Counselling Elderly Couples

  • Paul Terry
Part of the Basic Texts in Counselling and Psychotherapy book series (BTCP)


I have found a recent publication from the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies extremely helpful in thinking about counselling couples. The book is called Psychotherapy with Couples and is a selection of papers written by staff at the Institute, edited by Stanley Ruszczynski (1993). The orientation of the book is psycho-analytic. I would like to outline some of the key ideas from the book which I have found useful. There is a general agreement amongst the authors that the marital relationship involves two ubiquitous needs: the need for intimacy and the need to be separate, with their attendant anxieties of either being swallowed up or abandoned. These anxieties resonate with our earliest experience of closeness in the infant and mother relationship. The capacity to develop and sustain a couple relationship depends on how we negotiated that first attachment in the triangular constellation known as the ‘Oedipus complex’. The Oedipus complex, essentially unconscious, was first outlined by Freud and refers to the infant’s and child’s passionate attachment to a parent of the opposite sex and rivalry with the same sex parent. Particularly as developed by Klein, the Oedipus complex also includes a negative or inverted complex involving a passionate attachment to the same sex parent and rivalry with the opposite sex parent. Ron Britton (quoted by Fisher in this book) points out that the infant or child has to manage both being in a close relationship to mother which excludes another, especially father, and at the same time has a growing awareness of a special sexual, parental relationship from which the infant or child is excluded. Fisher describes this as ‘the painfully tragic erotic attachment that reaches across a chasm, a chasm created by the inexorable difference between the generations, by the reality of the difference of the experience of being the parent and the experience of being the child’ (p. 150).


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© Paul Terry 1997

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  • Paul Terry

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