The Couple as the “Third”
Some couples we see coming to therapy have been under siege. If we use the metaphor of the couple relationship as the “third”, an entity with its own life (along with the two individuals), then that third element becomes debilitated if it suffers repeated attacks, as do the individuals themselves.
This is why we say it’s important to nurture this third element; to hold it by whatever metaphor works for us: “being in the vessel”, “living under one roof”, “being together in the marital bed”; and to let the world see its strength and health when we are in public.
- See also: Reflections on the Couple Bubble
Yet when the siege has continued for some time, the individuals are less likely to call on their experience of the third. They batten down into individualistic coping patterns, thinking this is the way through. But it never is (unless they decide it really is time to split). Instead, there’s usually scope to find out more about the other person, to soften our convictions about them, to forgive, and to find gratitude for what’s already there.
A Call for Gentleness
So this is a call for gentleness when undertaking couples work. Who can say what this looks like? Ironically, for example, to fully accept that our partner has a fiery nature (and that we don’t have to retreat when it shows itself) could be being gentle on the other, on ourselves, and on the third.
Couples work, whether in therapy or when working through issues together at home, is always an experiment in trying new ways. Experiments work only in an atmosphere of gentleness and safety.
Viewed in the Light of Experiment
We’ll make gaffs, we’ll over compensate, we’ll be overly-nice or overly-horrible; but if viewed in the light of experiment and gentleness we can be open to trying new ways, and maybe even have a laugh in the process!