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Micro-separations: how to traumatise your spouse on a daily basis

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Back in 1917, Professor Sigmund Freud highlighted the role of loss and bereavement in the development of melancholia. During the 1930s and 1940s, pioneering psychoanalysts such as Dr John Bowlby and Dr René Spitz underscored the ways in which profound separations might contribute to the genesis of depression, delinquency, and other forms of severe psychopathology.
But what impact do brief, or even tiny, separations— micro-separations —have upon individuals and, moreover, upon partners in intimate couple relationships?
In this essay, we shall offer a typology of the micro-separations which occur between the members of long-established couples, ranging from fleeting moments of misattunement, to periods of vanishing into laptops and mobile telephones, to those of a more overtly dramatic nature. We shall also explore the "frequent-flyer couple", in which one or both members of the pair might travel extensively for work.
Above all, we will consider the cumulative traumatic impact of micro-separations upon the atmosphere and dynamics of the couple relationship and we will discuss how the powerful attentivity of the psychotherapeutic situation both exposes and heals this potentially toxic and, often, invisible pathogen.

Keywords: ATTACHMENT THEORY; FREQUENT-FLYER COUPLES; MACRO-SEPARATIONS; MICRO-SEPARATIONS; PHUBBING

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2021

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  • Couple and Family Psychoanalysis aim is to promote the theory and practice of working with couple and family relationships from a psychoanalytic perspective. It seeks to provide a forum for disseminating current ideas and research and for developing clinical practice.
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