reflections 09 Mar 2018


Yesterday I had a small fall from the bottom-most step on the stairs. I wasn’t hurt and knew it had happened in part because the autumn nights are drawing in and I hadn’t put the light so I hadn’t seen it, had stepped from it as if I was on the floor.

As I sat on the floor nursing my knee it made me think about how limited, but therefore how full of potential to see more, our vision is. I am not talking about visual perception now. I am talking about the ability to see others and to recognise –re-cognise– and understand or empathise how things might be for them.

Often in my work it has been necessary when working with couples to ask one member of a couple what it is like for the other to show how much understanding he or she has for the other. Perhaps surprisingly, although on reflection maybe not, this often seems, and I emphasise ‘seems’ because actually it is not, much harder at a basic level for heterosexual couples than it is for gay ones.

Why this should be so is maybe obvious, but it is often hard to see what is directly in front of our faces. As I am peripheral to the problems in their coupledom it is perhaps easier from the position of my peripheral vision to see the incomprehension that each partner has of how the other person is affected by their behaviour at a very basic, even biological, level.

Although I am not wanting to bandy cod biology about by supporting people who reductively ascribe behaviour on the part of their significant other which they find difficult, to ‘pre-menstrual tension’ or ‘testosterone’, I do feel the genders would benefit more from looking and seeing exactly how their partner is different from them at this fundamental level which is otherwise all too easy to take for granted.

And I find myself generalising, speaking in truisms, stating ‘the blinking obvious’ which ironically can be so hard to see by partners in a couple who are in the full throws of anxiously or aggressively trying to differentiate connections with one another in their arguments.

How often have I had to put it to women that when their male partner is throwing his weight around emotionally and not listening to her, he is feeling exactly like a frightened little boy. And how often have I had to put it to men that when their female partner is from his point of view being unnecessarily fearful of him, he has never been a woman and doesn’t emotionally cognise, let alone re-cognise, how scary a man’s physical size and vocal volume can be when he is behaving angrily.

I know this will by seen by some as a sexist, ‘binary’ observation, but women and men are different; they are other. And for a good relationship they need not just to be aware of their differences and similarities, but proactively try to see them in all their obvious yet complex and subtle actuality in every single interaction they have together.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: TheSurreyCentre/Counsellors

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