Couples Therapy Themes: The schlepper and schleppee.

Balance of energy


The schlepper is the one that is doing the dragging. The “schleppee” is the one that’s being dragged into couples therapy. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the couple, there’s always one and the other. A lot of times I think that with couples, it’s important to accept that we have different personality types and how to manage them. Usually, it’s really about them coming together and coming to a certain balance, where the schlepper doesn’t always feel like they’re schlepping and the schleppee doesn’t always feel like they’re being schlepped around because that creates a lot of resentment. It creates distancing and with that, a whole host of conflicts arise, parenting conflicts, sexual conflicts, but really, in most couples, there is another term for it is the pursuer and the with-drawer.

What I find is that the more, using the term schlepper and schleppee, the more the person is the schlepper, the more the schleppee kind of withdraws. The higher the energy of one partner, the other partner kind of by default, goes into a lower form of energy, which activates the high energy partner and then he or she becomes more demanding and then the other partner comes more and more withdrawn and it’s inevitable. I think part of it, and Sue Johnson talks a lot about the dance, it’s recognizing this dance that partners get into, when again, at the core, all they really want is to be loved, to be accepted, to connect, and it’s just, they’re going about it the wrong way, which gives hope, because there are definite, different ways of getting there, by a lot of different terms.

Like I said before, Gottman has their own training and way of doing things. Sue Johnson has her way of doing things, but all of these different modalities really have a lot of commonality and that’s really just how to connect the partners. A lot of Type A personalities can come off as controlling and a lot of these Type B personalities can come off as, they don’t care about anything. It’s really the furthest from the truth. The Type A just doesn’t know a better way of connecting and the Type B, a lot of times, it’s not really necessarily Type A and Type B personalities per definition, but I think when I say that, a lot of the common people not in the therapy world kind of get what I mean by that.

Really, what they’re doing is they want to just be together. They want to just connect and I know that I say that a lot, but that’s at the core of all of this is human connection and I think we go further and further away from that, especially in this society when a lot of times both people are working and have very limited time together. In that limited time, they want to get everything done, so there’s this level of anxiety, level of discomfort that comes with it.

What I was going to say is that these quote unquote Type Bs, at the core, a lot of them feel this fear of failure and fear of, I’m never good enough for this person. No matter what I do, they always want more. Their default is, kind of screw it. I’m not doing anything. No matter what, it’s never going to be enough. Again, in therapy, one of the important things is for the couples to recognize what part they have in this dance and then change the dance. When they talk to each other and they’re able to, I’m just going to kind of be stereotypical here, so if the wife is the schlepper and the husband is the schleppee, which is usually what I see. Usually the woman is the one that’s more the pursuer and the male is more of the with-drawer.

When I can engage the male and I can get him to really identify the reasons why he’s withdrawing and the woman can see that, it absolutely changes it because then she sees that it’s not that he doesn’t want to be there, it’s that he really has a fear of failure. For that instant, there’s a connection and a bond that’s made there that really just, it can’t be broken.

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