There are three important objectives in our first meeting:
First, It’ll be our job to make it safe for each of you to put simple words on what you’re feeling and going through without intellectualizing, analyzing, talking down to or criticizing each other.
Second, we want to give you each a chance to educate me, one at a time, on how you argue or handle conflicts. Every couple fights differently and most of the time what they’re fighting about isn’t the real argument. Some deeper hurt or frustration usually gets triggered by the way they express themselves if something is bothering them. For example:
- You said were going to help me shop and you didn’t because your just don’t give a damn about me.
- You never even bothered to tell me you couldn’t come to mom’s dinner because you had to work late.
- I’m supposed to jump with joy when you clean the kitchen and take out the garbage. The last time you bothered was over a month ago.
In each of the above accusations, only the angry feelings get expressed. The deeper emotional need of the complaining lover never get’s touched. Even worse, much of the time couples sweep their real emotional needs under the rug until one just blows up at the other.
Our job in the first meeting will be to re-frame or re-label arguments so the lovers can see what’s underneath their anger and how much they really need one another. For example, each of the above accusations could be rephrased in the following manner:
- I was so exhausted when I left work and it was really important to have you there, not so much to help me lug the groceries, but just for you to be there.
- I really missed you at dinner and I know this will shock you but so did my mother.
- I was so grateful when you cleaned the kitchen and took out the garbage. It made me realize how much I need you to help me more often with the other household stuff.
In the third part of our first meeting, we want to get your stories, starting with a good narrative of how you first met and fell in love. There’s always a good story here! Then we want to hear about all the things that happened to you before you met: where you were born and raised; what you remember it was like growing up; the ideas and values you learned from your parents and grandparents; your emotional relationships with your siblings; how close you felt to your mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. In short, all the important things you remember happened to you before you both met and fell in love.
Here is where we construct what marriage and family therapists call a genogram or family tree like the one for the couple (let’s call them Aaron and Franki) below. There is a great deal of suffering, heart ache, emotional cut offs, parental abuse and other emotional traumas in their two families, especially Aaron’s, extending over three generations. It’s absolutely crucial for Aaron and Franki who are struggling to make a secure, loving life together to have a deeper understanding of each other’s families and the emotional pain and suffering they were born into and grew up in until the time they met, carrying all the pain, suffering and anger inside them.
Genogram of Aaron’s and Franki’s Families
Getting a rich narrative of your life stories before you fell in love is very important because unconsciously we all pick lovers whom we feel will give us some of the emotional nourishment and validation we missed out on as we grew up.
So the final goal of our first meeting is to uncover the deeper, hidden emotional needs that you each bring to your relationship. This knowledge will set the stage for you to gain greater emotional intimacy and help you to love each other smarter.
If you think about it, how can you love someone unless you know what they really need to thrive in life, deep down, emotionally?