Monkeyships (1): A way out of trouble

~~ dueling bananas no border(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert speaking:)

Lately Steve’s seeing more and more couples.

I dont know why, since he never trained as a couples therapist and doesn’t advertise himself as one.  But couples apparently like his approach, because they keep sending him new couples to work with.

Which, at one time, would have really pissed me off.

Because I hated couples work. 

It scared me.

It scared me for two reasons.  First, there was too damned much going on in the room. 

Steve, explain.

Well, work with couples means paying attention to many levels and variables at once.  Like

~ what the partners say, and what they don’t say;

~ which feelings they express, and which they feel they must hide;

~ which of their goals and motives are conscious, and which remain out of awareness; and

~ what’s happening between them here and now, as opposed to  whatever past experiences (often buried, usually painful) are getting triggered.

Right.  All that felt overwhelming.  It was just too much. 

Too much to control, you mean.

Yes.  Couldn’t control it mentally.  Couldn’t organize it in my head.

And then I hated the tension.  Many couples were so angry at each other that sessions with them felt like watching someone juggle live hand grenades.  I kept waiting for some emotional KABOOM to blow the whole office into matchsticks.

You couldn’t control the emotional situation either.

Right.  I couldn’t control either their feelings or my own feelings about not being able to control how they felt.

All of which explains why, for years, whenever someone called Steve to request couples counseling I’d immediately climb up onto his shoulder and whisper Just say no over and over.

He didn’t listen, though.

Well, we had to make a living.

I didn’t care about that.  My priority was not feeling scared. 

But I’m glad he didn’t listen.   Because over time he learned something important about how to help couples.  And I even started to feel safe. 

Both these things happened after he came up with his Monkeyships Theory.

Steve, explain what a monkeyship is.

It’s any relationship that becomes dysfunctional because both partners are struggling for control.

And the theory?

Simply that most (maybe all) relationship problems are monkeyship problems, since at one time or another all relationships turn, well, monkeyish.

This theory helped me feel safer with couples work in two ways. 

First, focusing on the idea of control helped me to observe and organize what was happening in each session, like a magnet rearranges iron filings.  

Yes.  Noticing how people try to control each other really clarifies how they get into trouble in the first place. 

More importantly, it gave Steve a way to help them get out of trouble.

 I realized my job wasn’t so much to fix or change any couple’s interaction as to help them notice how they were trying to get control.  I did this by pointing out what I was seeing and hearing.

Once they could spot their own patterns, the next step was to teach them the three alternatives to control — surrender, responsibility and intimacy (see the end of “What you damned well better know about control”).   And then get them to practice.

This sort of therapy is no quick fix, and it works better with some couples than others.  Its success depends mainly on how willing they are to stop playing blame tennis and look hard at themselves. 

For those who can do that, the alternatives offer a path out of monkeyship and towards what relationship is meant to be: a place where both partners can be themselves with each other, and where both come to see that what’s good for their partner is — surprise — also good for them. 

(To be continued.  This is the first in a series of posts on control and relationships.)


2 responses to “Monkeyships (1): A way out of trouble

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