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2. The projective gridlock: a form of projective identification in couple relationships

James Fisher Karnac Books ePub

The projective gridlock: a form of projective identification in couple relationships

Mary Morgan

In this chapter I introduce the term “projective gridlock” to describe a particular kind of couple relationship in which the couple have a problem feeling psychically separate and different from each other, and hence create between them a relationship in which they feel locked together in a defensive collusion within which there is only very limited growth. I explore the particular way projective identification is used to create this kind of relationship, drawing on the work of Klein and Rosenfeld. I further suggest that the creation of such a relationship develops from a different kind of “unconscious choice of partner” than that usually understood by the notion of unconscious choice as developed within the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute. I illustrate these ideas with clinical material drawn from couples seen for marital psychotherapy in both single and joint sessions. Finally, I consider some technical issues.

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10. Making the best of a bad job

James Fisher Karnac Books ePub

At the end of the last chapter Edward cries: “Must I become after all what you would make me?” In the grip of his inner demons projected into the hell he calls his marriage, he can see no way out. In order to feel his hopelessness we need to see through his eyes the demons he saw. It is possible to play The Cocktail Party, I think, as such a tame drawing-room comedy that the audience misses a moment when it is possible to look into hell itself. Irene Worth, who played Celia in the original Edinburgh production of The Cocktail Party, reported that there was only one time that Eliot intervened during the rehearsals. It was in the rehearsal of the scene when Edward and Lavinia were quarrelling:

Eliot bolted up to the stage looking quite unsettled. “The wife”, he insisted, “must be fierce. Much more fierce. The audience must understand that she is impossible.” [quoted in Ackroyd, 1984, p. 294]

What do we imagine provoked this outburst? About whom was Eliot thinking? Lyndall Gordon, in her sensitive study of the characters in the story of the poet’s life, suggests one reason Eliot found it impossible to visit Vivienne for the whole of the seventeen years of her incarceration in a mental hospital: “Eliot never visited Vivienne in the asylum, not, I imagine, out of callousness, but because he must have feared the compelling power of her strong Welsh shriek” (Gordon, 1988, p. 148). Gordon does not document this suggestion, leaving us to imagine that it might have been the result of her intimate study of this couple plus perhaps evidence like this well-documented outburst at the rehearsal for The Cocktail Party.

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5. Identity and intimacy in the couple: three kinds of identification

James Fisher Karnac Books ePub

Identity and intimacy in the couple: three kinds of identification

James Fisher

In thinking about the adult couple, it is common to talk about the capacity for intimacy as a mark of the maturity of relating. It is sometimes contrasted with autonomy (as In Cleavely, 1993) and sometimes seen to include the capacity for separateness, as in Colman’s discussion of the internal capacity for marriage:

Another way of putting this would be to describe it as the capacity for intimacy, since intimacy implies differentiation and separation: the sharing of our innermost being with another.

He then goes on to say:

Without separateness, intimacy becomes conflated with fusion: many couples cannot feel intimate unless they feel the same as their partner. … In fact, because they cannot tolerate separateness, they cannot achieve intimacy either and are therefore condemned to the sterile coldness of isolation… . [Colman, 1993, pp. 132f; italics added]

In this chapter I would like to explore the experience of intimacy from a psychoanalytic point of view. It is interesting that much of contemporary discussion in psychoanalysis about the analytic relationship in the consulting-room between analyst and patient, especially in the Kleinian and post-Kleinian tradition, is concerned with the difficulties of establishing and maintaining emotional contact. In a sense it is a discussion of intimacy and the capacity for it, as well as the ways in which it is blocked, attacked, perverted, or destroyed. One could say that the analytic setting is an important “laboratory” for the exploration of the nature of intimate relating.

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5. Separations and the capacity to mourn

James Fisher Karnac Books ePub

In our final reprise here of the work with Mr and Mrs Webb in the 1950s, we return to a familiar theme in the analytic process, that most persistent issue of what therapists provocatively call breaks. Even the word itself hints at an unconscious assumption that anything good, desirable, nourishing, and so on should be continuous, without interruption. However, these experiences of disruption are in fact at the heart of the analytic process, precisely because they are moments that mark the therapeutic relationship as a real and not a fantasy relationship. Coming to terms with our own finiteness, and the finiteness of the other on whom we depend, is central to emotional development out of narcissism and towards the capacity to be in a relationship, a development that I am talking about as the evolving capacity for marriage. We are reminded of the end of The Winter’s Tale, where Shakespeare invites the participants in this story of development out of narcissism to reflect on the links between union and separation, between having a part and parturition. As Leontes says to Paulina, the woman who has brought them together:

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8. The uninvited guest

James Fisher 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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