Archive for Family

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

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

A Modern Wedding

This past weekend, the nation and the world witnessed yet another Royal Wedding with all the familiar sense of excitement and commentary that goes along with this joyful event. Yet, this wedding was different. Harry, born into royalty and 6th in line to be King married an American actress of mixed race, divorced and with a less than traditional family. Yes. This is the modern family!

It is far easier to define what we have known as a traditional family; two parents of different genders, sharing the same religion, same colour, same class. The difference was only seen when couples strayed from these expectations. Divorced families were stigmatised, mixed race couples reacted violently against, homosexuals ‘jailed’ and so on. These diversions from the norm put couples and families outside the realm of the traditional family. Saying this, the word ‘traditional’ has evolved through time and has brought about more acceptance of difference.

It is far more difficult to define the modern family. It transcends these external differences and becomes a new paradigm of thinking. Still, this can create confusion and a sense of not “being normal” for individuals and couples. We see this in our work with women deciding to have babies on their own and couples choosing not to have children. One gay couple I work with still struggles with visiting his parents with his partner and their children at the family home. From the outside, his family ‘accepts’ his relationship but the underlying discomfort he feels when they visit creates difficult and unresolved feelings between him and his parents. These issues need to be brought into the open and worked through in order to help change these outdated views.

The modern family can create problems within the family and couples have difficulties managing their own family dynamics such as divorced parents, step-parents and half siblings let alone factoring in their same sex or mixed race marriages. Making sense of unresolved feelings often send couples into conflict with one another. Harry and Megan modelled this well when her father decided to pull out of the wedding party. No dramas here, Prince Charles walked Megan down the aisle with love and grace. Of course, we aren’t privy to the conversations that preceded this!

Families are no longer straightforward and no longer look the same. These changes require us to reflect, adjust and evolve. This Royal Wedding hopefully might help make the modern family easier to accept and at some point help it move along a little faster.

Shirlee Kay

The Legacy of Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent

It has recently been reported that current government investments are looking at funding some proper support for children of alcoholic parents, and recognising the long lasting effects of this legacy.
Finally, there’s some formal acknowledgement of the ongoing devastation caused to children growing up in a family where one, or both, parents are addicted to drink.
As therapists working with adult relationship issues, we usually ask clients to outline their family backgrounds. As soon as the phrase ‘my mother/father was an alcoholic’ comes up, this will give a lot of clues as to how this person may have been raised and what difficulties they could have faced while growing up and trying to make sense of family and relationships.
Many of these alcohol dependent parents will have no idea of the effects their habit has on their families, but the fall-out is generally profound and long-lasting and can impact on their children well into adulthood, if not forever.

Trust
Growing up in the family of a drinker is likely to involve secrecy, there’s the possibility of not knowing how the parent will react as there’s often no consistency in their behaviours. Unpredictability becomes the norm. They may be unreachable, or break promises. Sometimes one parent will cover for the other and truth becomes a fluid concept. The children will have no ongoing feelings that trust and safety are a given. If you can’t trust the people that are your role models, then hope of future solid relationships becomes a lost ideal.

Normality
Well, there just isn’t any, but for the children in these household, chaos or change is their normal, as this is the way that family life continues for them. They may view other ‘ordinary’ families, but we are all mostly affected by our own day-to-day life, and if this is a helter-skelter of experiences, then that’s what we shall accept as reality.
It can be hard for these children to grow into adults who can accept a smooth path, it can also be hard to differentiate between good and bad role models or to integrate into a ‘normal’ family model.

Conflict
Ideally, children should grow up in a situation where anger can be seen as an ordinary part of any loving relationship. Parents can row sometimes, that’s a normal part of couple life. Parents can get cross with children, that’s pretty normal too. But it only works when it doesn’t get out of hand and the child sees that an occasional heated disagreement doesn’t break the caring bond between people. The knowledge that a hug, a kiss and a loving attachment underpins annoyance and is the stronger part of any connection will render reasonable anger as safe and negotiable. The child of an alcoholic is likely to fear any conflict and find it tricky to safely express negative emotion in a healthy way. Assertiveness can later be interpreted as anger and the legacy may be that of constantly seeking the approval of others and hiding their own feelings. Showing need can be dangerously disappointing.

Self criticism
Growing up in these unpredictable environments will often lead a child to become an adult with an over sensitive view of themselves, lacking self compassion and with low self-esteem. Always having to cautiously fit around another, powerful figure leads them to lose their own sense of robustness and identity.

Intimacy
This is a real loss for these clients, as safe intimacy relies on vulnerability. We have to be able to trust another with our deepest feelings and allow them to know our fears to be in an authentic relationship. For the child of an alcoholic, expressing fear can be an alien concept. Losing control will feel massively unsafe. This can also lead to a raft of other, seemingly soothing or distracting habits.
Addiction, eating disorders, co-dependent relationships, or other compulsive behaviours – not inevitable, but if necessary these are important things to be able to express in a safe, therapeutic situation.
Often, these clients have been assigned the role of ‘rescuer’ as a child – this can mean confusing love with pity.  Finding a partner they can concentrate on ‘helping’ to avoid looking after their own needs will repeat this pattern. Alternatively, many will find a partner who is emotionally unavailable, thus repeating the absence of feeling special in their original family.
Staying alert and vigilant was often their natural defence against the fear of the nameless dread that exists when a child feels unsafe on a deep level. Taking this  mindset into adult relationships will undermine the safety and easy companionship that we all need in adult couples.

This might seem a depressing list, but as couple therapists it’s our job to help our clients acknowledge their past. Nothing can change the places we all come from and few of us have a perfect upbringing, but by naming the fears and looking at the full context, together we can begin to make sense of the patterns they may have inherited.
It may be important to look at the unhappy, chaotic parental situation with some compassion. People with addictive personalities are usually suffering themselves and easily afflicted by distorted thinking.
In a safe therapeutic situation we can begin to think about helping clients to distance themselves from this past drama and understand that it need not control the present. Learning to let go is a difficult but rewarding task. Future relationships need not echo those that have gone before.
Let’s hope that the investment in helping today’s children to achieve a healthier childhood will lead to more adults finding loving family relationships of their own in the future.

Christina Fraser

Couples Come in Many Surprising Ways

Traditionally, a couple is defined as two people involved in a committed relationship and who are (usually) in a sexual relationship. In the past few years, individual clients have asked if I could see them and a member of their family or a close friend in a therapeutic setting. The prospect of this both intrigued and slightly intimidated me. As a couple’s therapist I am trained to work with two people but had never worked with this type of dynamic. Of course, there have been issues that I’ve not encountered before with clients but I’ve managed to work through the ‘not knowing’ and managed to work reflectively through these issues. Because of this, I allowed myself to trust my instincts and agreed.

My first experience was with a client who wanted to tell her father a few things she found difficult to say to him. She felt ready to speak in what she believed was a safe environment, with the support from a therapist. We agreed on 5 sessions and in that time, they were able to disentangle some of their old narratives and heal deep historic wounds that had created distance between them. This helped my client feel heard in a way she had not experienced with her father and they were both able to begin to make sense of what happened between them and how this had impacted on their relationship. My admiration for this ‘couple’ was huge and it was to their credit that they managed to stay with the uncomfortable feelings and worked through their issues.

What struck me was that all people, no matter what kind of couple, share a sense of not being heard, not being seen, feelings of hurt and a fear of losing their relationship. The longing for repair and need for harmony between people is part of our drive as humans. We are born to connect and love but we don’t always have the tools to know how best to achieve this. This is when people reach out for help and therapy can be a tool that enables individuals to connect with themselves in order to connect with others. Couples bring their hope of creating a new understanding and better communication between the people they love.

There is clearly a difference between working with traditional couple issues and relatives or friendships. My own understanding of these differences has been informed by own experience, by my willingness to ask questions and to learn to not assume anything. As a therapist, I am disentangling and constantly trying to make sense of feelings and where they might be originating from. The dynamics between people, whether a romantic couple or between relatives or friends are usually based on a connection that has been severed in some way. In both cases, the work is the same, reestablishing that connection.

Shirlee Kay

Mothers’ Day

According to retail analysts there is no question about it – Mothers’ Day is big business. Estimates vary but Coresight Research predicted that approximately £260 million will have been spent on flowers and around £50 million on greetings cards for last Sunday’s celebrations. Add in the meals out, special treats and the presents and the total spend was predicted to reach £1.4 billion – a significant sum!

But it’s not just the retailers who see the significance of mothers. At Coupleworks, along with many other counsellors and therapists we see the role of our mothers, and our fathers, as being very significant in our emotional growth as human beings. Writing in her book ‘Hold Me Tight’ Dr Sue Johnson briefly describes the ways in which ‘Attachment Theory’ as pioneered by John Bowlby and others, has proved the significance of parents for our emotional development. Writing of him she says

“His experience spurred him to formulate his own idea, namely that the quality of the connection to loved ones and early emotional deprivation is key to the development of personality and to an individual’s habitual way of connecting with others”.

It seems unbelievable now that for much of the last century parents were not allowed to stay in a hospital with their sick children – they had to drop them off at the door and children suffered in the long term as a result.

In the therapy room it becomes obvious that people who have lacked that secure base of consistent and loving parenting often struggle when it comes to forming good relationships with their partners. For example, someone who has experienced their mother as being harsh and judgmental can often assume sub-consciously that their partner will behave in a similar way towards them. Or if an emotionally absent parent has dominated a child’s experience, they could then find it difficult as adults to be present to another, fearing a repetition of that emotional abandonment.

Becoming more conscious of these early patterns of relating can have a huge impact on our ability to be present and connected in our adult relationships. We cannot rewrite or change the past, but we can learn of its impact on us, and therefore become more able to find ways of deepening our connections with our partners. That process of separating or individuating from our parents is crucial to our psychological health as a person. To mourn the loss of what we haven’t had, or process the pain and trauma or early experiences through counselling is a healing process that often brings change and hope to our adult relationships.

Sarah Fletcher

Tips for surviving Christmas

The mince pies have been in the shops for months, the war of Christmas adverts has begun and soon we will be in full swing. But Christmas comes with mixed emotions for many, the pressure of presents, food and family. For couples with young children there is the excitement and anticipation of nativity plays, Father Christmas and the like. Whilst at the other end of the scale there may be questions about who spends Christmas with you or who you spend Christmas with. And then there is the fact that many millions of people will be very lonely this Christmas. One of the things we notice at Coupleworks is the increase in enquiries that we get after the Christmas break. The reality is that these 10 days put pressure on relationships.

So here are some ideas of how to survive the run up to Christmas.

1. Talk to each other about expectations of how the holiday period will go especially when you come from family backgrounds that celebrate it very differently.
2. LISTEN to what your partner says and take it seriously.
3. Identify key pressure points and make a plan of how to prepare for them.
4. Make sure that you are doing some nice things for yourself and that it’s not all about what you will be doing for others.
5. Be realistic about what you expect and hope for from having more time together.
6. Don’t feel that you are personally responsible for making it ‘the best Christmas ever’ – others have their roles to play as well – and remember it is ok for it to be ‘good enough’.
7. Be aware that reducing your inhibitions through alcohol can be a mixed blessing.

So – plan your campaign carefully and you could find that it builds relationships rather than damaging them.

Sarah Fletcher

Navigating Change in a Couple when children leave home

The summer holidays are over and the kids are back at school. Many parents up and down the country are bracing themselves for the inevitable when in the next few weeks their children will be leaving home for university.

Adjusting to children leaving home, whether its your first child or your youngest child for some couples, poses very little difficulty, whereas for others it presents such a major milestone that it can de-stabilize even the securest relationship. When a first child leaves, there is some comfort that there are others at home to help with this period of readjustment. When the last child leaves the nest is empty and it’s just the two of you. For some the feelings of heartache and loss are overwhelming and like a mourning period. For others it welcomes a period of change and excitement that is free from the daily stresses of parenting and an opportunity to enjoy doing different things as a couple and to focus positively on their relationship.

Often couples struggle to identify that children leaving home can cause such difficulties between them, so accepting that this can be a difficult time for relationships rather than denying it is vital.

Children are often the glue in their parents’ relationship and when they leave there can be a sense of dislocation as a huge void is now present which can be scary and unmanageable. Shifting back to being a couple again can often trigger a What’s my role now? It can often feel lonely and scary.

Worrying about your children leaving home is part of the letting go. Feeling sad they are leaving doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go!!

Here are some problems that couples can struggle with at this stage:

Communication breaks down
Finding faults with each other
Increase in arguments
Taking on more work to try to fill the gap left by children
Staying at the office later to avoid having to spend time just the two of you
Finding yourselves spending more time doing things separately
Using social media and texting more regularly is easier than talking
Seeking out alternative experiences like excessive drinking, drugs or affairs

Couples don’t have to fall apart when the nest becomes empty. It can be an important time to reconnect and to start adjusting to new roles and responsibilities by spending more time focusing on being a couple than you have done for years.

Here are some suggestions to help you work on your relationship and restore what may have been neglected between you:

Can we be friends again? Do we still have things to talk about? Do we have enough in common? Will I be enough for you? Do you still love me?
It may be surprising that you both have similar anxieties and will relish the chance to talk it through with each other in a way you haven’t done for a long time
Memories of being child free Enjoy the opportunity to share with each other how it was before children arrived and took over your lives. Use humour and examples to reminisce. Take pride and delight in sharing your accomplishments as a couple
Notice your spouse as a partner not a parent You may have been so busy working and being a parent that noticing each other as partners and what you need and how you nurture that precious relationship may have been way down the list of your priorities. Focus on being two equals. Show each other you are equally invested, equally involved and equally responsible.
Refocus and rethink life and fill gaps left by children
Start accepting each other for who you are, start putting each other first and learn to see other as partners again. When did you last compliment each other? Practice talking to each other about shared plans, your hopes, your concerns and what you are both looking forward to. Discuss together what you need and what you don’t need from each other? What you like and what you don’t like?
Start thinking about yourself and what you need
It’s an important time for you two as individuals. Discuss what you would like to do that you have been putting off for years. What new challenges would you like to take on? Its important that you feel fulfilled yourself in order to bring the best you can to the relationship
How do we look after our relationship?
Start to enjoy each other’s company again. After years of neglect the relationship needs to be prioritised. When was the last time you planned an evening out together? When was the last time you had a holiday just the two of you?
Do you enjoy doing things separately as well as together?
When was the last time you had sex? It may have been a while since you both felt very close and connected to each other. The more you talk to each about how you feel and what you would like and start focusing more attention on each other the intimacy and affection will start to grow and sex should begin to feel more exciting as you explore what you need from each other sexually. You now have more quality time to spend together.
Hopefully you will start to feel that although one chapter has ended another has just begun and what feels like the end is often just the beginning.
Dawn Kaffel

The Importance of Fathers Day

After the election chaos, the atrocities of the London bombings and yesterdays fire disaster in Grenfell Tower, Fathers Day on Sunday comes as a welcome relief. A celebration first observed in Washington in 1910 to honour fathers and father figures, step fathers, grandfathers and fathers in law. Many families go to great efforts to make special plans, send messages, cards and gifts, to celebrate fatherhood up and down the country.

Fathers’ day provides an opportunity for children to express their love and respect for their fathers’ and acknowledge the important role they play which strengthens the father child bond. However it can also be a time of mixed emotions where there may be an absent father or one who is only seen occasionally. Other male role models may be more reliable and present than the real father.

In our counselling rooms Fathers’ Day gives clients an opportunity to think of the significance of fathers in their lives and perhaps take time out to remember fathers if they are no longer around.

The role of father is often relegated to secondary status compared to a mother. But a father is just as important for a child as a mother is. However research shows that fathers are engaged in caretaking than ever before due to mothers working, longer hours, and there is more recognition of the importance the role of a father plays in family life

Role of fathers
Children depend on a father for emotional physical financial and social wellbeing. For daughters a father is the first man they love and for sons a father is the man they aspire to.
Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children. Having an affectionate supportive and involved father can contribute greatly to a child’s language and social development, self-confidence, academic achievement and positive opinions of men.

What a father means to his daughter
A fathers ‘influence on his daughters life shapes her confidence, and her self-esteem and sets an example to her about men.
In her book Women and their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic impact of the First Man in your Life, Victoria Secunda suggests that those women who grow up with a remote and aloof father and do not feel affirmed by their father, tend to respond to men in their lives like they responded to their elusive father: they seek out the intimacy they didn’t receive from their father, but are unable to believe they can trust their partners to deliver.
Working as a counsellor I see many clients of both sexes whose sense of worth as an individual is rooted in their experience of their fathers. How some re-enact their struggles with their fathers onto their adult partners and how having an absent father can remain such a significant influence.

What a father means to his son
The father-son relationship can be complex. Boys tend to model themselves on their fathers. They look for their fathers’ approval in everything they do. They copy those behaviours that they recognise. Boys who have an actively involved father tend to develop securely with a strong sense of self.

If a father is loving and supportive, boys will want to be that and if fathers are controlling, and dominating those could be patterns that boys take into their adult relationships.

So on this Fathers’ Day, especially after the turmoil of the last few weeks take this opportunity to recognise and reward fathers for being there and playing an important role in your lives. Fathers’ need to feel they are special too!

Dawn Kaffel

Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Addictive behaviours draw in other family members. There will be instinctive reactions in concerned onlookers of anyone with an eating disorder. The Maudsley Hospital in South London have developed a range of descriptive animal metaphors to clearly illustrate the likely responses of carers, and better help them to recognize their natural and typical reactions.

How do you react? There are three basic BEHAVIOURAL types that carers may adopt as a result of the confusion and anxiety they feel.

KANGAROO CARE is the response to a loved one’s seemingly fragile, physical state. It may feel tempting to try to draw them in, to protect them as if in a safe pouch. Kangaroo carers do everything they can to support. They will do anything to try and coax or tempt their loved one, with tenderness and special treats. Sadly, the downside is that it infantalises and can remove the challenge of the difficult return to reality.

RHINOCEROS RESPONSE is the understandable frustration that leads to analyzing, persuading and convincing. This so easily ends in a loss of tolerance and patience and then to arguments – as if trying to charge at, and smash, the disordered behavior.
The negative side is that force brings up all the distorted, eating disordered thinking of counter-agreements as a defense – or it allows the person to feel they could never overcome their situation without assistance

THE DOLPHIN illustrates the most helpful approach. Eating disordered people can feel all at sea, and the condition is their life belt because they feel the world is a stressful and dangerous place. The dolphin sometimes swims ahead leading and guiding the way, sometimes just being encouragingly alongside, nudging from time to time.

The other dimension of the relationship is the EMOTIONAL response, and again animal metaphors can illustrate these.

THE OSTRICH covers the family members who find any kind of challenge or confrontation too tricky. The temptation is to ignore the behaviour or absent themselves completely from the situation. This way they don’t have to admit the seriousness of what is happening.

THE JELLYFISH is engulfed in an intense and transparent emotional response. Sometimes it is just through fear that accompanies misunderstandings or false interpretations. It is only too easy to still hold the historic belief that somehow they have failed as parents or siblings, leading to sensitive or tearful reactions.

ST BERNARD DOG is the emotional ideal. Consistent, reliable and dependable in all circumstances. The St Bernard stays calm even when feeling threatened by the situation. He is warm and nurturing.

Most people will weave in and out of these behaviours – sometimes understandably succumbing to extremes, but it can be helpful to remember that intense emotional reactions are normal when dealing with situations that touch us deeply. Keeping in mind these goals can help when options feel limited.

Christina Fraser

Adulting

The term Adulting has been thrown around on social media for the past few years and many of the definitions are often ladened with their own inference and judgement. One definition defines Adulting (v): to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups. Used in a sentence: Jane is Adulting quite well today as she is on time for work and appears well groomed. The Oxford Dictionary defines Adulting as the Practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks: As Modifier: I finished all my Adulting requirements for the week.

‘Adulting’ over social media, for instance, seems to be at the heart of most people’s irritation with the young, fuelling their contempt, adding to the argument that the young are unable to cope with discomfort and struggle with the challenges life throws at them. I admit that I bought into this narrative for years. However, I have recently revised my opinion. Now I see willingness by this generation to admit their struggles and take steps to address the situation in a way that best makes sense to them: seeking help. This is important; going to a therapist translates, to some, as “not being able to cope” or more scathingly, “weak and pathetic”. It misses the point that the Millennials have different way of seeing things and a very different experience growing up from that of their parents. These differences, in themselves, are not the problem; it’s the acceptance of these differences. Parents don’t want to be judged by their children and neither do the young.

It’s easy to be disparaging about Millennials and ridicule them as they struggle to cope with the realities of being an adult. But this approach quickly becomes a cliche; isn’t it far more useful to take time to understand what is going on? I sometimes wonder if much of the cynicism directed at the young has more to do with the fact that they actually voice the feelings of how challenging being an adult can sometimes be because the reality is that most young people are hardworking and responsible adults. Perhaps it is the older generation’s need for the young to struggle in the same way they did. It might be more useful for that generation to take into account that the challenges of the young are very different from their own experiences.

The couples I see in my practice are hard working and responsible. Do they struggle? Yes, but what I walk away with is a sense that their struggles can be known, not hidden and ignored. They don’t feel as though they need to ‘suck it up’ and suffer in silence perhaps the way their parents did. Do they sometimes go on about it too much? Absolutely. But like all change, the swing of the pendulum sometimes sounds extreme. The secret might be to look at the grumblings as part of the process the young are going through. As most adults (finally) learn, acceptance is at the heart of being fully grown up!

Shirlee Kay

Uncertainty.

Uncertainty.

 

The shock of unexpected change, when it is a superego decision, thus removing control, brings fear and anxiety into everyone affected.

We in the UK have seen this domino effect of shock reverberating around the country.  As well as amazement and disruption it has brought a sense of excitement, conversation, argument and newness into otherwise routine and busy lives across the country.

When observing what happens with change on a wide scale it is interesting to compare group reactions to those of a couple, their family and friends facing the unknown.

A family, getting on with their lives in a safe and certain routine can collectively face the ups and downs of day to day existence.

When sudden change manifests itself the whole family can be disrupted, bringing a forced difference in a very short space of time to the hitherto status quo in the family culture.

A move, loss of job, an affair following breakdown of communication, unexpected illness or death can throw all concerned into a whirlpool of vulnerability and fear.

Some people manage these traumas with difficulty but eventual resolution and some are not so fortunate.  At Coupleworks, we see more of the latter but with time, listening, respect and acceptance of change we can witness recovery taking place.  It is possible to encourage a more solid foundation within the couple management.

With the wider picture of the superego seeming to lose control and without a solution in place, an honest and straightforward approach may help to shift rigid views and more tolerance might start to form in a country currently at odds with itself.

This will, like with a couple, need acceptance that clinging to old ways which no longer fit the present time is like expecting a mother plant to flourish forever, instead of respecting the fact that new shoots with their energetic and creative growth can bring stronger yet different shapes and colours.

The advertisements on television for the coming Olympics and Paralympics have shown how creativity and change can help bring back positive excitement during uncertain times.

Clare Ireland

Working with Family Members

As couple therapists, our training is focused on two people: a man and a woman, two women, two men, transgender couples. These are couples that have chosen to commit to a relationship. They have a history of meeting, dating, getting to know one another and (hopefully) falling in love. They come to therapy because their relationship is in trouble, and they want to understand why and how to resolve things.

So what happens when two sisters, two brothers, a mother and daughter, mother and son, father and daughter or father and son need help with their relationship?

When a client I have been working with asked if I would see him with his brother, I was in a quandary as to how I might serve them best. I decided that I would work with the issues that they wanted to address as I would with any couple. But was it as simple as that? What else did I need to consider?

I asked myself what the difference might be working with them, and what I came up with is that this ‘couple’ didn’t choose one another but were born into the same family. The other difference is that the family history is shared but not always experienced in the same.

What struck me about meeting these brothers was there was the same tension between them that ‘normal’ couples often bring into the consulting room. There was also a natural hesitance about delving into difficult feelings between them (opening the ‘can of worms’) and doubted that the other could understand them.

Mike and James grew up with a controlling and divisive mother who would keep one of them in favour and criticise the other. And then, periodically, she would switch. It felt good when they were the chosen one and both acknowledged how difficult it was to protect the other or name what was going on within the family.

By telling the story, the brothers were able to appreciate how they were caught up in a dynamic that they didn’t choose but were forced to adapt to.
As children, they had no guidance and did the best they could to manage, but it left them feeling unprotected and wounded with one another.

I worked with them for eight sessions and they started slowly to trust one another and move forward together. They consciously made a pact to protect one another when the other was out of favour and keep the communication between them open and loving. They realized that changing their mother’s behaviour wasn’t possible but they were determined to step into it, with one another, in a different more thoughtful way. After a time, they found that this made them stronger together and as a result, their relationship became closer and deeper.
Working with two people means simply learning to understand how they experience and relate to one another. Whether it is a romantic couple or siblings going through difficulties, therapy can help disentangle things between them.

Shirlee Kay

Siblings at War

Sibling Rivaly. It can all sound a bit Freudian and irrelevant within modern couple difficulties.
But remember, this is where most of us start to investigate our relationship powers.
The first group most people encounter is within our original family and each new child hopes for the starring role. However, the disappointments of displacement can come all too fast as another, rival baby enters the home.
Sometimes there is already a co-star in the shape of a demanding toddler born before us who will be fighting for autonomy. Each child struggles for top billing – with their parents as audience.
As a beloved new baby, getting toppled from that important pedestal means that you are no longer getting all that precious attention, so sibling rivalry can be bitter. And for most children any displacement will feel too early.
As relationship therapists, we see this often. Many couples will mirror each other with similar positions in their early family structure.  When people’s feelings run high, the bickering can degenerate into playground style squabbling. Each trying to show who is the most hard done by, and the most wronged partner.
Conflicts like this often cover up the real issue which is fear. Couples can disagree on fundamental issues but the scary things is to trust that a partner will still love and respect us and our views even if they aren’t shared. Therapy can provide that safe space to reflect and really listen to a partner. We don’t have to agree with all their ideas and beliefs, but we do need to listen and better understand each other.
Sibling rivalry is based on injustice – real or imagined. Most of us struggle for feelings of fairness in couple relationships. If the other thinks we are wrong they are inferring we must be to blame. So we retaliate, insisting that they are wrong and so it goes. Except that sometimes nobody holds the golden ticket. Things can just be different for each of us.
When filled with frustration and rage, try to imagine where you may have experienced a similar struggle back in childhood. That’s often where it all begins.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. That brother or sister knows where all the skeletons lie within the family cupboard and can be a close ally as time goes on.
They know you well, and that can be a scary thing. But they can also be a deep support for life.

Christina Fraser

The Festival of Chanukah – 8 candles 8 lessons

Last Sunday Jewish families around the world were celebrating the first night of Chanukah. The time of the year when this joyous festival of lights is celebrated with the kindling of an eight branch candelebra. Over the next eight days an additional candle is lit every night accompanied by singing special songs, eating oil based foods like doughnuts and exchanging gifts.

Rabbi Mark Levene says with the strike of a match the flames of the menorah can teach us eight powerful lessons. I believe we can also apply these lessons to our couple relationships:

CLARITY – there are often times in life when we can get overwhelmed with difficulties. It just takes one person to break that darkness and reach out to another to show love empathy and compassion

HOPE – no matter how impossible things may look at times, with patience, time and effort we can fight off the forces that often want to break us.

ADDITIONS – on each evening we light an additional flame and then go back to light the previous candles. In doing this we show that everyday we have another opportunity to add our own light into this world and improve what we bring to one another from the day before.

NOTICE – have we become so accustomed to routine in our lives and relationships that we fail to see the fascination in the familiar and mundane?

UNDERSTANDING- more about ourselves and how we behave helps us stay more connected to our partners and ensures we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes

KINDLE- regardless of how many candles we light our flame never diminishes. When we share our knowledge, time and energy with our partners we keep that light shining brighter

AWAKEN – to question our commitment to our relationships can reawaken the curiosity and interest in each other

HEAVENWARD – allowing ourselves to look inwards. However far we may travel the light of the flames teach us that our hearts and minds remain steadfastly committed to our relationships.

The festival of Chanukah enables us to look inwards and utilise the opportunities available to us. This year as we eat our doughnuts lets hope we can see the glow of the eight flickering candles and stand strong as we did over 2000 years ago and overcome our difficulties now as we did then.

Happy Chanukah

Dawn Kaffel

Ageing Parents – A Rite of Passage

As the joy of summer holidays start to fade and we return to our daily routines of work, school runs and family life, it struck me how many of us may be facing the challenge of ageing parents at the same time as dealing with raising and supporting children. This relatively new phenomenon is labelled the Sandwich Generation.

Coupleworks clients often say it seems as if it is something that creeps up on us – the idea that we may have to parent one or both of our parents, often due to divorce, widowhood, ill health or dementia. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, the change of roles from being cared for to being the carer to parents as well as our own children and often grandchildren brings with it a huge wave of different and sometimes unpredictable emotions.

It’s hard seeing parents becoming more frail and vulnerable when it seems like yesterday they were strong and robust and in many cases, taking care of you. Sometimes a sense of obligation and wanting to control is a way of coping with the inevitable loss of a much-loved parent. Feelings of shame are sometimes overwhelming when we express frustration and anger towards parents who are no longer able to respond in the way they used to and require so much more of our time and attention.

Coupleworks clients often express feelings of being pulled in so many directions and this can bring up lots of difficulties between a couple.
If you don’t live close by, how much time is taken up worrying about how they are coping and feeling guilty because there is not enough time to visit more often.
Are they able to manage on their own? Can they look after their own financial affairs? Are they safe enough to drive the car? Are they calling more often? Does there seem to be more accidents in the home? Do they need more advice and seem less and less independent?

How does a partner give continual support at these crucial times when it feels like there is constant competition for attention and care that is going elsewhere?

This can also be a time when our relationships with siblings can be severely tested. When old familiar roles get raised and we tend to revert to patterns of behaviour with parents from our childhoods. Does the eldest child take charge which can bring out feelings of resentment from younger siblings? Do younger siblings often feel the need to be looked after and feel excluded from parental care? How can we continue to give the care and attention to our children and grandchildren when our parents needs become more pressing and demanding?

Be aware of the knock on effects that taking on a caring role can bring. Does it mean we need to cut back on work, reduce our social lives in order to spend more quality time with parents, in some cases to make up for opportunities lost in the past?
How can we manage all these roles without feeling frustrated and resentful? After all you may have had parents who spent most of their lives caring for you and now they need that extra support, its not always easy to find that love, care and generosity when there is so much going on.

As our parents and family members are living longer, we have to find ways of looking after ourselves better too.

At Coupleworks we are often faced with helping clients work through this complex and difficult as well as rewarding time.

Here are a few tips to help manage the situation:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Make sure you give yourself time to find out all the help there is out there from your GP to social services, occupational therapists and carers associations.

You can’t do it all – when a crisis hits, there is a tendency to go around like a headless chicken as you try to come to terms with the changes in your family dynamic. Once the practical things are in place, try to make the time just to talk calmly about what they need right now. Its very difficult for parents to accept that they need to depend on you more, especially if that hasn’t been so for most of your relationship.

Take things slowly – baby steps. What needs to be put in place now, may need to be changed if and when the situation settles down.

Allow parents to talk about how they feel – Don’t be afraid to listen to parents’ feelings and thoughts. It may be difficult to listen to but it’s important that they are able to feel they can talk about their fears and anxieties.

Share your feelings with your partner or close friend.
Don’t feel you have to cope on your own. Reach out to those who are closest to you. Don’t shut everybody out. Often a problem shared is a problem halved.

Work together with your siblings – if you have siblings, use them for support and discuss how you can help each other to work through this tough time. If you are an only child, make sure you have friends and other family members who you can rely on to be there for you to talk things through with or ask for help

Look after yourself – try to keep doing what your were always doing. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and eating properly. You may not be able to do it with the same frequency but stopping your exercise routines, your lunches with a girlfriend and short breaks with your partner will NOT enable you to face this role reversal and cherish every moment you can with a parent while you can.
Dawn Kaffel

Fathers’ Day

Fathers’ Day is upon us this weekend and all over the country and from all around the world, Dads will be receiving messages alongside the visits that will be taking place.

The media too have been full of stories about fathers and parenting. Some of these like the one about three-year-old Ethan who was required by a judge, very unusually, to live with his father rather than his mother was very personal. Others like the survey reported in last Sunday’s Observer showed that fathers whose couple relationships have broken down, spend more time with their sons than with their daughters. There is now also plenty of evidence around that parents in this generation, and fathers in particular, are giving greater priority to spending time with their children which is a marked change from where we were even 30 years ago.

All of which creates its own pressures and challenges. How do you, as a father, respond positively to this hope that your relationships with your children will have a greater depth to them than yours did as a child? How can you learn to be a good father when you may never have had a male in your life who provided much of a role model?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that more and more organisations – schools, health visitors, churches – are running parenting courses. Such groups are simply responding to the demand and the need that is out there.

Here at Coupleworks we are very used to working with these issues. We do not provide parenting courses but we do help couples and individuals, either in couple therapy or individual counselling, to explore the sort of parents they want to be and the struggles they face in doing that. Often this starts with thinking through their own experience of being parented – what they liked or didn’t and how they might want to do the same or differently.

With regard to being a father, we regularly provide counselling for those who have had challenging relationships with their own fathers. Quite often this presents itself from having one who was emotionally distant or perhaps domineering. Talking and working through their own experience of being parented, can then help men to become the sort of fathers they want to be.

None of us will ever be perfect parents – but most of us can make good enough ones – and here at Coupleworks we can help with that process. A willingness to work at being a ‘good enough Dad’ is a great place to start.

Sarah Fletcher

What’s in a name?

Well the writing is over and the bookies are settling the bets – it’s official – the names of the new Princess are Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. And as the commentators have rushed to confirm, each of those names were carefully chosen to link the baby to Kate and William’s families. Charlotte is taken from the French origin of Charles in honour of her grandfather. The name Charlotte is also the middle name of Pippa Middleton so links well to both families. Elizabeth and Diana speak for themselves – named after Charlotte’s great grandmother, the Queen and her late grandmother, Princess Diana.

All of which raises some interesting questions for many couples when it comes to the naming of a new baby. How far should they go along with family tradition? And how far should they aim simply to choose a name that they like, regardless of what others may think about it?

Of course that’s just one example of an issue that every couple faces at some stage in their relationship. All of us have expectations about how to run our lives – varying from the ‘proper’ way to do Christmas, to the priority we place on our family get togethers, to what is right to spend money on – but the problems come in relationships when these expectations clash and one member of a couple just assumes that the other will come into line because that’s what they have been bought up to expect.

In my own experience there are unhealthy and healthy ways to handle these differing expectations. Some couples will never compromise and end up bickering endlessly. In other couples one person will so dominate another that a different perspective never gets a look in. A more healthy dynamic is when couples are able to spend time listening carefully to each other and to be open to making change. Very rarely is there an objectively ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things – it is about the couple working out what is right for them.

One of the many refreshing things about William and Kate is their willingness to put their own stamp on the way they run their lives and no doubt they’ve had to talk about the blending of families expectations on many occasions. Long may that continue and Coupleworks send their congratulations to William and Kate on the birth of their new Princess.

Sarah Fletcher

How to put the ‘Grand’ into Grandparenting

Recently I have received several phone calls from friends joyously announcing they have joined the ‘Grand parenting club’ and it made me think more about the significance of this important relationship that can enrich lives across the generations.

There are 14 million grandparents in the UK, 1.5 million are aged under 50, 7 million are under 65.

Ask a grandparent about a grandchild and you’re usually in for a long conversation!!
Serious faces soften with enormous grins, house rules slacken and the biscuit tin is never empty.

Adults appear to transform when they become grandparents. It’s as if they turn back the clock, -a time to have a child in the family without the responsibility but with all the pleasure that they may have missed with their own children. Grandparents take on the role of a bridge between the past and the present, providing memorable loving relationships with grandchildren that can last a lifetime.

However, with the increase in blended families, grandparents are taking on many different roles and it can be challenging. Some grandparents take on full or part time responsibility for their grandchildren often having to shoulder a great deal of the childcare responsibilities because both parents are working or in some cases due to divorce or even death of a parent. For other grandparents it may be a weekend visit, a regular weekday spent together, a chat on the phone and if in a long distance relationship an email or a regular Skype exchange.

At Coupleworks we often see clients who are struggling with the demands of grandparenting, which in turn can lead to difficulties in their own relationships.

Here are some suggestions to ensure a grandparenting role makes the most of this precious relationship and helps strengthen loving family times:

*discuss with your son or daughter the role you would like to have in your grandchild’s life and how that matches with their expectation of your new role. For example how often you will babysit? How often will you seem them? Will you go on holidays together? How often can they come and stay? Do you attend school meetings?

* try not to offer advise unless it’s asked for!! Instead make sure your children know you are on hand should they need someone to turn to.

*house rules at home are always more relaxed in grandparents homes, but consistency is important for grandchildren to feel.

*resist trying to tell your children how to raise your grandchildren. Respect the parent’s decisions. Make it clear you respect their boundaries. You would always phone before popping in!

*share with them the things you are interested in and passionate about which may be different from their parents

*it’s unnecessary to shower your new grandchild with an abundance of gifts – always check with the child’s parents before making a large purchase. Perhaps, substitute gift giving by spending quality time and sharing activities together which will build up much more lasting memories.

*remember to look after your own relationship by ensuring you take time out for your partner to have fun and enjoy reconnecting as a couple without grandchildren

* keep yourself healthy by eating nutritiously and ensure you get enough sleep – grandchildren can be exhausting!!

*just living for your grandchildren can cause difficulties so don’t give up your own hobbies and interests. It’s important to have a balanced life.

Relationships with your grandchildren, like any other relationships can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. Grandparents are often rejuvenated in the companionship of a younger generation. Equally, grandparenting offers a grandchild insight into a different generational experience.

Being the kind of grandparent that works for you, your children and your grandchildren involves caring, compromise and consistency.

A Welsh proverb claims: ‘perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild’

Have the time of your life!!
Dawn Kaffel

Mothers’ Day.

For the card designers and printers, the flower sellers and restaurants, this is another bonanza day for selling.

From a mother’s point of view, who should she be, both to herself and to her children.  She has already been the child of a mother and therefore has expectations and hopes from both positions.

Nature seems to implant in mothers an ability to make sacrifices willingly, to be tolerant, to offer unconditional love without feeling it is a right to get it back and to find whatever does come back is a bonus.

There has to be an honesty from a mother to her child in order to be brave enough to tell it as it is even when the telling is painful to hear.

She has to veer seamlessly in the early years between melt downs and temper tantrums and kisses, cuddles and I love you pictures festooned down upon her from nursery school.  She has to take the ‘she knows it all’ and ‘she gets it’ of the younger child to ‘she knows nothing’ and ‘she never gets it’ of the teenage years, without taking it personally.

She has to try and accept that her child is a totally separate entity from herself and will not do things in life which she wanted to do but hadn’t achieved.

She has to bear her child being unhappy at times without going into over protection mode thereby robbing her child of the learning process of resolving their own battles and conflicts.

The concept of having, loving and letting go has never been bettered and if any mother is able to fulfil some of the above she really deserves a card, flowers and treat because the person giving those to her will be hoping for acknowledgement from their child somewhere down the line of life.

Clare Ireland.