By Gabriel Shiraz
Sarah and David sit across from me. Their chairs are far apart and turned towards me. They escape eye contact by focusing on me. It’s our first session. Tension is evident and felt, in all senses. This is a well- known situation when couples start therapy that stems from normative embarrassment and difficulty seeking help.
During our first conversation, I listen to them while trying to feel the energy and atmosphere in the room. I look inwards, feel my body, my breath. I resonate with myself and with them. The room feels cramped, stiff. There’s a sense of heaviness. The atmosphere is remote, and it seems cold. I notice that neither of them is breathing, and it affects my breathing, which also halts.
Out of awareness and inner resonance, despite the tension I breathe deeply. I reflect to the couple: “There’s so much tension in the room,” and then I take a deep breath again which allows Sarah and David to breathe as well, to release some of the difficulty, and start discussing what’s in their hearts.
They have worked with me in the past (the names and identifying details have been changed of course). They met about four years before starting therapy and fell powerfully in love. David was 45, Sarah 36. When they met, David was divorced with two children, and she was single with no children. At the start of the relationship, Sarah wondered whether to enter into a relationship with a divorced man with children from a previous relationship, but their mutual love was strong. After travelling overseas together, she moved in with him and they’ve been together ever since. Later, they had a baby.
They arrived in my clinic in a state of crisis, after a month of severe quarrels, with a strong sense of tension and remoteness. During the first session, I observed both, each with their personal armour, and listened to their individual narratives. I also observed the ‘third chair’ in the room: their couplehood. I truly felt the couple armour that had grown around their relationship.
Encountering the couple armour
Sarah’s and David’s couple armour was so strong that in my imagination I saw it surrounding them. I sensed the armour in the therapeutic space and in the dynamic between them: the distance between the chairs, lack of eye contact, the pent-up blocked energy, tension in the room, stiffness, and the breathing difficulty. At the end of the first session, I reflected on the dynamic and the crisis affecting them, feeling their difficulty with the partner, their personal armour, and their couple armour.
From that point, their couple therapy began. As a therapist, it’s my task to get to know the couple in depth (each one and their own primary personality and armour), to hear each one’s story (the narrative), to look at their relationship, their dynamics, and most importantly to help them slowly and gradually melt the couple armour created around them.
The conversation about the situation, the recognition that they were seeking help, the shared breathing and the first release of the heaviness in the room helped me see and reflect on their potential, their ‘primary personality’, each one’s qualities and their relationship, and to talk about their ongoing process.
Before delving into Sarah and David’s couple armour, why it took shape, and how it would be melted through therapy, I want to return for a moment to key concepts in body psychotherapy that are also present in couple psychotherapy, as I will explain now.
What is armour? A few words about the concept of ‘armour’
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Armour: Carabo Spain from Pixabay
Melting Armour: Shutterbug75 from Pixabay