Key Concepts for the Course:
Axiom #1: In theory, all marriages can be saved. This is because all couples who had a proper courtship, and married for love, fit together at unconscious levels of their personality, and thus have a great deal in common. Saving their marriage will ultimately require rebuilding a “loving trust” in each other. If too much damage has been done over time to that potential for loving trust, then the marriage may not survive. That is a choice that only each member of the couple can make, taking into consideration their age, children, estate implications, etc. The THERAPIST CANNOT MAKE THAT CHOICE and know that the two parties can “live” with the therapist’s decision.
Axiom #2: All significant “marital problems” are a function of the “BABY CORE” of the personality and “PROJECTIVE PROCESSES”. Any marital therapy that does not focus on these areas can only lead to a “superficial outcome”. Essentially that outcome will be analogous to individual therapy where a failure to address more deeply unconscious areas can only lead to behavioral changes, but not “structural” personality changes. In other words, if you don’t understand “why” you do something, you cannot reliably prevent its recurrence.
Axiom #3: THE THERAPIST SHOULD NEVER “TAKE SIDES”! Any therapist who does “take sides” has too shallow an understanding to see the complexities of the “projective processes” that are taking place unconsciously in both partners. He or she therefore does not understand that they both have “problematic”, and potentially destructive, “baby level elements” in common. It is never the case that one person is the “bad” person and the other is the “innocent” victim.
This is not to say that one partner’s “behavior” isn’t a bigger “problem” for both of them at a given point in time. However, ultimately they share some degree of mutual contribution to the current state of affairs. The problematic behavior of one partner should be addressed straightforwardly in relationship to its “problematic elements”, but the “perpetrator” needs to see that you recognize it “did not occur in a vacuum”. The other partner’s behavior, at a deeply unconscious level, is almost always analogous to “enabling” an alcoholic or addict.
Axiom #4: It is not a married individual’s “birthright” to be loved by their spouse, THEY MUST “EARN THEIR SPOUSE’S LOVE” EVERYDAY!
While it may not be immediately obvious, this is linked to the unconscious, implicit assumption that a mother “must love her baby”, even if the baby behaves abominably. The confusion here is between “love” and “provision”. Every baby has a “birthright” to be given adequate “provision” by its mother in the sense that she needs to take the best “tender, care of her baby” that is possible. But if the baby is too difficult to comfort, and rejects all of her attempts to be loving, then the baby will not be very “lovable”, even if the mother tries mightily to “love” it in spite of its behavior.
Most mothers really love their babies, and most babies respond in a manner that makes them easy to love. And obviously there are horrible circumstances in a mother’s or baby’s life where all of the normal rules do not apply. But under ordinary circumstances, both the baby and the mother each have a “responsibility” to be “lovable and loving”. While “nature” usually takes care of that in infancy, it is not a “birthright in marriage”.
MARRIAGE IN GENERAL
Overview of Motives for a Marriage:
1 – Most couples have compatible and roughly equivalent intelligence, appearance, conscious values, ethics, tastes, etc. These are usually benign elements and represent a sense that they can share a “common language” and “approach to life”. Many of these elements are “consciously” recognized and can be verbalized.
Typically, the “conscious” motives for marriage are positive, and are not usually a problem in a marriage. However, they are manifestations of deeply unconscious elements that they also have in common. Most individuals usually have little or no awareness that these deeply unconscious elements, that they share in common, even exist.
2 – The degree that the conscious values hint at “intolerance” of these deeply unconscious “baby states of mind” is the degree to which these values are a manifestation of “potentially problematic” unconscious issues.
These clues might hint at such things as (1) intolerance of dependence and/or separations, (2) a predisposition to intense jealousy or unconscious envy, (3) a preference for superficiality in relation to emotional contact or expression, (4) excessive anger or grievance or narcissism, (5) a predisposition to depression or crazy thinking, just to name a few possibilities.
3 – The unconscious motives that a couple have in common are almost always linked to “shared attitudes about relationships and life”. These “attitudes” are usually unconscious because they are primarily EMBEDDED IN “RELATIONSHIPS THAT WERE EXPERIENCED IN INFANCY” AND STORED AT THE LEVEL OF THE “AMYGDALA” AS AN “EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE” FELT TO HAVE OCURRED BETWEEN A “PART OF SELF” AND A “VERSION OF MOM OR DAD”. [I will expand on these “PRIMITIVE, PAIRED RELATIONSHIPS” in the next major section on “Overview of Unconscious Processes in Marriage”.]
If you can bring this to life for the couple, they will usually stay and grow.
– The “emotional state” embodied in that relationship becomes the basis for more generalized, even global, “unconscious attitudes about life and relationships”. “Later experiences in childhood” may mitigate some of the more negative reactions, but more commonly they seem to be “selectively used to reinforce the baby attitudes”.
– Every human’s personality has “only a few of these paired relationships” from very early in infancy and they will remain prominent and influential throughout their lives. In other words, the “good” paired relationships will be dominant during “happy, good times” and the “problematic” paired relationships will be prominent in times of difficulty and stress.
4 – These shared, deeply unconscious “attitudes” regarding life and relationships, that the couple share, will include such elements as:
– “Global attitudes” such as: “optimism” versus “pessimism”, “generosity” versus “stinginess”, “psychological mindedness” versus “contempt for emotional exploration”, “idealization” and or belief in “magic” versus “rational thinking”, etc.
– Attitudes regarding “separations and separateness”: the capacity to “tolerate separateness” and/or being alone, a tendency to be “self-sufficient and not need someone else, a predisposition to feeling “abandoned” or “rejected”, an expectation that they should be “twinned-up” and “fused”, etc.
– Attitudes about “anger and aggression”: a shared predisposition to “anger” or fear of anger, a tendency to hold on to “resentment, grievances or grudges”, “violence” in their unconscious internal relationships, etc.
– The degree to which “baby anxieties” (“paranoid” or “depressive”) are expected to be in all relationships.
– An unconscious predisposition to excessive “jealousy”, “envy”, and/or “guilt”, and “omnipotent” maneuvers to cope with them, including a reliance on “manic defenses” in response to “depressive anxieties”.
– A predisposition to valuing “things” as safer than “relying on people”, including an unconscious tendency to “self-sufficiency”, “anal omnipotence”, and “narcissistic personality organization”.
– The underlying wish to be an “unborn inside baby”, “not have to face reality”, feel you are “owed” being “taken care of”, etc.
In summary, any central “baby attitude” which humans are capable of having about life, is potentially capable of being shared unconsciously by a couple. Most people are only attracted to someone who has a similar quality of “fundamental attitudes about life” at both conscious and unconscious levels. The attitudes that the couple can consciously recognize are usually manifestations of underlying “BABY ATTITUDES”, stored in these primitive “PAIRED RELATIONSHIPS” created in infancy. But it is usually the deeply held attitudes that help them feel they speak the “same language” and “get each other”.
Unfortunately, the most important areas of this attraction, in terms of later marital difficulties, occur outside of conscious awareness, so it is not possible to see the areas that have a potential to be problems, unless one is sophisticated about the baby core of the personality and/or “intuits” the existence of such potential issues.
5 – It is of crucial importance to understand that any of these “attitudes” may be held by or linked to a “part of self” or felt to reside in a “version of mom or dad”. Thus, it is a “primitive, baby level relationship”, originally stored in the “amygdala”, that is being externalized and recreated.
Therefore, it may be a “part of self” experiencing a particular “mental state”, or a “version of mom or dad” having a “complementary mental state”, that is being externalized and recreated. In other words, at a given moment in time, a marital projection into one’s partner may be “either half” of a relationship stored from infancy. The projection may be of a “role” of the baby part of self, or the “role” of the version of mom or dad. I will discuss this in greater detail in the next major section on “unconscious processes in marriage”.
6 – The take home lesson from this is that THE DEGREE TO WHICH ANY OF THESE BABY ATTITUDES “PREDISPOSE” AN INDIVIDUAL PERSON TO “EXCESSIVE MENTAL PAIN” is the degree to which that “shared attitude” may or will become a “problem” later in the marriage. Conscious awareness of such issues aids in being constructive in the face of stress or conflict.
Overview of Happy versus Problematic Marriages:
1 – Judith Wallerstein’s book “The Good Marriage” made it clear that “happy marriages” are not free of “conflict”. It is possible to be happily married and still argue and fight. But the “arguing and fighting” is done in a manner that “DOES NOT INFLICT EXCESSIVE EMOTIONAL INJURY” and thus leave “lasting scars”.
In contrast, the potential for a marriage to ultimately be an “unhappy” marriage is predictable. There are certain types of “attitudes” that each party evidences in their behavior toward the other that foreshadow “long term marital difficulties”.
For example, it has been noted by many observers that one can predict the potential for future divorce by behaviors that manifest “CONTEMPT AND DISRESPECT”. One such common behavior is upward “eye rolling” on the part of one toward the other’s “thinking and/or behavior”. [The “projective processes” and possible “unconscious envy” of which these are manifestations will be discussed in more depth in following sections.]
2 – I find it useful to focus on the attitudes each party has about their own, and their partner’s, “baby states of mind”. If there is evidence that they strongly “dislike”, or worse yet hold in “contempt”, such states of mind in themselves, then they are at risk to have attitudes that manifest “hostility and contempt” for those states in their partner’s “thinking, feelings, and behavior”.
These “negative attitudes”, toward their own “baby states of mind’, are always in evidence in some fashion, no matter how subtle. They may not be a problem under ordinary circumstances. However, they are highly likely to be a serious problem in “times of stress”. Such stresses as “serious illness”, “a lost job”, “financial strain”, the “birth of a child”, etc. are capable of converting underlying negative reactions to “baby states of mind” into “overtly negative interactions” in the marital relationship.
3 – Taking a “baby history” of each partner, early in the marital therapy, can often give the therapist a broad understanding of how each partner is likely to have experienced and reacted to their own “infancy and early childhood”. In turn, this will usually foreshadow their responses to stresses in the marriage. [Note: While I will expand on this later in the section on “Initiating Marital Therapy”, there is an entire section at the beginning of “Module Four” of “Minnick’s Klein Academy” entitled “How to Take a Baby History and Understand Its Implications”.]
A few of the commonly seen reactions, that are manifestations of “baby attitudes” include:
– Intolerance of “separation”, for whatever reason, by one or both partners.
– “Turning away” from the partner based on a “jealous” reaction to the birth of a baby, often linked to childhood sibling rivalry.
– Intolerance by either person of the “increased dependency” that illness provokes.
– A seemingly paradoxically negative reaction to the success of the partner based on “unconscious envy”. The success unconsciously activates the “envious hatred experienced in childhood”, often related to “siblings”, as well as “mom”. This “unconscious envious reaction” may be abrupt and recent, or a chronic underlying state. The evidence for it is usually there all along, but has gone unrecognized. Once it becomes a problem, its actual nature is still likely to be unrecognized consciously.
– A need to project one’s own, or one’s parent’s, “craziness” into one’s spouse.
[Note: These deeply unconscious shared attitudes (i.e. regarding various baby states of mind) represent “overlapping circles“ of emotional issues. I have separated them artificially, but multiple combinations of these are commonly active in troubled marriages.]
4 – There are two common “manifestations” of such basic baby level attitudes that are regularly harmful to the stability of a marriage. The first is a broadly based tendency of feel that someone needs to be “BLAMED” for any or all undesirable events or states of mind. This attitude is likely to lead to the second issue, which is an inability to ever say “I AM SORRY” for such occurrences. Both the “blaming” and the “inability to be contrite” suggest that as an infant or small child, the partner could not bear feeling “GUILTY” or “responsible for damage” felt to have been done to someone else.
– It is always important to recognize that “blaming” and “intolerance of guilt” suggest that that individual was very “CRITICAL AND JUDGMENTAL” in early childhood.
5 – One particularly pernicious manifestation of such an unconscious baby issue is seen in projecting one’s own “depression” or “guilt” into one’s partner as a result of a negative event in life. The traumatic negative event could have led to increased “empathy and support”, if one can tolerate contact with such feelings and states of mind. But if one was “intolerant of feeling guilty”, or for “taking responsibility” for negative events in one’s early life, then there is a much greater likelihood that such states of mind will be “projected into one’s partner” and treated with “hostility and contempt”.
A not uncommon, and quite tragic example, can be seen when a “child dies” in the family (this can include miscarriages and/or deaths after birth). Instead of bringing the couple closer together, the inability to tolerate the “unconscious guilt” leads to the “projection of the guilt” into the partner, often in an “overtly blaming” manner. At times this projection is more subtle or indirect, and manifested as hostility and criticism of the other for other issues, superficially unrelated to the death and direct guilt, but the pernicious impact on the marriage is the same.
6 – In summary, if the partners are ever “mean to each other”, they are probably “recreating” and/or “projecting” baby level elements into each other. These “projections” and “recreations” are likely to be at the heart of marital difficulties and should be the “center piece” of marital therapy.
OVERVIEW OF UNCONSCIOUS PROCESSES IN MARRIAGE
Neuroscience and The Baby Core of the Personality:
1 – Before we go any further in talking about marriage, I find that it is of tremendous value to have a model of the “memory systems” of the brain, as they apply to infancy and early childhood. It turns out that “two brain structures” are essential to memory function in early childhood, the “amygdala” and the “hippocampus”, but they become “operative” at different periods in infancy. This timing differential has huge implications for understanding later personality functioning.
The difference in when they become operative explains why the “earliest unconsciously stored experiences and attitudes”, that will form the “basis for later unconscious phantasies”, are so difficult to access and comprehend using “consciousness”. In turn this will explain why the “transference” turns out to be so important in therapy and in marriage (as the “repetition compulsion” in both).
2 – Of these two memory systems, the “FIRST AND EARLIER MEMORY SYSTEM” seems to be, phylogenetically speaking, very old. It has as its primary or central brain structure, the “AMYGDALA”, which can be seen to exist in more primitive species including reptiles. This memory system is probably operative by at least the last trimester of life in the womb, and is the DOMINANT MEMORY STORAGE SYSTEM FOR APPROXIMATELY THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF LIFE.
3 – These “preverbal memories”, stored before language has developed, seem to be stored as “MEMORIES AS FEELINGS”. They have the crucial characteristic of being “re-creatable” or “re-livable” in the outside world (i.e. the basis for the “repetition compulsion”).
However, perhaps their most important characteristic is that they “CANNOT BE RECALLED THROUGH CONSCIOUS INTROSPECTION”. In effect, they are suitable for the recreation via the “repetition compulsion”, essentially via “unconscious projective processes”, but this “recreation via externalization through projection” takes place outside any “conscious awareness”.
Thus the “amygdala” is the primary source of what I prefer to call the “baby core” of the personality.
4 – The “SECOND MEMORY SYSTEM” has the “HIPPOCAMPUS” as its primary locus. This memory system is progressively more operative after two years of age. It increasingly links to other brain structures during early childhood, and the memories stored via this system are “potentially available to conscious recall”, a key distinction from memory linked to the “amygdala”. These memories will also be more linked to “verbal thought”, i.e. because the use of language comes increasingly online from the middle of the second year, in contrast to those memories from the amygdala recorded and stored as “feelings”.
It seems plausible, and even likely, that this later memory system (i.e. the “hippocampal system”) is linked to both “unconscious phantasies”, as they becomes more elaborated with time, and also “manic defenses” that are used to evade the pains of “baby level” feelings.
I would imagine that “dreaming” somehow is a manifestation of both areas of the brain, but it will take future research to elaborate these connections. The fact that dreaming is largely done in “pictures”, rather than “words” and “ideas”, suggests to me that it originally evolved in species with limited language communication. Pictures can easily allow “thinking about feelings”, and “communication of feelings”, without the use of language. Babies could thus “think” about their “feelings in pictures” long before they have words to do so.
5 – The distinction between these two memory systems has an additional implication regarding the “ADULT PART OF SELF” and the “BAD PART OF SELF”. If we adopt the assumption that the “baby core of the personality” is particularly linked to the “amygdala” and stored as “memories as feelings” embedded in “paired relationships” (between parts of self and versions of mother or father), then we may want to consider that the evolution of more “complicated and evolved attitudes” about these primitive relationships are connected to the development of the “HIPPOCAMPAL MEMORY SYSTEM”.
6 – The “ADULT PART OF SELF” and the “BAD PART OF SELF” can be observed clinically to be in “conflict” with each other in all personalities, literally by definition [see Minnick’s Klein Academy, Module Five, Part Six on The Bad Self].
The central theme of this conflict is over “WHICH PART WILL BE DOMINANT” in its influence over the “BABY PARTS OF SELF”. As childhood progresses from say ages three to ten, one can see a progressive elaboration of increasingly complex and sophisticated attitudes from these two parts of self that are in permanent opposition to each other.
This increase in “maturation of attitudes” manifests in the “MODELING AFTER THE GOOD ASPECTS OF THE PARENTS” AND “TURNING TO THE GOOD FAMILY” by the “ADULT PART OF SELF” or increasingly complex methods for “TURNING AWAY FROM THE GOOD PARENTS AND GOOD FAMILY, BOTH EXTERNALLY AND INTERNALLY, by the “BAD PART OF SELF”.
– It seems reasonable to me that one can make a very useful speculation that the “mental pain” embedded in the “baby core” states of mind at the level of the amygdala memory storage system. The speculation is that the response of the “external parents” to this pain in early and middle childhood, will favor whether it is the “adult self” or “bad self” that manages to make the most use of later brain development of more sophisticated brain functions.
To put it in different words, as the “hippocampal memory system” makes increasingly sophisticated connections to other parts of the brain, the “adult self” is more likely to develop a constructive identification with the good parents if the actual parents are available and successful in modulating the emotional pain stored at the level of the amygdala. That is to say, if they are “good enough as parents”, then the “baby parts of self” will turn to them, and the “adult part of self” can develop a capacity to model itself after their behavior.
– In contrast, it the “external parents” are not experienced as “good enough”, for whatever combination of external and internal reasons, then the “bad part of self” has more opportunity to move into the “dominant role” during times of “increased mental pain”.
– The role of the marital therapist (or individual therapist) is to “grow” the “adult capacities” of the “couple” (or the individual patient).
7 – If we now return to the more general implications that neuroscience brings to us, one consequence of these two different memory systems is that it is very unusual for anyone to remember anything before the age of two years, and any memories from the next two or three years of childhood are usually few and far between.
Take as an example of this distinction, that a baby is born with the “umbilical cord wrapped around its neck”. When it grows up it may have, as I have seen, a lifelong aversion to having anything tightly around the neck. The person often has absolutely no awareness of the connection to their birth, or recall of the event.
Similarly, a baby “born past its due date” can experience a “placenta that is failing” to supply adequate nutrition. Such babies are often born looking like a “long, thin, wrinkled old person”. That individual may grow up to be very oriented toward, or preoccupied with, always “having enough food” without any awareness of the link to a “memory stored as a feeling” that one is “starving to death”.
8 – In summary, it is common for a “good marriage” to have more loving and constructive ways of manifesting and coping with the more deeply unconscious “baby states of mind” in each other. That is often because they have some powerfully good internal relationships between self and object stored at a baby level in their personality and they are accentuating those “good” aspects.
– In contrast, the most deeply unconscious attitudes, i.e. stored at the level of the amygdala and “unavailable” to conscious awareness and introspection, are more problematic for the unhappy couple because of what is contained in those primitive relationships, and their attitudes toward such states of mind in themselves and their spouse. THE INTOLERANCE, OR EVEN HATRED, OF SUCH STATES OF MIND, LEADS TO MORE PROJECTION OF SUCH STATES OF MIND, ACCOMPANIED BY MORE UNACCEPTING AND CRUEL BEHAVIOR TOWARD THE MANIFESTATION OF THOSE STATES OF MIND IN THEIR SPOUSE. This can destroy a marriage.
A Working Model of the Unconscious Inner World:
1 – In order to understand how or what emotional quality of an “unconscious internal relationship” is unconsciously being recreated in a marriage, it is extremely useful to have a working model of the nature of relationships experienced and stored in the first weeks, months, and years of life, probably only at the level of the amygdala, as just outlined in the previous section.
As a backdrop to this model, I find it useful to assume that we humans are “phylogenetically predisposed” to expect the existence of a “mother figure” and a “father figure” when we are born. [= Bion’s preconceptions]
2 – This phylogenetic model suggests that those “memories as feelings”, stored in the amygdala, can be conceptualized as occurring in the context of a relationship between a “part of self” and a “version of mom or dad”. In Kleinian terminology, an “unconscious phantasy” is that which is imagined to be happening between the “part of self” and “version of mom or dad”. In essence, this “memory as a feeling” linked to a “paired relationship”, occurring between “a part of self” and a “version of mom or dad”, creates or provides the “meaning” that is attributed to that “memory” stored as “feeling” that is the link between the self and object.
Put in other words, an “unconscious phantasy” is the “explanation” given for the “feelings” embedded in the experiences stored at the level of the amygdala. The “phantasy” can be framed as an “imagined idea” as to “who is doing what to whom” and “why they are doing it”.
3 – Take as an example, a baby who is given up for “adoption at birth”, and taken home directly from the hospital by the adoptive parents, without having any contact with the birth mother. Research has shown that a newborn baby can demonstrate within hours that it can distinguish its own mother’s voice from that of another woman. This suggests, and all of my experience with children and adults who were adopted seems to support this idea, that an adopted child knows that “something is different” and the person that it is now with do not include “the person it lived inside” before birth.
So how can we think about and explain this discrepancy? Even if no one ever mentions the adoption, there will be abundant evidence that the awareness of the loss of the biological mother has been stored at the level of the amygdala, and is being “recreated” and “worked on unconsciously” in the child’s “behavior and emotional states”.
It will become clear to the sophisticated observer that during an infants’ early months and years of development, that it has slowly generated “unconscious attitudes and phantasies” about itself and its place in the world. Broadly speaking, these will include such issues as “am I wanted and/or lovable” or “am I bad and/or being rejected”.
– If the adoptive parents, out of naivety or anxiety, cannot bear to explore the child’s behavioral hints at these issues, then the child is left with these “feelings stored at the level of the amygdala”, which can be “relived”, but cannot be thought about and understood. The child is thus potentially left in a state of “uncertainty or confusion”, and often doomed to increase its “acting out” of these issues after puberty, as the hormonal surge makes all emotional states more intense and a call to action.
– In contrast, if the parent’s make themselves available to the recognition of the recreation of adoption issues in the small child’s behavior and questions, then the child has the potential to convert the “emotional states”, stored at the level of the amygdala, into ones that can be processed and stored at higher levels of brain memory and function. Thus, their “unconscious phantasies” can be modified in a manner that is analogous to the recognition and modification of unconscious phantasies that takes place in psychoanalytically oriented therapies.
4 – So far, this model of the unconscious inner world is emphasizing how a marital couple share “primitive, paired relationships” stored at the level of the “amygdala”. But it is not taking into account the evolution of the personality after the age of two, when the “hippocampus” has taken over as the “dominant memory system” for later development.
To have a more complete model of the personality, we have to add two new characters to the “unconscious internal world”, the “ADULT PART OF SELF” and the “BAD, DESTRUCTIVE PART OF SELF”. This now brings the internal figures making up the personality to essentially four categories. At the level of the “amygdala” we have (1) “baby parts of self” and (2) “versions of mom and dad”. But at the level of the “hippocampus” we have now added the (3) “adult part of self and (4) a “bad self” that I like to characterize, by adding all of its main attributes, as the “ENVIOUS, OMNIPOTENT, KNOW-IT-ALL, DESTRUCTIVE, SELF SUFFICIENT PART OF SELF”.
5 – Perhaps the most important implication of the addition of a “bad part of self” to this model of the unconscious inner world is that it allows us to look at the degree to which either or both partners in a marriage originally “TURNED AWAY” from their good parents and family.
This is, in essence, asking to what degree does either partner have a “narcissistic personality organization” (as described by English psychoanalysts Herbert Rosenfeld and Donald Meltzer), in which the “baby parts of the personality”, that are in excessive mental pain at a given moment, then “turn away” from loved figures, internally and externally, to allow themselves to be dominated by the thinking of the “bad part of self”.
– The implications for a married couple are huge, if either or both partners have a predisposition to create a “narcissistic personality organization” during time of emotional stress and pain. This is often at the heart of seriously problematic issues as “infidelity” and “substance abuse” in a marriage.
Some Typical Examples of Deeply Unconscious “Paired Relationships”:
[Note: The examples that follow represent overlapping circles of emotional states, and the list is meant to give more of a “flavor” of the types of “pairing” that one encounters in marital therapy. It is not an exhaustive or complete list, and it is possible for multiple issues to operative during a marriage.]
(1) – A “lovable” good baby part of self, paired with a “loving, available, attentive good mother”.
Note: This is the desirable configuration. If both partners in a marriage have this solidly established in infancy, they are unlikely to be in your office for marital therapy unless something catastrophic has occurred, like cancer, the death of a child, etc. This internal configuration corresponds to Klein’s concept of the “establishment of a good breast internally” as the foundation emotional health and stability.
(2) – A “loved and valued” good baby part of self, paired with a “loving, doting father” who is making up for a “bad unavailable mother” (often felt to be excessively involved with another, often younger, sibling).
Note: The unavailable mother is not necessarily actually a “bad mother”, but her attention to the siblings or whatever, and the jealous resentment it engenders, makes her seem “bad”. Although the average mother tries to take care of all siblings, some mothers are capable of being unfairly and excessively involved with one particular child, often “projecting a part of herself” into that child, and then being excessively connected to or preoccupied with, in effect, a “part of herself”. The spouse could therefore be given any of three roles in this situation: the “jealous baby”, the “bad mom”, or the “ideal dad”.
(3) – A “helpless, needy” baby part of self, felt to be entitled to be an “UNBORN, INSIDE BABY”, as compensation for not being adequately cared for, because the “bad mother”, with which it is paired, is unavailable, neglecting, defective, damaged, crazy, etc.
Note: This commonly manifests as one spouse who is excessively “doting and babying” of the other, sometimes even infantilizing. They genuinely care for each other, but the “parenting” of the one partner, and the “helplessness” of the other in certain areas, is usually dramatically excessive. This configuration may manifest in the wife who does not drive, the husband who cannot boil water or pick out clothes to wear each morning, etc. They usually speak to each other in ways that suggest one is a “baby”, a “princess, queen, or king”, or they use diminutive words of endearment with each other that would be appropriate to a relationship to a baby. The potential tragedy occurs when the “adult” partner dies in later life, leaving the other helpless to cope with life.
(4) – A “hurt, rejected or abandoned” good baby part of self, paired with a “bad mother” who is felt to be unavailable, rejecting, cold, uncaring, mean, crazy, etc. There are a million permutations to this configuration.
Note: This is the most common configuration. It can be the result of a multitude of “real” or “imagined” states of mind attributed to the mother. The mother might in fact be “good enough” (in English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s sense of the “ordinary devoted mother” who is “good enough”), but it may be that the life circumstance is a problem. This is often the case with adoption, or mothers who have to “go back to work full time” when the child is just a handful of weeks or months old.
– Perhaps the most common circumstance, making a “good enough” mother seem “bad”, is the result of the “birth of a sibling”, too close in age (e.g. less than two years apart) to the older one (who would be the patient in this example). This spacing will commonly make even a “devoted, competent mother” seem “rejecting and bad” to the “older child’ who is now displaced by the new baby. Likewise, “too many siblings” (most “good parents” are “spread too thin” with more than three kids), will also make the average child feel neglected and deprived by mother.
– It is also possible to feel neglected or abandoned by mothers who are “in fact” unavailable, excessively neglecting or overtly rejecting, crazy, etc. This is often the result of mother’s who are excessively immature, unsupported, narcissistic, or more seriously emotionally disturbed.
(5) – An “angry, hurt, bad part of self” that “TURNS AWAY” from a “bad, mean, violent, neglecting or rejecting, mother or father”.
[Note: Amazingly, while such a connection will be obvious to the marital therapist, I never cease to be surprised by how common it is to idealize parents, blame oneself (i.e. to retain hope of a fix), and not see the disturbance or cruelty in the parent.]
The recreation of this kind of pairing, in the marital relationship, is often taken for granted as “just how life is”, i.e. people fight all the time, and are mean to each other. It is a shock to such couples to be told that they are NOT ALLOWED TO “EVER SAY ANYTHING MEAN OR HURTFUL” TO THE OTHER. They treat an admonition to never be “sarcastic”, even in a “joking” fashion, as tantamount to saying that “humor and breathing” are not allowed in their marriage.
(6) – A “frightened, traumatized, anxious” good baby self, paired with a “crazy, unpredictable, emotionally or physically violent” mother or father.
In marriages where one or both partners had such traumatic backgrounds, it is not uncommon for both to recognize the “trauma” in their backgrounds, and consciously attempt to “make up for it” with what Judith Wallerstein characterizes (i.e.in her previously mentioned book, The Good Marriage) as a “rescue marriage”. It is usually some external strain on the marriage, often related to children, that overloads such a situation and leads to a recreation of the old difficulties left from infancy and childhood.
(7) – A “guilt ridden, depressed” good baby part of self, paired with an “anxious, damaged, ill, inadequate, depressed, etc.” mother (or occasionally father).
This often leads to marital situations in which both partners are consciously trying to be loving, supportive, and good, but cumulative stresses externally, slowly lead to turning to “SELF-SUFFICIENCY”. That eventuates in an inadequate nurturing of each other’s “baby level needs” and the inexorable “DRIFTING APART” recreates the loss and isolation of infancy.
(8) – In summary, it should be noted that the “EARLIER IN INFANCY” these pairings were prominent in the experience of the patient as a baby, THE MORE LIKELY IT IS THAT THEY WILL BE RECREATED IN THE MARRIAGE IN A MANNER THAT IS “COMPLETELY OUTSIDE CONSCIOUS AWARENESS. This places a greater burden on the therapist to educate the couple about “the baby core of personality” and “projective processes”.
Although patients have some inkling of these early experiences, it is still common for them to have to go back to their parents or siblings for confirmation of the therapist’s suspicions regarding the early experiences.
(9) – While the variations on these above themes are almost limitless, their “hallmark” is always “an emotional reaction that is excessively intense, inflexible, or irrational” in relation to the situation at hand. “EXCESSIVE EMOTIONS” and/or inappropriately “INADEQUATE EMOTIONAL RESPONSES” are the “HALLMARK” of something emanating from the “baby core of the personality”!
Overview of “Projective Processes”:
1 – “PROJECTIVE PROCESSES”, as prefer to call them, even though they are the same as the confusing term “projective identification”, are fascinatingly both “ubiquitous” in daily mental functioning and yet operate for the most part “completely outside conscious awareness”. Along with the vicissitudes of “UNCONSCIOUS ENVY”, the two remain arguably THE MOST IMPORTANT PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES THAT ARE THE FURTHEST AWAY FROM CONSCIOUS AWARENESS.
2 – “Projective processes” in general are a product of “infantile mental functions”, and are concretely linked to the “mind and body” not being distinguished/differentiated, one from the other, in earliest infancy. Thus “taking in” and “expelling out” air, liquids and solids, expelling noxious stimuli by “spitting up, sneezing, peeing, pooping, crying, etc.” are all part of the “concrete experience” of being able to “take into oneself”, or “put outside oneself”, virtually anything.
3 – To understand projective processes as they operate in human relationships, one can most easily grasp their significance by treating them as if one were dealing with an “algebraic equation”. The equation would be that:
CONTENT OF THE PROJECTION + MOTIVE FOR IT = CONSEQUENCE OF THE PROJECTION
If any two of the elements are known, it is possible to predict the third element with reasonable reliability.
– The “content” of a projection can be anything that is “imagined” to be inside oneself, both physical and mental. Thus any and all “emotional states” and perceived “physical states” can be in “unconscious phantasy” imagined to be “expelled outside the self” (and body) for any number of motives.
4 – The most common “motives” for projections fall into the categories of:
– (1) To “get rid” of something felt to be “painful”, “bad”, “noxious”, or “undesirable”.
This is perhaps the most common motive that one would imagine being linked to projective processes. Its most common consequence is that it turns the “container” of the projection into a hostile figure who wishes to retaliate. In other words, this form of projection generates or results in “paranoid, persecutory anxieties”.
– (2) “Getting inside” someone else for a number of unconscious reasons including evading “separateness”, “taking possession and control” of the other, and “getting to know them” (usually done in a more temporary and reversible manner).
A key point here is that this is one type of projection where the “sense of identity” of the projector goes with the “projected element” so that the projector now feels themselves to be “inside” the “container” into which the projection was made. The result is often some sense of “claustrophobia” due to the “unconscious phantasy” of now being “inside” the other person.
These “motives” tend to be much more deeply unconscious, and are therefore typically only recognized by people trained in Kleinian models of mental functioning. But in actual practice, almost every therapist has at least one patient who operates as an “unborn, inside baby” a significant amount of time. More narcissistic and controlling patients also use this for “control”, but typically in a more hostile manner.
In contrast, the motive of “putting oneself in another’s shoes”, for the sake of “empathy”, is a more constructive use of projective processes, and ordinarily thought of as more “reversible and temporary”.
– (3) The projection of an “unwanted baby part of self”, with the intent to “spoil” the object into whom the projection is aimed, almost always as a consequence of “unconscious envy”, although it may also be motivated by jealousy, retaliation, etc.
This is much more in the realm of serious “destructiveness”, and such projections in a marital relationship are usually “malignant” and not compatible with an ongoing marriage.
– (4)Occasionally, and these situations are usually fairly unique, the motive for the projection is to “protect something that is felt to be valuable” from being “damaged” if kept inside oneself.
– (5) “Communication” is arguably the most constructive motive. It can be thought of as a “primitive song and dance” aspect of conveying an experience to another.
Patients regularly use this method to convey very primitive experiences, stored deeply unconsciously, that they can “recreate and relive” but cannot put into words. To a considerable extent this is the domain of the therapist using his or her “counter-transference” to picture what the patient is trying to convey.
“Borderline” patients use this mode of communication constantly. This is partly because of their intolerance of their own baby states of mind, and partly because their internal primitive versions of mom or dad are not felt to be willing to “hear or take in” the communications unless it is forcefully “drilled into them”. The recreation of such relationships is frustrating for them, and not much fun for the therapist.
5 – One key and important concept, regarding projective processes, is that no matter the “motive” for the projection, it is possible to turn any and all projections into “communications” by fully understanding the nature, motive and expected consequences of the projection at hand at the moment.
I am suggesting that this is the primary thing I am doing, both in marital therapy and in individual therapy, where projective processes are in operation. The key difference is that the projections are primarily are “into each other” in marital therapy, rather than “into me”, as would be the case in individual therapy.
6 – The “consequences” of projections, as implied by the above examples, simply follow logically from the “content” and “motive”. If the “content” is something one would not want, and the “motive” is hostile, then the consequence follows logically from these elements.
One would therefore imagine that the recipient (of this unwanted, “bad” element that is projected with hostility), i.e. the “container”, will not be happy about the projection, and the “consequence” will be a wish to retaliate in some manner, thus engendering “paranoid anxieties” in the projector.
This is commonly seen these days in “short form” media like Twitter, where the ease with which an essentially anonymous attack can be mounted on someone else leads to all manner of hostile and envy driven projections.
In a similar manner, Facebook has now become the playground for continuous unconscious projective activities.
One can “get inside” someone’s Facebook page, by getting “friended”, so that one can unconsciously avoid separateness. Alternately one can “project envy” into others by showing off one’s body or activities or possessions, etc. One can even “communicate”, although this seems like it may be overridden by the “race to the bottom” as I recently heard one person describe social media these days.
7 – When we look at the motives for marital projections we find an additional element involved that alters the landscape of “projective processes” a bit. The five broad classes of “motives” I described for “projective processes” were largely taking into account “acute, momentary states of mind and situations”, analogous to the distress an infant feels when it cries, or joy it might feel when it is happy and “gives” mom a big smile.
– When it comes to “projective processes” in a marital context, one needs to take into account that the two parties are planning a “lifelong relationship” and that leads to an entirely different class of “unconscious mental activity” that I think of as “LONG TERM, STABLE, UNCONSCIOUS PROJECTIONS”.
These are rather different than the “acute, usually brief, projective processes” in that they are part of the “marital selection process”. However, they do still fit into the algebraic equation aspect of projective processes. I will outline these “long term, stable projections” in more detail in the next section.
[Note; See Minnick’s Klein Academy, Module Two, Part Two on “Projective Processes” for a more in depth discussion of projective processes .]
Motives for Marital Projections including “Long Term Stable Projections” and “Short Term Destabilizing” Projections:
1 – I find it helpful to distinguish ongoing “stable projections”, which were originally part of the “marital selection process”, from “acute, destabilizing projections” that are a function of “mental pain” at an unconscious “baby level”.
2 – The “long term, stable projections” are unconsciously negotiated during the courtship and represent a partitioning of those elements that one has in common with one’s partner’s unconscious inner world. It is as if the two parties unconsciously had a “stockholders meeting” and asked who wants to “contain” (i.e. possess and live out) the various halves of the “internal, paired relationships” between “parts of self” and “versions of mom or dad”.
– One might say I’ll be the “good dad who saves the baby you from the evil witch mommy”. The other partner says “okay I’ll be the appreciative adoring baby who makes you feel needed and grown up”. This would be a completely unconscious agreement that is supposed to be positive, and make up for childhood unhappiness.
– It is equally possible for it to be more “negative” in tone. One might say “I hate being angry (or envious, crazy, sad, guilty, depressed, etc.) so why don’t you take the role of being angry, and I will be the patient, listening good partner who supports you in your distress or frustration, or I’ll just plain put up with you”.
3 – The key idea is that the couple have “divvied up” the two halves of an unconscious internal relationship, each having very similar ones, so that the role of “part of self” or “version of mom or dad” is both “familiar”, and in “need of managing”. This latter need is a function of the reality that, since one’s unconscious inner world is made up of only a few of these paired relationships, they are the “only game in town”.
4 – The above contrasts with the “motives” for “acute, destabilizing projections” which tend be in response to the “external realities” at hand at the moment. There are two trends worth noting. One is linked to undesirable events external to the marriage that stir up unwanted baby feelings that end up projected into the spouse. This is really garden variety projection 101 and usually not too difficult to discern even though its consequences may be severe.
– The other trend is more a product of a slow but inexorable change in the original unconscious agreement that was made as part of the marital selection process. This tends to be of two types, the first is “regression to the mean”, and the second is “healthy growth and maturation” that makes or labels the original unconscious agreement “anachronistic and out of date”.
5 – By “regression to the mean” I mean to imply that the couple end up slowly but inexorably recreating the “noxious” side of their “paired internal unconscious relationships” left over from childhood. Rather than making up for them, or better yet fixing them, which is difficult when they are so deeply unconscious, the stresses of life and their natural predisposition to use “tried and true defensive maneuvers”, slowly takes them back to reliving the worst aspects from their unconscious inner worlds
– This return is predictably linked to two factors, (1) the “amount of pain” in those paired relationships, and (2) the “psychological mindedness” of the couple. In other words, the “greater the pain”, and the “fewer the tools” to cope with it constructively, the greater the likelihood is that the “problematic aspects” of those internal relationships will ultimately succeed in being recreated. That will in turn destabilize and undermine the positive aspects of the marriage.
– In contrast, “healthy growth” and “maturation” on the part of one or both partners may render the “original fit” no longer as functional or satisfying. One partner may be growing more than the other, or both may be growing, but in directions that are taking them increasingly apart and in different directions.
In the first situation, if one is growing constructively, and no longer wishes to preserve the original role that was “working when younger”, then the marriage is in a crisis that commonly requires the therapy to aid the “trailing partner” in recognizing the need for change.
Where the two have grown in different directions, they will have to seriously explore what they want from the rest of their lives. Obviously length of marriage, how much they like each other, the impact on children, etc. will greatly influence the outcome. The goal of the marital therapy is such situations is to provide a venue in which they can explore each other’s needs and feelings in depth such that they can decide If they want to stay married.
Oedipal Distortions and What Your Marriage Will Mirror:
1 – There are three “sayings” that encapsulate much of what needs to be said here.
– The first is from the English Kleinian psychoanalyst Roger Money-Kyrle, and I paraphrase, “Children put their parents together in every possible way except the right one”.
The “right way” would be that mother and father “love each other”, share a physical intimacy from which the child is “excluded” (that includes sexual intercourse), and that they “need each other” and can provide for each other things which the child could not.
– The second saying is “You are what you eat”. The implication here is that what you “do in unconscious phantasy to your parents”, and their relationship, will inevitably become what you “introject” back into yourself. Thus it will become the “template” for what you expect to occur in any and all relationships.
– The third saying, which is really an extension of the second, is “Water cannot rise above its source”.
This encompasses unconscious introjective processes, alluded to in the second saying, and importantly adds the problem of “unconscious envy”. One of the difficulties for a child is that in “splitting the parents apart” and/or “denigrating their relationship”, the child is often motivated unconsciously by multiple emotional states that include “jealousy”, “denial” of the parents’ “love for” and “need of” each other (especially including the physical/sexual expression of that love), and very often an “unconscious envious spoiling” of the relationship.
2 – The consequence later in life is that if one is to have a “happy marriage”, when one did not allow the parents to have a happy marriage, one is then in effect “triumphing” over the parents, which is a hostile act. The external parents, and more importantly, their “internalized representations”, will be “imagined” to be hostile toward the achievement of a “happy marriage” by their child.
3 – When we put all of these ideas together, it is often possible to find explanations for why a couple is having difficulty. By exploring the view that each holds “consciously”, and by extension and speculation, what their “unconscious views” of their parents’ relationship were, we can see recreations of those distortions being used as “templates” and “limiting factors” in their current relationship.
4 – English Kleinian psychoanalyst Ron Britton has a name for all of the “unconscious defensive maneuvers” that Roger Money-Kyrle depicts with the idea of parents “put together” in all manner of incorrect ways. Britton calls these conscious and unconscious phantasies , “oedipal illusions”.
5 – The take home lesson is that all of these “erroneous ways of viewing the parents’ relationship” will be recreated in a marriage. The impact of these erroneous ideas about relationships will probably be in direct proportion to their degree of “distortion”, and the amount of “mental pain” that is being “defended against” by these distortions.
– I often have the impression that the area of the marriage that suffers the most from these “oedipal illusions” is the possibility of having a “robust, fully satisfying sexual relationship”. Pretty hard to achieve when you would have, as a child, sworn on a stack of bibles a mile high, that your parents only had sexual intercourse a number of times equal to the number of children in the family.
Predictive Elements for Marriage Lasting:
1 – On the negative side of the spectrum, the “tolerance of mental pain”, and particularly the tolerance of “guilt”, is perhaps the most crucial variable. This variable, when combined with the issue of either partner’s “willingness to be cruel”, will to a considerable extent foreshadow the degree of “hope for repair” of the marriage.
– When you think about Klein’s core concept of the “depressive position”, which entails the development in infancy of a “capacity to be concerned about another person’s welfare” in addition to one’s own needs, then these two above mentioned variables are in effect a short cut to evaluating the operation of the “depressive position capacities in a marriage”.
– Where “intolerance of mental pain” is prominent, and “cruel behavior” is regularly in evidence, unmodified by a capacity to feel “guilty” for that behavior, then the prognosis for saving the marriage is likely to be poor.
At a “baby level” in both parties, “trust” will be severely impaired, and the effort it would take to unravel the “characterological patterns” that have made for the “intolerance of mental pain”, “lack of empathy” for the other, and “willingness to behave cruelly” (no matter how “denied” or “rationalized”) would all require too much analysis and time to be effective before a divorce has been mounted and completed.
2 – On the positive side of the equation, whether they ever “loved” each other is probably the key variable. I always ask if they “still love each other”, and if so, what things do they “love about the other”. I am particularly looking for characteristics or variables that suggest a degree of “mutual respect” and even “admiration” for each other. These are particularly important because they indicate that at a “baby level” in each partner’s personality, they feel “valued” by the other.
3 – By contrast, the “MOST PERNICIOUS”, and often unavailable to conscious awareness, would be intense “UNCONSCIOUS ENVIOUS HATRED” on the part of one or both, for the other. In my experience, this is the most commonly active variable when I have been unable to help a couple save their marriage. It is almost always an element in the marital life of any couple who are regularly “cruel” to each other, in word or deed.
4 – In assessing the possibility for success in marital therapy, the length of “unhappiness” in the marriage on the part of one or both partners is often an issue. It is possible to have a marriage whose difficulties are readily understandable, but have gone on for so long, that one or both partners feel “burned out” on the relationship. Unless they have some external reason to put out the extra effort, these situations don’t seem to have the “will to keep the marriage alive”. In such circumstances, I have shifted the focus to achieving an “amicable divorce”. My goal is to head off those variables that could deteriorate into an acrimonious situation that only aids the bank accounts of the attorneys involved.
5 – Finally, I would like to address a tricky and often confusing issue. It involves a situation in which there is a seemingly significant discrepancy in (1) “degree of disturbance” and/or discrepancy in (2) “willingness to face” the disturbance, on the part of one partner when compared to the other.
If you remember, in Axiom #1 I said that people have compatible inner worlds, and that typically suggests that they have roughly comparable degrees of emotional difficulty within the “handful of paired relationships” that comprise their internal, unconscious inner worlds, at the level of the amygdala.
But I did not say whether the disturbance and difficulty was more residing in the “parts of self”, or the “versions of mom or dad”, that comprise these primitive relationships that are connected by “memories as feelings”. In real life situations, IT IS POSSIBLE FOR A “PART OF SELF” TO BE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS DISTURBED THAN THE “VERSION OF MOM OR DAD” WITH WHOM IT IS PAIRED.
The theoretical implication is that one can recreate one of these paired relationships, with one’s partner or spouse, and not have equal degrees of disturbance, or rigidity to change. Most commonly both partners can change and have a comparable willingness to do so, but not always.
INITIATING MARITAL THERAPY
An Aside on Therapists and Technique:
1 – I make the assumption that all therapists have different personalities that evoke different responses from their patients. However, that being said, the unconscious inner world of a given patient remains the “invariant”, and it will find a way to express or manifest itself with any therapist if allowed.
The punch line is that each therapist/couple dyad will have a unique experience together, not exactly resembling what would be recreated with a different therapist.
2 – With the above idea in mind, I do not want to suggest that “how you do marital therapy” would look exactly like “how I would do marital therapy”. But the “unconscious inner worlds” of the couple, and what they are doing with and to each other would be the same in both, at least initially. Therefore, it is my assumption that the therapist who is armed with “sufficient models” for understanding the couple at a deeply unconscious level of interaction, will be able to aid the couple, using the style that fits their personality.
3 – The really key, hard part is recognizing and understanding the “early, paired, unconscious relationships” that are being externalized and recreated in the marital relationship. Highlighting the unconscious bargain they made unconsciously during the courtship phase of their relationship, to divvy up parts or emotional aspects of these pairings makes it possible for them to see how they “co-created”, no matter how skewed the final “Ouija Board” result, the twists and turns their marriage has taken.
Initial Contact and Key Questions:
1 – It is axiomatic that to have a HEALTHY MARRIAGE THAT ENDURES, IT TAKES THREE THINGS: (1) “LOVE”, (2) “COMPATIBILITY”, AND (3) “COMMITMENT”. “Love” is easy, “commitment” requires maturity.
2 – When I first meet a couple, I do any “unstructured interview” in which I hope to get an honest sense of what they are dealing with, how they feel about themselves and each other, and at the same time give them a sense of “how I think” and what I might have to offer them.
I am always looking for how much “emotional pain” they are in currently, and therefore how desperate the situation is from the standpoint of needing immediate help. While the interview is unstructured, I always want to end up with as much information as possible from the first meeting. I find it is desirable to have at least “an hour for the initial meeting”, but I have, when it was at the end of the day, often gone longer, even as much as two hours.
3 – I have a series of key variables in mind when I first meet a couple and wish to quickly assess what I am getting into.
– How psychologically minded are the two individuals and how potentially disturbed is each one?
– Did they ever love each other with a proper adult quality?
– Do they still love each other?
– How destructive have they been during their marriage? Has there been violence or infidelity (past or ongoing)?
– Do they have children?
– What is the history of their intimacy and “sex life”?
4 – The answers to these questions will give me a quick sense of how “solid” the marriage was in the beginning, whether it has eroded for external reasons (as contrasted with more serious unconscious “characterological” reasons), and what do I have on the positive side of ledger to now use, to hold them together, while we see if we can rebuild a relationship.
The most important “positive elements” include: (1) do they still somewhere inside themselves “retain some love for each other”, (2) do they have a shared interest in their children and a “wish to not hurt them”, and (3) do they have a capacity for “psychological mindedness” (or a sincere willingness to develop it).
5 – The most “negative elements” in a marriage invariably involve “emotional cruelty” and/or an “incapacity for commitment”. The “emotional cruelty” may be direct in the form of “verbal negativity”, but it is often in the form of “infidelity”. In my clientele I rarely see “physical cruelty” but that would of course be a gigantic problem if it was a part of a marital relationship.
When infidelity is a part of the picture, it is often an expression of “characterological difficulties with commitment”. In turn, any evidence of infidelity needs to be “evaluated in the context of the whole marriage”. “Serial infidelity”, particularly where love is not involved, is a “really poor sign” in a prognostic sense, as it is usually a manifestation of fairly “serious infantile characterological difficulties” that are beyond the scope of marital therapy.
By contrast, an affair that has “love” and “guilt” connected to it, in a marriage that has drifted seriously apart, may not be an expression of a serious underlying emotional difficulty. It may be more of a human “cry for help”, an expression of “human neediness”, and while it poses a serious challenge to the marriage, it may not be the end of it if there are substantial good elements in the relationship, and a desire to try to save the marriage on the part of both partners.
6 – A note about “ongoing infidelity”: It is not possible to do marital therapy, in a proper sense, as long as an emotional and/or sexual relationship with someone else is being preserved. The marital therapy must focus on the harm that it doing to the possibility of “trust and safety”, at a baby level, in the marital relationship. I have never been able to work on the marriage until the outside relationship has been ended, so the marital therapy sessions are always focused on the impact the outside relationship is having on the marriage. A failure to give it up will almost always lead to a divorce.
Taking a Baby History to Correlate with Current and Long Term Difficulties (May Have to Ask Mom):
1 – I cannot do any form of therapy, marital or individual, without having some sense of what occurred in the patient’s “early childhood”, and is now being recreated in the marriage or transference. While I am adept at “surmising” what happened in infancy, I need to get a history of infancy to demonstrate that what they are “now doing” does seem to “correlate strongly” with how they may have “experienced their relationships to their mother or father in infancy”.
2 – Toward this goal, and it often takes them asking their mother or father about their infancy, I want to explore:
– What were their childhoods like?
– How many siblings did they have, with exact spacing to the month, and in what sequence?
– Did mom ever have a miscarriage?
– Do they know anything about their own birth, were they born full term or born prematurely (and if so how much), how soon did mom and/or baby come home from hospital, etc.?
– Were they breast fed, or even was it even attempted, and for how long?
– Did they have colic?
[Note: This is a shorthand list of some key elements. Please see “Minnick’s Klein Academy”, Module Four, Item One” for a detailed lecture on “How To Take a Baby History and Understand Its Implications”. ]
Preserving Hope, Creating Conviction, Reducing Paranoid Anxieties:
1 – In theory, all marriages that occurred after a proper courtship, and were based on loving each other, can be saved. Patients need to recognize that they have “co-created” problems that are understandable and changeable.
2 – Couples need to see that their most problematic difficulties are a product and function of the “baby cores” of their personalities, and recreating those relationships with each other. They need to feel that I can both “tolerate their difficulties” and “make sense of them” in a useful manner.
3 – They need to see that this “CO-CREATION” means that there is no “good guy/victim” and “bad guy/perpetrator”. Hence, there are “no sides” for the therapist to take.
4 – The recognition of these ideas lays a foundation from which the two parties can begin to explore the issues that have created the difficulties within which they now find themselves immersed. It is of crucial importance that they feel the therapist “will not take sides” with one to “gang up” on the other. This is especially important where “paranoid anxieties”, “blaming”, and “guilt” are prominent in the marriage.
Providing a Preliminary Introduction to the Unconscious Inner World:
1 – In every session, as a couple talk about their problems, I try to help them see that they both have “unconscious inner worlds” where a “baby core” of “paired relationships” is being externalized and recreated in their marriage. In the very beginning of treatment this is done in a more educational and didactic manner, using examples that seem “palatable” to that unique couple.
As therapy continues, the idea of an “unconscious inner world” with a small handful of “paired couples” (i.e. a part of self with a version of mom or dad) that are the “only game in town” and are thus recreated in the marital relationship, comes to be “taken as a given”, and is only highlighted from the examples of interaction in the session.
2 – By definition, all “fights” (as opposed to “conflicts/disagreements”) involve the “baby cores” of both partners. Even if the conflict seems to be about something “external” to the marital relationship, the fact that it becomes problematic for the couple is because the “baby core” of the personality of one or both partners has been activated.
3 – The “HALLMARK” of states of mind emanating from the “BABY CORE” of the personality is that the “EMOTIONAL REACTION IS DISPROPORTIONATE” to the issue at hand. In other words, they are overreactions in the sense that there are “adult” ways of “thinking about, addressing, and solving the conflict” that would not require or entail such extremity of emotional reaction.
4 – When patients arrive at a therapy session (actually marital or individual), they will naturally “unconsciously gravitate” toward, and want to talk about, those mental states or emotional interactions that involve “baby level” reactions. In the Kleinian literature this is referred to as the “most immediately pressing”, and usually “deeply unconscious anxiety” at hand at the moment, that is impacting the patient’s current thinking and behaving.
This is simply a product of the power and significance of baby level states of mind and the need to externalize them.
Assisting the Couple in Differentiating “Helpful Adult” from “Problematic Infantile” Ways of Interacting:
1 – I tell all couples, usually in the first session, the contents of Axiom #4, that it is not their “birthright” to be loved by their spouse, just because they are married. Instead, each partner has to “earn” their partner’s love every day! This idea is almost always a big “eye opener”, as if they never thought of being so focused on such “loving attention and behavior” toward their spouse. It immediately puts their interactions (or lack of positive interactions) with their spouse under the microscope.
2 – I follow that up with the idea that a marriage must be made a “SAFE ZONE”, within which each partner feels secure in their “commitment” to each other, even when they are having a “conflict”. No partner should have any anxiety or fear of being “thoughtfully open and honest”. They should trust that their partner would never “intentionally hurt them”. This is not an idealized concept, it is “basic marriage decency 101”!
3 – Most couples have no awareness of either concept. They have never thought of (1) “earning their partner’s love daily” and (2) “making the relationship a zone that is “safe” for dealing with conflict” when it arises, as it inevitably must.
Many couple assume that “conflict” and “fighting” are inevitably coupled with each other, and are nearly synonymous. As a result they are usually caught off guard when I suggest that it is possible to “never have a conflict escalate into a fight”. They are usually not as surprised when I also suggest that if it does escalate, it is possible to be “fair” when fighting. In both cases, the key is in recognizing the eruption of “baby level feelings” as part of the conflict.
4 – “Fighting Fair” and Things You Can Never Do:
– All relationships will have “conflicting” wishes, needs, points of view, etc. at given points in time. Navigating and resolving these “conflicts” requires, and this is arguably the key take home lesson of this entire course, that the “ADULT PART” OF EACH INDIVIDUAL’S PERSONALITY BE DOMINANT, AND IN CONTROL OF “BABY LEVEL REACTIONS”, AT SOME POINT IN TIME DURING THE CONFLICT.
The more emotionally intense the “baby level reactions” to the conflict, on the part of one or both partners, the greater the risk is that one or both will respond in a manner that is “UNNECESSARILY AND EXCESSIVELY HURTFUL” to the other. This undermines the “trust” necessary for an “intimate” emotional relationship to be a completely “safe” place to be “dependent, openly communicative, trusting, etc.”
– You CANNOT EVER SAY “MEAN THINGS” TO YOUR PARTNER! (It goes without saying that you can never “strike” your partner.)
This means that you probably cannot “tease” your partner, and you are not allowed to use “sarcasm, eye rolling, etc.” as a part of communication or interaction. In other words, anything that can be potentially perceived by the “baby core” of the personality as “hurtful”, will probably be hurtful, independent of “conscious denial” to the contrary.
5 – The premise underlying the idea of dealing with the inevitable “conflict” in marriage, in an “adult” manner, is the idea that one can “recognize” that which is “not adult” (i.e. “baby level feelings and attitudes”). It suggests that one must always be on the lookout for a “baby level” reaction, and then find a constructive way to deal with the feelings associated with it.
– The “hallmark of a baby level emotional reaction”, as contrasted with an “adult” level reaction, is that the baby level reaction is always “excessive or out of proportion”, in some way, to the “reality” of the situation. In effect it is an “over” reaction or “under” reaction to the “external reality situation” at hand. Recognizing this fact makes it possible to consider that any “conflict” may “contain” a serious potential for degrading into a “destructive fight”. This deterioration will only occur when a “baby level reaction becomes dominant”, meaning the “adult part of self” is not providing a “modulating” influence. The result is that things may be said that cannot be taken back, and thus do permanent harm.
Long Term Marital Therapy:
1 – As you might imagine, my average marital therapy lasts something like three to five years. The longer length is a function of the depth of the work that we do. The result is a much more stable relationship that can endure the ups and downs of life’s “slings and arrows”. I have had couples come back for assistance in particularly tough times but I have never had a couple get divorced after such an “in depth” effort.
2 – I have had a few couples take two or three years to “decide to get divorced”. In all of those marriages, I ultimately decided that “DEEPLY UNCONSCIOUS ENVY” on the part of one or both was the variable that prevented the therapy from having a more positive impact. I have a hunch that because it is so unconscious in its operation, analogous to individual therapy that “fails to thrive” in proportion to the effort made and insights gained, it probably takes a couple of years to see that “something is lurking in the depths” that is ruining the conscious effort being made.
3 – Setting envy aside, the length of the marital therapy is less about uncovering new, key insights, and more about seeing the “baby level” marital projections from many different angles to “consolidate” the individuals understanding of such deeply unconscious processes. Most couples fully recognize and can respond constructively when they see the recreation of one of their deeply unconscious configurations after analyzing them in marital therapy, with “MANY REPETITIONS FROM MANY DIFFERENT ANGLES”. Such early recognition of potential “baby level recreations”, and “restraint giving in to them and from fully launching these more problematic reactions”, is the key to marital stability.
The “burden” of the therapist is to “recognize the recreations” of deeply unconscious early relationships. The “responsibility” of the patients is to want to learn to not “act them out” problematically or destructively.