Author Archive for Coupleworks

Having Difficult Conversations Needs to Happen before Real Change can Happen

I watched an interview with Melissa Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation. Bill and Melissa work with partners around the world to help effect change globally and then scale solutions down to a local level. The foundation works to empower countries and individuals to care for themselves and to provide care for others.

In the interview, Melissa was asked how change in the world happens, and she answered that change needs to begin by having the hard conversations that we all want to avoid.  She used the example of someone once asking her if she was a feminist, Melissa decided that until she was able to be a feminist at home and have those hard conversations with her husband she wasn’t able to go out in the world and be a feminist. This made me think about working with couples and how difficult it is for them to have the difficult conversations with one another.

In the Psychology Today article “Just Say It…. We all have things we are not saying to the people we love.” The article wrestles with the idea that not every issue needs to be discussed and that there is value in sometimes avoiding certain subjects. This of course, is true, couples need to learn when it’s important to hold back and when it’s important to talk…no matter how hard that might be.

We all avoid difficult issues, both small and large, because we feel the discussion can escalate and that might mean the end of a relationship. But avoiding difficult conversations is risky because the issues are still there and will create resentment and hard feeling until the issue is worked through and resolved. When we avoid having the hard conversations we limit ourselves, our relationships, and the possibility of change.

So it’s not surprising that most people who avoid conflict find a partner who isn’t afraid of conflict. This in itself is usually uncomfortable but it really is a huge opportunity for both partners. Often the person who avoids conflict can teach the other to pull back and choose their battles and address it in a way that is digestible for others. Conversely, the person more comfortable with conflict can teach the other that addressing conflict can be safe and empowering.

In my experience, couples usually start to raise issues in the session but the minute it gets uncomfortable they seem to automatically pivot into their familiar narrative. One couple I work with reverts to the same narrative that “actually everything is ok and not really a problem”, convincing themselves that their relationship is fine and that it’s better not to go there; in other words the couple colludes with one another just to stay comfortable and safe. Another couple I’ve worked with blames their inability to resolve issues on the wife’s hormone issues. It keeps the couple stuck, unable to resolve and move on.

The truth is, going to an uncomfortable place is hard for everyone and once this is acknowledged it is more likely that couples are able have the difficult conversations and find better understanding and resolution.

The best way to change this pattern is to start noticing when this happens. Observe when you start to feel uncomfortable with a conversation (it will be felt in the body, a tightness in the chest, throat or tummy). Registering this will allow you to begin to feel more comfortable and perhaps even help you take the risk of saying what you want to say. Of course, this is a process and it takes time to begin to see the change in yourself and your partner.

Esther Perel explains how to have hard conversations with your partner


Forbes, the business magazine surprisingly provides some concrete advise on how to push through difficult conversations that is relevant for professional and personal issue.

1. Be direct. When having a difficult conversation…Be specific. …
2. Plan out the conversation. …
3. Watch your language. … Offer a solution
4. Manage your emotions. …
5. Be empathetic. …
6. Allow the other person to ask questions.

So whether discussing world or personal issues that can wound us, we need to develop the muscle to help us strengthen our resolve to have those hard conversations. As I watch couples find their confidence to push through and have the hard conversations skilfully and sensitively, I know they have the resources they need to get through even the most sticky conversations.

Shirlee Kay

Listening with two ears

Epictetus, a Greek philosopher once said ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’.

In practice of course, for many of us that is easier said than done and we need to train ourselves in the art of listening carefully to what others are saying.  There is nowhere that this is more important than in our relationships, where we need to cultivate the habit of listening to what our partner is really saying, often beyond the words themselves.

This is particularly relevant where a couple are moving into the stage of life where issues of mortality are beginning to be opened up – both for the partner and for the one they love.  I think for instance of a couple who I heard about recently outside of work, who seem to be bickering about her vinyl record collection. She is now in her 80’s and he is much the same age.  Both are fit, having had one or two scares in the past, but both of them must be aware that death is probably not far away for one if not both of them.  I don’t know whether they talk about that.  What I do know is that they tend to argue quite a bit about the size of her record collection.  Time and again he will say that she needs to reduce it, whilst she will be equally insistent that she will do it in her own good time and that actually she doesn’t want to reduce it even if it is very large already.  In fact, far from cutting it down she regularly searches either on the Internet or in second hand shops for more vinyl to add to her collection.

But in hearing about them it has struck me that the records are only the symptom of the much bigger question of their mortality.  On one understanding the husband dreads the thought of being responsible for clearing them up when she is gone and is becoming more anxious about the size of the task.  Whilst she on the other hand is hanging on to the collection as living proof that she is continuing to live her life to the full, and in a way is denying her own anxieties about her mortality.

Both positions are understandable but the problem is that neither of them seems to be talking to the other about their fears and concerns. Rather they are entrenched in a power struggle, bickering constantly about the disposal, or not, of the record collection.  As a therapist I would love to be able to work with them to encourage the ‘real’ conversations that need to happen.

Clearer communication about the deeper feelings would help of course, but also a deeper level of listening would also break this deadlock.  Using both those ears to listen, to the words with one ear, but to listen to what might be the feelings behind them with the other.  Developing curiosity and asking the question… this seems to be really important to you – tell me more about it….

For this couple, one would hope that they could have a greater understanding of each other and a more peaceful and fulfilling time as they approach the final years of their lives together.

One of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology said

‘ For any culture which is primarily concerned with meaning, the study of death – the only certainty that life holds for us – must be central, for an understanding of death is the key to liberation in life’ (Stanislav Grof).

We could also add that it is the key to satisfying, life-enhancing relationships as well.

Sarah Fletcher

The Autumn of a Long Relationship

In his poem ‘To Autumn’ Keats describes this time of year as the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’ describing Autumn as having its own richness and ‘music’ that is different from, but as lovely as, ‘the songs of Spring’.

At the beginning, a new relationship can feel like an emotional Springtime – light and fresh and green. It can be a charged, optimistic and euphoric time and the world seems full of promise. But it is not just about hearts and minds, Helen Fisher describes falling in love as a powerful biological experience too. Novelty can stimulate our dopamine systems and a new love can mean we are infused with a constantly elevated level of dopamine. The area of the brain most activated by a new romantic love is the same one that is activated by cocaine and we can have the same craving for and feelings of elation from the very presence, sight, sound and smell of our loved one.

However, over time, the adrenaline begins to fade and this ‘honeymoon period’ ends. The Darwinian purpose of love is the survival of the species and the excitement of attraction needs to transform into an attachment that enables us to become long-term partners. Our emotional bonds deepen and strengthen. We feel caring and protective and concerned for the wellbeing of our partner and this closeness and connection creates a sense of emotional security. Now oxytocin, a different but equally powerful hormone, is released. The Autumn of a relationship could be described as ‘mellow’.

But both Helen Fisher and Esther Perel describe the dilemma that couples face at this stage of their relationship. Conflicting biological drives developed to meet our different human needs and they do not sit easily with one another. 

Perel identifies the clash between our pull towards the warm nurturing intimacy and sustaining emotional security of a committed relationship, and the co-existing human urge for playfulness, novelty, excitement, mystery and change. 

Fisher says these drives can cause confusion. ‘You can feel a deep attachment to a long-term partner at the same time that you feel intense romantic love for someone else, and at the same time feel sexually attracted to someone else again’.

We want the comfort of familiarity, being known, accepted and appreciated. However, unfortunately, that can also create an erotic flat-lining and a sense of boredom. There is a danger that everything predictable – while soothing and reassuring – can, over time, decrease the erotic charge between the couple. 

Attention, interest, admiration, affection, variety, surprise, excitement (in whichever way this is defined by each of them) is required for desire to spark.

Like Autumn, a long committed relationship bears fruit. It has colour, complexity, richness and depth which a couple can celebrate. Their own particular history is a patchwork of shared experiences. However, they will always need to continue to balance the flow between similarity and difference, independence and togetherness, energetic otherness and soothing familiarity. If they can revive the romantic behaviours that were naturally present at the beginning, then they can again enjoy the pleasures of both a dopamine and an oxytocin rush.

Counselling can help us understand how our brains work and allow us to consider and manage our unconscious impulses. A couple can grow to understand the way passion waxes and wanes and the importance of constant repair and reconnection. They can then consciously and openly make the choices that are best for them – and deal honestly and bravely with the consequences.

‘Autumn Leaves’ – Nat King Cole

Kathy Rees

Is it Gutsy to stay in a marriage after Infidelity?

Hilary Clinton was speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America this week to promote a book she wrote with her daughter Chelsea The Book of Gutsy Women. 

When asked “what was the gutsiest thing Hilary had ever done” she replied “politically running for President and personally making the decision to stay in my marriage with my husband – just getting up every morning and keep going.”  

Esther Perel whose book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity: challenges the stigma of shame we face in choosing to stay with a partner whereas it used to be choosing to divorce that carried the stigma.

This raises very challenging questions for couples facing issues of infidelity and seems to be what brings more and more couples to couples therapy.  

Is it gutsy to stay in a marriage with someone who has cheated on you or is it cowardly and self destructive to stay with someone who has broken your trust and let you down so very painfully?

Knowing the relationship will never be the same again does it take more guts to leave a marriage and leave the mess behind you? Or is it more gutsy to stay with a partner when you have been betrayed to try to make sense of what has happened rather than justify ones behaviour.

Although infidelity is still the main reason why couples split up and is the most painful and agonising to go through it can also be the most incredible turning point in a relationship where a very different relationship can be created and thrive.

Both partners have to make the decision to really work on their relationship there is no simple answer to this horrific situation – to stay can be seen as self defeating and fearful.  What message am I giving you by deciding to stay?

Lots of things have to change after an affair.  It takes a lot of courage to admit to being so hurt and betrayed by your partner. Just as it is so shameful for the betrayer to face up to how much hurt and humiliation they have caused.

How do you show contrition?  The person who has strayed demonstrates how sorry they are but after time can get irritated by continually having to show remorse.

This is what psychotherapist Lucy Beresford calls the Museum of Hurt.  If the betrayed partner is constantly reminding the betrayer of what they have done, after a while this is not helping and perhaps signifies that only one partner is doing some of the work to repair.

Saying sorry is not enough- actions have to speak louder than words that give the message that they are not going to hurt their partner again.

However there are people who either find it very difficult to do all the work or are not prepared to put the amount of time and effort required to heal this trauma. 

If you are in a long term relationship where there is a lot of care and love when was the last time you really took time out to really work together to check in with each other, to make time to show real interest and connection?  Affairs are very rarely about having more sex or falling in love with someone else but more often a commentary on the individual as well as the relationship as it is at this moment in time and where we are, what we have lost or what we feel is missing. 

Lucy Beresford in her conversation with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London says that Infidelity forces us to look in the mirror and take a long hard look at ourselves.  Do I like what I see?  Who have I become in this relationship and what do I need to change?

Taking time out to talk to a couples therapist often feels risky for some couples but it can really help to make sense of what has happened to us, what responsibility we both take in taking care of ourselves and our relationship and what changes we both need to make.  Placing trust in an experienced couples therapist to shine a light on a relationship that has been in hibernation and help you as a couple make decisions whether you can stay together and grow together or address the need to end the relationship.  Now that’s gutsy!

Dawn Kaffel

Autumnal Change and Uncertainty

Let’s start with the premise that change is usually unsettling. The human brain is generally not programmed to thrive on risk, so habits and learned ways of thinking can be a source of comfort in our daily lives.

The wise American philosopher William James stated that;

‘A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices’

This was written at the turn of the 19th century but could easily stand today as a shining observation of the overloaded list of social and political dilemmas in this strangely unsettling autumn of 2019.

It’s rare in my counselling room for world or national events to be a focus. Clients come for a variety of reasons,  usually needing a safe space to reflect on the issues that affect their own personal situations. Seldom do outside forces seem important enough to invade their personal session time.

During these last weeks, fear and external conflicts have caused disruption to so many of them and has now become a subject in itself that has impacted the lives of most of us in some way.

Theoretically,  we may try to understand that change is a crucial component of growth and evolution, but we also need to trust those who appear to be in control.

Without certainty, rumour, speculation and assumptions will thrive and leave us feeling understandably threatened.

It is inevitable that, at some point, we shall all experience change in our everyday existence.

Births, deaths, divorce, redundancy and separation are among the huge life events that mean major re-evaluation and adjustment, and these are often the presenting problems that bring clients to therapy.

All change will bring loss – even the most joyful shifts in our lives. Some of the more difficult personal events will feel shocking and unexpected, leading to anger and disorientation.

The current situation in the UK is now bringing up emotions described as nameless dread, fear and helplessness leading to real anxiety around the future, as clients contemplate their own experiences and then make links with the wider social and political situation that has overshadowed us all in recent months and left many feeling dispossessed and scared – both for themselves and those they care about.

This kind of enforced change can shift perspectives for us all and will alter our emotional landscape.

In our personal lives, tumultuous situations such as bereavement, health issues and job losses are always going to bring grief and fear. But compounded with the tenuous social and political  situation, many of us are feeling the chill of uncertainty and a range of complex apprehensions.

Therapy can’t change what’s happening in the moment, but talking feelings through with an impartial, empathetic listener in a place of comfort and safety can be extremely helpful for clients.

Adjustment to the altered state of our lives is a process that is helped by self-care and kindness.

Sometimes feelings of helplessness and frustration are exacerbated by the way they revive emotions that were experienced much earlier in our lives, bringing anxieties into sharp focus and making current responses even more vivid and upsetting.

Acceptance of a new state doesn’t mean forgetting what went before, but needs the ability to leave behind what we knew as normal and find a shift to our new normal.

Which again brings me – reluctantly – to the present state of our country. We all share this huge void of uncertainty even though we may be looking at it from different viewpoints.

Change can be exciting if it forces us to grow and look at things from a new and different viewpoint. It can teach us to be flexible and can challenge long-held beliefs leading to creativity and can help us develop new strengths leading to a boost in our self-esteem and strengthening our resilience.

As humans we need to accept that society has to develop and evolve. But change that feels forced upon us all and seems to benefit only some at the expense of many, can feel unjust and leads to the anger that comes from experiencing unfairness and the imposition of ideas that may conflict sharply with our own beliefs.

As the clocks go back leaving summer behind, let’s hope the autumn of 2019 is not remembered as a dark and gloomy place, but the start of a new opportunity for some beginnings of hope and reconnection.

We can’t change the past, so rather than regret what may have been lost, the way to feel more in control is to look at whatever we now can do to repair those past hurts and let’s now give an optimistic nod to the future.

As the great Sam Cooke wrote;

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come,

Oh yes it will.

Christina Fraser

Memory

It is now six weeks since the moving and emotional D-Day landing anniversary which made people in Europe and the wider world stand still and marvel about the courage, bravery and sense of purpose shown by men, some of whom were just out of, or having lied about their age, still in boyhood.

I could have written this on June 6th, instead of my blog posted on the 10th on another subject, in order to try and capture the mood of the moment.  It is said that the technical world has made things hard to store in memory but I wonder if this is accurate about the things which really matter.  That being the reason for pausing before writing.

Working with couples in my Coupleworks practice, I marvel at the perseverance of two people trying to find solutions to their apparently insolvable difficulties.  I see how memory can affect them and have influence on their adult lives and communication with others without them being consciously aware.

Sometimes, a couple can  bring  a problem or problems which seem to be defeating them. They feel unhappily stuck.  I ask them what memory they have about their first meeting.  This can bring tears of sadness about what they now feel is lost and irretrievable  When we look further into their story before they met and how the relationship grew it is often memory of something in their past which becomes conscious when one inadvertently ‘presses a button’ in the other.  This throwaway remark, not meant to wound can ignite something and cause a row out of all proportion to the original comment.

It is helpful, in a therapy session, if we unpick some of what might have happened.  Memories of earlier hurt from a source unknown to one and forgotten by the other start to uproot old pain, This insight is also helpful to individuals who come into therapy wondering why keeping a relationship is hard for them.

It can be useful  to explore what is going on inside their own memory bank rather than the temptation to tell their  partner what they think is happening to them.  Taking time out to think about what happened in a painful argument and try to locate the earlier hurt where memory is their aid.  It can be painful to remember things which seem better forgotten but the damage which can silently seep into the foundation of their intimate lives can be the clue to returning to how they felt when on their first date.  This time, however, it will enhance that first feeling rather than destroying the couple or individual seeking a partner.

Clare Ireland

Couples and Arguing

The Metro asked Coupleworks their views on couple’s arguing styles and the best ways for couples to argue. Here are our answers.

1. What are the main arguing styles someone can fall into?

Before distinguishing one arguing style to another it’s helpful to normalise “arguing”. Couples argue and it’s healthy to communicate one’s point of view. The problem isn’t that couples argue, it’s the way they argue. Learning to argue more consciously and with more awareness helps couples work through every day issues and then more challenging issues between them.

Arguing Styles:

Reactive Arguing: When couples reactive to one another they have been triggered and usually feel hurt and vulnerable. This is when they feel the need to protect themselves and react by withdrawing, stonewall, gaslight and often saying hurtful and damaging things to one another.
Reflective Arguing: This is when couples are conscious of their own feeling and are able to slow down and pause before responding. This is when couples are able to listen, acknowledge, see the others point of view, compromise and let their partner know that the argument isn’t endangering the relationship

2. Is one arguing style the healthiest, or better than another?

Reflective Arguing is more productive and loving for any relationship. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do and takes practice (yes, practice) and refinement throughout the relationship.

3. How can you identify which arguing style you are? 

Identifying the style (either reactive or reflective arguing) isn’t essential but what is important is that each person is attuned to their own feelings and work to identify them so they don’t default into reactive arguing. It’s obvious when an arguing style is not working for a couple because the conflicts are still there (but sometimes buried for a time until they come up again).

4. Why is identifying your arguing style important within a relationship?

I’m not sure it’s as important to identify your arguing style as much as it is to know yourself well. Therapy is one way of doing this but by no means the only way. The key is to learn to become connected to yourself so you can develop the muscle to slow down and reflect before reacting, pursuing or withdrawing from your partner.

It also means knowing when you might be wrong or stepping over the line when acting badly and apologising to your partner. Learning to think that your way of thinking or point of view is not ‘the only way’ is key.

5. How can you make sure your arguments are healthy in a relationship?

Start with the trust that arguing is not a threat but helps your relationship grow

Timing is everything. Don’t start arguing until you feel calm and understand what the issue is and how you feel about it. Communicate to your partner and let them know you need time to think about it, reassure them you will sort it out together.

Remember you are both vulnerable.

Don’t have expectations when coming into an argument. There are no should or shouldn’t. Be flexible in your thinking and don’t assume you’re right. Listen. Slow down and Reflect.

Stay on point. Talk about the issue and don’t get personal.

Be respectful to your partner. The golden rule to treat others as you would like to be treated has never been more true when arguing!

Shirlee Kay

Narcissism and the Couple

Over the past few weeks it has been difficult to ignore the amount of publicity and hype being given to ‘Killing Eve’.  Prior to the launch of the second series Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh featured in numerous articles and chat shows with huge speculation surrounding their relationship.  How attracted are they to each other?  Whilst ‘Eve’ may have stabbed ‘Villanelle’ at the end of the first series was this an end to what attracted them to each other, or was it a prelude to something ‘deeper’?

Although I’ve been watching the whole series on i-player I won’t spoil the story and I’ll leave you to speculate on the answer.  However as a therapist I am fascinated by their relationship to each other.  Clearly on one level Villanelle (Jodie) is portrayed as being the psychopathic assassin (or is it a sociopathic one) whilst Eve (Sandra) is a desk bound British Intelligence officer intent on bringing Villanelle’s killing to an end.  But dig a little deeper – ask the question about the narcissistic traits of both of them and the picture becomes more complicated.

Classically narcissism is defined in terms of the self-absorbed personality who always knows they are right, with a grandiose sense of their self-importance, and with fantasies of unlimited power, brilliance and achievement held in the face of contradictory evidence.  Villanelle qualifies superbly for that as a diagnosis.

However there is also another form of narcissism which is less well recognised that again focuses on a deluded self but which is bounded by vulnerability, fear of exposure and the need for attention and care.  

Of course it does not take much thought to realise that elements of both these descriptors exist in all of us.  ‘Normal narcissism’ is healthy in that it gives us a degree of self-belief and an ability to create a boundary between ourselves and others in social settings.  However it is in its extreme forms, at each end of the spectrum that things become more unhealthy and can lead to a difficulty in relating amongst other things.  In the case of Villanelle and Eve I’m not sure if either of them are capable of making the compromises and adjustments that are essential to any lasting relationship.   

As couple therapists we see not so much the pathological extremes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but the more troublesome elements of narcissism that get in the way of relationships.   For example a client may say: nothing is ever his fault; he’s never there for me: it’s always about him: he will never admit he is wrong. 

The challenges are about being able to allow a degree of vulnerability into a close relationship.  To the grandiose type narcissist this is about not always needing to be right and the best, but developing empathy and allowing the wisdom and value of their partner to take its place in the relationship.  For the vulnerable type narcissist it is about discovering and growing their sense of agency in the relationship and not always seeing themselves as victims.  For both types it’s about valuing ourselves in relation to another – being able to hold another person in mind.  This often stems from an insecure attachment in our early lives and the resultant struggle to practice relational thinking: of me in relation to you.

So what in practice does this mean? From my experience as a therapist I often find it’s the vulnerable type narcissist who presents in my consulting room as having problems with their partner.  The key intervention at that point is to explore as much as possible about them rather than focusing on the perceived shortcomings of their partner.

The same principle largely applies when a couple comes together to therapy.  It’s too easy to get locked into a blame scenario with each other avoiding their contribution to the breakdown of the relationship.  Changing the ‘dance’ does happen but only if each begins to recognise the part they are playing.  Of course the very nature of the more classical narcissistic personality means that they are not always very open to reflect about themselves in this way.

However, whilst we don’t change our personalities in therapy, significant and profound shifts can take place in our relationships as we change the way that we relate to others and the way that we think about ourselves.

Sarah Fletcher 

Anger and the Couple

Like a sniffer dog recognising the scent of explosives, we all learn to be alert to any hint of danger to our psychological well-being. Whenever we have a suspicion that our partner may be behaving in a way that makes us feel vulnerable, we move to defend ourselves against the threat.

Deep in our brain, the amygdala is responsible for recognising and responding to the perceived danger. It sends out an alarm so that we can be prepared to protect ourselves. It is responsible for the ‘act first, think later’ response. We become all about ‘reaction’ – and it is so rapid that there is no time to think about our behaviour or consider the consequences.

There is an almost instantaneous physiological reaction as the amygdala triggers a surge of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. There is an immediate change in both our physical and mental state as a result.

Cortisol increases our muscle tension, breathing and heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. Our focus becomes intense and fixed on the danger. 

The next influence is our individual propensity to one of the stress responses of ‘Freeze’, ‘Flight’, or ‘Fight’.

So we might ‘go cold’ (freeze), avoid eye contact and close down, shrink inside, and be unable to think. We hope the danger will pass without us having to engage.

Or we might have an urge to escape and get away (flight). We might need actual physical separation and space; or our partner senses that we have become emotionally unavailable, become distant, and have withdrawn from actively engaging with them. We have retreated into our cave.

Alternatively, our default survival mechanism might be angry confrontation (fight). We become hostile or threatening (both verbally and physically); or we sulk and become passive aggressive. The assumption here is that ‘attack is the best form of defence’.

Sometimes anger is energising and allows us to recognise something is wrong. We can become assertive and work for change. But that can only happen when there is a balance of reaction from the cortex. This is the ‘rational’ part of the brain which is responsible for thinking and judgement.

Frequently, we lose the ability to think and the anger escalates and becomes destructive (and even violent and dangerous). Couples describe being caught up in a repetitive spiral of arguments that never get resolved. They easily lose control, and lose access to the competent, creative, problem-solving parts of themselves. It becomes all about ‘feelings’.

 Because anger masks the fear and anxiety that has provoked the reaction, the partner is oblivious to the underlying feelings of vulnerability and the actual issues are never addressed. It becomes about ‘the dirty cups’ and not about ‘I feel you don’t care enough about me’.

There is a ‘Catch 22’ situation where describing those feelings would increase the sense of panic. After all, the person we love is the person who has the ability to hurt us the most. But they are also the ones who could soothe and reassure if only we could let them. But anger blocks that. When we are aggressive they stand up to us in return. Or they just want to get away from us, and we remain misunderstood.

Relationship counselling offers a calm space to uncover and understand the underlying issues. A couple can discover why they react to certain triggers and think about alternative ways of responding. Paradoxically, exposing the vulnerability can strengthen the relationship. It can become a safe place not haunted and overwhelmed by past hurts. The love, care, trust and generosity in the relationship can be used to heal emotional wounds. Counselling can offer the opportunity of experimenting with managing angry feelings – and equip the couple with constructive, supportive coping strategies. 

Kathy Rees

Building and Repairing Trust

As we watch with varying degrees of disbelief the goings on between the Conservative candidates vying for the job of Prime Minister, it’s very difficult to believe that we can trust any of them to fulfil this important position.

Being able to trust your partner is one of the cornerstones of a healthy strong relationship.  Without trust it’s difficult to build a strong connection that helps deepen and grow a relationship.  We need trust to feel safe and secure and have confidence that our partners are there for us physically and emotionally.

Building trust in a partnership is a gradual process and requires commitment from both parties.  It is the foundation of any long term relationship and ensures confidence and security with each other.  It helps us cope with challenges that may arise in the future trusting that our partner is there by our side throughout more difficult and testing times.

Being able to trust ourselves is an important element in being able to trust a partner.  Perhaps you may have been hurt in the past, which may affect your ability to trust yourself and therefore others.

At Coupleworks we see many couples struggling with trust issues in their relationships for many different reasons such as money, addiction, texting, emotional and physical affairs. Trust is one of the easiest feelings to loose and the hardest to regain.  Without it couples find it hard to deepen their relationship.

How to build Trust – It’s worth checking out these pointers:

Are we there for each other?

Does your partner listen to you and is open with you?

Do you feel your partner supports you?

Do you feel genuinely cared about?

Do you feel its safe to talk about feelings and you don’t get a negative response?

Can you depend on your partner?

Is there consistency in what your partner says and how they behave?

What happens when we lose Trust

Not being open and honest with each other, keeping secrets erodes trust.

At times lack of trust can be something we experienced as children growing up in our family of origin. This imprint we can take into our adult relationships and may make us feel more vulnerable around trust issues. It’s important to understand whether the mistrust is a pre-existing condition or something that has developed in the relationship due to the behaviour of your partner.

Believing that your partner does not have your best interests at heart can lead to a lack of trust creeping into your relationship.  

Losing trust in one another can be damaging and long lasting often creating wounds and scars that prevent closeness and intimacy growing between partners.  

Betrayal of trust such as an affair can lead to trauma and injury.

Affairs can completely rock a marriage. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel while infidelity can shatter trust, it doesn’t mean couples cant find a way to rebuild trust in their relationships.

How to repair Trust

Understanding this is a crisis in a relationship

Consider each other’s views and feelings and listen to each other calmly

Engage in positive and constructive discussion 

Strong shared motivation to work together to resolve the issue

Understanding and appreciating the damage caused

The more effort put into the repair process the more you will make it through the crisis

Sometimes, despite all efforts, repairing a relationship when trust has been tested is not possible, seeing a couples counsellor may be a good idea if you are stuck and unable to move forward.

“The most precious thing in the world is trust – without trust you have nothing – with it you can do great things”

Dawn Kaffel

Why the Father-Daughter Relationship is so important

With Father’s Day still in our sights it’s worth reiterating the pivotal importance of the paternal role.

In therapy, it becomes so clear that dads sometimes underestimate their influence on growing daughters. And women who have grown up with disappointing or punitive fathers can carry the impact of this into their adult relationships with male partners.

Mothers are historically seen as primary role models for daughters, and sometimes the significance of the father’s influence can initially appear to be more shadowy.

Where there is not a ‘present dad’ – then a secondary male can step in. Never underestimate the influence of grandfathers, uncles or good family friends.

The first important man in a small girl’s world will be this male figure. Children will regard themselves as they imagine others regard them. Women begin to find their sense of acceptance and value as a result of these early messages from their fathers. Adult male validation is an absolutely vital part of a young girl in gaining self-esteem.

The first family unit is where we all learn our powers of negotiation. Those who come from conflict averse or overly critical parenting will not easily be able to learn the value of safely expressing their own opinions. The father who is too powerful, or too passive, will not allow a woman a sense of safety when finding her voice with later male relationships.

Learning that her thoughts are valid and worth attention (even if not agreed with) is a good life lesson for any girl and being listened to will mean that she, in turn, will find it easier to listen.

Believing that her opinions count will help a girl to learn how to be assertive. This differs from sounding aggressive, which is more likely to stem from combative behaviour arising from early feelings of powerlessness.

Offering safe male attention is one of a fathers best legacies to a daughter. Understanding boundaries and privacy, and avoiding any negative or trite comments about her physical characteristics are essential.

Remember, the parents are the first couple that any child observes. How the father treats the mother is a powerful message. Parents who treat each other well, are companionable and can disagree (even heatedly) but resolve and safely make up will show daughters that this can be their expectation of a fair and respectful relationship in adult life.

Christina Fraser

One way therapy can help.

I feel admiration for my clients who decide to discuss their couple life with a therapist whom they trust. The trust is often a difficult thing because there may have been a breaking of trust earlier in either or both of the people in the couple’s lives. This will make the forming of trust over a period of sessions a very important and delicate part of the work.

Some couples will arrive at my Coupleworks practice with hope that the process will somehow magically resolve their presenting difficulty but realise over time that the magic becomes their own acceptance of the fact that they hold the key to the progress of a sense of repair and hope.

These feelings come about through better communication aided by the therapist who can listen and interpret their words with an independent ear and voice. The therapist should have no agenda with the couple other than helping to resolve repetitive issues which have become stuck. This could be compared to a log jam where the water is stuck on one side of the logs with only a stubborn dribble getting through a small outlet at the other. The therapeutic work together can free up the places where the logs got stuck and encourage the water to flow through in a steady passage. This in turn, helps to open different avenues where the water can flow and makes the whole picture look less constrained and trapped. The sight of a flowing river and free fall over a waterfall is a picture which captures many photographers. It is popular because it seems to represent different things to different people just as all couples are different.

That picture looks relatively easy but often there are sensitive places where easy flow is painful and constricted. This, in a couple with a stuck pattern of behaviour and words, needs to be carefully and gently eased into a place of security. That early feeling of security with each other may have been discovered in the first stages of the couple’s life together and that time needs to be held onto with care in order to return, in part, to those feelings of togetherness, trust and safety. This, coupled with the progress of life with all its good and bad times, can encourage growth and a shape which is unique, treasured and valued by the couple.

Nothing goes backwards in a couple it is all about advancement into a natural flow which incorporates all the good and some of the bad bits of a long life together. The good bits are easy and nurturing but some of the bad bits not discovered until the couple faces all the comings and goings of couple and family life, are harder to negotiate. With gentle encouragement from the therapist, the harder bits can be looked at, the source of their importance uncovered and a different approach tried to enable better translation as the words come out of one mouth and enter the ear of the other.

Therapy can open up duos and trios formed in earlier life which caused misunderstanding, pain, anger and resentment. Once memory helps to dig these difficult feeling up and look at them, it becomes easier to put them where they belong in an earlier life and disallowing them to surface again when an adult relationship ignites earlier unresolved pain. The couple will find ‘here and now’ domestic or couple annoyances stay in the couple and can be resolved rather than many other characters from their past entering into the argument and therefore escalating the atmosphere into something which has little to do with the couple.

Death the Avoided Topic: How to work with Loss

During the past year, I have experienced two close deaths (ok, one was a pet). It’s taken time to fully appreciate the impact this has had on me. I’ve learned some fundamental lessons throughout this process, and how some of my narratives about death have been informed by my background, and society’s expectations of the expression of death. Most importantly, it has allowed me to see that everyone’s experience of death is different, and there is not a right or wrong way to express grief. 

Working with recently bereaved clients has sometimes been a challenge for me as a therapist. Of course, I feel their pain, the pain that loss brings, and I hope I have been sensitive and compassionate. But, the truth is, my personal experience with death has been limited. 

It was only when my young cat died last summer followed by my mother in September that I started to fully appreciate the expression of grief. It is a complicated process, often confusing and sometimes very messy with no right or wrong way to express emotions and feelings.

It’s hard to write this, but my experience at the time was I felt more upset over my cat’s death than my mother’s. It’s not because I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, in fact, we had an excellent relationship: I adored her, and she adored me. Was there something wrong with me? No. She was 93 years old, and she died; I accepted this fact and was grateful that she died quickly without any prolonged illness. 

Obviously, I felt sad and missed not seeing and speaking to her, but that’s it. That’s all I felt, and it holds true to this day. I mention this because after her death I had letters and conversations with friends saying how sorry they were and how upset and devastated “I must be”. This caught me off guard because it wasn’t how I felt, and I began to feel as if I was experiencing death ‘in the wrong way’. It was only when I was able to take accept my feelings that I was able to say “actually I don’t feel that way, I felt this way”, and this felt far more aligned to how I was feeling. 

This has undoubtedly helped inform me to think differently when working with individuals and couples. It reminds me to stop assuming anything and allows me to create more space with clients to encourage them to say what’s in their hearts or the unsayable. It has also taught me to know when it’s better to steer away from and when to gently push forward more difficult conversations. Most importantly, it’s taught me to honour one’s own process and never to judge or think there is a right or wrong way to get through grief.

Useful things to say/do after someone has died:

  • Be physically present, unless you are specifically told: “I don’t want you here”. 
  • Be attuned, be there to take care of the tedious things like cooking, cleaning, helping in what’s needed. 
  • Don’t ask for instructions (that takes energy); see what is needed and do it.
  • If you’re unable (for any reason) not to be supportive or present, address it with the person.  It’s never too late to talk about it and to heal painful and complicated feelings between friends or relatives. 
  • Talk about the person who has died. Tell amusing or meaning stories that you remember. Also, don’t compare your own experience with death but do say what was helpful to you at that time. 

As time passes, help bring them slowly back into life. Invite them out and understand if they need to cancel but always continue to ask. Do not expect them to be ok until they are ready to be ok. No judgement, just acceptance to, however that person needs to be.

Shirlee Kay

How to keep sex alive

Summer might only just be upon us but it is the season of weddings nonetheless.  Many couples are experiencing the results of much planning and anticipation as they come to their big day.  Many hopes and expectations abound as to what their life together will be like – the unknown of the journey ahead for many at this stage is exciting and yet possibly unnerving.

But what of those years ahead – one of the questions I am asked a lot in counselling is ‘How do we keep our relationship and particularly sex alive?’  Sex in the first couple of years of a relationship is passionate, urgent and much wanted for most couples.  But then the ordinariness of life sets in – the familiarity, the pressures of work, young children bring time pressures and sleepless nights and suddenly years down the line couples take each other for granted and sex gradually becomes something that moves way down the list of importance, or it even becomes a matter of conflict for the couple.

So here are some tips for how to keep your sex alive after those early years in a relationship.  Broadly speaking, sex will be better if you are more fully yourself, and if you are emotionally more connected to your partner..

1. Spending all your free time together can stifle difference and individuality.  Those elements are needed for good sex in a long-term relationship.  Pursue some separate interests – it is healthier for you both to be able to be fully yourselves and keeps some mystery and interest between you.

2. Show appreciation and say thank you to your partner.  Daniel Keltner is quoted in the Observer saying that studies show that romantic partners who express gratitude are more than three times less likely to break up.  The warmth and good feeling that is generated by simple gestures of goodwill can make an amazing difference to sex.

3. Stay emotionally in tune with your partner – check out how they are and take time to talk. Being connected emotionally is a starting point to being connected physically.

4.Take time to have fun together – play tennis – go dancing – enjoy a movie – or make time for a weekend break. Fun outside the bedroom can lead to more fun within.

5. Make the bedroom a digital free zone.

6. Schedule sex.  Let go of the idea that the best sex is spontaneous.  There can be fun in the anticipation.

7. Remember to kiss your partner and take time about it.  It is a way of building real intimacy between a couple.

8. Try something new – surprise your partner.  Don’t just use the same routine and path that you know works.  Familiarity can become dull, and sexual arousal can be enhanced by a fresh approach.

9. Finally don’t look back to the past – enjoy who you are now both individually and as a couple and look forward to new and life-enhancing times together.

Sarah Fletcher

A Healthy Relationship involves Acceptance

Creating A Safe Couple Relationship with Your Partner Entails Finding a Way to Accept the ‘As Is’

(Ella Fitzgerald: ‘My Funny Valentine)   

 ‘You’re my funny valentine, Sweet comic valentine, You make me smile with my heart…

But don’t change a hair for me, not if you care for me.’

And yet, and yet…

How long does the sentiment that we would not change a thing about the person we love actually last? What happens when the unexpected intrudes with a rude awakening into our loved-up bubble? Life can suddenly seem disappointingly more ordinary when the pieces in the kaleidoscope shift and we no longer look through rose-tinted glasses. As we get to know more about one another we are faced with the full complexity of our partner’s character and there can feel a loss of a romantic innocence. Confronted with the reality of the person in full 3D we become aware of contradictions, irritations, disconcerting traits that had been missed. We have to widen our scope to now include a wide variety of previously unrecognised parts. After basking in the warmth of similarity, the realisation of difference can be unsettling and provoke anxiety. The relief that we had found someone ‘perfect’ can scarily become a fear that it was ‘hope over reality’ after all. We can reassure ourselves that, of course, our partner will change in the ways we want when they see it is important. We only have to point out the ways they can improve and what could be better. ‘If you really love me you would…’

 But what if, yes, you are loved, but these changes are not part of the deal?

Of course real deal-breakers do exist: the serious obstacles that get in the way of creating a trusting relationship and can break it.

‘A deal breaker is any matter that would disqualify a partner from a committed relationship despite other wonderful conditions’ (Stan Tatkin ‘We Do’). It could be abuse, where you live, children, sex, infidelity, lying, addictions, money, violence. Whatever the issue, it has to be confronted and negotiated or the couple has to part. But, ‘because human beings loathe to lose the potential for everlasting love, partners may be prone to overlook, defer, or bend reality to avoid a deal-breaker’ (Tatkin) – OR they protest and clamour to make the partner change.

However, both strategies can cause problems for the couple and allow for the possibility of hurt, confusion, distress, resentment and anger. The couple can become stuck in disappointment and disillusionment. Both feel a certain topic has become an unresolvable ‘no-go’ area and they are walking on eggshells. They begin to shut down and close off from one another and the pain of this is what often drives a couple to seek out relationship therapy. 

‘Our vulnerability is that we are susceptible to be wounded. It is part of our nature and cannot be escaped. The best the brain can do is to shut down conscious awareness of it when pain becomes so unbearable that it threatens to overwhelm our capacity to function…  Our automatic repression of painful emotion is our prime defence mechanism even though we know that it is better to feel than not feel. Emotions have a crucial survival value. They offer us vital information – orientate us and interpret the world for us. It is how we learn what is dangerous and what is benign. Imagine how disabled we are when we cannot see, hear taste, or sense heat or cold or physical pain. Emotional shut down is similar.’ (Gabor Mate)

When we avoid and flee from our vulnerability, when we are flooded with anger, or become icily withdrawn, we lose our full capacity for navigating relationships. 

 ‘How couples fight is as important as how they love and it is one of the most predictive factors for a successful relationship. All couples have conflict and will cause each other distress from time to time. There are two people with different brains, two different personalities, many different moods, and many different thought patterns… Yet there is a need move in tandem, as in a three-legged race. If not, you fall over, you lose.’ (Tatkin) 

James Cordova (‘Walking on Eggshells With Loving Steps’) suggests the couple embraces the idea of walking on eggshells as a positive strategy – not as a negative. ‘Because we invite each other into an extraordinarily vulnerable space in our intimate relationships, we are necessarily exceptionally vulnerable to our partners, and our partners are exquisitely vulnerable to us – sensitive, fragile, exposed, precious. And we have invited that space for good and loving reasons. We want to be our beloved’s safe harbour in a hurtful world; and in turn, we want for our partner to be our safe haven, the person with whom we feel safe in being our authentic vulnerable self.’

And so there is an urgent need to find a generous acceptance of the other ‘as they are’. A need to move with sensitivity, gentleness, compassion and care: ‘Even when we are in a hurry. Even when we are angry. Even when we are exhausted or hungry. Even when we are stung and hurt. We need to walk on eggshells!’ (Cordova). It is acceptance that can create the windows of tolerance where it is possible to stay engaged without feeling threatened. Understanding the situation ‘is what it is’ allows for a more flexible menu of options that enables both to benefit.

‘When a person is encouraged to get in touch with and express their deepest feelings in the secure knowledge that s/he will not be rejected, criticised, nor expected to be different, some kind of rearrangement or sorting-out process often occurs within the mind which brings with it a sense of peace…’ (Anthony Storr)

‘We are all a little weird

And Life’s a little weird

And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours

We join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness 

And call it Love

 (Dr Seuss)

Kathy Rees

Mental Health and the Couple

To launch Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 The Duke of Cambridge has teamed up with stars from TV and Music to record the Mental Health Minute.  The theme behind this year’s minute is to highlight the importance of listening. Just by taking a minute to stop and really listen has the power to make a real difference to our mental well -being.

At Coupleworks we often see relationships under considerable strain but when a partner is suffering with mental illness the stress of coping is very challenging and can often reach crisis level and destroy the relationship.  

Anxiety and Depression are the most common causes of mental illness and these can be episodic or long-term

Managing the illness becomes the preoccupation of the relationship and often attention is focused mainly on the person with the diagnosis leaving the healthy partner to cope alone.  

In my work as a couples’ therapist I have witnessed the curative effects that a healthy relationship can have on a partner struggling with mental illness.  On the other hand long-term relationship stress can negatively affect a partners mental health and can make things considerably worse for a partner already struggling with mental illness.

It’s important to remember that there are two partners in a relationship and that your own wellbeing and needs are just as important as those of your partner

Mental illness does not have to destroy a relationship.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy loving relationship despite the obvious challenges.

Show Support

Reassure your partner that you are there for them and love them. Often in our efforts to “make things better” its hard to get the balance right.  There is a tendency to either ignore the symptoms in the hope they will go away or to take over and do everything you can for your partner to fix the problem

Take time to talk

Try to be empathic and really listen to how life feels for your partner.  Don’t dismiss their feelings.  Conversations about how you can improve things together and what changes you can both make offers hope and are more helpful than simply dwelling on the problems.

Educate yourself

Although mental health issues are being talked about so much more openly, there are still many people who are ashamed, confused and misinformed about mental illness, the symptoms and treatment options.  Finding out as much information about the condition is important for both partners as you work and support each other through this time

Finding the right help

Partners cannot be therapists for their spouse – it is too demanding and not appropriate.  Your role is to provide love and support and to engage with finding  the right professional help.  It can often be very challenging and shaming for a partner to accept they are suffering with a mental illness and need help. Willingness to take responsibility to manage their own illness and treatment plan because they understand how their illness affects you and those close to you is an important step towards recovery.

Finding Individual and Couples Therapy

Individual therapy can help process difficult feelings in a safe environment in a way that will help the couple and the individual communicate and understand yourselves and each other better.

As a partner of someone with a mental health condition, there are often negative feelings such as anger, frustration and hate that can be overwhelming.  Couples 

Counselling can help give meaning and understanding to these complex dynamics.

Looking after self

Feeling that you have to handle everything is natural but how you look after yourself is not a selfish luxury but an absolute necessity.  If you can’t look after yourself, you are not going to be able to look after another. Often the pressure to keep it all going can feel overwhelming.

Important areas to consider are boundaries – what you can reasonably give your partner in terms of time, energy, advice and emotion and what you can’t.  Discussing this with your partner is vital.  Having clear, consistent and manageable boundaries is your way of working to look after yourself because you care and are there for your partner.  This also means your partner has to take charge of their emotional wellbeing too.

Its important to remember that in all relationships there are periods of difficulties and drama that can overshadow everything.  When a partner is going though a mental illness it can be a major challenge that can threaten to destabilize the strongest union.  Challenges are a life force for a relationship and if we stop and listen, and have the right tools in place we can ensure a happier more successful relationship. 

Dawn Kaffel

Can you stay friendly with your ex?

Looking at the royal family for an overview it would appear that there are two hugely differing outcomes of a separation. We can all see Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s rumoured enduring and affectionate connection and we have also seen the apparent face of far less harmonious royal divorces played out in a sadly public manner.

A passionate love affair will not easily reform quickly into a fond friendship.

All that strong feeling can’t dissipate overnight. We need time to elapse in order to create a new relationship without the heat and intensity that used to bind us. This is when it may be worth taking a while to decide exactly why we actually want to stay friends with an ex lover

If they ended the relationship then perhaps it mitigates feelings of rejection. See? We aren’t unloveable after all, they don’t want to completely let go of us, and maybe a small bit of the cake is better than total deprivation.

If we ended it, well keeping in touch shows that we aren’t that cruel after all. And someone who loves us is still in our life, most of us do like to be adored.
The reality is that uncoupling is usually a painful process. So a lot of people swerve a brutal ending by not ending at all. This avoids the pain of grief, but it’s worth considering if this mateyness is a way of soothing this pain rather than the healthier option of enduring it which allows for reflection and acceptance and a capacity to experience change and to understand that this will always also bring loss.

The finish of a love affair is similar to a bereavement and can involve the same incredibly sad and hurtful stages.  But for some, there’s the added pain of knowing the other is now significant to somebody new.  In the age of social media, a clean ending is almost impossible. It can be agonising to see happy snaps of a beloved ex cosying up to their new love and moving on without you. It may be necessary to disconnect from media sites that bring pain, and even to avoid old haunts for a while.

These are the tricky bits, but let’s also look at the positive reasons that can help twosomes maintain good contact

Some couples can live comfortably like housemates without sex or passion. If they truly are friends, there may come a time that sex does become important and a new love can bring feelings that don’t totally diminish the bond between them. Real friends should be capable of unselfish pleasure and be able to see and enjoy renewed happiness for each other.

Time can settle old scores and bring a fresh perspective to a relationship. Empassioned feelings can fade, and once an ending has been mourned and accepted, then people can begin to see the good in what they once had, and want to preserve that affection. If a person has been truly important in our lives, it’s worth remembering the good times and not allowing those happy experiences to melt away or be completely eclipsed by the pain of the end.

Do both partners agree to a new way? If so, clarifying fresh boundaries will be important.This will be another, new kind of couple. Talk about how often you both feel it’s appropriate to talk or connect. Maybe daytime meetings are best in the initial period, and away from anywhere that holds memories.

How might you cope with seeing each other in new relationships?    Is this truly an equal agreement and are you really sure that neither of you might possibly be hanging on in the hope of repair?

Of course the biggest and most powerful reason to stay friends with an ex is if you have children together.

You are co-parents for life, so it’s imperative to look at your relationship in the most positive way that you can muster.  As relationship counsellors who have witnessed many of these couple breakdowns we are familiar with a scenario in which, initially, the ending will be harder for one half of the couple.  It takes sensitive thought and great care to see that the main focus has to be on safeguarding children from any unnecessary fall-out.

Whatever unresolved or negative feelings may surface, especially at the outset of what may be a traumatic time, the connection between parents has to be seen to be restrained and polite in order to maintain security and stability for the new arrangements that their children will have to experience.

In time many couples can forge friendships  as they are compelled to stay connected through the family links.  If we keep anger and grievances within us, this will only block our capacity for the best outcome with new partners.  It takes time and kindness to come out of our previous relationship and to allow both people the freedom to enjoy a future that won’t be blocked by negative feelings.

So, here’s to conscious decoupling and shaping some new horizons of a different kind of love.

Christina Fraser

Managing time.

On March 31st our clocks went forward one hour meaning we lost one hour’s sleep. On 27th October the clocks go back and we gain one hour’s sleep. There is spasmodic controversy about this and from time to time the Act is altered

This process has changed over the years since 1905 when William Willett a British builder campaigned that this idea was needed during war time ( the Act was passed as official in 1916) to stop the loss of valuable summer light. It also gave him more time to play golf which he enjoyed. He was the three greats grandfather of Chris Martin of Coldplay.
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In our Coupleworks practices, ‘not enough time’ is something which comes up in discussion with couples. Not enough time together or too much time apart becomes an accusation

Feelings of unfairness and not being special to each other are focussed around time.

‘He/she gives so much more time to his/her friends than he/she does to me’.

‘She/he is either with her/his friends or thinking and talking about the children and I always come last on the list of importance’.

‘I never have time to do the interests which give me pleasure. I am accused of being selfish when I should be doing household chores, child duties, pet duties, gardening, shopping, cooking etc’.

‘I never have time to read my book or paper when he/she is in the room because I am made to feel I don’t love him/her enough’. Personal time turns into accusation and point scoring.

It is important to discuss time out with each other. What seems fair and what seems rejecting. Making time for each other is very important and often the reverse happens. Both feel they come last on the list.

At the start of the week it can help to discuss diaries, taking care to respect the other’s need for personal time. If couple time is planned for one or two nights, it makes for better feeling and allowance when one or the other plans time with a friend or to do something for themselves. It is also helpful to define early on who spends time doing certain tasks. Otherwise, time becomes the weapon and not the friend.

With trust this can be beneficial for personal needs being taken care of and heard. Interest and curiosity about how time apart is spent can make your partner feel special and exciting. Sharing what you have been doing can feel more intimate.

Using time to be creative and inventive brings more colour and ability to create and build a third way together. Changing your routine, volunteering for community work together and making time to do nothing. These and many more ideas are all beneficial and grow into positive time for feelings of security, and co-operation. This, in turn leading to more intimacy and feelings of love and respect.

Clare Ireland

Understanding Changes in Sexual Frequency

Many couples we see at Coupleworks come into therapy feeling as though there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship when their desire starts to wane and the pattern of their sex life changes. It can sometimes be difficult to help couples normalise these feelings and avoid getting caught in an internal narrative that if their sex lives slows down the relationship is no longer viable. 

When couples come to therapy, it is usually because the difficulty has gone underground and been around for quite some time. There is a tendency not to address sexual issues with one another (it’s uncomfortable and awkward), and the gap tends to widen to a point where it is difficult to see a solution. Couples seem able to talk about ‘the fact they aren’t having sex as often’ but less able to talk about their feelings of hurt and rejection. In my mind, it’s when couples bury their feelings that toxic thoughts start to surface between them. Couples usually begin to feel a sense of relief after the initial discomfort of actually starting the conversation.

Common reasons why couple’s sex lives change:

Work

Pregnancy

Children

Stress

Tiredness

Illness

Depression

Tension between Couples

Outside Factors 

As couples get caught up in their daily lives, the attention towards their partner changes and a pattern begins between them. The key is to name the issues and more importantly tell the other how they experience these changes. I had a woman tell her husband in a session that his lack of desire for her brought up strong feelings that the relationship was over. These feelings triggered memories of her father leaving her mother for a younger woman. Her internal narrative didn’t allow her to be curious about what might be going on with her husband or the relationship and allow her to address the issue with him.  As we worked through this, she discovered he was overstressed and exhausted, and we found ways to help him lower his stress levels and find his way back sexually to her. Disentangling these stories helps couples see one another separately and not personalise the experience. With this couple, it helped them to see that there were external factors contributing to the man’s change in desire and allowed them to find ways of addressing them.

What Couples Can do to Reconnect Sexually:

-Name the Issue. 

-Tell each other how they experience it.

-Take time to spend more time with one another.

-Make physical connect with one another on a daily basis.

-Make eye contact.

-Kiss each other.

-Be present when speaking to one another. 

-Touch one other regularly even when not having sex.

-Express your appreciation of the other often.

-Do special things for each other. 

-Explore others ways of being intimate (sex is a way but not the only way).

-See a psycho-sexually trained therapist. 

Long-term relationships naturally change and evolve. Accepting these changes and keeping an open dialogue is key to a couple’s intimacy.  When they can see that their sex life is unique to them and not be influenced by what they ‘should be doing’ they are better able to understand what works for them. Being open and honest about these issues helps to generate a conversation. It’s not always about finding a definitive answer but more about understanding and living with the issue differently.

Shirlee Kay

The Yes Brain Child

In my experience as a therapist Mother’s Day raises all kinds of questions and emotions for my clients.  Frequently their own childhood experiences of being mothered will continue to impact them and is affecting how they are in their current relationship.  Equally too it will raise questions about their own parenting skills and, in some cases, the parenting skills of those closest to them.  To take one example – nowadays many older people are helping out caring for their grandchildren on a regular basis and this brings the challenges of seeing them being parented in a different way.  Likewise parents can struggle with feelings stemming from not having their own way of parenting respected and valued by the older generation.

In that context a book that I have found helpful to a number of parents in recent months has been ‘The Yes Brain Child’.  Its authors, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, who specialise in the fields of psychiatry and paediatric and adolescent psychotherapy, are fascinated by the ways in which the brains of children develop.  

Beginning from the hopes that most parents want for their children – happiness, emotional strength, academic success, social skills, a strong sense of self and more – they argue that there are ways in which any parent can help their child to develop a ‘Yes Brain’ – a brain that provides a perspective characterised by 

Balance: the ability to manage emotions and behaviour, so kids are less likely to flip their lids and lose control;

Resilience: the ability to bounce back when life’s inevitable problems and struggles arise;

Insight: the ability to look within and understand themselves, then use what they learn to make good decisions and be more in control of their lives;

Empathy: the ability to understand the perspective of another, then care enough to take action to make things better when appropriate.” (Welcome page x)

The book is written in a way that is very readable with its concepts made easily to any reader, by outlining strategies to help in its different areas. 

One of the models, which I find very helpful, is the focus on the three zones your child may experience at any given moment.  When the child is in balance they are in the Green Zone – but given a conflict or something not going their way – they may move into the Red Zone and lose control, or move into the Blue Zone and shut down.  The aim is, of course, to widen the window of the Green Zone and to help children build resilience and find strategies for maintaining their balance within it.

Although the book is written for parents or grandparents, there are of course applications for these tools in our own adult relationships.  How often do we move into the Red Zone (and fly off the handle) with our partners or retreat into the Blue Zone (and withdraw)?  When we want to ‘have a go’ at our partners – rather than just being the ‘player’ in a fight, can we learn to stand back and with insight become a ‘spectator’ and make a different choice to communicate our frustration or disappointment.

If you are interested in finding out more, then I would encourage you to give yourself or your partner or a friend a copy for Mother’s Day – its good effects will last longer than flowers or chocolates or even breakfast in bed!

Sarah Fletcher