Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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Interview on Couples Counseling

Richard Harvey answers questions about relationship problems and couples counseling.

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof…”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

What is an intimate relationship?

An intimate relationship—partnership or marriage—is one of the most potent catalysts for wholeness and authenticity there is. Relationships can also be the most deathly and least life-enhancing environment for the human spirit. It all depends on honest and open communication, deepening and growing in intimacy, and the courage and willingness to venture into unknown territory together.

What is the fundamental reason that falling in love and love relationships leads to difficulties?

Love relationships have the power to re-stimulate the unresolved issues of our early childhoods, because when we are in love we are at our most open and vulnerable. Since most of us didn't get all we needed or wanted in our early lives, these same needs and desires arise in our relationships and are often expressed inappropriately.

We may have the unrealistic expectation that our partner can fulfill all our needs. We may idealize our partner who can then only fall from grace and disappoint us. We will never find a partner who meets all our historical desires because these desires belong to the past: they are part of our frozen history.

Relationships compel us to face ourselves and give us the chance to resolve the unfinished business of childhood, because they re-open the issues of dependence, nurture and care.

What are the aims of relationship counseling?

Well, there are several possible aims. The basic level is where the couple are having relationship difficulties and they want to get over a “rocky patch”. Examples would be excessive arguing; taking unilateral decisions like when one partner wants to pursue a career, move house or have children and the other doesn't agree; some kind of power imbalance, perhaps about how decisions are made; disagreements about how to raise the children; one partner wanting to socialize more than the other—that kind of thing.

The next level is about break up. Perhaps their mutual attraction has become lop-sided and one partner wants to move on out of boredom or incompatibility; or one partner may have entered a new stage of life and have fresh expectations of the relationship; or one partner is having an affair or has turned a corner in life and realized that they have outgrown their partner and their relationship. Usually the dynamics of breaking up involve some kind of polarization: one partner is for and the other is against the relationship continuing.

Do couples who come to you for therapy to deal with “break up”issues, always break up?

No. Sometimes there is a turn around: as the couple dig deeper into the things that are causing the difficulties in their relationship they rediscover the hidden lost love they have for each other. Then they can make their relationship work.

And when they do go ahead and break up…?

We deal with it as thoroughly as we can. Chances are that, due to relationship and emotional/behavioral patterns, each partner will go off and repeat the same patterns (albeit in some slightly different form) and encounter the same unhappiness in relationship all over again. So it is vital that we deal with the issues as deeply as we can to enable and empower the two partners to move on to better things and a better relationship with somebody else.

How do you work with relationship issues? Are you not tempted sometimes to take a side?

As a therapist I find the best way is to be non-judgmental, seeing it from both partners' point of view, deepening in understanding and not taking sides or adopting a superficial view. Two possibilities are present: either breaking up or getting back together, and with wise openness the couple usually find the way that is best for them. They should finish therapy with more skills and insight for life together or apart.

What is the next level of relationship counseling?

The next level is a deeper one in which personal differences subconsciously urge each partner to grow and develop in some way. The issue of breaking up need not arise. The issue, or issues, between the two partners indicate where change wants to happen in their relationship, or more rarely in one partner.

The couple are aware of the role of self development within their relationship and the necessity to work on intimacy and loving relationship rather than becoming complacent about it and taking each other for granted. Each partner explores their individual issues to discover what is holding them back from growing together and deepening in intimacy.

The most profound level of relationships counseling is relationship as a path of shared personal development. This means growing and expanding psychologically and/or spiritually within the relationship. The two partners consider that the primary role and power of the relationship is that it is a catalyst for personal growth, for each to change, transform and grow in love…together.

To acheive this, the couple must become concerned about re-owning their projections on to each other so that they really relate to one another. They accept and meet the challenges in their relationship as opportunities to grow. They accept compromise and go beyond their fear of deepening in real love.

Relationships represent a profoundly deep opportunity for growth and change. The chance to grow alongside another person, and have them know you better than anyone else and love you through (not in spite of) your flaws, is a powerful challenge to our resistance to know, accept and love ourselves.

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