Whose restraint is it
"Y is married to a terrible woman", I think to myself in the middle of a mass event. "He is such a sweet and gentle man, what is he doing with her?" I keep wondering.
She is noisy, always takes center-stage and requires endless amounts of attention from everyone around her. "But," my thoughts go on. "If Y had broken up with her, would he find someone just like her, or would he go for someone different?"
I was watching him from the side, hidden away by the many people around me, wondering about the parts in him I already know and thinking: what if D, his wife, represented his own parts – those which he doesn’t express?
What if Y is not a victim, but instead chose to be with someone who brings to the front parts in himself that are not given room for expression - parts in himself that are not expressed ?
I was watching other couples around me and wondering: what if the woman who was living with a husband she defined as an unkempt loafer really chose him since she didn’t allow the unkempt loafer parts inside of her any expression on the outside?
And what about me? What parts in my partner that I am having trouble with are really the parts of me that he gives expression to?
I was playing with this thought in my head, moving between different pseudo-psychological theories, thinking of the choices we make in our relationships, stopping at the topic I find most fascinating at the moment: sexuality.
Is the man who comes to my clinic because his wife refuses sex, really choosing her to restrain his own sexuality, and maybe this restraint is something inside of him that she is representing?
In the world of monogamous sexuality – since an inhibition in one prevents pleasure for the other, and because of the dependence that stems from the exclusivity of the relationship – these problems are like hot potatoes: someone has to take the blame, and the partners usually toss the blame at one another.
When the woman takes the blame upon herself, she goes to therapy, in order to reconnect with her desire, to learn more about the pain in her vagina, about the past, her education and her body.
Women are more inclined to go to therapy, and so they gain a lot from it, but what about the parts pertaining to the relationship? Does in-depth work on her sexual issue guarantees a change in the couple's sexuality?
In cases in which the woman is "to blame", the man remains with the positive title of being passionate, wanting sex and avoiding it "because of her", but does it really all depend solely upon her? Can change occur if the man doesn’t address his own sexual problems at all? And the most interesting question is: which part in him unconsciously chose (and continues to choose) that woman who is holding the sexual restraint?
And what happens when the "problem" belongs to the man, for example: a man with performance issues that climaxes to fast – In case the “problem” is the man’s - will, at the end of a successful therapeutic process, the sex between the partners regain its potency, or maybe then his partner will have to deal with the restraint that now no one is holding inside the relationship?
So whose restraint is it? And will it be resolved as soon as one of the partners undergoes therapy, or will it go looking for another representation/person?
According to the Family Constellations approach, the problem is not a subject of any internal struggle, but a factor inside the relationship, and so the issue between the partners is not personal, but systematic and should be viewed as such.
"Trauma is constantly searching for a body" – says Bert Hellinger, the founder of Family Constellations – and so mutual blaming or taking exclusive responsibility for deep issues within the relationship such as blame, lack of desire, security, communication and so on – are futile.
"In a relationship, it resonates both ways", explains Yishai Gaster, a facilitator and therapist in the family and organizational constellations approach. "So what attracts us to one another at the beginning is a sort of fulfillment or systemic resonance. Something in his system resonates with something in her system and there is a promised or implied solution of the resonating stories. But sometimes, after a while the solution itself could become what alienates us from one another".
And what about the person who "volunteers" to go to therapy on his or her own? The Constellations approach views this issue in a very specific way. "In a relationship, there is an entire world in which he does things for her and she does things for him, when they grow closer, as well as when they fall apart. The same is true for therapy". Yishai Gaster adds "the one who doesn’t come to therapy fills a space in the constellation for the one who does. The side that fails plays a role in the constellation for the one who succeeds, and vice versa, of course".
If we become dependent upon the other side to also do something, it will be hard to find new movement, and so the person that can, or is available, does – for herself, for him, for both of them. If she stays, she will stay for them both, and if she leaves, she will do it for the both of them, as well.
G is married to a woman who prevents him from touching most of her body. G describes the frustration of touching her only according to these clear physical limits "There are so many restraints," he says "so many parts of her that if touched ,will stop sex ". On the other hand, he is not upset with his wife, but is merely recounting one sexual incident or another, and the fear that is building inside of him, up to a point of stopping, not knowing how to act.
From a systemic point of view, one can look into his wife's deep need, her history and her in-depth request of him. One can also wonder : how could G regain his confidence in their sexual dyad and communicate his discomfort and fears to his wife. We can dive deep into the couple's sexual history and investigate what is happening at the present moment – given their recent avoidance from sex.
But we can also look at it all from a different perspective:
There are three parts:
Right now, "restraint" is held by the woman, but G shares: he knew about his wife's sexual limits at the beginning of the relationship and chose her the way she was. In fact, he says that in that first period of the relationship, her ability to open up to him and allow him to touch her despite her difficulty, excited him very much.
So who does this "restraint" really belong to?
If his wife would have undergone this process, studied herself in-depth regarding the question of her limits – how would G feel about that?
Where does "restraint" lie in both of them and what would happen if she would part with it– where would "restraint" go?
The assumption is that G's wife's sexuality reflects aspects in his own sexuality.
The Focusing philosophy embedded the term "Positive Implication" asking: what is the positive implication in all of it for us? Or in this case, what is it about his wife's sexuality that is right for G?"
To what extent are limits and boundaries in sex right for him too?
Is his wife expressing a secret desire of his?
S is not attracted to her husband. They have had an "arrangement" for several years, by which they have sex once every two weeks, in an act of goodwill on her part, which is emotionally difficult for her. S misses the waves of passion inside of her, being connected to her physical body, and is embarrassed by her need to "fake" sexuality for her husband's sexual release.
S is "guilty" for the fixated sexual pattern in their relationship, while her husband keeps repeating in an accusatory tone that he needs more.
From a therapeutic perspective, we could go in-depth with S into the realms of the past, to feel the nature of the restraint: its history, its aspects, its emotional depth. We can look what it has created inside the relationship, ask it what that difficulty has to tell us, going beyond the sexual experience and what can enable change?
We can also speculate about the communication between them, remember more exciting times and wonder what caused the change. Or we can see we have:
And wonder: if S would have miraculously cured and reconnected to her emotional and sexual desire – what would happen to their relationship then? How would it make her husband feel?
Would he really look forward to making love to her three times a week, or maybe a part inside of him feels comfortable that right now S is the one holding the blame?
Maybe when S becomes sexual again, her partner will have to hold the restraint?
And if it is all true, how do we cure the system?
Again, we return to the world of Constellations:
The restraint is not really the fault or responsibility of anyone in the relationship. It is an expression of parts within them that right now S is representing (identified with the experience of the restraint).
The intriguing part lies in disconnecting the restraint from both partners and addressing it directly.
In the work of Family Constellations, the move is usually done by using felt markers to represent forces and people in the system, and allows us to ask the restraint where it comes from and what its role is in this context.
We can also see how each partner has his or her own dialog with the restraint and look into S's choice in appropriating it to herself – despite the price she is paying.
An observation of this kind enables for much more expanded work without blaming anyone.
Now we can see that erectile dysfunction is the man's issue, but it is the woman's issue just the same; it is also true for lack of desire, difficult communication, body image, betrayal and guilt - which are never burdens that lie on the shoulders of only one partner in the relationship. They always belong to both, but one always "volunteers" to take it upon him- or herself.
So coming back to Y and his annoying wife, the right question would be what part inside of him chose her to carry these representations for him: the boisterous behavior, the public neediness; and is there something inside of him that needs her to take this representation upon herself, for him – because he is unable to.
It is easy to judge the relationship of others, to search for a victim or someone to blame – even in the therapeutic space – but questioning the essence of the choice itself is what I find most interesting.