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.

Holidays – A Dream or A Nightmare

Holidays are usually seen as a break from the stresses and strains of everyday life, a chance to take a deep breath and have a change from everyday routine.

Going away with your significant other can be joyful and a great time to spend more time together to relax and reconnect. However for others spending a period of concentrated time together can be difficult and stressful and not always a bed of roses!

Perhaps it is taken for granted that because we go on holiday it means that we should get on better, but if there are issues that are unresolved at they are going to come on holiday with you!!

So as we approach a time in the year where thoughts go to planning a holiday here are a few guidelines to avoid some of the common pitfalls:

1.Plan the holiday together. Make sure you are both going somewhere that you both want to visit. This can eliminate disappointment and frustration of the others choice of destination.

2.Make it clear and discuss what you both want to achieve from your holiday.

3.If you want to sit in the sun and your partner prefers to explore and sightsee, just make sure there is enough time and space to do the things you both want to do, both separately and together.

4.Don’t make the mistake of doing too much running around on holiday and replicating what happens at home. A holiday is the opportunity to do something different from the normal. Doing nothing and just being comfortable with this is part of relaxing on holiday.

5.It’s important that we feel that we have our partner’s undivided attention, so avoid constant use of mobile phones and laptops. If you need to be in touch with the office, make sure it is the minimum and at a time that suits you both and quickly return to holiday mode.

6. Don’t use the holiday to bring up past arguments and resentments. It will be much more beneficial to focus on the positive bits of each other to help relax, reconnect and achieve closer intimacy so you can deal with the niggles and annoyances better when you return home.

Enjoy!

Dawn Kaffel

Couples who live apart together. LATS

When setting out on any kind of committed couple, the hope is for a long lasting relationship. With long levity in certain areas of the world becoming more normal, it may be time to take a fresh look at how we perceive couple life. Most would agree that 24/7 together for possibly 50-70 years needs constant re shaping and re evaluating in order to stave off over familiarity and irritation ignited by habit.

The kind of couples people choose to be in has evolved from marriage, a law created to build up the population and a safeguard against lack of structure and safety, into all kinds of coupling, and if chosen, rearing a family. People choose to make their own unique couple without the more childlike safety of rules and regulations hampering their creativity.

One of the changes two people choosing to stay together from formation to death has to think about is longevity. People living to 100 is now no longer a rarity, rather it is becoming something which no longer is discussed as astonishing.

If a couple who choose to be together for life reach these bigger age numbers, certain prices have to be paid. Their bodies continue to age and their brains tend to lose short term memories which hitherto have been clear. Exercise and diet play a part in a long and healthy life but also peace of mind, caring for or being cared for in a kind and loving way can enhance a sense of well being and energy.

There are no set ways for these necessities to be achieved, it is up to the couple to work out a way to continue to want to be by each other’s side through good and bad times.

Living apart together is an option. This, of course, requires enough financial backing to put into place. A decision to live apart some of the time and together for the rest of the time can bring back what was present when the couple chose each other many years before.

Trust has to be one of the biggest assets to make this work. It enables each person to pursue outside interests, different groups of people, ideas, types of holiday, food, ways of running a home and where to live without loosing trust and admiration.

They can then be together for the things they love about each other and apart for the sometimes irritating differences. This can build up renewed respect and sense of self before the time comes when they may have to care for each other permanently.

This will allow them to use what they have built together over the years to be a reward at the end of life.

Clare Ireland

Working with Older Couples

Recently, I have found myself working with couples who have been together for a long time. Sometimes for decades.  They often come to see me not because there is something horribly wrong with their relationship but because they are struggling to find meaning and a deeper connection they long for.  It’s as if having got through their professional lives, raising a family together and managing the difficulties life presents, they are left with a profound disappointment that begs the question “What has this all meant?”

Helping couples to find their way back to one another can be challenging, but I have found that couples who are invested enough to want to come into couples therapy to explore their relationship are far less likely to walk away and better able to work together and find one another again.

When couples begin to sense their disconnected from each other, some common issues tend to come up, such as not feeling supported, leading separate lives and not making an effort to do the things the other likes. Feeling unloved, uncared for, and unappreciated often are what hurt and make couples think that their entire relationship has been meaningless.  Acknowledging this hurt and disappointment doesn’t need to translate into blame but can become an opportunity for understanding and healing.

By going back and better understanding the “unconscious agreements” couples make when they first meet (these are the expectations that are bought into present relationship that are informed by unconsciously witnessing their parent’s) couples are better able to consciously see the part they bring into the relationship. This awareness can help reframe their narrative so they can begin to clearly state what their needs are now.

At the heart of a long-term relationship is the ability to see the value of staying together through thick and thin (despite it not being perfect) and appreciating that “we all learn as we go” and usually have done the best we could at that time.
Accepting each other’s flaws starts with us accepting our own. Learning to forgive ourselves teaches us the compassion to forgive our partner for sometimes letting us down (and knowing we are capable of letting them down). Our own consciousness gives us the tools to be more compassionate, kind and appreciative of our partner and brings us closer to having a loving and authentic relationship which is essential for a long term relationship.

Some things we can do to sustain long term relationships:
Make contact with each other. Say good morning, good night etc.
Take time to ask the other how they are, how they feel.
Leave each other sweet messages.
Do unexpected things, book a favourite restaurant, arrange a special night out.
Run a bath for your partner
Make physical contact daily. Kiss, touch one another often.
Be sweet and playful with each other.

Shirlee Kay

Balanced Living in Relationships

‘There is an Indian belief that everyone is a house of four rooms: a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual room.

Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not complete’. Rumer Godden

I was reminded of this piece of ancient wisdom just the other week. It was in the context of helping couples to think about their relationship and how much they inhabit these different rooms in that relationship. But before we think about these different rooms as they affect couples, let’s focus back on the individual.

As the belief states, human life has different aspects and in order for us to feel whole and balanced, finding contentment in our lives, we need to have these different aspects in balance.

Physical – we need our bodies to go about our daily lives – to work, eat, sleep and survive in the world. But how much care do we take of our body? How well do we feed it, enjoy exercise, or enjoy our sexuality?

Mental – our intellect is our ability to think and reason. We need it to think clearly and to be open-minded as that helps us to build up knowledge and develop skills. It can lead us to a place of profound understanding where as a mis-aligned intellect can be the source of terrible confusion.

Emotional – this is about our ability to experience the world and what drives us to seek connections with others. Are we able to feel the full range of feelings – anger, love, hate, disappointment… but also to set boundaries for ourselves.

Spiritual – this is about our soul – our inner being – perhaps a feeling of belonging to the universe. It doesn’t have to mean a religious belief but perhaps how we make meaning of our lives.

If we then broaden this notion of the four rooms to think about our couple relationship the same questions can be asked – how much time as a couple do we spend inhabiting each of these rooms? Which do we inhabit more frequently and which rarely gets even an airing?

According to Wikipedia ‘Intimacy generally refers to the feeling of being in a close personal association and belonging together’. Closing down any room or never really looking in there, will inevitably limit intimacy between partners. To really experience a deep and meaningful intimacy will mean connecting to all four rooms in our own house and then to those of our partners.

Ask yourself and your partner these questions..

1. Which room am I/we most comfortable in?
2. Which room do I/we tend to neglect?
3. How can we begin to live a more balanced life as individuals and as a couple?

Sarah Fletcher

Getting a better understanding of the problem

When a couple starts relationship counselling the therapist spends time trying to get a clear idea of the issues that are causing strife. Often the couple is stuck in a repetitive pattern of blame and complaint and feel frustrated that they have not managed to break out of a corrosive state of disappointment. Sadly, when trapped in a fog of negativity, each partner can get in their own way of happiness. Dissatisfaction causes a perpetual own goal. Although the intention of criticism is an attempt to revive the relationship, create change and reconnect lovingly, instead it creates resentment and is almost destined to fail.

An added difficulty is that a couple often comes with the perception that the other is the cause of the problem. They hope their partner will see the error of their ways and will be the one to make the necessary changes

However, there is optimism in the hope that the relationship can be more loving, lighter, more relaxed and less fraught. They long for ways to soften the hostile interactions.

But Michael Stanier* warns about the ‘Advice Monster’. Fixing the other is not the answer. ‘If only he/she was different everything would be fine.’ Instead of getting caught up finding solutions to the myriad of surface irritations, it is important to spend time investigating the root of the problems. The need to search more deeply is always flagged when a couple admits ‘It seems so trivial but…’ These trivialities become significant because of what they reveal about a hidden more serious issue.

The counsellor will continue to explore the meaning attached to the behaviour that annoys and upsets. It is not until the ‘raw spots’ are revealed, when the wounds and hurts are acknowledged, and the core anxiety understood, that change can be addressed. Very often unpeeling the layers can expose a deep attachment insecurity or fear. There can be a direct line from wet towels left on the bathroom floor, to then feeling taken for granted, to then feeling not seen and cared for, and to then feeling alone and not loved.

The couple therapist Ellyn Bader suggests experimenting with an ‘Initiator – Inquirer’ process to begin a more effective style of communication. It may seem rigid and artificial but, in fact, it can help to create a freer more open dynamic. The couple take turns in each role.

The first aim is to give the upset partner (the ‘initiator’) the space and time to explain and feel heard

The second aim is to gain understanding. This partner (‘the inquirer’) is to try to manage any reactions of resistance or urges to dismiss and minimise, and stay listening. This should be helped by keeping to a script of questions:

1. ‘What’s upsetting you?’ ‘What’s worrying you?’ ‘What’s on your mind? The ‘initiator’ is limited to choosing one specific issue only. Keeping to ‘I’ statements they explain what it is they find upsetting. This is an attempt to break a loop of criticism/self-defensiveness. Instead of the ‘inquirer’ leaping into retaliatory tit-for-tat argument, the requirement is for ‘passionate listening’. It is not about refuting or agreeing at this stage. There will be an opportunity to explain reactions later.

2. ‘Tell me more.’ ‘What is it about that?’ ‘How does it make you feel?’ ‘Is there more about it?’ ‘Is there something else?’ Expressing an intention to listen and understand shows concern and this, in turn, encourages the other to be more introspective and self-explanatory. Name-calling, character assassination, critical blame or a negative list of complaints is not allowed. The one explaining has to explain the specifics of their struggle and pain. The listener needs to remain curious and avoid either flaring up or shutting down.

3. ‘What is the real challenge about that?’ ‘Why is that uncomfortable?’ The focus is on the person feeling hurt to identify specifically what they find disturbing. Are they making value judgements? What links and associations are being made? What if they reality test? What are reasonable expectations? Are the expectations shared? Is it possible to make a request (but not dictate or demand)?

4. ‘What do you need right now?’ ‘What are your needs in our relationship?’ ‘If we begin to make changes how will things feel better for you?’ ‘In which ways do you think it will be better for me?
The couple then reverse roles with the hope that mutual understanding allows the possibility of negotiating change. Keeping to the script is an attempt to break the deadlock of antagonistic emotional volatility and avoid the usual critical attacks. Previously, despite the couple feeling desperate for relief, the more hostile a relationship the more each partner remained fearful of letting go of the self-protective responses of hot anger or cold silence.

Their challenge is to see themselves on the same side and relax into becoming the safe loving team once again.

Kathy Rees

(* ‘The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever’)

Couples Emotional Attachment to Money

In a session recently a client disclosed to her husband that she was in a lot of debt but had been too afraid to share this with him. This came as a complete shock to him and he questioned what sort of marriage they had if his partner didn’t feel able to share this with him. Yet again this made me acutely aware of just how difficult it is for many couples to talk about money and their finances. It seems to be even harder than talking about sex.

Even when there is a lot of love and connection in a relationship, money issues are high on the list of subjects that couples argue about and cause conflict. This is probably why couples avoid the topic, particularly in the early stages of a relationship. Couple arguments about money tend to be more problematic and more likely to remain unresolved.

We come into our relationships with inherited attitudes, emotions and beliefs about money from our family backgrounds. We may not be fully aware of what we bring to our relationships about our own feelings about spending and saving, but it often gets acted out in our relationships. If we experienced parents who were careful with money, we often want to emulate that if it was a good experience. However if it wasn’t, we may want to do the opposite and be frivolous with money.

Understanding that we have an emotional relationship with money helps make sense of our feelings and behaviours around it. How we feel about money is often tied up with our need to feel secure, in control and independent.

Money can be challenging in a relationship when partners have contrasting relationships to money for example if one wants to spend and the other to save there is the potential for conflict. What happens if one wants to spend in a certain way and the other to save in a different way? Having polarised views can be challenging if not talked about and understood. Our individual emotional relationship with money often gets projected into our relationships. For example if we see ourselves in the role of a care giver and provider which makes us feel secure, how will this effect a partner who may not be used to being provided for and highly values their financial independence.

We don’t like to acknowledge that money can cause a power imbalance in our relationships. This is more likely to happen when there is a big difference in a couples salary and how money is spent and bills paid. Do you have separate bank accounts and/or joint accounts?

Money doesn’t have to be a wedge in your relationship. Learning how to talk to a partner about finances in a healthier more satisfying way is hugely beneficial for a growing relationship.

The key to dealing with this complex issue is to be open and honest with each other about how you feel about money, what money means to you, your attitude and values and where money fits into your relationship with each other. The need for clarity in how you plan to share finances, manage your spending and pay bills will enable you to have a better understanding and connection to one another’s perspective.

Useful questions to ask each other:

*How important is money to you?

*What messages did you get from your parents about money?

*How do you feel about spending money?

*What are your thoughts about saving money?

*Do you identify with being a spender or saver?

*Do you budget?

*Are you worried about money?

*Do you manage money well?

*Have you ever been in debt or had gambling problems?

If you feel money is an on-going issue that is contributing to conflict and distancing in your relationship, you may find it useful to take time out to talk to a Coupleworks counsellor in a confidential safe setting.

Dawn Kaffel

Self Care – looking after number one

We need to allow clients, whether coming as a couple or individually, the time and space to better understand, and have empathy for, an other whose opinions or outlooks they don’t always share. This can often be can be a real challenge.
One of the primary factors referred by clients as a reason to need therapy is described as ‘bad communication’. And observing them finding new empathy is a rewarding part of the work.
But an often overlooked factor can be how hard it often seems to find this same level of compassion and understanding within ourselves.
It’s a given that on every airline safety procedure, we are asked to put on our own oxygen masks in advance of attending to others.
Before we can look after those around us, we need self care, and it can be tricky to better understand why we can sometimes be so critical or judgemental of our own thoughts and responses.
Self compassion needs to be seen as completely different to self pity which victimises the self. Here, we’re looking at coping strategies to overcome very human feelings of shame and self punishment.
How much easier is it to listen to a good friend, or someone we really care about, and find ways to explain and forgive traits or mistakes that we should dwell on if thinking about them in the context of our own experience.
How often do we reflect on long-gone situations and still feel twinges of shame or embarrassment.
Wikipedia suggests that ‘we need to recognise that suffering and personal failure is part of the shared human experience’
See? It’s not only you….
we can’t eradicate our feelings, thoughts or past actions but we can learn to look at them with a more gentle and thoughtful mindset. Making a bad call on some decision doesn’t make you a bad person. Doing the right thing when you can, and giving yourself permission if you slip sometimes, is key.
Most spiritual beliefs centre around a concept of a universal love.
Self-criticism while being thoughtful towards others outside, makes for false distinctions that can only bring isolation. Buddhist thinking suggests that the way of relating to the self is with kindness – not to be confused with arrogance or conceit which can be an indicator of a lack of self love.
Learn to love ourselves unconditionally isn’t easy but here’s India.Arie doing it her way.

An empty or depressed sense of self will look externally for ways to find validation. Feelings of unworthiness can mean depending on others to fulfil us. Sadly, this is likely to lead to disappointment. We can’t ask another person to complete us – we can only ask that they accept us.
There are tried and tested ways to self nurture. Mindfulness, therapy, and the ability to allow ourselves to be good enough.
Remembering that Excellence is the enemy of the Good.
If we strive for perfection then ‘good’ will never seem enough. Giving ourselves permission to make mistakes at times and understand that others have felt this way too.
Small treats, time outside, space to think and the confidence to explore creativity will all help,
Good, empathetic therapy that can give the time to further explore all this shows a real degree of self compassion.
Take a little time to treat yourself with as much care as you would give to a good friend, partner or child. Support yourself with as much kindness as you would offer a loved one. Compassion for our self is often a forgotten element of our busy lives. Go on – give yourself a hug, no-one is watching.

Christina Fraser