18 Slices
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1. The Winter’s Tale: marriage and re-marriage

Fisher, James Karnac Books ePub

Let’s begin with a tale, a tale of hateful jealousy and suspicion, as well as, one might say, a tale of remarriage. But why begin there? Not all of the couples who seek therapy by any means suffer the kind of jealousy and doubts that plague Leontes in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Nor would I suggest that the experience of couples in therapy can always be described as a process of “emerging from narcissism towards marriage”, to reiterate the subtitle of this book. Juxtaposing these states, narcissism and marriage, in polar opposition may seem puzzling. And yet that is just what I mean to do throughout this book, to set in opposition narcissism and marriage, in ways perhaps familiar and unfamiliar. Adapting Bion’s notation, we could then picture “narcissism ↔ marriage” as a fundamental human tension.

By marriage, I mean to emphasize the passion for and dependence on the intimate other. By narcissism, on the other hand, I do not mean a preoccupation with the self, a kind of self-love. Rather, I mean to point to a kind of object relating in which there is an intolerance for the reality, the independent existence of the other. Narcissism in this sense is in fact a longing for an other, but a longing for an other who is perfectly attuned and responsive, and thus not a genuine other at all.

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2. The false-self couple: seeking truth and being true

Fisher, James Karnac Books ePub

In The Winter’s Tale we have a vivid portrayal of how the couple relationship can become, or perhaps inevitably does become, a setting of intense emotions in which truth itself becomes precarious. In the face of Leontes’ certainty that Hermione has been false to him, all protestations to the contrary are swept aside, whether from Hermione herself or from Leontes’ own courtiers. Indeed, Apollo’s oracle too is dismissed by this husband who knows he has been betrayed, betrayed by his wife, betrayed by his childhood friend, betrayed by his loyal minister. And Shakespeare presents this perversion of truth as an attack on the newborn child, the mother’s baby, as well as an attack on the mother herself.

When questions of truth take centre stage in therapy with couples, one is rightly cautious. We hardly ever encounter these questions in a mood of gentle inquiry. Most often they accost us with an angry, accusatory tone. “Tell me the truthl” seldom feels like a genuine invitation to a constructive coming together in a marriage. And, in therapy, seeking the truth can easily be confused with claims to be in possession of the truth, which in turn feels contrary to a mood of exploration.

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4. Duet for one? Two people or a couple?

Fisher, James Karnac Books ePub

Having had this report of the first two sessions with Mr Webb, the reader may be a little uneasy about the marital dimension of the work. What distinguishes these sessions from initial sessions with an individual patient? One essential boundary of psychoanalytic psychotherapy with couples has to do with the psychic reality that the analytic work is with two people linked in a particular intimate and powerful way. It is important to keep that in mind even in this early way of working in which each marital partner was seen individually. Before we explore this issue of boundaries in couple psychotherapy, perhaps we ought to meet Mrs Webb.

One might note here the importance of the fact that Mrs Webb was seen, in parallel individual sessions, by a therapist who would meet regularly with her husband’s therapist throughout the therapy. This reality shapes and informs the analytic work in a powerful way. He, Mr Webb, is always there in a unique way in all her sessions, “listening and watching” in a way that is not always literal (confidentiality being maintained for each partner) but is more than metaphorical—just as she, Mrs Webb, is there in his sessions.

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9. Hell is oneself, the others merely projections

Fisher, James Karnac Books ePub

One of the most interesting remarks reported to have been made by T. S. Eliot about The Cocktail Party is that it constitutes his rejoinder to Jean-Paul Sartre’s biting judgement that hell is other people. An interesting thought. In an earlier version of Eliot’s play, he puts the following often-quoted lament in the mouth of Edward:

What is hell? Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
One’s own projections.

[1.3.417-419]

Martin Browne, director of all of T. S. Eliot’s plays (except the unfinished Sweeney Agonistes), who, as he put it, assisted at the birth of each, claimed that Eliot said during rehearsal of The Cocktail Party that it contained his rejoinder to Sartre’s 1944 Huis Clos (Browne, 1969, p. 233). That may be, and we have only Browne’s account for what Eliot said. However, I think that it is just as plausible to read The Cocktail Party as Eliot’s exegesis of Sartre’s forlorn thesis, although it is likely that if it is an interpretation of Sartre it was an unconscious one. Eliot, whether consciously or not, had a remarkable insight into what it means for someone to experience other-people-as-hell

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8. The uninvited guest

Fisher, James Karnac Books ePub

Having become engrossed in an exploration of some rather technical and theoretical considerations, it is perhaps time to pause for a moment and look at another example of therapy with a couple as we did with the ‘‘Webbs” from the Marriage Book. This time I want to turn to what is perhaps the earliest recorded description of a couple therapy session. It is possible, in a sense, to identify the exact date and place for this first couple session—the 22nd of August 1949 in Edinburgh. In a way, of course, it is frivolous to link the serious therapy with often desperate couples, which we have been exploring in this book, with the portrait of a couple in T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party who are brought together for a “therapeutic” session with a mysterious figure whom Stephen Spender described as “an eminence grise of the psycho-analytical world” (Spender, 1975, p. 203). The consulting-room is one thing, the theatre another, worlds apart. And yet…are they? Perhaps I can appeal to the reader’s generosity to indulge me this link for a moment before judging how serious or how frivolous is my use of Eliot’s comic poetic drama.

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