I started couple counselling two years ago, intrigued by the challenge of working with two people at the same time and that too when they are in a relationship. What should I say? I have always liked fireworks. Joke aside, it’s the challenge of understanding two unique individuals with their own histories, attitudes and a connection to each other that they have lost and that needs an outside intervention for reconnection.

Based on my professional experience, I will try to share my insight into what factors might be at play in a good healthy marriage. So to start with, it is very important to incorporate a very important concept of psychology called ‘transference’ which is when, unconsciously, a person redirects some of their feelings or desires for another person to an entirely different person. In all marriages or relationships, there is the possibility of transference happening; and mostly it’s present from the get-go, but people choose to ignore it till it gets fully activated when the relationship deepens and in simple words, when the honeymoon is over. So let’s break down how that happens.

Boy meets the girl. Hormones start flying, physical and emotional attraction becomes blended and viola! We are in love. Most of us in that addicted love state also neglect our own selves, ego boundaries don’t exist between the self and the beloved, both are happily one and before we know it, wedding bells (alarm bells to be honest) start ringing.

When the initial euphoria of ‘Oh my God I am so married’ is over, the couples start relaxing and stop putting their best foot forward. This is when transference starts kicking in. The husband and wife will slowly start transferring their unprocessed earlier life experiences, feelings, their own blueprint of their relationships onto their partner. As they are both not conscious of it, the bickering and the arguments start where both try to make sense of what’s happening and feeling lost.

By unprocessed, I mean not having an understanding of why we feel or behave about certain things at times. For example, a wife whose father cheated on her mother can have trust issues towards her own spouse. As a child, she was unable to question her father’s actions or hold him accountable. She might have seen the mother as a passive wife who accepted the status quo. But as a wife, she starts acting out all those unresolved feelings onto her husband who doesn’t deserve any of it. This is a classic case of transference.

Or a man who as a boy had a working mom who never had time for him might turn into a possessive narrow-minded husband who doesn’t want his wife to work or neglect his needs. To others he will come across as a chauvinistic husband but no one can see that within the grown man is a neglected little boy who wants the nurturing and compensation of all the neglect he suffered.

So how can a couple work around it? Ideally, at the risk of being challenged by the validity of it, I would say, take a few counselling sessions before you get married, preferably individual and one or two together to really see each other as two wounded souls and to recognise each other’s baggage. And yes, wounded might sound very dramatic but aren’t we all in some way or another?

If counselling isn’t an option, then what has helped me in working with couples is helping them connect emotionally with each other; to teach them how to tap into each other’s emotional language which is masked by ordinary words. For example, if the wife says I am tired of always being the one to sacrifice, before reacting to her, the husband needs to ask what the feeling of being tired is for her. What does sacrifice mean for her? The narrative isn’t important here, but empathy for the emotion behind the narrative.

It is important for the couple to learn to empathise with each other and try to connect to the deeper emotion that derives their actions. In most relationships it is the feeling of being unsafe that drives most relationships to a conflict. The primary question that each partner unconsciously asks of the other is, ‘Are you there for me?’ And it is the lack of response to this that leads to toxic dynamics where one who is hurt will lessen his or her own hurt by hurting the other. Here I am excluding marriages with severe issues like abuse of any kind, severe neglect of each other’s rights etc.

We can intentionally repair and improve our relationships by avoiding emotional isolation, so figure out the emotional handle that opens the door to your partner’s inner world and your marriage story can probably have a happy ending.