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Morgan, M. (2016). What Does Ending Mean in Couple Psychotherapy?. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 6(1):44-58.

(2016). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 6(1):44-58

What Does Ending Mean in Couple Psychotherapy?

Mary Morgan


The subject of endings in couple psychotherapy brings to mind an array of complicated issues to do with the process of engagement, the capacity to keep an ending in mind, the ending of the couple relationship and the ending of the therapy, in the best or worst of circumstances.

In the main part of this paper I will focus on two different kinds of ending with couples in therapy, one where there is a thoughtful and planned ending, and the other in which it feels very difficult to contemplate an end. I link the possibility of ending and the difficulty of ending with the aims of couple psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Before exploring this, I touch on the unplanned endings that can occur in a couple therapy, particularly, although not always, in the beginning stages.

Endings and Beginnings

At the point of first contact the partners are usually very sensitive to the presence and the approach of the therapist. It feels very exposing inviting a third into the privacy of one's relationship. Often only one partner has really emotionally signed up to coming, and in most cases, as the couple do not usually have an objective way of looking at what is happening in the relationship, each partner is looking for the therapist to support their view of events. Thus a lot is required of the therapist at this stage, both in terms of maintaining a “couple state of mind” in which the relationship is privileged, and also in terms of how to place oneself in relation to the couple: not too distant, not too close.

The sensitive nature of engaging a couple in treatment, illustrates the point that it is impossible to think about endings without also thinking about beginnings and vice versa. Quite a few couple therapies founder at this beginning point, or after the first few sessions. One might consider this to be part of the assessment process, and the couple not engaging might be to do with their unsuitability for couple therapy.

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