Couple Therapy, Part 1: The Lifeboat and the Lifeguard

Couple Therapy, Part 1: The Lifeboat and the Lifeguard by Jay FeldThe beginning of the year is a great time to start or restart therapy with your partner, to pursue new perspectives and new skills for your love relationship. To this end I offer you a story, “The Lifeboat.”

Once upon a time two people met on a cruise ship, fell in love, and were married by the captain. They were having lots of fun and everything was going well, until one day a huge storm capsized the ship. Disoriented but alive, the couple found themselves in a lifeboat, with just each other to rely upon. But then along came a great wave and capsized their little boat.

They were struggling to keep their heads above water, and each instinctively reached out to the other for help. But because both of them were panicking and intensely focused on their own survival, neither was able to help the other. To make matters worse, in their panicked attempts to get each other’s attention, they scared and hurt one another, leaving them even further apart and alone.

Picture this couple in the cold water, in great distress, in desperate need of help. They need someone to help them keep their heads above water, help calm their panic, and help them to stop scaring and hurting each other. They need someone to support them until they can begin to calm down and then learn how to turn to each other and work together to turn their lifeboat right-side up.

Sometimes We Need a Lifeguard

The task of the couple therapist is to serve as a lifeguard for relationships. The therapist helps both partners keep their heads above water, calms their panic, and supports them as long as necessary.

As the therapist listens empathetically and normalizes their experience of woundedness, the tension between the partners begins to lessen; they begin to soften toward each other. They begin to feel curious about the other’s experience, and they learn not to take it personally when their partner panics.  They learn how to turn toward each other, and how to create a “safe haven” relationship.

Both partners learn to keep each other encouraged, even as they continue to cultivate strength and courage for themselves. As the therapist brings a renewed sense of safety and security to their relationship, they will be able to “be with” each other in a new way – less reactive, more empathetic, more connected.

When old anxieties and “emotional allergies” get triggered again (as they inevitably will), the couple now have new and improved ways of understanding their own experience and that of their partner. They are learning to “be there” for their partner, when their partner is distressed. With consistent coaching + effort + time, their renewed voyage can become safe, secure and happy.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about inviting your partner into a new season of growth. Or perhaps your boat turned upside down recently, and you need help turning it right-side up. I’ll be happy to get into the water with you! Why not call or write now?


Jay R. Feld HeadshotDr. Jay R. Feld
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
(917) 572-4068

This entry was posted in Emotions, Family, Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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