Counseling Couples

In life there is what we think happens, and what actually happens. What actually happens is difficult, if not impossible, to establish objectively. There is a Russian proverb that says, “Never trust an eye witness”, and this theme has often been explored by artists and film directors. The most recent may be Vantage Point (2008), which is a film directed by Peter Travis in which a presidential assassination is recalled by six different witnesses. Their combined stories finally reveal the true story. In Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (1950), four different people recount different versions of the murder of a man and the rape of his wife, but in this case no objectively truthful version is established. In the last analysis “truth” is not absolute, but something arrived at by consensus, and this makes the cultural environment we are brought up in a crucial factor in how we all agree about reality. It is the very nature of the mind that makes it difficult to establish so-called objective truth. Even perception itself via the five senses is altered by various universal human factors. The mind has an inbuilt tendency to generalize experience, jumping to conclusions from a very limited sensory input, in the same way that on a film set, there is no need to present more than the facade of a building to trick the mind into thinking the building exists. When we learn from a very early age to put names to an object, this too removes us one more step from actually experiencing that object. And when we access our memory to relate to a repeated experience, then memory again removes us from direct experience.

Above and beyond these universal factors that make unadulterated experience of reality almost impossible, there are psychological factors in our lives that colour our experience and blur our perception. If we were not able to form a secure bond to the mother, then it is difficult to find any harbour later in life that can provide safety. If our first teacher belittled us, or if fellow-pupils taunted us, then it may be very difficult to feel comfortable in a future learning environment. These influences are personal and unique to us, rather than universal.

The great thing about astrology is that these personal factors can be mapped in the horoscope, indicating just how a person is likely to distort reality emotionally, mentally and intellectually. Astrologers may be able to relate a Moon/Uranus conjunction to the experience of having an icy mother, who was unable to empathize with the child, and trace the consequences of this to later problems with intimacy and disconnection. Or a Mercury/Saturn square may show the inhibited school child, who stopped education early to avoid the risk of failure. Or a Sun/Jupiter opposition may show a person exposed to the injustice of a father who claimed a monopoly on being right, resulting later in an aversion to be told what is right and wrong.

What is cathartic and life-transforming for the client is to gain first-hand insight into these psychological filters that disempower them in their interaction with the world. The Moon/Uranus client can learn to understand the consequences of their tendency to emotionally disconnect. Mercury/Saturn can learn to recognize negative thinking and cultivate the positive. Sun/Jupiter can realize how their intellectual filter actually deprives them of the spiritual nourishment they are seeking. However, making even small changes in habits ingrained through years of childhood experience is not easy, and therapy of one sort or another is an essential ingredient of transformation and liberation. Rational awareness helps, but it is not enough, because at their root, difficult aspects are pure energy, and they can only be changed through pure energy.

If it is difficult for the individual to interact in the world without imposing on the world the massive filter of personality, how much more so is it to interrelate with another person who has their own unique set of experiential filters! Even the simplest of communication is massaged by the mind of each party, making it almost a miracle when understanding arises. When a person communicates, there is an intention behind it, and more often than not this intention is the product of profoundly personal needs. If the partner is over-sensitive in certain areas, then misunderstanding inevitably occurs. You may say to your partner: “That was a great dinner you made tonight”, but your partner may be thinking “So, aren’t my other dinners any good.” You may say “Why don’t you arrange a weekend with your friends?” and your partner may think “She doesn’t want to be with me.” In synastry, when your planets connect to a difficult constellation in your partner’s horoscope, communication is negatively filtered and interpreted to reinforce the convictions the partner already has in that area.

When dealing with relationship difficulties in the synastry consultation it is important to understand the challenging planetary patterns in the individual horoscope, and then subsequently see how aspects from one horoscope to the other trigger these patterns. When the connections between the horoscopes are predominantly harmonious, then negative patterns will not be triggered so much, which makes for a pleasant time together. You will often see that where one person has, say, a Venus/Saturn square, the other may have a Venus/Saturn trine, and this person can then through example show how to deal with lack of self-worth. When there are a lot of negative triggers, you will often see a stormy but passionate relationship. Generally the more cross connections there are, harmonious or tense, the more material there is for a long-lasting relationship. There is not a single synastry factor that prevents a relationship; if for example one person’s Saturn is on another person’s Mars, Moon or Ascendant, this only says something about what will be worked on in the relationship, not whether there will be a relationship or not.

The universal factors that create a buffer between the individual and the object of his attention, and the psychological factors that further distort perception, are part of the human condition… and refining perception to create a purer experience of the object is a major goal of personal development. There is in fact no identity without relationship, whether the relationship is to things in the inner or outer world or to another person. Self-awareness and self-realization comes from the process of interaction between subject and object. The purer the experience of the subject/object relationship, the more there is a merging of energy between the two. And when, in a relationship, subject and object merge, there is love.

Initially in a relationship there is a dramatic merging process, as long-starved factors in the personality meet and recognize a kindred soul. This meeting is probably karmic in origin, and there is a deep sense of knowing the other person. There is nothing illusory about this process; it is as powerful and genuine as when the doors of perception open with a spiritual experience. Just as the goal of meditation is to recreate union between subject and object, when counselling couples a similar goal is a worthy aim. Creating and maintaining intimacy in a relationship is a path to spiritual development. But just as the individual has been separated from spiritual experience by psychological and sensory blockages, so have couples created distance between themselves because of unresolved psychological issues.

Fortunately when working with the astrological model it is relatively easy to identify the behavioural issues involved. An explanation of these issues can be very helpful for the couple and evoke some understanding, mostly of a rational nature. For example a person who has a Moon/Uranus conjunction may have felt cast adrift as a child by a mother who was perceived to be not nurturing, and will have responded to this with an electrical shut off mechanism, or out-of-the-body tactic. Partners later in life will be puzzled, and probably distressed, by a sensation that an electric fence has been erected making intimacy suddenly impossible. Couples can agree that this behaviour exists and work out strategies for avoiding it. Perhaps just to give space to the partner for an hour or two, or to talk about it when the situation arises.

But in fact astrology can do much more than this. Not only does the horoscope graphically show the psychological filters that modify personal experience, it also gives an indication of the sensory system involved. The basic building blocks of astrology are the four elements – Earth and Water, and Fire and Air. When the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars are placed in a specific element, the personality traits involved are modified by that element. Some planets in turn might be said to have an affinity with an element, for example Sun and Mars to Fire, Mercury and Uranus to air, Saturn to Earth, or Moon and Neptune to Water. This combination of planets with elements gives a “feel” for the preferred sensory system through which behaviour and experience are channelled.

A rough guide to how the elements are correlated with the senses is as follows:

– Fire is visual in expression, and tends to be expressed in language that emphasizes seeing. Erect posture, looks up.

– Air is auditory in expression and tends to be expressed in language that emphasizes hearing. Erect posture, looks from side to side (at an audience) and gesticulates.

– Earth is tactile in expression and tends to be expressed in practical language emphasizing physicality. Comfortable and relaxed posture, looking down, referencing things internally.

– Water is emotional in expression, very related to inner feeling, taste and smell, and is very mute in language. Slumped posture, eyes flicker down as feelings are accessed.

There is much more to this correlation between the senses and the elements, and there are many nuances that come out when you work with them. For example planetary constellations in Water signs, and constellations involving Neptune, even when they are harmonious, tend to show events that were sorrowful, and a client will often feel like crying when talking about them.

When misunderstandings arise over time in relationships, it is often because each partner reverts to a sensory system which the other person is not so familiar with, making communication very difficult. The goal of the astrologer in counselling couples is to facilitate communication by “translating” how one person experiences the other by using expressions that harmonize with that person’s natural sensory preferences. A person with many planets in Air will have no difficulty explaining a communication problem, but the partner with planets in Water has probably already understood the underlying issues and just gets exhausted trying to put it all into words. In the end this can lead to a relationship when one person is perceived to nag, and the other to sulk.

The end goal in counselling couples is to neutralize the tendency to distort communication, and this can be done by stripping sensory filters away, so a direct experience of the partner can be had. Initially this means that each person must listen to what the other person says without immediately imposing their interpretation of it. This can be done by for example asking the person to simply repeat what the other person says, word for word, or by getting one partner to sum up what the other person says, preceded by a clause like “If I understand you correctly…” and then getting the other person to confirm. In this way communication can be rebuilt from the bottom up. This mirroring process quickly builds up rapport and leads to empathy and understanding for the other. When one person understands precisely where the other person is coming from, then empathy arises automatically, and with empathy comes a meeting, and love naturally arises once again.

If a person truly understands through the words of the person they love what that person has been through to create the behaviour that threatens the relationship, a bond of solidarity forms. Both partners have material from the past that has caused pain, and both have developed behaviours to handle this pain that create disharmony later. The astrologer can identify this behaviour and the sensory filters through which it is channelled and help the couple understand what is going on.

In the following section I will show examples of how specifically to evoke and describe this behaviour, how to make it transparent to the partner and how ultimately to transform it.

There are certain things you can do in a synastry consultation that you cannot do when the client is alone. In describing astrological influences in a normal consultation, you cannot be sure that your interpretation is truly correct. It is a great advantage that you have the partner present to confirm or deny the truth of the interpretation. The couple have lived together for some time, and inappropriate behaviour will surely have been a subject of discussion many times in a relationship.

For example you may suggest to a man with a Mars/Jupiter square:

Astrologer: (Turning to man) I was wondering if you have rather strong opinions and whether you tend to dominate your partner when there is a discussion?

Man: Well, I have strong feelings about what is right and wrong, if that is what you mean.

Astrologer: Not exactly. (Turning to wife). Do you find that your husband is over forceful when you are discussing things.

Wife: Well I always end up agreeing with him to avoid an argument.

The invaluable nature of this exchange is that the horoscope has quite independently confirmed behaviour that the wife may have complained about frequently, without the husband ever accepting that he may have been wrong. The Mars/Jupiter combinations may be rather bullying, but they are strongly motivated to gaining wisdom, and this presents an angle for an intervention:

Astrologer: (To man) It occurs to me that if your wife always agrees with your to avoid an argument, you will never learn what she really thinks. Aren’t you cutting yourself off from valuable feedback when you are over forceful?

Once unwanted behaviour in the relationship has been identified, it is important to follow through. If the man realized how uncomfortable his partner felt, he would be strongly motivated to change:

Astrologer: (To wife) How does it feel when your husband insists on being right in this way?

Wife: It makes me feel a little stupid and intimidated.

Astrologer: (Turning to man) Do you want her to feel that?

Man: Well that was not my intention.

Astrologer: (Turning to woman) Can you tell him now what you would like him to do, and what not to do, when you discuss things?

At this stage of the interchange, communication is channelled through the astrologer. When the astrologer directs suggest the couple speak directly to each other, it is often a powerful and emotionally charged process. Which it needs to be if change is to happen.

But actually, it is very difficult to make lasting change, and the man is unlikely to immediately become a model of diplomacy. The Mars/Jupiter influence is a core energy in his being, which has been present in a series of specific events that go all the way back to childhood and even conception. This energy can be transformed, and it can be channelled into constructive activity, and now is the time to enrol the partner in the process through a direct form of communication. Mars square Jupiter is a filter through which the man has survived attacks on his integrity, and his behaviour is a natural consequence of this survival strategy. This is the time to get the partner to understand that.

What prevents understanding is the sense of injustice that the wife feels at being intellectually bullied. What will enhance understanding is being able to empathize with what the partner has been through. It is at this stage that the astrologer can use the horoscope to drill down to core formative experiences. It might go like this:

Astrologer: I am wondering if your father or a brother actually dominated you in this way?

Man: Well my elder brother was very good at sport and better than me at school.

Astrologer: And that was inspiring or what?

Man: Quite the opposite. He was always challenging me physically and beating me up. And he was always showing off how much he knew.

What works at this point is to guide the man back to a sensory experience of what, specifically, happened. Perhaps there was a situation when the brother experienced praise from the father, whilst the client was unfavourably compared to the brother. Rather than describing this experience generally it can be evoked through questions that return the person to the sensory state experienced at the time, because this brings them in contact with the core energy that creates problems in the partnership now.

Astrologer: So, you are standing there, and you hear your father’s voice, and… what is he saying?

By placing the client in the sensory universe at the time, a powerful re-experience is evoked, with all the pain and discomfort that took place.

Hearing this story the partner will be enrolled is this process and – if you have evoked the experience powerfully enough – she will unfailingly feel empathy and love. It is then possible to return to an actual situation in their married life, when the pattern of intellectual dominance repeats, but this time the wife will understand the fear and insecurity behind the behaviour. At this point it is crucial that communication is shorn of rationalization and projected emotion, and this can be done by simply getting the partner to repeat or summarize the process the man is going through step by step. It could go like this:

Man: So when I have to express myself forcefully to be recognized for who I am.

The woman can repeat this sentence word for word – it creates a strong identification and understanding of the partner – or just summarize:

Woman: So as I understand it, the competition with your brother taught you to express yourself forcefully, is that right?

When the man has gone through this process very slowly, with the partner totally immersed in his point of view, empathy increases, and with empathy comes the love that was always there. At some point the astrologer can turn to the woman who will have her own psychological material activated by the intellectual bullying. For example, if the woman has a Mercury/Pluto aspect it is easy to see how resentment at being made to feel stupid, can be layered upon childhood experiences of mental power-play. The process is then repeated for the woman:

– Description of Mercury/Pluto behaviour in relationship, for example she does not say a word for long periods of time.

– The unwanted effect this has on the man

– Getting the man to explain what the wife could do that would work better

– Relating the behaviour to childhood where a jealous sibling froze her out

– Evoking empathy in the husband

– Returning to current behaviour with new awareness

– Enrolling husband in repeating or summarizing wife’s words without projection or judgement.

Many misunderstandings arise in relationships because the preferred sensory representation systems of the couple happen to be different. In my book (note 1) I used the example of a man whose relationship was profoundly affected by his Mercury/Saturn conjunction in Scorpio. His wife complained that when he came home, he did not say a word and immediately hid behind a newspaper in his favourite chair, ignoring their child who wanted to play. This behaviour was a complete mystery to his wife, who had a Sun/Venus conjunction in Gemini in the 7th house and obviously expected loving interchange. This is a classic example of the meeting between Water and Air.

To facilitate communication, it is initially necessary for the astrologer to “translate” the Water experience into Air language. The man was slumped in his chair and had real difficulty finding words to express his feelings. The wife was erect and awake, eager to elicit the kind of communication she was familiar with.

Astrologer: [Turning to face man, arms folded, posture slumped, speaking slowly and thoughtfully] How exactly do you feel, then… when you come in the door after work?

Man: I’m just tired. [Pause, groping for words] I want to pick up my son and play, but … um… I just need a few minutes of quiet.

Astrologer: [Turning to woman, now sitting erect, gesturing and speaking brightly and more rapidly] So he’s just come home, feels beat, needs a bit of a break, then he’ll be ready to chat.

Woman: Yes, but it can’t be too difficult for him to play and chat for a minute or two, then sit down and read.

Astrologer: [Turning to man, reverting to previous body language] So… um… Sarah feels let down and… um… disappointed when you’re silent.

The man is reacting self-protectively in the only way he knows, and his wife has no tools for understanding this. The astrologer acts as an interpreter for them until each clearly understands the other. When the woman finally understood the grave communication difficulties that constantly challenged her husband in every relationship, she learned to respect them and adapt. When the man realized that lack of communication triggered anxiety in the woman, indicated by the Moon/Pluto square to Sun/Venus, and that she interpreted his silence as a deeply critical comment on her self-worth, he discovered why his partner embarked on long nagging sessions. They made an agreement during this consultation that when he came home, she gave him a hug, picked up the child, and let him adjust for a short time before becoming talkative – instead of being offended by his non-communicative manner. It worked well, and last time I was in contact, many years later, a fourth child was on the way.

To sum up, the perception of reality is always subjective; it is a representation of what you think happens, not what actually happens. In the relationship between the individual and the outer world, there are natural barriers of perception based on the human mind, and unnatural barriers based on personal psychology. Astrology is a supreme tool for recognizing psychological complexes that warp perception. When barriers are removed, then the doors of perception open and there is a pure experience of reality. Subject and object become one. Similarly when behavioral sabotage patterns are neutralized in relationships, couples recognize their natural affinity, barriers disappear, and souls merge. This is the basis of love.

1. “Astrology: Transformation and Empowerment” (Red Wheel/Weiser 2002) Page 291.

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