What is a Couple?

Are you a couple? Are you married or engaged? Are you an item? Are you in love? Are you in a relationship? These are all questions which tell us that being a couple is more than just being friends and more than simply having a sexual relationship. When we become a couple we create something greater than the sum of two people. We create a new entity. That such a union is powerful and important is shown by peoples’ commitment and desire to be a couple and is evidenced by the pain caused if it fails and breaks down.

Couple (image)Becoming a couple

We know the conscious ways in which people become a couple. We are attracted to a person, we feel safe with them, we feel excited by them, we feel that we can tell them everything and can be known by them. But why does this happen with this person rather than that?

People are attracted to each other and become a couple not only for the obvious reasons but for hidden, unconscious reasons, the unconscious fit, of which we only catch glimpses. We may want to put right something from our past and feel that this person may help us. There may be a part of ourselves that we are too frightened to express – which this other person expresses with or for us. Many of the reasons for forming a couple are hidden in our unconscious, inner world.

Being a couple

When we become a couple, when we fall in love, we invest part of ourselves in a new, shared identity. It becomes the locus of our greatest intimacy, our greatest safety and, although we might not notice, it becomes the place of our greatest challenges.

It is as if the couple creates a psychological container, which holds all our hopes, fears and desires. We want our relationship to last for ever and cannot imagine anything could change that desire. We acknowledge difficulties may threaten us, but we don’t quite believe that they will.

 When our relationship works it allows for an immensely creative life, but the vicissitudes of life can sometimes place an enormous strain on a couple. The longed for baby is both a delight and an intrusion; the lack of a pregnancy challenges both our physical and emotional potency. A serious illness, redundancy, children leaving home and retirement are all life events which, either expected or unexpected, can place a strain on the relationship. Old age and death is the final challenge; one which will reflect the strength and robustness of a long lasting relationship.

Most of us adjust to and deal with the difficulties that life throws up as we go along, but sometimes when the strain becomes too great or the problems, unbeknown to us, are resonating with traumas in our personal history, it can feel as if our container is breaking up, as if the foundations are cracking. Disappointment, fear, anger and resentment begin to replace the initial hopes. It is at this point that help could be required.


It may be enough to find a friend to talk things through, or we may feel that we are placing too much of a burden on the friendship and decide to seek professional help in the form of counselling or psychotherapy.

Couple imageIt is often the case that couples seek help when the relationship, their psychological container, has broken down. Psychotherapy, by offering a safe, reliable and predictable space in which to explore problems, acts rather like an auxiliary heart machine keeping the couple safe and functioning whilst the hard work of understanding what has gone wrong can take place. It is frightening to speak the truth to your partner, often fearing that he or she will either break down or retaliate in some dreadful way, but it can be truly transforming to say what is on your mind and to hear what is really in your partner’s mind.

 Within the safety of the consulting room and with the attention of a thoughtful and benevolent therapist, there is an opportunity to understand the deeper, more unconscious blockages and patterns which link back into our earliest and most powerful emotional experiences. To explore our individual psychological patterns in the presence of our partner takes courage, but through clearer mutual and individual understanding, a couple often finds new ways of thinking and new strategies for enjoying their relationship.

What Happens

Seeking help to speak to a stranger about your most private and intimate relationship is a brave thing to do and you might feel that your therapist will take sides, you might hope she will take your side! However difficulties are very rarely due to just one member of the couple and therefore blame or judgment of any kind would be meaningless. We are all complex beings with all sorts of fears, hopes, fantasies and needs; it can be a relief to find a place where these complexities can be explored and expressed without the world coming to an end and judgement taking place.

As one client said to his partner, ‘I don’t want to leave you, but I want to be able to say that I want to leave you.’ An illustration that words do not have to lead to action and that ambivalence is part of our human condition.

As both a couple-therapist and individual therapist I offer a space in which difficult feelings can be explored without judgement or blame. I do not to give advice but provide a safe and informed place in which a client can develop a clear understanding about what is happening in both his inner and outer world. My role is to use my professional experience to help people know themselves and each other better and understand how their inner lives are affecting their day to day outer lives so that choices can be made and decisions taken with greater certainty.