Over the last few decades, studies in neuroscience have shown more and more clearly how our brains and our behaviours are shaped not just by our genetics, but by our relationships with others. All of us have our own unique internal wiring in our brain. The circuits that become wired in our brain are deeply affected by our very early relationship experiences in life and by the quality of attachment to our parents.
Louis Cozolino explains this well in his book The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. And he goes on to show how our early emotions still affect us much later in life in our relationship with our partners:
“People have been primed by evolution to feel pleasant feelings when they are close to caretakers and unpleasant feelings when they are unwillingly separated from them. People basically feel joy when they are with loved ones and fear and anxiety when the bond is ruptured. Human beings need others to feel secure and happy. Healthy adult attachment and intimacy involve emotional availability and responsiveness, security and warmth. The need for other people becomes unhealthy only when a person cannot tolerate separation and flies into a rage or becomes depressed at loss, separation or distance.
Couples generally know that their emotions govern their relationships. They know their emotions affect what they do with, and to, one another. However, even though couples know intuitively how important their emotions are, generally they do not know much about how to deal with their emotional experiences in their relationships. They simply have not been taught how to deal with their emotions. All they have ever been taught is that their negative, angry, or painful emotions are troublesome and ought to be avoided at all costs and that loving feelings are generally good. They have also learned from life experience that they sometimes can express their feelings and be responded to but that generally their feelings are ignored, discounted, or even ridiculed by others. People therefore often conclude that their feelings are best held in, controlled, or ignored until they disappear or change with time.”
Couples work involves helping the individual partners come to a better understanding of how they are influenced by their emotions and how they communicate in relationships. Your counsellor will also help you recognize the interplay that happens as you and your partner try and meet each other’s needs.
Usually, your counsellor will meet with each of you individually before starting couples sessions. Your counsellor will work with you and your unique relationship to develop a plan that will support change.