As described in previous blog entries, doubling, originally devised by Jacob Moreno, is the featured method in Collaborative Couple Therapy. You speak as if you were one of the partners talking to the other. When doubling for partners in an adversarial cycle, you replace accusations with acknowledgments and outbursts of angry feelings with expressions of vulnerable ones. Suppose, however, a partner doesn’t want at the moment to look at their vulnerable feelings. What do you do then? That’s the question addressed in this blog entry.
Jack (to Anna): You fuss too much with the baby (Jack goes on in this manner for some time).
Dan (doubling for Jack): Jack, I wonder if you’re feeling—here, I’ll be you talking to Anna. And for you, I’d say, “Anna, I miss the alone time we used to be able to have before Ella was born.”
Turning to Jack, I say, “I made that up. If that doesn’t capture how you feel, can you say what does?”
I’m using an example—missing alone time with Anna—to suggest the range of soft underbelly feelings. I’m saying in essence, “Jack, there’s a whole different angle from which to look at this situation—the angle of vulnerable feelings. For example, maybe you miss the alone time you used to be able to have with Anna. If that doesn’t capture how you feel, is there a vulnerable feeling of another sort that does?”
Jack might not want at the moment to talk about vulnerable feelings. He might say, “What I feel is that Anna fusses over the baby too much” or “No, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s what I said, which is….”
But let’s say Jack welcomes the opportunity to confide softer feelings. Turning to Anna, he says:
- “I feel so foolish being jealous of my own son.”
- Or “I miss the intimacy that you get breast feeding Ella. I feel so left out.”
- Or “I wish my mother had been a fraction as concerned about me as you are about Ella.”
He’d be confiding feelings in a way that could jumpstart an intimate conversation.
But is it really such a good idea to skip over Jack’s complaint (“You fuss too much over Ella”) and to suggest the issue is also within him? Couldn’t he feel embarrassed or undercut ? Couldn’t he believe I’m siding with Anna and putting the blame on him? He might. Accordingly, before making my intervention, I ask myself, “Is there a chance that my comment will alienate Jack in a way I can’t easily repair?” If I believe there is, I content myself with a less chancy intervention such as:
Dan: Here, I’ll be you, Jack, talking to Anna. And for you, I’d say, “Anna, I know we disagree about Ella, but don’t you wonder sometimes whether there might be at least a little something to my concern?”
Dan: Here, I’ll be you, Jack, talking to Anna. And for you, I’d say, “Anna, I wish I had a way to talk with you about Ella that didn’t just lead to an argument—because it’s hard for me to believe I’m entirely wrong about you being overly involved with her.”
I’m getting behind Jack in what he has been trying to say, but recasting it in a manner I hope he’ll appreciate, since he’ll see how it gets a better response from Anna than his more vituperative version. If I stick more closely to what Jack has been saying—if I meet him where he is and pay attention to what he’s trying to express—he may be able to look at his vulnerable feelings, if not immediately, at least later in the session. People need to feel heard in order to listen—and to feel safe enough to confide their vulnerable feelings or even just recognize that they’re having them.