Co-working in Mutuality

When we presented a workshop on “Conscious Partnering – Challenges of Couple Counselling in the 21st Century” at the national NZAC conference in August 2000, it was surprising to us that a major interest was in our co-working with couples. We were met with curious questions, “How do you do it?” “How do you manage to work together as a couple?” We carry these questions with us, and have been exploring at more depth the rewards and challenges of co-working as counsellors and being in relationship together at the same time.

Generally clients respond to how they experience the counsellor. Actions speak louder than words. Therefore examining our own relationship in terms of what we model our clients has been vital for us.

We have a commitment to a “conscious partnership”. To determine more accurately the quality of our relationship and our co-working, we needed a shared spiritual value as an orientation. The “guiding star” for our work with each other crystallised to be “mutuality”.

What do we mean by mutuality?

“Mutuality is when differences add” (Shem and Surrey, p.51). This short and precise definition has provided a welcome impulse to examine our relationship with difference.

We frequently meet our differences, in the way each of us expresses his/her thinking, feeling and acting. Simply writing an article together, such as this, exposes our different preferences, habits, beliefs and underlying sensitivities. What do we do with these differences?

Sometimes we argue. Sometimes one of us withdraws. Yet other times, we manage both to stay true to ourselves and open for the other. These are moments when we experience mutuality.

What is the attitude that engenders mutuality?

  • My contribution is as important as yours and your contribution is as important as mine.
  • I am interested to understand where you come from and willing to dialogue. I allow your experience.
  • I am willing to stand up for my own needs, and to voice what is important to me.
  • At times I am prepared to lead, at others to be led.
  • When we get stuck, it is our shard problem.

It is an attitude of “yes – and” rather than “yes – but”. We stand next to each other, side by side and build on each other’s contribution. Bruce Derman calls mutuality “an attitude of equality”, where we see ourselves and our partners as equals. It’s not about negating individual differences, but to not use those for placing ourselves above or below our partner.

Apart from being an attitude of equality, mutuality is also an inter-relational creative process that asks of each of us to stay open to difference and change.

What are the obstacle on this path of mutuality?

We loose mutuality when we start to judge ourselves and/or each other. In judging we move from a horizontal to a vertical stance and put ourselves up or down in relation to our partner. Either of has been tempted to say, “If it weren’t for your problem with xyz, then we’d have a great working relationship”.

Judgements get in the way of mutuality. The easy answer could be, “let’s get rid of judgments”. However, judging our judgments as unacceptable doesn’t necessarily remove them. They merely go underground and find their expression in covert messages to each other or are disguised as private accusations where we engage in negative self-talk about our relationship. Judgments often come in forms of “shoulds” we place on ourselves and each other and lead to criticism, blame and conflict.

The best way to deal with judgments is to embrace them with acceptance and explore their purpose. Accepting our judgments involves bringing them into the light in order for us to be able to examine what they protect.

When we assume an attitude of equality then we are more likely to expose ourselves to each other in the knowledge that we carry similar wounds and defenses, in the knowledge that my truth serves your truth and vice versa (Welwood).

Questions like these have supported our journey from disconnection to reconnection:

  • What thoughts, needs or feelings have been touched in our exchange with each other that make us feel really vulnerable?
  • What makes it so frightening for us to reveal our vulnerability?
  • What are the deeper fears or hurts we are avoiding or rejecting?
  • Which of our beliefs reinforce our defensive behaviours?

Mutuality is a shared commitment to resolving what blocks the flow of love, what blocks connection with ourselves and each other. As each of us is prepared to take responsible for a presenting relationship problem with questions like, “what is asked of me now?” or “what is it that I can do towards resolving this problem?” we become more empowered personally, and the need to move into a vertical stance of up-down becomes less necessary. Mutuality means developing a real acceptance and appreciation for all thouhts, feelings and needs we have both struggled to hide or deny.

“Mutuality is an approach that must be learned. It invites you to change perceptions, beliefs and values you have held since childhood, and to risk moving beyond your familiar patterns to a much higher level of emotional risk.” (Derman, p.xvi)


Derman, Bruce (1994); We’d have a great relationship if it weren’t for you – Regaining love and intimacy through mutuality; Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications

Shem, Samuel & Surrey, Janet (1998); We have to talk, Healing dialogues between men and women; Sydney, AUS: Hodder.

Welwood, John (1990); Journey of the Heart – The Path of Conscious Love; New York: Harper Collins.

Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 05/2002 by Rumijabu | Originally published in NZAC Newsletter, Vol. 23 No.1, June 2002

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