At what point do married couples seek counselling?

Dr Neeru Kanwar says when they both want to be heard, when they face a crisis in their lives

Raksha Bharadia | Posted on 10 Jan 2016
At What Point Do Married Couples Seek Counseling? | Bonobology

Professionally a psychotherapist, Dr Neeru Kanwar did a Ph.D in clinical psychology and specialisation in working as a counsellor. Initially her Ph.D was in social psychology, and she started work as a child therapist in 1989. And from 1995 onwards, she has been in private work.

How do you think marriage has changed today?

Although I have also worked with a lot of clients who are men, in the last few years, I have found that 80% of my clientele is women. But even if the women come to me on their own and I feel that their partner needs to be involved in the therapy, I invite the partner in. There are some people who come exclusively for the problems in their relationship.  And couple therapy is slightly different from individual therapy. So for example, if I am working with 30 clients at a time, six or seven will be couples.

What are the biggest issues that you see today in a marriage?

Quite a lot of times, the women will come with the problem /complaint of a lack of communication. They feel that they are not being attended to, that there is a disconnect.  A lot of them are very lonely. They feel there is hardly anything that binds them together as a couple. And yet the sex is there. And quite a lot of women also say that they seem to have an okay sex life. They are much more in need for a better communication with their spouses.

Do you see any pattern in the communication breakdown that happens – a seven-year-itch or something similar?

Quite a lot of them come when there is really something that has hit them. The husband will usually come when there has been an extramarital affair – on either side.

Out of every 10 couples that came in  the year 2000, I would say, four would have come because there was an extramarital affair to reckon with. If you talk about the current situation, it is seven out of every 10 couples. A lot of extramarital affairs are developing at workplaces and because both husband and wife are working, these cases are more.

When women come to you, do they come when they are being caught or when they are feeling guilty? How does it happen?

Not many come because they are feeling guilty. They come primarily because it’s been exposed and there’s a crisis – perhaps they want to be heard – there has been a situation for which they have been suffering for a very long time. So they want to understand why this has happened and they also want a kind of validity or a feeling of empowerment so that they make sense of it and talk about it with some clear articulation.

Do you think an extramarital affair is directly related to communication breakdown?

Yes, it is. I can’t say it happens very early in the marriage. It may happen after the children come in the picture or the children are also a little settled. Usually what we find is that there has been a problem right from the initial stages of the marriage which has not been addressed earlier. Or where one of the partners is feeling very disempowered. He or she is not getting the feeling of being heard.

For instance a couple might come in – the man is 38, the woman is 35, both working as CAs and it is a love marriage. Both believed in love when they got married and both had love relationships with others before they got married to each other. Two children – 10 and five years old. Home environment is been looked after by a widowed mother-in-law. They came here because the woman had been having some stomach issues – had gone to a doctor first, then to a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist said it seems to be stress related. The man contacted me first saying my wife is facing such a problem, so can you please attend to her and we have been advised to do so by this psychiatrist.

When they come, I find out from the woman that at some point she finds it very hard to communicate, there is some kind of a sense of disconnect between the two and over the years she has drifted into a relationship with someone she met on Facebook. There was some earlier connect, and then they reconnected, and she started spending a lot of time chatting with him, then even met in person and it developed into a far more intimate relationship. The man is also married and he has made it very clear that the priority is his family. The woman had also made it clear that the priority is her family. It wasn’t a planned thing but she drifted into it because she wanted to spend her time somehow, feel better about things, she was feeling lonely. At some point of time, through SMSes that her husband discovered by chance, the affair was out in the open and also the knowledge that it had lasted for two years. 

The wife said that her husband doesn’t seem to 'see her' – he has no time for her, there is no attention, no acknowledgement from his side. The husband is sitting there when the wife tells the story, he is crying because he is devastated by the whole idea.

Why do men do that? Why does he allow the communication to come at this level?

My focus is to try and have their attention on their emotional needs that are not being met and that would lead to a clearer articulation of one’s emotional needs to the partner and also greater understanding of where your partner is coming from. So I often tell them that after you get married, you should have one eye on yourself and your emotional requirements and one eye on the other and try and see how it really can be negotiated. So it’s all very easy to say we fell in love and assume that your partner will come to realise every thing you are feeling without you ever speaking up about it. But it doesn’t work that way. It is actually a very conscious effort that goes into making or trying to make things work out. There are a lot of complexities at work. Sometimes it is the outcome of what you have seen at home, between your parents, and sometimes it is a reaction.

 

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