When I was in Core Skills last weekend an interesting topic came up for discussion. We were talking about how we handle the sensitive information that clients give us in our individual sessions with them. I realized during the discussion that I’m at one end of the bell curve in keeping information private, and it surprised me to realize this but also helped me make sense of some places where I feel like I’ve been more stuck.
Of course with hot items like an affair, I would tell the client that this has to be shared before we continue. But I’ve noticed I get really squirmy around medium-warm items, like “I don’t know how committed I am” or “I really have a problem when they do x”. It really is a spectrum of information we receive, isn’t it?
What I fear happening with the medium-warm items is that they won’t want to share this information with their partner, but they will keep coming to couples counseling. Then, I am in the position of having to name this thing or wait and see if they name it.
What I would like to get better doing is if a client tells me some medium-warm information in our individual session, I want to try and stay in the moment with them. Instead of my avoidant thought moving past that (oh, probably not that big of a deal, let’s just gloss over it!), I want to stay and explore that with them. “What would it be like to share that with your partner? What’s uncomfortable about that idea? What is your concern about their reaction? How can I help support you in sharing that with them?”
Lorrie Brubacher, EFT supervisor and trainer extraordinaire, amazes me with her bravery and skill in verbalizing the difficult places. Back in my first Core Skills weekend with her she offered us language to process the difficulty in the room with the couple:
- “How is it, speaking so explicitly like this to each other?”
- “It’s right on the edge for you? This is feels a little scary to be speaking like this?”
And she challenged me to think about this in terms of :
what is it in the cycle that makes it unsafe to talk about the big stuff?
I think becoming a couples therapist makes us look at our own avoidance in a totally new way. I’ve really noticed how avoidant I can be around allowing people to be uncomfortable around me. When bullets get thrown in session, or we near a sensitive topic, I can feel myself want to pull way back and make it look nicer. I don't just want to catch the bullet, I want to pretend that partner isn't that upset and shield the other partner. I’ve also noticed how in social settings in general I get really uncomfortable if people start getting tense with each other and I immediately (like, immediately) jump in and try to make it better. So I think all of this work is really challenging me to stay grounded in the moment when a couple gets tense and instead of trying to make it better, to process it. To stay in it. To slow down and make sure we are making things explicit and clear.
Does this resonate with you? What are the areas you notice yourself avoiding with couples?