The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


20 December 2023| Personal

Following your heart…

Why I like working with couples

On the table is a pink heart-shaped piece of rose quartz. Smooth and shiny, it looks like a bar of soap. She brought it as a symbol of what she contributes to the relationship with her partner. ‘My current partner’, as she also said during our first conversation.

He puts a stuffed bunny next to it. Under its soft fur, it feels surprisingly firm, hard even. The creature sits on its hind legs and a red button protrudes from its belly. ‘He is wind-up, no batteries are needed,” he says. This is my second time counselling a couple. In our first short conversation, they told me about their relationship and what they wanted to explore. We ended up with individual questions for each to give direction for a follow-up. She wanted to understand why she could never stay with a man for long time. He wanted to know why he just couldn’t get it right with her. I had asked them to bring something for today’s session that symbolises for them how they each contribute to the relationship. With that, I explained, it also symbolises their contribution to how the relationship is now. And so, we now have a heart and a bunny on the table.

‘Which of the two is bigger?”, I ask. Both see no difference. When asked who is the boss, he points to the heart and she to the bunny. ‘He knows everything better, can do everything better and it has to be his way.’ ‘She never does what she says, draws her own plan and cannot be held accountable for it.’ ‘I often don’t understand him and then feel powerless. I always follow my heart.’ ‘No matter how hard I try, she doesn’t seem to appreciate it. While I do everything for her.’

A piece from a poem by Wyslawa Szymborska comes to mind: ‘You won’t get in, said the stone. You lack the sense of participation.’ I tell them that in this poem, someone works very hard to get a stone to open his or her door and it doesn’t go because the heart doesn’t participate. They both respond touched. We decide to look for where the heart is taking us as we follow it and what the bunny is working so hard for.

We place them, their fathers and mothers and her two brothers, he being an only child. They each take their symbol. Emotional and resolute, she puts the heart with her father, he, with bated breath and at least as resolute, puts the bunny with his mother. ‘I was daddy’s darling. Still am. He wanted a daughter so badly and there I was!’ She beams. ‘My mother had high expectations of me. I was both the oldest and the youngest, but never knew which of the two she saw me as. So I worked hard AND was sweet.’ He looks at the tabletop.

Their representatives ‘say’ a few sentences to each other.

She: ‘A man never has me completely, because daddy has my heart. I love him unconditionally, you have to do something for it.

And even then…’

He: ‘I do everything not to fear being hurt. With hard work, I put you at fault, keep my heart closed and have the power of innocence.’ I also have them say these sentences to each other. They nod and seem to relax slightly.

We then also look further back into their family. With her father, we meet his only sister, who only turned five. Behind his mother is a forbidden love and being sent out of work young. In both, a story of missing and longing. They relax even more.

They look at each other, blushes on their cheeks, and thank each other for wanting to watch and listen.

Whether their relationship will survive I don’t know, that’s not up to me either. What I do know is that they have made space to see each other differently. There is an opening to continue the relationship as now grown-up children who can carry themselves and their faith, rather than handing it over to each other in childlike dependence. The heart and the bunny return home and are given a place of honour.

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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

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