situations convey a power imbalance between the couples where questions about self-interest, the quality of their attachment, and altruism arise. So far as I know, this idea has not been developed in relation to couple relationships but it has been explored in relation to intrapsychic functioning (Emmanuel, 2001). In developing my ideas about this concept, I draw from attachment theory in describing two types of couple void. Both have properties drawn from the classification linked with the Adult Attachment Interview; one couple void is linked to the “preoccupied” category, while the second is linked to the “dismissing” category. In conclusion, I make some tentative suggestions about why one couple seemed to benefit far more from therapy than the other couple.

 

CHAPTER TEN: An exploration of the unconscious couple fit between the “detached” and the “adherent” narcissist: one couple’s shared fear of madness

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Viveka Nyberg

Introduction

Whether in marriage or analysis, the physical space we share is also psychic space. It is a room housing the mind of the other, and it is furnished with thoughts of the other. It is not just material reality of the room that confines us; it is the psychic reality of the other person investing its contents with talismanic significance—that territory imbued with another’s ideas, that room invested with someone else’s good intentions, that couch or bed saturated with the other’s desires, that domestic arrangement requiring acquiescence. [Britton, 2003, p. 166]

As couple therapists, we often talk about a couple’s fear of intimacy, and in this chapter I investigate a more extreme degree or version of this anxiety. I present a couple with whom I worked for twelve months in weekly sessions. The couple shared an experience of having grown up with mothers who suffered from mental illness and fathers who were largely absent. I am interested in exploring what impact the experience of mental illness in the couple’s parents may have on their interaction as a couple. I have found Britton’s (2003) concept of narcissistic “detachment” and narcissistic “adherence” helpful and illuminating. Although he uses this concept primarily as a way of understanding the relationship between analyst and patient, I have found it instructive to apply it to interaction between couples.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Sex as protection against intimacy and closeness: working with buyers and sellers of sex

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Gullvi Sandin and Anna Kandell

Introduction

In this chapter we share our experiences of taking part in a study (Boman & Green, 2004) where we worked, as psychotherapists, with men and women involved in the buying and the selling of sex. The chapter outlines how specific psychological needs were satisfied through the relationship between the men and the women and how the transaction was an attempt to resolve complex emotional dilemmas around power, dependency, devaluation, and shame.

In Sweden, attempts have recently been made to combat the sex trade by various social programmes and through legislation. Arguments for and against making prostitution illegal have often been debated, as well as the question of whether this should concern both the buying and selling of sex, or if it should apply only to the person buying sex. The Act of Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services (1998: 408) stated that a person who is paying for sex shall be sentenced for the purchase of sexual services to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum period of six months. This law was revised in 2005 and was then included in the Criminal code.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: The power of our attachment to theory—or Oedipus meets Ganesh

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David Hewison

Introduction

We are accustomed to the idea that couples who come to see us for psychotherapy are caught up in their own “theory” about their relationship—a theory that is structuring their relating and which we might otherwise call a “shared unconscious phantasy” (Bannister & Pincus, 1965; Ruszczynski, 1993). The purpose of therapy is then to modify destructive versions of this and enable developmental versions to evolve. What we talk about less is the therapist’s relation to their own versions of theory, particularly when it is something to which we might have a powerful attachment.

“Nothing is so useful as a good theory” is a saying variously attributed to Kurt Lewin, Donald Winnicott, and Jock Sutherland. Wilfred Bion suggested that theories should only be used for the first few sessions of an analysis, but that then they should be discarded in favour of an openness to the material consequent to an absence of memory, desire, and understanding (Bion, 1970). Some people suggest that this means that theories are not important in psychoanalytic work—as though the statement that one should eschew “memory, desire, and understanding” is not itself a theory. Michael Fordham proposed his own version, suggesting that one may have a kind of mental filing cabinet for theory to which it should be returned once it had done its job of enabling the analysis to begin, and that it should then be replaced by what he called “not knowing beforehand” (Fordham, 1993). Apparently, Fordham had an actual filing cabinet in his consulting room and it may have been this that inspired his image. It seems (Urban, 1996) that at some point in its life one of his child patients had scrawled upon it the phrase “Dr. Fordham is a nit-face”—which, of course, is another theory! Jung wrote that in psychology “theories are the very devil” (Jung, 1946, par. 7), while simultaneously attempting to construct the unified theory that would connect all psychologies together into one psychological Theory of Everything, if we follow Sonu Sham-dasani’s reading of him (Shamdasani, 2003). Elsewhere, Jung wrote succinctly that “every theory is a subjective confession” (Jung, 1931, par. 774).

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Marriage is a strange attractor: chaos theory, a paradigm shift for couple therapy

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David E. Scharff and Jill Savege Scharff

Introduction

Chaos theory, the theory of dynamical systems, offers a new paradigm for understanding the dynamics of psychological, mental, and affective processes in couples and the development, maintenance, and therapy of couple relationships . The couple relationship forms when two individual psycho-dynamic systems combine in unpredictable ways to develop a system that is essentially chaotic and inherently self-org an izin g. This chapter demonstrates how couple therapy informed by chaos theory moves troubled couples out of their limit-cycle functioning and encourages the development of new strange attractor patterns that confer enhanced flexibility of response in the couple system, bringing couples new adaptability and confidence to meet developmental challenges.

Every intimate couple relationship has a unique personality. This personality is evident on the surface through the observable interaction of the partners; it is constructed at the depths from the individual and shared unconscious—a mysterious, unpred ictable, and infinitely complex combination of brain interactions, attachment patterns, affective facial, bodily, and sexual signals, and verbal communication. Any approach to understanding and treating the dynamics of the couple relationship must take account of this complexity. We look to chaos theory (also called the theory of non-random chaos), complexity theory, or dynamical systems theory for a new way of thinking about unconscious communication, the development of psychic structure, coupling, and therapeutic action in the analytic treatment of couples.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Can attachment theory help define what is mutative in couple psychoanalytic psychotherapy?

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Christopher Clulow

Introduction

Psychoanalysis places interpretation, and especially interpretation of the transference, as the foremost agent of therapeutic change. From Strachey’s (1934) paper onwards, the quest for the “mutative” interpretation has featured in the development of psychoanalytic thinking and practice. If the literature has sometimes suggested that the key to change lies in the cognitive competence of the therapist, this has belied a therapeutic tradition that sees affective engagement and mutual learning between patient and therapist as the road to change. What has come to be known as the relational model of psychoanalysis is rooted in this therapeutic tradition.

For Bowlby (1969), the architect of attachment theory, “attachment” had a precise meaning that related to an innate behavioural system evidenced by four types of behaviour displayed in relation to a specific other: seeking proximity, displaying distress at separation, re treating to a safe haven when threatened, and exploring from a base that is felt to be secure. With time, “felt security” (Sroufe & Waters, 1997) could be achieved without actual physical proximity, but as a result of a growing confidence that attachment figures were accessible and responsive. There is an ongoing debate about whether and how adult partnerships are “attachments” in the sense that Bowlby defined from observing relationships between mothers and infants, but an acknowledgement that the similarities are sufficient for the term to be useful for practitioners and researchers in their work with adult couples (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-Yaish, 2006). So, if we accept that attachment is a useful concept to apply to adults, in what ways might attachment theory be useful for clinical practice with couples?

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Attachment therapy with couples: affect regulation and dysregulation in couple relationships; effective and ineffective responses to painful states by therapists and partners

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Una McCluskey

Introduction

This chapter explores the importance of effective care-giving within adult couple relations from the perspective of the theory introduced by Heard and Lake (1997) and the practice, attachment therapy by Heard, Lake, and McCluskey (2008). Effective care-giving enables couples to regulate each other’s emotional states. To manage the stresses and strains of life couples need to be able to relate empathically to one another when under stress. The capacity to sustain an empathic stance towards another is more easily available to people who have had experience in early relationships which has helped them both to be in touch with their own feelings and to consider the feelings of others. People who have not had this experience as young children are more inclined towards self-defence if their initial show of empathy is rebuffed or avoided. Such a situation leaves the person who is care-seeking in the relationship in a state of distress and leaves the person who is trying to provide care in a state of frustration and incompetence.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Psychopathology and therapeutic style: integrating object relations and attachment theory in working with borderline families

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Timothy Keogh, Maria Kourt, Charles Enfield, and Sylvia Enfield

“I don’t remember parents being children very much. I don’t remember smooth brows forming innocence of afternoon, allowing raindrops to be listless in a row”

(Murphy, 2004)

Introduction

This chapter focuses on the application of Object Relations Th eory, coupled with Attachment Theory, to psychothera-peutic work with families. It specifically examines the issue of matching therapeutic style to family psychopathology. In particular, an argument is made for an object relations approach to family therapy with a borderline family, in which the approach focuses on the relationship aspects of the therapy, and where countertransfer-ence is used as the guide to the direction of the therapy.

This post Kleinian approach distinguishes itself from that of the American Relational School (Frank, 1998) by its focus on the use of the countertransference and the unconscious phantasies operating in families. The case example discussed illustrates how therapists use their countertransference to guide their therapeutic approach to the projection and splitting in the family’s relationship with each other and to the therapists. The aim of this approach to therapy is to facilitate integration in a family whose borderline pathology is seen to have its roots in disorganized attachment.

 

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