While Freud made the Oedipus complex the linchpin of his theory of the development of the structure of the personality (id, ego, superego), post-Freudians have tended to focus on earlier anxieties. Klein, in particular, while acknowledging the presence of oedipal anxieties in infants, tended to focus on early mother-infant relationships in her analytic work.
It was the publication in 1989 of The Oedipus Complex Today, edited by John Steiner, that restored oedipal anxieties to a prominent place in object relations theory. In that volume Britton, in particular, argued that the child, to mature, needed the experience of being both included and excluded from the parental relationship. It was dealing with the anxieties that each of these positions evoked that led to the capacity to be able to see the other’s point of view.
The importance and relevance, therefore, of the role of oedipal anxieties in couple therapy with an object relations focus is hardly surprising. The challenge of the intrusion of the third arises often in couple relationships: the arrival of the first child, an affair, all-consuming work. How this can be understood, and worked with, is made more challenging by the fact that the therapist also forms a third in the couple relationship.
In this paper the presenters will look at oedipal anxieties in the context of recent object relations theory and will examine these ideas in a case study where the intrusion of a ‘third’ has caused much marital unhappiness.