Couples Therapy Case Study: Anna and Brian

The following is a case example of how Couples Therapy facilitated one couple in resolving some of the difficulties in their partnership.

Helping Brian and Anna to Build a Happier Future Together

Anna and Brian came to Couples Therapy with Linsey, our Relationship Psychotherapist at Evidence-Based Therapy Centre, on the verge of a relationship breakdown.

Why Anna and Brian came to Couples Therapy

Anna felt that she was doing everything to keep the relationship going, and that Brian took her for granted. Brian felt isolated and neglected, and often found himself lacking the motivation to do the things he felt Anna nagged him to do.

Anna was thirty and worked full time as a personal assistant while completing a Master’s degree part-time in the evenings. Brian was also thirty and had completed his degree. Since graduating five years ago, he had held a variety of temporary jobs and was unemployed when the couple first scheduled an appointment with Linsey. Although she wished Brian would put efforts into finding a job, Anna noticed that he spent most of his day playing video games.

The couple had not had sex for over four months; Anna would attempt to initiate sex, but Brian did not have the desire. The couple were engaged to be married, and had set a date for their wedding six months from when they first contacted Evidence-Based Therapy Centre. Anna would like children, but she was now feeling that Brian would not be a fit husband or father.

Working Together to Uncover the Issues

In Couples Therapy, Linsey began to explore the couples’ backgrounds.

Anna was the eldest of four children. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack when Anna was twelve, and her mother became depressed following his death. Anna looked after her younger siblings, and was responsible for completing the majority of the household chores. She worked very hard academically because she saw this as a way to eventually support her family financially.

Brian was raised by a single mother. He had no ongoing relationship with his father, who left when Brian was one. He was close to his mother when he was little, but as he grew up his mother had to spend more time working outside of their home in order to support them both. She trained as a nurse and did shift work. Brian was often left to fend for himself in the house while his mother was working.

Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together

Over the course of their work together, Linsey helped Anna and Brian to notice ways in which their early lives were now shaping their current relationship patterns. They came to the conclusion that the couple were repeating different aspects of their pasts unintentionally, and each were feeling resentful about it.

Anna found herself in a position where she was once again under pressure to provide and care for her loved one. She had not been able to express her upset at her family of origin because her mother was depressed and her siblings were younger than her, and she felt responsible for keeping them from any further hurt or distress. Anna had experienced rage at her experience of growing up that it was not possible for her to express or work through safely at the time, and this was now being experienced and expressed in Anna’s relationship with Brian.

Anna was also scared that she was marrying into the difficult family situation she had grown up in, as she was worried that Brian, like her mother, was depressed. As Linsey helped Anna to make sense of her experiences and her emotional responses, Brian began to understand some of Anna’s frustration with him. As they explored Anna’s early life and experiences, Brian was able to view Anna’s reactions to his own behaviour in the context of what she had been through previously, helping him to be more understanding and sympathetic when she felt threatened.

During the work together, Linsey discovered that what Anna perceived as Brian’s “depression” had first become apparent around the time that Anna had started her Master’s degree. Brian remembered that while his mum was away working when he was a child, he occupied his time mostly by playing computer games and eating frozen pizza; a pattern of behaviour he now repeated while Anna was out in the evenings.

Brian recalled his experience of sadness at his mother’s working hours despite his understanding even at the time that she was working hard so that he could have a better life. As a child, he was often lonely, and felt that his mother didn’t want to spend time with him. Brian admitted to Anna that he felt she preferred her work to spending time with him.

Brian also acknowledged that he was angry at Anna about her decision to apply for her Master’s, which he felt she had chosen seemingly without considering the impact this may have on Brian and their relationship. Anna had learned from her experiences that others were unreliable – something which her discussion with Brian and Linsey helped her to realise – she was used to making decisions by herself and rarely relied on anyone for advice. Anna admitted that she hadn’t considered talking to Brian about applying for the Master’s, and she began to understand his experience of neglect.

Building connection through understanding 

Working together over a number of sessions, Brian and Anna began to develop a better understanding of their own and each other’s perspectives. When placed in the context of their past experiences, the ways in which they each responded to the challenges in their relationship seemed more understandable and relatable.

Once they began to understand their own and each other’s behaviour, and how it had functioned for them in their lives up to that point, they were able to think more practically about how to address their relationship issues in ways that were more considerate and functional.  Linsey set about helping the couple to identify ways of working through their differences that felt respectful of both partners’ needs.

Making Meaningful Changes

Anna and Brian both agreed they wanted to stay together, and recognised that they would need to commit to ongoing maintenance of their relationship. They spent time giving serious consideration to what they needed to change in order to improve the relationship. A first step that they agreed to was reconnecting to each other by spending more time enjoying each other’s company. They started by scheduling a regular “date night” each week, which they both began to look forward to.

After highlighting some of the barriers to his job search together with Linsey, Anna began helping Brian to look for suitable employment. Brian recognized how his behaviour contributed to the strain on Anna’s resources – her little free time was often being spent tending to things Brian had been distracted from, so she had limited energy left to address his need for companionship when she was home. Brian began taking responsibility for more of the household chores, freeing up Anna’s energy to enjoy their time together.

Looking to the Future

The couple noticed improvements in their relationship, including fewer, more productive arguments and an increased experience of intimacy and mutual regard. They decided to continue working together with Linsey following their agreed sessions to explore the possibility of starting a family together.

Thinking that Couples Therapy may be right for you and your partner?

You can learn more about Couples Therapy with Linsey’s helpful guide here, or contact our reception team to book an assessment.


 If you would like to book an appointment you can call the clinic on 091 727777 or get in touch via the contact page.