Author Archive for Coupleworks

Denial versus exposure.

Joint denial in a couple is difficult to work with unless there is a facility for long term work.

More often in the consulting room, I find one person is in denial and the other tells all. This is a common cause of irritation on both sides.

Often, I hear, ‘ You are so buttoned up and economical with the truth when we are ‘out’, while the other is saying, ‘Why do you become so dramatic about our life. It is our private business and no one needs to know the real story’. The reality lies somewhere in the middle of both positions.

For a couple dealing with this disparity, it is helpful to know where the resistance comes from on the denial side and where the need to ‘let it all out’ on the other side originated.

One partner may feel as if there is a huge price to pay if the real story of family life behind closed doors is shared with others. Did the family of origin lay down unspoken rules about, “we are the perfect couple and family?” No need for neighbours to know our business.

The other partner may say, “I need people to know it is tough, When I share things with others they feel able to share their own difficult stories”. The sharing of life scenarios and stumbling blocks opens up the feeling of not being alone. Not being the only one to make that mistake or encounter that problem. The sense of others in the same boat is both healing and strengthening. Suspicion about and the reality of, an affair, money issues, different moral points of view can lead to all kinds of feelings about rejection, abandonment and resentment. Not being on each others’ side. Not watching the partner’s back.

Clients sometimes describe their couple as so different that they feel as if they come from different countries and cultures when the reality is that they possibly lived in the same street and went to the same schools.

When all these challenging differences between a couple bring them into Coupleworks, it is necessary for the couple and therapist to gently uncover the triggers which lead to estrangement. I try to encourage both to express how it feels when the other seems to cut the thread of intimacy and join another tribe. Trying not to place blame but using the positive, not negative, energy of underlying anger to fuel better hearing mechanisms leading to clearer understanding.

Questions such as: ‘It seems that what has just been said was really painful to you and I wonder what memories came into your head?’ Are there other voices with ‘should’ and ‘ought’ being said to you by others from your earlier story before meeting your partner? What and who is also is in the room when you argue?

This can slow down the anger and hurt in the room and give pause for thought.  Sharing a healing process can be intimate and helpful taking the couple towards better management of the malignant roundabout of accusation and denial.

Clare Ireland

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us – with all the hype and commercialisation that goes with that.  For some couples, particularly at the start of a relationship, it can be a time of excitement and the anticipation of good things to come. But for others the day has something of a hollow ring to it.

Of course relationships change.  Hopefully they deepen and mature but they inevitably lose some of that initial sense of excitement and passion as partners get to know each other better than they did in those early years.  But how sad it is when couples stop trying to make each other feel special and all the sparkle and great hopes of five, ten or even thirty years ago fade away. Valentine’s Day can then leave people with a sense of being let down when life has not turned out as they would have hoped and planned.

But, if that is what has happened to yours, like the story of some relationships, what has transpired will not have happened suddenly.  Rather like those niggly waves that nibble away at the back of a sandcastle leading to its final demise, so a gradual downhill path can signal the destruction of even the most hoped for partnership.

One of the questions I always ask couples when they first come to see me is what they found attractive about each other when they first met.  This usually brings a real lessening of tension in the room as they recall with fond memories some of the characteristics of their partner that they valued all those years ago.  

When things go wrong between couples it is easy to forget the positive.  But it’s when people say things like ‘ he made me laugh’ or ‘she was so sensitive’ that you can sense a fresh connection being made. Telling your partner something that you value or love about them strengthens the bond between you.

At Coupleworks we spend time with people working with them to try to improve the quality of their relationships.  There aren’t any quick fixes but quite often a few fairly simple things can breathe new life into them when each person takes time to understand themselves and their partners.

Flowers, cards, chocolates and meals for two don’t have to be just a Valentine’s Day treat.  Take time regularly to make your partner feel special.  Talk with them about what helps them to feel loved and cared for – what makes a difference to them.  It might not be what you think it is and the important thing is to listen, not to judge, and then to act on what you have heard. 

Not every day will be a Valentine’s Day but both of you can work together to improve the quality of a relationship that you used to celebrate each 14 February.  If not, why not make an appointment to come and see us.

Sarah Fletcher

Working with Transgenders

transgender

/tranzˈdʒɛndə,transˈdʒɛndə/

adjective denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity of working with two transgender individuals. It has challenged my assumptions, my unconscious prejudices and my ignorance about what it means to be transgender. 

There has been a lot of discussion the past few years about the rights of transgenders and attention on the difficulties of being transgender. 

I remember being on a yoga retreat a few years ago with a group of older and younger women discussing this. Needless to say, the divide between the generations was vast and polarised. What I noticed was how at the root of the discussion was fear… fear of difference, fear of not understanding and fear of engaging with another way of thinking.

Working with Transgenders: 

Jade* walked into my consultant room 5 years ago. The minute I went to meet her in the waiting room I had two conflicting thoughts. One was that I had never seen a more stunning women and the other was an odd feeling ‘something wasn’t quite right’. Throughout the initial session, I was waiting for Jade to tell me a secret I suspected was around but I had no idea what that secret might be. When finally, in the last 15 minutes she told me about being a transgender woman. Suddenly, everything made sense and yet…it didn’t.

As I continued to work with Jade I found myself experiencing her as a man, then a woman and then I was just confused. I started to think about this in terms of Jade’s experience of becoming a woman and how confusing it must have been and still was for her. Often, therapists use the countertransference to understand what their client might be feeling but I was in unchartered territory and I stopped myself from assuming this might be the case. I found myself asking a lot of questions and admitted I was ignorant and didn’t understand anything about being transgenders. 

What I gradually understood was that it was my discomfort not Jades and the frustration of not being seen and accepted by others is at the heart of the transgender experience. Suddenly, I was the one required to challenge my own narratives. I started to do more reading about transgenders and listen to what Jade’s experience was so as not to get caught up in my own assumptions. This enabled me to more fully appreciate Jade the person she was and work with the issues she brought as a woman. Without a doubt, accepting a new paradigm is essential to create changes in attitudes in regards to understanding transgender and to see that there is no them and us but we. 

 

  •  Helpful things to know about Transgender people  
  •  Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
  •  Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask. Language is important.
  •  Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know, ask.
  •  Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
  •  Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person.
  •  Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
  •  Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resource.

*Jade is not her real name

Shirlee Kay

Anxiety and Negativity in a Relationship

Relationship therapists often note that there is an increase of enquiries in January and it seems that 21st January was designated ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year. Is there a link? Apparently a mixture of the dark evenings and grey weather encourages Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and post-festive/party season depression. There seems not much to look forward to and Spring appears a long way off. Dissatisfactions in a relationship can breed, negatives become a focus, and joy feels in short supply.

However, booking an appointment for couple counselling, making New Year Resolutions, committing to Dry January, and even choosing Veganuary, can be seen as ways of recalibrating, attempting recovery, making improvement, and getting back in charge of ‘Life’. But how to manage the despair and hopelessness when motivational levels drop and good intentions stall?

‘Blue Monday’ may be a cynical PR ploy by the travel industry but the response by the Samaritans was interesting. Rather than accept a general blanket of gloom, they renamed the day as ‘Brew Monday’ and suggested a solution: Talk. Take the opportunity to reach out, share, and chat over a cup of tea – open up to vulnerabilities and CONNECT.

With a similar understanding that empathy can be reassuring and effective in soothing anxiety, Brene Browne, in her book ‘Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love and lead’, describes viewing  vulnerability as ‘the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and comfort. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity.’

John Gottman, the American relationship therapist, said that, ‘I believe that every person has areas of enduring vulnerability. For a relationship to succeed, these vulnerabilities need to be understood and honoured and an empathetic exploration of vulnerabilities offers a couple the opportunity to strengthen their relationship.’

Anxiety can be isolating and leave us feeling misunderstood and alone. We can feel shame and humiliation that we are perhaps overwhelmed and that we are not coping as everyone else seems to be. A flash of envy created by an Instagram picture can spiral into FOMO, then a feeling of being not-good-enough, then worthlessness. We can internalise dark thoughts and get stuck in a toxic place of harsh criticism, disappointment and blame. We are super vigilant to the possibility of threat and reactions of ‘flight, fight, freeze’ play out destructively in our relationships. 

‘Some of the worst things in my life never even happened…’ wrote Mark Twain when describing his tendency to catastrophism and worry and, to varying degrees, we are all programmed to be alert to the presence of danger. Tara Brach explains that it is as if, at birth, the brain received the telegram, ‘Start worrying. Details to follow.’ An emotional trigger, a perceived attack, can strike at any moment. Insecurity wreaks psychological havoc in relationships and can result in reactions of deep despair, or hot fury, or icy withdrawal – creating confusion too. 

So, American therapist, Rick Hanson, encourages clients to change the FBI motto of ‘Follow the money’ (when detecting organised crime) to ‘Follow the anxiety’ when unpicking the cause of relationship distress.

Counselling can help this process and offers an opportunity to reflect on how disappointments and irritations are filling a field of vision. A couple can understand how they have become habituated to a focus on the difficulties and differences. Choosing to lift their heads, feel the warmth of love and core connection, can change perspective. The couple can explore why they have continued stuck in negative behaviour patterns of mistrust, defensiveness and hostility – counterintuitive when faced with the resulting hurt and sadness. Of course it can be difficult to break a loop of chronic pessimism when it has become a default relationship dynamic. But it is true that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ positively too. Creating kinder, gentler, more generous and compassionate interactions can offer an optimistic alternative way of relating.

Counselling can help challenge the negative beliefs that drive fear – and help a couple to wake up out of a trance of anxiety. Although beliefs can be deeply ingrained, they are not ‘facts’. A challenge of ‘what would you think, and who would you be, if you did not believe this?’ offers the possibility of explanation, understanding, discussion and choice. The realisation that we all have agency helps us to get in touch with our own resilience and determination. We are then free to embrace empathy and choose affection, admiration, consideration, loyalty, respect which can be transformative and healing. Do we dare to be happy?

‘Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…’

Kathy Rees

January can be a difficult month for Couples

What is it about January that sees such a surge in petitions for divorce and triggers a spouse to decide, out of the blue to up and leave their marriage, walk out and file for divorce, leaving partners feeling shocked, abandoned and betrayed?

In my practice this month I have witnessed both men and women struggling with being left, often with children, with no explanation from their partner.  They believed their relationship was fine and they never saw this coming.  They are devastated at being abandoned and feel on an emotional rollercoaster as they struggle to come to terms with understanding how the partner they had spent so much time with building a life and family together could start the new year by walking away from their life in this destructive harmful way. Everything seems to happen so quickly – one minute they are celebrating a family Christmas together, the next they are gone. Often there is no opportunity for discussion or to process what has happened.

Why spouses decide to walkaway so abruptly?

*For a start it is never ‘out of the blue’ for the partner who chooses to leave

 *Problems in the relationship have probably been bubbling over for a very long time and have not been addressed.  Spending enforced time over the Christmas break with extended family and friends can be hard and often contributes to emotions running high which can push us to breaking point.

*A prolonged period of non-communication, arguments and distancing leading to feelings of loss of emotional connection and falling out of love

*Work and children become the focus not the couple

*Strong feelings of having nothing in common 

*Prolonged periods of time doing most things separately

*Complacency and boredom have become the norm

*Your partner feels more like a flat mate than a partner

*Sex has become a thing of the past

*Your partner feels ignored and unappreciated

The author Tony Parson suggests that men now have a greater sense of entitlement than women.  Years ago a man would have been happy to spend a lifetime providing for his family – now a man wants children but also wants and expects a passionate affair with the mother of his children.  

 *You no longer share your thoughts and feelings and when you do you often feel not listened to and misunderstood.

*Some spouses will do anything to avoid conflict fearing talking about their feelings will evoke an angry response.  It’s easier to stay silent about how you feel.

*Putting on a good front is no longer an option

*There is often another relationship waiting in the wings and wrapping up a marriage speedily allows no break in the new relationship

*It takes enormous courage to walk out of a marriage and family but for some doing it so abruptly and coldly avoids having to work through something difficult or face days and weeks of pleas to stay and work on things.

When a partner walks out on a marriage it seems as if it is the end of your world and the end of a marriage. Sometimes it is but sometimes it’s an opportunity to get professional couples counselling and start a conversation that can help you rebuild and reconnect in ways you used to do when you first got together. 

Walking out on a marriage in this way can be devastating and causes long-term consequences for the whole family.  If a marriage has to end there are better ways of ending it by showing a more respectful and calmer approach 

“Why did we divorce?  I guess you could say we had trouble synchronizing. You know that carnival ride where two cages swing in opposite directions, going higher and higher until they go over the top?  That was us.  We passed each other all the time, but we never actually stopped in the same place until it was time to get off the ride.”  – Diana Hammond, Hannah’s Dream.

Dawn Kaffel

Retirement and Couple Life

Watching Andy Murray struggling with the aftermath of his performance this week gave a searing glimpse into the pain of the forced ending to a career in which he has worked tirelessly to gain a place of supremacy.

His current suffering is a sad example of what many of us may have to endure in our own way and hopefully in a less public arena.

Sportsmen and women know that physical fitness is a definition of what they do. The realisation that this will wane has to be an accepted view of a professional life that has a finite time span before hopefully evolving into an area where these skills can still be celebrated in different ways.

For many of us, a career can be a large part of our identity.  ‘What do you do?’ Is often an opening question in social or business interactions. And the need to feel valued and competent is knitted into many of us from childhood.

Somehow we do know that this must end, but it may not always be within our control.

Even the word ‘retirement’ has a negative context – there can be whiff of helpless oncoming frailty around it.

Work gives many of us status and structure.

Its financial benefit can often be the means of gaining a better life than the one we came from.

It is likely to offer companionship, social interaction and identity.

That’s an awful lot to lose. And this change will throw a real grenade into the structure of couple life.

What a huge shift it is for the partner when an outworker becomes a homebody.

Suddenly there’s another voice that needs attention, lunch and companionship where they both used to find this elsewhere.

For some, it can be a gradual and planned retreat into a world they long to enter. Time and space for thought, hobbies or new interests. But for those like Sir Andy, it’s a shock and played out in a very public arena.

Sudden forced redundancy or ‘being let go’ is a massive loss and needs time to settle.

The new pattern of couple life will need big adjustments. Before irritations set in, take time to discuss how each of you sees the next phase.

All change brings loss and for some, who loved who they were in their careers, it can be a kind of bereavement to be stripped of this and have to grow a new identity.

Kindness and patience will be needed. And the partner who has to assimilate An Other into their daily life will also need tolerance.

A lot of sympathy will be extended to Andy around the massive and unwelcome shift in his daily life. Spare a thought for Kim, his wife, who may have a totally different life thrust upon her, too.

It’s important not to rush changes, but to take a while in building fresh contacts and different habits.

Think about how rethinking time together can create an interesting new phase, but couples  also need to allow time and space to stay with their own individual structures and identities.

Be aware that previous time apart may have protected against petty irritations that are now put into sharper focus.

Stay tolerant. This is a process of negotiation for both and will take a while to settle. It can also be a period of renewed ideas when there’s an opportunity to prioritise what is really important to us.

Discovery of new interests, deeper involvement in established hobbies, time for family and friends and less pressured hours for couples to share new experiences can be a boon after years of slog or commuter travel.

So, dust off those freedom passes, check out a new passion or move up a grade on a favoured pursuit.

Stay curious and remember that we all need endings before we can find new beginnings.

Best wishes to Sir Andy for the next stage in his new career options and his family life.

And equally good wishes to Lady Murray for hers.

Christina Fraser

Friendships and health.

Coupleworks.co.uk has read in the last few weeks that friendships are beneficial to mental and physical health.
Coupleworks, formed in 2004 is a non profit making group of skilled therapists who between us have gathered approximately 150 years of couple counselling and one to one therapeutic knowledge. That in itself is remarkable but the significant side effect which we are beginning to learn about is the benefit to our physical and mental health.
We are all women ranging in age, talents and learning. We support each other when one of us has a difficult time and feel good when one of us has something personal to celebrate.
Dr. David Spiegel, head of Psychiatry at Stanford University in California, emphasises that girlfriend time helps women to create more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression. This can create a general feeling of well-being. I think that men also benefit from their friendships but tend to bond in a different way. When men meet they often form relationships around activities and work problems or success. Dr Spiegel believes that spending time with a friend or friends is as important to our overall health as jogging or ‘working out’.
It is said that men need sex to experience intimacy and women need intimacy to experience sex. This shows that either from nature or nurture, men and women even in this enlightened age still need different bonding skills which they seek in a myriad of ways.
In the years of existence, Coupleworks has grown from 6 totally different women, passionate about our profession to something both valuable and of benefit to our health.
These kinds of face to face meetings, where the benefit is now medically recognised, flies in the face of social media connection which is two dimensional and risks anxiety and stress as a side effect. The third dimension, when two or more friends are breathing the same air, may well be an antidote to anxiety and depression. Whichever genders form a couple, the trust between the two helps to enable separating out to meet friends without resentment or fear of rejection. The benefit of this, in turn, fertilises the couple and makes each person more exciting to be with.
Technology has made our lives more convenient and some believe, more connected. Psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, however, said: ‘With all our technology we mustn’t overlook the importance of honest, from the heart, human interactions with one another’.
Being in the same space at the same time is productive in so many ways that technology cannot replicate.
Clare Ireland.

Finding a therapist isn’t always easy

Finding an individual or couple’s therapist should be straightforward and yet it can sometimes be a complicated process for people.  Asking for help can be difficult and finding the right person that you’re comfortable with requires the ability to be clear about what your needs and expectations are. Some useful things to ask yourself and ask the therapist you are thinking of working with are:

Useful questions to ask yourself:

  1.  What location, time and day can you realistically commit to on a weekly bases?
  2.  How much can you afford to pay weekly?
  3.  Do you want short or long-term therapy?  Is it a specific issue you want to work through or are you interested in doing deeper work?
  4.  Do you want to work with a man or a woman?
  5.  Are language or cultural differences an issue for you? 
  6.  What do you want to get out of the therapy?
  7.  Are you hoping that the therapist will solve your problems?
  8. Are you really ready to start therapy?
  9. Ask a professional or friend if they know of a good therapist.

Useful questions to ask a therapist before committing to working with them:

  1. Are you a qualified/accredited therapist?  What kind of training did you have?  If you are looking to see a couple’s therapist they should be trained in couple work.  It’s ok to ask specific questions.
  2. How many years have you been seeing clients?
  3. Do you specialise in a particular area?  If you have a specific concern ask if they have worked with others on this issue.
  4. What is the average number of sessions you normally see clients for?
  5. What is expected of me?

It’s important to listen to your instincts when interviewing a therapist.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them over the phone you probably won’t feel comfortable working together.

Tell them you will get back to them and ask if you can contact them if you have further questions.  The time and effort you put into finding a therapist will help ensure you find the right person for you.

Shirlee Kay

Relationships and Stress

As a therapist I often see how powerfully external factors in life can influence the stability of a couple’s relationship.  Sometimes these can stem from events happening to a friend or family member – illness, death or marital breakdown can all have significant knock-on effects.  Redundancy and financial pressures of course can impact the couple directly.  But at other times the pressures can come from much further afield – Brexit may be causing a particular tsunami in Parliament at the moment but the shock waves of dis-ease seem to be being felt by pretty well every individual in this country, and as a result, by couples as well.

A key question that emerges therefore for every couple is how they deal with such pressures and how they can build resilience to ride out the low patches of life.  Here it is vital that each partner can recognise what strategies they resort to in times of trouble for themselves initially and, mirroring that, in their partner’s reaction as well.  Behavioural patterns often come from learnt strategies in our family of origin, or ways in which we adapted to survive difficult or traumatic times when we were young.  Did it feel safer for a person to withdraw to what seemed like a calmer place within themselves?  Or did they prefer to fight and express distress by being angry?  Or did they freeze and hope that whatever was causing their discomfort would simply go away?  

All of us respond to external pressures in different ways and there is no ‘right’ way of doing this – but sometimes differences in how each partner responds to such pressures can set up a negative cycle of interaction within the couple. For instance if the cycle is one of both being withdrawers, or a combination of a fighter and one who freezes and denies the problems, then this can lead to alienation and distress in the couple relationship.  By being unable to understand another’s reaction to stress effectively prevents the couple from supporting each other and providing comfort.

The fight, flight or freeze responses to external threats can easily result in negative communication and don’t in themselves lead to good connections in a relationship.  In the immediate threat, these are often our innate and learnt responses – we cannot avoid these but it is crucial that we appreciate them both in ourselves and in our partner.  To build a more solid and sustaining relationship through such troubles each then needs to express their underlying feelings of vulnerability.   This means owning their own fears and anxieties and talking them through with their partner.  The relationship can then become a supportive and caring place rather than one that simply adds to further distress. 

When things become too overwhelming, couple therapy can help relationships to regain stability and become a source of comfort for each partner to survive the lows, as well as to enjoy the better times in life.

Sarah Fletcher

Relationships and Commitment and ‘Why You will Marry the Wrong Person’ (Alain de Botton)

‘The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she does not exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently – the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the ‘’not overly wrong’’ person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its pre-condition.’ (Botton)

Relationships are complicated and yet, at the beginning, can feel so simple and so intoxicating. Partners feel they ‘fit’ together. There is a powerful mutual attraction and there seems so much agreement. There is a delight in the similarities of shared values, interests, ambitions, outlook, or sense of humour.

The glow that emanates from feeling so understood and accepted helps establish a unique and intricate web of inter-connection. Each feels in safe hands and senses the relationship has now established a secure base which can be trusted. The couple dares to feel optimism and hope for the future. The decision to commit to one another, (get engaged, move in together, make their vows in a civil partnership or a wedding), is cause for celebration. 

Yet it is a sad fact that, despite such early promise, many relationships end and 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce. 

Of course, couples are aware that life can be challenging and that the glossy romantic dream sold by celebrities, the movies and the media, is not the whole story. 

It is also accepted that preparation for a big event can be of benefit and pre-empt misunderstanding. Many couples seek pre-marital counselling before the ‘big day’. Couples who are pregnant generally accept that attending ante-natal classes will be helpful in preparation for a birth. 

However, classes that prepare for parenting over the next twenty years of a child’s life are less common. And, similarly, discussions that consider and explore our convictions and expectations of long-term relationships are rarely offered in school. We can be ill-prepared to deal with the complexity of a long relationship, for a life-time spent with a partner, and we can so often end up confused and disappointed.

There can be an assumption that we, ourselves, are quite easy to live with so, when things get difficult, it must be the other who needs to do something differently. However, if the partner is then resentful of the critical complaint and resists the demand for change, feelings of unease, distress and even panic can seep into the relationship. 

We are confused: ‘Why did this happen?’

Their reaction was unexpected and bewildering: ‘Why did you think/say that?’

Something feels contradictory and not right:  ‘How could you do that?’

They can feel unaccommodating and provocative: ‘Why can’t you listen to me/ just do as I ask?’

Suddenly the partner seems not as trustworthy and as reliable as had been first thought. They seem not as easy to live with after all. We are confronted by their differences and the bits that do not ‘fit’ with us. We want them to be ‘normal’ like us. Interactions can become conflicted and fractious. They have fallen from the pedestal and they are not as loveable. In fact they are infuriating!

However, De Botton writes that, 

‘The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person’. 

There will always be things wrong. The concept of the perfect partner is, of course, a myth. No-one is normal. In fact, the only normal people in this world are the people you don’t know very well. (Adler)

When a couple does get to know each other very well, ‘we mustn’t abandon him or her, but abandon the founding romantic ideal upon which the Western idea of marriage has been based for the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning… Every human being will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us – and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.’ (De Botton)

But what to do when a couple becomes stuck and at breaking-point when faced with this dilemma? The choice to stay or leave can feel agonising.

There is an urgent need for bypassing the stalemate and allowing a different conversation, one that is challenging and creative, to begin. The question is whether this relationship has legs?

First, create three columns

  1. 1. Write a list of 50 positives about oneself (It is very important to start with oneself)
  2. 2. Write a list of 50 positives about the partner
  3. 3. Write a list of 50 positives about the the relationship

And I mean 50!

Now, with the intention of a softer interaction, create the time and space (with phones and screens switched off) to share the lists.

Circle where you find agreement. 

Describe the items that leave you feeling most relaxed and satisfied?

Highlight items from the list to which you would like more attention paid.

On which items would you like more focus so they can flourish?

Which items have been neglected or not prioritised and, as a result, have left you feeling disconnected and anxious?

Which ones reassure you that you are loved?

What’s Love Got To Do With It? (Tina Turner)

It’s complex – so start the conversation!

Kathy Rees

This Can Happen

It’s not very often that attending a conference leaves such a buzz and positive energy amongst the participants.  This is how it was at the This Can Happen Conference on Tuesday 20 November 2018, the inaugural corporate mental health event where companies address mental health in the workplace and highlight solutions and innovations to support the mental health of their colleagues and staff.

Over 750 Delegates from 120 companies were present to hear the warmest and informative welcome speech by the founders of This Can Happen, Zoe Sinclair, Neil Leybourn and Jonny Benjamin MBE.

This was followed by a series of innovative presentations and experimental workshops.  With I in 4 employees experiencing mental health challenges this year, never has it been more important for companies to offer the right kind of support for their staff.  Research shows that mental health challenges are the leading cause of work absence in the UK and can significantly impact on a person’s ability to grow and thrive at home and in the workplace.  

The conference was honoured to have in attendance HRH the Duke of Cambridge, a passionate mental health campaigner.  He joined a panel session facilitated by BBC News Presenter Tina Daheley and shared openly and movingly of his time working with the air ambulance service.  How he was often involved with children dealing with life and death situations and families that were destroyed. The relation between the job and his family life took him  ‘over the edge’. His Royal status gave him no immunity from these overwhelming feelings and he learnt to distance himself from the job in order to appreciate that this happens in his work life but not all the time and all around him. He really appreciated having his crew around him to debrief with give him the support he needed.

60 other speakers from a diverse range of companies and organisations all contributed emotionally and passionately about their own personal experiences. They offered knowledge and insights to provide solutions for workplace mental health.

Hopefully a Conference like this will help remove the stigma of having a mental health issue.  There should be no difference in how mental illness is managed in the work place as with physical illness.

Lyssa Barber, founder of the mental health network at UBS, following her own breakdown believes passionately that “good levels of mental health and wellbeing are needed for everyone to really thrive and has seen the results in her company of putting in place meditation, mindfulness, quiet rooms and Mental Health First Aiders are all in the pipeline”

There is no doubt that businesses are waking up to the scale of poor mental health, but there is still a long way to go.  Conferences like This Can Happen offer companies practical toolkits and solutions to take back to their work place.  Hopefully the buzz and energy that permeated throughout the day will be carried back to companies and organisations.  It will be vital to explore at the next This Can Happen Conference how companies have put some of these ideas into practice to make a real difference to the work place.

Dawn Kaffel

Couples Therapy can help with Mental Health Issues

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week was ‘Surviving or Thriving’. Mental health problems are on the rise – we are making progress on our physical health but not doing the same with our mental health.  Thanks to journalists and TV programmes speaking out against the stigma of mental health, our awareness is being heightened as to the effects of mental health issues on daily lives.  Thanks to Prince Harry leading the charge of his own experience of depression and anxiety and his work with the Heads Together Campaign with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge they have highlighted the importance and power of conversation and how being able to talk openly about mental health challenges can be life changing.   It now seems a good time to think about how mental health issues impact on our couple relationships.

Mental Health Professionals tend to focus on symptoms and treatments with the individual and overlook the huge impact this has on our couple relationships.  Any couple relationship can have its proverbial ups and downs but what about when there is the extra challenge of being the partner of someone who has a mental illness.  Losing harmony and connection in a relationship is difficult enough but especially so if some of the relationship changes are brought about by one or both partners developing mental health issues.  Things can be very challenging for a partner without mental illness who has to assume a care giving role

Most people fall in love because they are enjoying each other’s company, have fun together and live harmoniously. Life doesn’t always work out as planned. When a partner becomes depressed, they often tune out, withdraw and have little energy to do much except sleep.  This can often give the impression to a partner that they are no longer cared about, and there is no interest in them, or going out or having sex.  This often leaves the other partner having to pick up the slack especially if there are children.  As frustration and exhaustion develop over time, this often turns to anger and resentment at a partner who cant seem to “get over ‘ the depression.  If this pattern continues it can often lead to affairs and a complete breakdown of the relationship.

Issues with mental health can be debilitating and its important that partners recognise some of the signs that suggest a partner is suffering:

signs to look out for:

withdrawal

agitation

hopelessness

acute tiredness

poor self care

change in personality

In my work with couples I see how a healthy relationship can serve as a buffer to help ward off mental health conditions.  Equally it is well documented that relationship stress can negatively affect the person who is struggling with mental illness and make the condition worse.

We all come to our adult relationships with conscious and unconscious patterns from our own experiences and feelings around mental health.  For example growing up with a parent or family member who may have been depressed, anxious or suicidal can greatly influence how we manage mental health issues in our current partnerships.  

Couples coping with some mental health issues are not that different from other couples in therapy. Often individuals experienced a difficult childhood, a history of low self esteem and lack of confidence, trauma and loss.  Although many of these things happened in the past, they often find a way of infiltrating the couple relationship resulting in on-going conflict. They too develop patterns of poor communication, increased conflict and loss of intimacy.  They too have got stuck in negative cycles leaving them feeling distant, helpless and sad.

Give therapy a try

Coming to Couples Therapy with your partner is a positive step forward. Every Mental Health issue presents its own unique challenge and can be complicated and testing on our relationships.  It requires special attention in couples therapy from a skilled couples therapist to help give clarity to the situation.  

Finding a qualified couples therapist is a valuable option to help explore the roots of the mental health issues and to try and understand how it affects each partner.   At Coupleworks we pride ourselves in taking care to consult with the patients GP, primary care worker or psychiatrist so that we can all work together for the patient to bring about change.  We don’t have to just Survive we can learn to Thrive.

Watch out this week for The Duke of Cambridge who will be attending the inaugural This Can Happen Conference highlighting solutions and innovations in the workplace to support mental health.

Dawn Kaffel

People Pleasing – the Pitfalls of being Too Nice

Let’s start by agreeing that there’s nothing wrong with ‘nice’ – although the word can have a slightly saccharine ring to it.

Being a thoughtful and loving or attentive partner, colleague or friend is a Good Thing. We all need to give and receive neighbourliness and creative connection in our lives.

Nice can be a force for good, but there are pitfalls when this tips over into dogged people pleasing.

Anger and resentments are part of the human condition and we all need healthy ways to admit and deal with their underlying causes.

Bottling up anger means that resentments and grievances have to stay hidden. By absorbing these emotions we do ourselves, and others, a disservice.

Hiding behind a permanently sunny and agreeable persona means we are never truly known. This leads us to fear that those negative qualities are never able to be seen as then we fear facing rejection.

Always being seen as The Good Guy equals an inability to be able to value ourselves and our own wants. Constantly pleasing others will mean that personal needs will always have to be pushed away.

This causes hidden resentment as we have to absorb all the negative feelings, swallow them and somehow find them a permanent inner storage space which will need to be suppressed when others can’t attain to our saintly level and reciprocate when the time comes for it to be our turn.

In fact, for the expert People Pleaser there is no turn. ‘After you’ becomes their motto and the rôle is that of always being the noble, needed one. There’s no healthy give and take as it’s all selfless giving.

For all the supposed gratitude that feeds this overbearing kindness, others can view the people pleaser as a bit of a pushover.

So, how to find a healthy balance?

We need to remember that we all have choices and it’s quite OK to say no sometimes. We don’t have to justify or excuse this.

It’s important that we all know the boundaries that are healthy for us and that balancing our own priorities and needs is an important part of self-care. We all have to look after ourselves in a healthy way before we try to look after others.

In couple therapy, we often see clients who are described as ‘conflict averse’ and cannot express their rage or dissatisfaction.

These people often come from families where there was no anger – so they have never seen differences and clashing opinions being safely aired.

Or they may come from families where rage or violence was a destructive force. And these clients understandably grow up to feel that dissent leads to chaotic, unmanageable situations.

Learning to safely confront negative feelings is an important part of good couple life.

Learning to ask for help and not always be seen as the first-aider is a life lesson.

Being able to be the needy one sometimes and not always the needed one is imperative in any relationship.

Friends can be roughly divided into Radiators and Drains. Let go and block those toxic drains, they aren’t an asset to a good relationship, but even a good Radiator will occasionally break down and need to be able to withstand care and TLC from others.

So, you overly nice people, remember it’s OK to sometimes be the leaky one and maybe friends, family and partners will enjoy being the nurse instead of the patient.

Christina Fraser

Grandparent couples in the 21st century

I am writing this blog with the knowledge I have gained over the years about couples becoming grandparents; mainly in the Western World. As a background to my thinking I am taking for granted that grandparents in certain cultures, religions, social positioning and in geographical areas have always been and still are ‘hands on’. They are expected to be reliable, accepted and respected second parents to their grandchildren. Frequently they are living in a 3 or 4 generation home and their position, until infirmity, is taken for granted.

In the West, families have tended in recent times to wander and to leave their root, out of choice and not always fleeing war zones. They take jobs in other areas, postings abroad, marrying into other cultures, sometimes wealthy enough to travel frequently and more often living in a two generational home either rented or owned. The top generation living elsewhere either in their own accommodation or in a rest home or old peoples’ home.

With all this in mind, my blog for Coupleworks is commenting on the difficulties which can arise for the grandparent couple whom I shall refer to as GCs. I shall look at single grandparenting in another blog because it is different and carries different expectations.

GCs may have a precarious role. Whilst thrilled to be grandparents, the GCs may have only recently experienced their youngest children leaving home. A mixed feeling to begin with, this can quickly become replaced by a whole new adult world opening up. They start to fulfil personal interests, spontaneous travel out of school holiday time perhaps to areas of the world unsuitable for children both in safety and activity needs. They start to regain old friendships neglected during child rearing and have time to make new friends. They can eat healthy food of their choice at times of their choosing. Their hitherto taxi service, no longer required, can sometimes be altered to no car and using other forms of transport.

Once grand parenting begins…how best to play it to suit everyone requires making timetables where both sets of child carers are respected.

In the 21st century, the muddling through as parents is questioned. So many books, diets, allergies, fears about strange people entering the home to care for the children and different forms of child rearing have been thrown at today’s 25-50s parents. The GC’s ‘doing it their way’ is now an anxiety and introduces lack of trust and suspicion into the mix. The wonder, pride and pleasure always present for the GCs is now edged with anxiety in both roles.

I have noticed with clients whom I am now seeing more frequently with this dilemma, the most helpful solution can be firmly laid down ground rules. Rules that can be best put down even before the birth of the first grandchild. If left to ‘fingers crossed’ and chance, surely hidden resentment and unspoken but acted out anger will erupt at unexpected times.

Doing diaries together with respect and understanding is sensible: grandparents often work beyond retirement age and their diaries are as complicated as the parents.

Planning should include:-

Compromise over meal times and content of the meal.

No assumptions made that the GCs will take over in school holidays and half terms.

24 hour- 3 day stints rather than long visits.

Who does what in the kitchen area if the home is shared. Buying, preparation, cooking, serving and washing up to be allotted.

How much housework, bedmaking, washing, ironing if needed, rubbish delivery to the tip etc is expected.

GCs are not expected to do special days unless volunteering. Christmas, Easter, New Year and anniversaries plus all the other culture rest days. These can become minefields. GCs must accept that there may often be another GC couple who may take a different view of their independence and want to be the hosts. Sometimes GCs getting together and sorting this between them can be a help to the childrens’ parents.

Nothing should be assumed. The rules apply as strictly to the GCs as to the parents. GCs may find relegating the control difficult and find it hard to hear, respect and understand the parent’s wishes and their new ways of raising children.

Clare Ireland

Jealousy: How to Embrace and Talk about it with our Partner

Dr. Ari Kiev, a New York psychiatrist, who has written on the subject of jealousy, calls it “the most painful” of human emotions. He claims that jealousy often strikes in the early stages of a relationship when the couple have not developed a sufficiently strong “sense of self” and are prone to doubts and suspicions. It then invariable becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Jealousy brings out the worst in people and most of us don’t want to admit we can be jealous and are ashamed of feeling this secret emotion. Yet, jealousy is a common and normal feeling.  When we learn to accept our feelings of jealousy then we have a better chance of starting to think about it differently and start to talk to our partners effectively. 

The definition of jealousy is often connected to envy and by distinguishing between the two, we can have a better understanding of the origin of this feeling. Envy is a two- person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person scenario. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone.

Knowing whether your jealousy is well founded can be a confusing process. A client of mine was talking about “her jealousy” telling me her husband thinks she is behaving in an unreasonable and irrational manner when he looks at other women in front of her. She admits she reacts badly when he does this and can’t seem to communicate this without her husband turning it around to become about her behaviour. This is when the dynamic becomes confused between them.

When this happens, her behaviour becomes the focus of the issue and her husband’s behaviour is forgotten and the conversation is at a stalemate. Until the dynamic between them shifts, this is the only conversation they can have.

When my client was able to work through her feelings more clearly, she was able to begin a dialogue with her husband to own her jealousy but also pointing out that his behaviour was reinforcing this feeling. She explained that she felt it was as if she couldn’t hold his attention and that hurt her. The blame was taken out of the conversation and he was able to see that his behaviour was making it worse. It’s important to say, this shift in the conversation took some time, but they stuck at it until they were able to see the situation less defensively and from each other’s point of view.

So how can couples best deal with jealous thoughts?

Start to cultivate the connection to jealous feelings. Your body will alert you. It might be a tightness in your chest or stomach. Listen to it and slowly the feelings will emerge. Once you are clear what the feeling is try not to judge yourself, accept it. This will allow you to stay with it and not get caught up in any negative thought patterns: “she’s cheating on me”, “I’m not enough for him”. etc. Once you feel more comfortable with the feeling you can begin to enquire what is triggering it? With this information, you can begin a conversation with your partner. Be patient, it might take a while! 

Recognising that our partner needs more than us is key. We can’t fulfil every aspect of our partner’s need just as they can’t ours.    Logically, we understand this but our wounds of not being enough often triggers us into jealousy and we end up condemning ourselves and then the relationship.

We are all attracted to other people besides our partners, physically, spiritually and emotionally. The more we’re able to normalise this reality the better. When we start to develop a stronger sense of who we are, we begin to live and feel comfortable with the parts of ourselves that ‘are not’ and we become more. 

Be patient and kind with yourself during this process, it’s not easy. Staying with the discomfort is part of the process of getting there. Have faith. 

Shirlee Kay

Relationships – which ‘season’ are you in?

A friend of mine was recently facilitating a group of people from the Voluntary and Community Sector.  In seeking to assess where they were at in their work, he talked about how organisations often go through different ‘seasons’ in their lives: Spring, with its fresh shoots and burgeoning new life, Summer, in its abundance, Autumn with its fruitfulness and drawing back, or Winter a time for retrenchment, but also of subterranean activity.  He began by asking them where they felt we are as a nation, before beginning to get them to think about where their organisations were at, and where they themselves were professionally.   Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority felt that we are currently in the season of ‘Winter’ as a nation. 

For clients who are not used to analysing their relationships it seemed to me that a similar exercise might provide a useful way in to considering them. At Coupleworks we see individuals and couples in enormous conflict and distress in their relationships.  So often too many people come blaming almost exclusively their partners for their problems, arguing it’s they who need to change, rather than beginning by stepping back to take a look at themselves in the midst of their distress.

Helping couples to look at the dynamics in their relationship and what each partner as an individual contributes to the pattern that is currently being lived out between them is a complex task.  Often it is hard for people to begin to think about – they become very fixated about the particular problem of an affair, sex, money or how their partner has let them down, doesn’t do enough with the children or whatever. Very often the break through in the log jam begins to occur when each one starts to realise how they are contributing to what is happening in their relationship, rather than focusing solely on their partner’s shortcomings.  Then by working with that realisation we can help to explore a new or shifted dynamic between the couple.

But getting to that starting point is a challenge in itself – as it was for my friend facilitating the group that day.   Putting some context to people’s lives by beginning to identify ‘seasons’ can open up a conversation when things have become very stuck.

So why not try for yourself, or with your partner, some of the following questions.

Which season are we in as a nation?

Which season are we in as a family?

Where am I in myself?

Where do I think my partner is at?

Which season might my partner think I am in?

Where are we as a couple?

Where were we 5 years ago?

Where would we like to be in 5 years time?

I hope that using this might open up a deeper dialogue for you and your partner.

Sarah Fletcher

Couples: Healing and Reconnection after Betrayal and Infidelity

Coupleworks’ counsellors frequently witness the acute distress of a couple dealing with the aftermath of a betrayal when there have been secrets and lies and boundaries breached. Trust has gone, the relationship no longer feels safe, and there is the possibility of separation.

At the beginning of a relationship there can be explicit discussions, or sometimes just unspoken understandings, about what a committed relationship means to both. For some this will mean monogamy. For others polyamory is accepted. Each relationship will contain its own set of expectations about loyalty, values, needs, hopes, dreams which coalesce to form the couple’s contract with one another. This may evolve into co-habiting, or engagement, or marriage/civil partnership (with the very public declaration of vows and promises). Having children together links the couple in an extra dimension of commitment: co-parenting.

So it can feel devastating when one partner unilaterally does not adhere to the agreed promises and understandings. Affairs, online sexual addictions, gambling and risking financial security, alcohol or drug addictions, can shatter the stability of a relationship and a sudden loss of trust can create profound feelings of shock, grief and rage.

Pia Mellody in ‘The Intimacy Factor’ describes boundaries as protective not punitive; with the relationship boundaries created by a couple felt to be a comfort and not a limiting straight-jacket. It may seem paradoxical, but relaxing into the safe place of a ‘couple bubble’ can be liberating. A soothing relational security can encourage openness, the sharing of vulnerabilities, and the confidence to drop masks. Feeling the true ‘you’ is accepted and understood lessens the need for a false self. The connection is with a ‘soulmate’ and a relationship becomes life-enhancing not restricting or suffocating. 

However, problems arise when one partner, for whatever reason, chafes against the boundaries and acts out (with sex, alcohol, drugs, money) – rather than engage in renegotiating the terms of the relationship. 

The relationship is no longer a safe and even playing field when one person is in the dark about the reality and there is often a feeling that ‘something is wrong’. They may have been feeling anxious, confused and uncertain but when a betrayal is eventually exposed it can still come as such a blow that the distress is experienced as an actual physical reaction of shock (feeling faint, nausea, disorientated, breathless).

A couple coming to counselling at this point have an urgent shared need for containment and reassurance, but it is possible that each has a very different agenda. The betrayed partner, driven mad by not-knowing, is desperate to understand what has gone on. They seek facts, truth, and detailed information in order to regain a sense of control. 

However, sometimes the offending partner is frozen. Having lived a double life for so long, they cannot see a way of giving up either existence. Particularly if there is an addiction, the dilemma is acute. There is a simultaneous attachment to both worlds and the loss of one or other cannot be faced. 

The partner’s distress can lead to an abrupt reckoning and a concomitant terror of losing the relationship. But while there is real remorse and abject apology, there can also be an attempt to diffuse the situation. A desperate need to minimise the damage leads to a continuation of the lies and fudging. Wrongly, it is reasoned that deception lessens the impact and protects the partner from further distress: ‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you.’ They fear the full truth would mean they would lose the love and respect of those closest to them. It could mean public humiliation and everything falling apart. The prospect encourages obfuscation and the keeping of secrets.

With trust shattered, the hurt partner is disorientated and disempowered. The ground has given way. They require honesty, openness and truth from the other in order to gain understanding and insights into what has happened. However, this can come up against the betrayer’s reluctance to disclose and their stifling shame, guilt, and panic manifesting as denial, avoidance, and delusion.

What to do?

The counselling sessions will move through a number of stages involving painstaking exploration. At the beginning there is the need to work with ‘first order change’ in order to create new rules of engagement. It is essential that life regains a balance, terms are renegotiated, behaviours change, requests are respected, and a new pathway into the future is agreed. 

However, new foundations need to be built on rock and not on sand and Michelle D Mays in ‘Partner Hope’ explains that this requires a move to ‘second order change’;

‘’Second order change is when we go below the structures and change the foundational beliefs, feelings and thinking that guide our behaviours…It is deep and long-lasting. It changes things at the core, and these changes then weave and wind through our lives, rising up to create all kinds of additional changes in different areas. Second order change takes time and is experiential… It is not a quick fix and it and requires us to leave our comfort zone.’’ Change is challenging.

When a couple despairs and all feels hopeless it is sometimes the counsellor who understands the possibility of recovery and who holds the hope of repair and regeneration. Counselling offers the time and space necessary for the couple to begin the process of reconciliation, but the possibility of rebuilding from the rubble comes only when there is an authentic intention to engage in change and growth. Discussions about accountability and the taking of responsibility will be necessary. Genuine regret, heartfelt apology, acknowledgement of the hurt, will be part of the step towards healing. The development of a new trust is not easy but loving reconnection can aid forgiveness. 

Michelle D Mays describes ‘The Authentic Hope Process’ as a development:

1. Devastation (Feeling broken and in pieces)

2. Realisation (Surveying the damage, destruction and open wounds)

3. Stabilisation (Keeping afloat and clinging on to the wreckage)

4.  Reimagining (Visualising the shape of a different relationship)

5. Creating (Working together to build a new future)

6.  Flourishing!

Kathy Rees

Mind the Age Gap

Getting back into work after the summer break is always a varied and an interesting time. Some couples feel the break has been far too long and can’t wait to resume their weekly sessions.  Other couples feel the summer break has been good for their relationship and decide to end their sessions. It is often a time to reflect and be curious as to what new clients may present at an initial session.

Interestingly a theme that has already presented is – navigating couple relationships when there is a big age difference of over 15-25 years?

Traditionally these relationships have been the subject of many clichés – ‘It’s a mid-life crisis’, ‘toy boy’, ‘old enough to be your mother/father’, she’s only after his money’.  Now due to more celebrity relationships being in the public eye age-gap relationships are more common and acceptable and not always regarded as negative and suspicious!

Before beginning a relationship with someone much younger or older it’s important to consider your motivations.  Someone who dates an older person may be seeking a more parental figure than a romantic partner. They may be firmly established in a career and will be able to provide financial security. 

Someone who dates a younger person may be seeking more fun and excitement in their lives plus the sexual connection is more energising and exciting.

Does Age Matter?

Research suggests that the success of a relationship depends on the extent to which partners share values, beliefs and goals, trust and support each other and if there is a strong physical and sexual attraction.  These factors have little to do with age.  It is acknowledged that as long as couples can communicate and work at their relationship, age should not pose a barrier.

Make sure your values, morals and life goals match up.  That doesn’t mean they have to be the same but to understand where the other is on these issues and to be able to work on them together.

However what brings age-gap couples into therapy is often they are at a very different stage in their relationship where the age gap appears to be more significant and they are finding it very difficult to talk about how they feel and start to behave very differently with each other.  This starts to make the relationship feel insecure.

Issues that present in age gap relationships and questions we should ask each other:

Do we share future goals, where and how we live?

Do we want a family?

Do we fit in with each other’s family and friends?

How does it feel to be the older and more mature of the couple?  

How does if feel to be the younger and more of the caretaker?

Does it feel as if the relationship is equal and one partner doesn’t hold power over the other?

At the start of the relationship, the age gap can feel exciting and something couples don’t make a big deal of.  It’s often after many years of being together that cracks can start to appear. 

An older partner can slow down and have less energy for the younger partner.  They may be happier spending more time at home than previously.  The younger partner starts to feel resentful and can decide to lead a separate social life, not wanting to be a carer and no longer showing much interest in sex.  This in turn triggers feelings of anxiety in the older partner who feels he may be rejected for a younger model.

Alternatively a younger partner may be wanting to start a family of her own but now realises this is not what her older partner now wants to engage with as he already has a previous family and does not want to start again with a young baby.

Having said all this, the age-gap shouldn’t become the total focus of your relationship.  Sometimes unnecessary dwelling on this can turn things negative when they don’t need to be.  Whenever there is conflict we tend to go to our vulnerable spots, which in this case may be the age difference, but it might not actually be the issue at all. 

Taking time out to understand these feelings is vital to maintain a successful relationship.  Each partner needs to understand themselves as well as understanding their partner and what they need to keep any relationship alive and growing.

Its good to remember:

“When you truly love someone, age doesn’t matter, whether it is a difference of 2 years or 30 years, 

Love is Love.”

Dawn Kaffel

How to avoid an Affair and Curb that Wanderlust

Let’s start by acknowledging that all long term relationships will have their rocky moments. Watching elderly couples on tv sitting side by side and celebrating 50 plus years of ‘happy marriage’ needs close examination.

When they cheerfully state that they’ve ‘had their ups and downs’ it’s unlikely that they are remembering an amusing tiff over the tv remote back in the day.

Long term relationships will have seriously jittery times. Life deals us unexpected events and we will all go through some dramatic highs and lows as well as periods of flatness and resentments.

At the Getting To Know You start of relationships it can seem that we never stop talking to each other. There is so much curiosity and so much mutual interest that it can feel as if the closeness is bulletproof.

Interestingly, the two main reasons that bring couples to counselling, are often a breakdown in communication or trying to cope after an affair.

How likely then is it that these are linked….

If we can’t talk to each other, it leaves a vacancy and makes it easy to find someone else who seems to take a real interest in us.

Communication in any relationship is vital. And it’s so easy to take each other for granted.

Set aside time to talk about what each person wants. Ask questions and find the curiosity that has been lost. We can forget the sense of importance that was set up at the start of a relationship, so don’t allow this validation to just be found in work, families and friends.

It’s not the grass on the other side that’s greener, it’s the grass that gets attention that will flourish.

Be playful within the relationship. People are inclined to confuse childish with childlike. Having fun and a bit of silliness will keep things fresh. Age doesn’t have to be a slide into predictability and boredom. Surprise each other sometimes with a treat, an unexpected experience. This is good barrier against one person finding too much fun and attention elsewhere.

Have a relationship M.O.T every so often.

Take a little time out to get an overview. Discuss petty resentments in a non-accusatory way. Remind each other what you really value in the relationship. And remember to articulate the positives. Compliments flow so easily in the romantic early days. Keep that link to the past.

If at all possible take a day, night, weekend away. No friends or hobbies to fill the time, just a few hours to concentrate on each other. Always keep shared goals and dreams in mind. And keep talking about your hopes and fears.

Don’t neglect your physical closeness. Sex is a great way to communicate. Most relationships will hit patches of overwork and tiredness that can make sex feel like a chore.

But don’t let this become habitual as it can start causing the tiny cracks between couples which become draughty chasms.

Sex then becomes a no-go area even for conversation. If intimacy gets lost it becomes extremely tempting to notice that it can be found elsewhere.

Non-sexual contact is vital too. A hug, a kiss and a stroke especially at an unexpected moment can create closeness.

Acknowledge that there will be others that attract us. We are human and sometimes vulnerable.

But, we also know and can recognise when this starts. Encourage these flirtations and that way danger lies.

It can feel painful to avoid the ‘accidental’ times when you may be alone with someone who ignites emotions that seem buried in your own couple relationship.

Remember you have a choice, maybe not over how you feel when drawn to another, but there is a pivotal choice over what you do with those feelings. It can be hard to resist the heady rush of feeling a mutual attraction to another, but that’s the decisive moment.

Your choice. Always.

This song was written in the aftermath of a destructive long forgotten affair

 

Wanting to not cheat in these circumstances is a tough call. Take the need for validation and romantic love and bring it back to breathe some of the energy and spice into your tired partnership. The results may surprise you.

Christina Fraser

Body Language

The social psychologist Amy Cuddy has given a TED Talk (June 2012) entitled ‘Your body language shapes who you are’. She discusses how our body language influences how we are perceived by others – but that it can also change our perception of ourselves. More than that, we can even affect our own body chemistry by adapting the way we sit or stand – and consciously alter our mood by shifting our body shape.

(Try it now…
Stand up and fling your arms wide apart.
Hold that position.
Now smile with your eyes as well as your mouth.
Hold that position.
How do you feel?)

When we feel confident of love we metaphorically and actually spread our arms out wide.
Think of greeting someone you love. We fling open our arms in a gesture of welcome and acceptance and envelop them in an embrace – bring them close. Our bodies feel full of energy, loose and relaxed
However, when feeling vulnerable we curl into the foetal position. When feeling defensive we fold our arms across our bodies. We shut out the person who might cause us pain and harm. When feeling hurt we can become cautious and wary. We withdraw and become emotionally unavailable. The face becomes closed, expressionless and unrevealing and we avoid eye contact. If we are angry our bodies hold a tension and stiffness and we become unapproachable – ‘don’t touch me!’

Our mental state mirrors our physical state. When feeling under attack, we become defensive and shuttered off from the feelings of the other person. It is a state of mind that is the opposite of ‘open wide’. We struggle with empathy or curiosity. Concern and intimacy, interaction and connection, can be lost.

In her book ‘Marriage Rules’, Harriet Lerner describes defensiveness as ‘the archenemy of listening’.
If you cannot listen without interrupting then, effectively, you are blocking your partner. Dialogue breaks down. There is no room for an acceptance of difference, or an engagement of ideas.
Sentences that begin with ‘Yes, but….’ and ‘No, no…’ are rebuttals of the perceived reality of the other. Both feel unheard.

But how to step out from behind a defensive barricade and start a conversation – not an argument?
Consciously choose to change position from passionate fury to ‘passionate listening’ (Harriet Lerner)
Change the body chemistry. Alter your mind’s position and lower the flood of adrenaline released by the ‘flight, flight, or freeze’ reflex reaction.

Pause.
Breathe in deeply.
Exhale slowly.
Metaphorically stay present (mind open wide).
Say ‘tell me more…’

Counselling with a Coupleworks therapist offers a safe environment to begin to take this first step towards change.