Archive for Relationships

Managing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clare Ireland

The idea of a ‘Normal’ Relationship

If it is true that there as many minds as there are heads,

Then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts’

(Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

The recent controversy in Birmingham schools over sex and relationship education has exposed the belief, held by some, that there exists such a thing as a ‘normal’ relationship. In this case it relates to a group of parents preferring their children are taught that heterosexuality is the ‘normal’ sexual orientation. They object to their children being ‘exposed’, in particular, to knowledge of LGBTQ relationships and to an understanding of the concepts of diversity and difference.

Pleased that the government had introduced relationship education into the national curriculum, I now feel saddened that it has become associated with disagreement and division.

As a couple therapist I have found that the idea of ‘normal’ is often problematic and can cause stress and strain in a relationship when it relates to one person’s expectations of their partner. Difficulties can arise when a behaviour is judged inappropriate, or seems incomprehensible, or creates feelings of insecurity, and is ‘not normal’.

I take time to inquire what ‘normal’ means to each individual and explore the origins of these beliefs. How were they learned? Are some concepts considered universals and what are the shared and agreed assumptions of ‘normal’? I encourage the couple to agree on what is their understanding of normal for the two of them.

For some couples monogamy is essential, while others are polyamorous. While some couples live apart, others need close proximity. Some couples choose to try to start a family, while others choose to remain childless.

There can be differences within the relationship itself – with some couples reassured by close shared interests and interactions, and others accepting the place of different preoccupations or friendship groups.

However, more than such explicit normalities, what feels core to a healthy relationship is an acknowledged implicit normality: a shared understanding of the meaning of what makes for a good life together This must involve an acceptance and tolerance of each other’s similarities and differences.  In his book, ’The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’, American therapist John Gottman says, ‘a culture can be created by just two people who have agreed to share their lives. In essence, each couple creates its own microculture. And like other cultures, these small units have their own customs, rituals and myths… Developing a culture doesn’t mean a couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead there is a meshing which is flexible enough to change as they age, grow, and develop… Conflict is then less intense and less likely to lead to gridlock.’

This is not about being ‘average’ but revelling in the richness that can come from a combination of each ‘otherness’.  In medieval times alchemists experimented with mixing different metals in the hope of creating gold. Similarly, there is something powerful in a synergy – where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – that can occur from two people in a relationship.

However, for a relationship to flourish and survive life’s vicissitudes, the couple must treat the relationship itself as a third – as a separate, living, breathing organism that needs tender care and concern. The special requirements of their own unique partnership will need to be identified and agreed – for without this attention it will shrivel and die.

Stan Tatkin, in his new book on pre-marital preparation, ‘We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring love’ explains that the seeds of building a ‘secure-functioning partnership’ should be part of a conversation from the start. The fine detail of what is involved when beginning on a life of ‘we do’, instead of ‘I do’, needs careful consideration and it’s important to talk.

Unfortunately, nearly half of marriages do end in divorce. But Chrisanna Northrup, in ‘The Normal Bar’, a book based on a survey of more than 70,000 people about their relationship satisfaction, identified five ‘high-five’ common behaviours that correlated with greater satisfaction. Good communication was the one that was valued the most. Understanding one another fully can lessen disappointment and soften judgemental criticism.

Gottman’s view is that we have to consider that certain differences will probably never be reconciled, and many conflicts will never be resolved, but an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance allows a couple to live well and thrive. 

‘Cause all of me

Loves all of you

Loves your curves and your edges

All your perfect imperfections’

John Legend ‘All Of Me’

Kathy Rees

Secrets and Lies

Couples come to therapy for a range of different reasons and one of the most important requirements for any good therapeutic experience is that there is openness and honesty in the sessions.  But clients are not always honest with themselves, or their therapists and this often leads to a break down in the therapeutic alliance and a breakdown in the relationship.

From the start therapists need to be clear with their couples as to what their policy is on secrets especially if they have some individual sessions or if one partner contacts the therapist between sessions to reveal a secret.   It is not a therapist’s role to hold onto secrets for the couple but to help and prepare them to have a more honest relationship with their partner.  To understand and explore together what their fears about what might happen and why it seems easier to withhold than be honest and open.  Sharing these difficulties and bearing the tension and the shame is the path towards a more open and intimate relationship.

Definition of Secrets and Lies

Keeping secrets from your partner is a deliberate intent to keep information hidden.   This choice is usually because you fear the impact on yourself or others that the information may have.  What often underlies secrecy is a fear of judgment and reprisals.   A lie is a deliberate act of deceiving another person by hiding the truth or trying to manufacture an untruth.

Secrets and lies jeopardize trust in our relationships and can cause irreparable damage in the following ways:

*Trust and vulnerability are blocked

*The need to constantly cover up and watch your back leads to tension

*Easier to blame a partner than recognise your choice to maintain secrecy

*Jeopardises sexual intimacy

Being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to share every single detail all the time.  Knowing what to share and what not to share is an important communication skill in any relationship.

It may seem like your relationship is smooth sailing but having secrets can cause catastrophic results:

Secrets that hurt a marriage

Unhappiness

In my experience the reason that couples come into therapy often too late is because sharing their unhappiness or discontent with each other is too difficult.  The reason for keeping these feelings a secret for so long is hoping that the problems will eventually sort themselves out, or the fear things could get a lot worse if true feelings were disclosed.  Sometimes it’s hard to just be honest and admit we are unhappy. 

Finding intimacy outside a marriage

Disconnection between couples is often around for a long time before an affair happens.  If you have stopped having sex for a long time and there is a lack of affection and intimacy, it needs to be understood and talked about.  Often it feels that it’s easier to turn to someone else and get emotional and sexual fulfilment than manage the honesty and vulnerability that is needed with your partner.

Financial Decisions

Keeping secrets about how you spend money or make financial decisions without sharing with your partner is a major violation of trust and can have devastating consequences.

Dishonesty 

Making decisions together as a couple is an integral part of any relationship.  However feeling that you have to agree all the time for a quiet life is not being honest with yourself or your partner.  This leads to unresolved feelings and resentments.  Working through disagreements and difference is essential for a closer emotional connection.

Past relationships

Couples often find it hard to share or hear experiences they had with previous partners for fear of exposing aspects of themselves that partners may not feel very attracted to.  However part of growing closer together is knowing and understanding each other’s different experiences and how you were affected by them both positively and negatively.

Knowing you are being lied to is often worse than being hurt by the truth.  This quote sums it up for me:

If you tell me the truth

I’m going to get mad but

I’ll get over it.

If you lie to me, I’m never going to be

able to trust you again.

Your choice!

Dawn Kaffel

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

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

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

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.

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

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

The advantage of difference.

I have written about the difficulties of difference in an earlier blog (posted on August 4th 2011 filed under Relationships) and looked at ways to include them in a couple rather than allow them to become something which pushes the couple into feeling the thread between them has broken.

I am now looking at the advantages of difference .. how valuable it can be in strengthening the thread of intimacy.

At Coupleworks we see so many couples where difference has set them apart to the point of feeling the damage to the couple is irreparable. We work with the couple to explore why this has happened and if there is another way of looking at difference which is actually part of the glue that they need.

It is important to hear why each person chose the other at their first meeting. What made them feel that here was someone who could repair difficulties encountered in their previous experience. Often each will insert into the other a hope for change and a feeling of security, safety and acceptance which were perhaps missing in earlier years.

It is often difference that features more than sameness; difference of culture, social positioning, religion, language, looks and ideas. Depending on the early story, this can be a good choice but after really getting to know each other, it can become the difficulty which brings a couple into Coupleworks..

Interestingly, cultural difference can be easier to tolerate than social difference within a culture. So much can be put down to cultural ways without offending, yet anything highlighted about social difference can be received as insulting and hurtful; an attack on their family, upbringing and root.

Tolerating the differences and making them work rather than hinder is a loving and giving thing to do for a partner and if well received is felt as acceptance and admiration rather than the end of love. I try to encourage the couple to allow their differences and even borrow some of them without fear of reprisal, hopefully encouraging more warmth and respect.

Raising children can be the time when difference becomes highlighted and for the sake of the children’s future these issues need to be carefully discussed before starting a family. Compromises need to be made without each parent feeling the loss of part of themselves. Different views can enhance the way children learn as long as a feeling of antagonism is not present between the parents. They learn about how to have different viewpoints without them becoming ammunition. Negotiation becomes a valuable asset for the children’s entry into adult life.

Following the last blog posted by Shirlee Kay about the latest Royal Wedding, difference can now be seen as an advantage and not a cause for shame and humiliation leading to argument and discourse. This new light can be seen as a triumph of positive thinking and tolerance.

Clare Ireland.

The Mistakes that Couples make

A recent article in the Times entitled “you’re doing it wrong! the 60 mistakes we all make” made me reflect on how often couples can make mistakes in the their relationships without even realising the potential damage this can cause.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that couples repeatedly make that are avoidable:

1. We’ve known each other for so long, we don’t have to work on our relationship
Too many couples are falling victim to Complacency. Content with rushing through life and maintaining a certain life style, couples are oblivious to the reality that their most important relationship is missing out on the effort, attention and care it so desperately needs.

2. Work and children take up all of our time
It’s too easy to allow work and children to become the centre of your universe. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on the time when you were the centre of each other’s universe and how that’s been lost. How important it is to recognise that you both need to show more interest, concern and affection towards each other.

3. Trying to change the other person
Couples are often attracted to each other because of difference but after a while we can be tempted to try to change them to be the same as us. This often leads to a build up of on-going disappointment and resentments which contributes to emotional disconnection
Try to take a step back and remember why you fell in love in the first place.

4. Trying to control your partner
We are often driven crazy by our partner’s behaviours. Being told what to do and how to do it consistently can drive a wedge. Do not treat your partner like a child, who has to be told what to do you are a partner not a parent!

5. Criticising and complaining about your partner
Couples get into bad habits of often using always and never statements that criticize the whole person. When this happens we often feel distant and pull away. This in turn creates feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that triggers the complaining behaviour.

6. Not feeling listened to
Being able to communicate well with your partner is an essential component of a close loving relationship. By paying closer attention to how you talk to each other the tone of your voice, your body language is likely to make you feel that you are being heard, valued and understood. It is more likely to elicit more empathy and understanding from your partner rather than a defensive and negative response.

7. Not feeling understood
Its important to recognise that men and women communicate so differently and getting through to each other in a meaningful way is often a struggle. Women often feel misunderstood by their partner’s emotional disengagement and their offer of a solution. Men often feel overwhelmed with partners changing and often challenging emotional needs.

8. Bringing unresolved issues from our past
Often our past experiences in our families can get re-awakened and projected into our current relationships and its important to take responsibility for what belongs to us as individuals and what belongs to the partnership. This shared understanding can bring empathy and closeness.

9. Depending on each other for happiness
Being completely dependent on the other for your own happiness will only lead to disappointment. Its important to stay connected to who you really are and what you need for yourself to bring happiness both inside and outside your relationship

10. We never argue
Never arguing is often seen as a badge of honour for some couples. In fact couples that argue effectively are more likely to have a stronger more secure attachment than those who avoid arguments out of fear.
Couples who argue tend to be more passionate

11.Spontaneity is the only way to have sex
How difficult is it to bring spontaneity into any aspect of our busy lives let alone our sex lives.
It is argued that putting aside set times to enjoy sex takes away any excitement. However planning sex can help couples maintain their sexual connection and feel closer and intimate.

12. Coming to couples counselling is a last resort and will make our relationship worse
Couples often put off going to couples counselling because for some there is shame in having to ask for help and others believe the therapy process will end the relationship.
In reality counselling offers a safe non-judgmental space to understand and explore our relationships better, in the same way as we use a gym to help us improve our bodies.

Being more aware of these common relationship mistakes means you have a much better chance of happy healthy relationship

Dawn Kaffel

Being a couple therapist.

Why choose to be both a couple and one to one therapist?

In my experience, the endless examples of human interaction between a couple are a privilege to witness. Working with couples is challenging yet rewarding.

The challenge lies in three people in the room. The dance of the trio has intricate steps, each movement becoming either harmonious or out of step.

With two people in the room, the therapist and client – the story told has to be imagined and believed as the client’s sense of self and history which can be an edited version of fact. This is not lying, rather it is the client’s inner story; their version of who they are and why. Working to resolve their difficulties is also rewarding yet it often feels there is a missing link. There is often a couple of some sort in the individual’s story, yet the other half is absent in the one to one space.

When a couple is present they challenge each other, often argumentative and critical. The therapist has to listen to what is being said to be able to mediate and gently translate what is heard into an acceptable and working interaction between two people.
Anger arising from desperation, loss of connection and resentment dance around the room. The therapist waits for an opening to inject a hitherto lost but still there memory of why each person chose the other in the first place.

I find asking each person to think about five things they want in their couple in order to co-habit in love and tolerance. This helps to create the dance of intimacy which they feel is lost. I ask them to write them down between sessions and without sharing them, bring them to the next session.

I look at them first and usually there are at least three similar things both want. The ones they feel are impossible are the reasons for seeking therapy. We work together to find a way to manage these difficulties which enables more interaction and harmony. Neither have to sacrifice a part of themselves, but understanding each other more, they try to manage the disparities and accept them.

It takes time and patience to form a workable liaison bringing back lost respect, tolerance, love and acceptance of difference.

Most importantly, the difference can be slowly seen as a benefit. It may have been difference which was a large slice of the original attraction. We use this valuable ingredient to re-couple the lost connection and see it as a healing tool to lower their defences and react to each other in a different way.

Clare Ireland

Can Long Distance Relationships Work for Couples

Untitled

Since the start of the new year it has been noticeable how many more clients are requesting counselling sessions via three- way Skype (the couple are in two different places) or trying to arrange face to face sessions weeks in advance for the few hours or days that they know they are going to be together.

There are many reasons why couples find themselves in long distance relationships and it appears that the geographical distance is often seen as the reason why these relationships can be so problematic.
It is often suggested that long distance relationships (LDR) are less happy and satisfying and bring more difficulties and problems than couples’ that are geographically close. In fact recent studies show that those couples that have a strong emotional connection will function better with distance than those couples who are in a regular relationship and lack emotional connection. Only today I heard a couple describe their 30-year marriage as very lonely and emotionally disconnected despite having worked and lived together for so long.

What is it like for a couple to be in a long distance relationship?

Choosing to be in a long distance relationship can be tough and challenging and is often not a choice that is taken lightly. Long distance relationships can be short in duration or go on for years. In some cases it is not a choice but a necessity due to work commitments, job enhancement, opportunities, family commitments etc.
What is clear is that we can often find ourselves in long distance relationships without realizing the huge amount of patience and understanding being in one requires.

Here are some crucial points that clients bring to their counselling sessions that they have found useful to think about:
*The need for a very solid base to a relationship when you are long distance. To feel you can be open, honest and trusting with each other is vital in order to be able to manage the difficulties that you will encounter.
*Be prepared to work harder on your relationship than if you were together. Don’t take things for granted and show each other respect for the roles you find yourselves in.
* Feel confident in sharing any insecurities or shaky times you may have with each other
*Make sure you take time out to work out together the best way and times to communicate even if you are in different time zones. Make each other feel you are interested in what they are doing and care about them even when you are miles apart?
*The importance of knowing when you will next see each other and to take time planning where that might be and what you will do.
* Having a schedule for when you text, skype or call is essential. Checking that whichever mode of contact it is it works for both of you. It’s often easier to get caught up in text messages than take a risk and spend time talking on the phone.
*The pressure of being together again and what are your expectations? Do you spend all your precious time together or do you use the time to catch up with friends? Do you have close family who also expect to see you? If there is often a lot of pressure to feel the time you have together has to be “perfect” this will bound to lead to massive disappointment.
*Do you tend to put off talking about difficult things because you don’t want to end up rowing but then get resentful that you don’t feel that close?
*When you finally meet up knowing you are going to be apart again, don’t waste precious time fretting about the impending good-bye as this will prevent you enjoying every precious moment you have with each other.
*Always make time to check in with how you are both managing with the distance itself. At times it will feel manageable and at other times not. What’s important is you feel you can be honest with each other about how you feel otherwise this can build up into resentment.

So yes long distance relationships can be challenging but certainly with closer communication and shared understanding, couples can make it work
“Contrary to what the cynics say, distance is not for the fearful; its for the bold.
Its for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the one they love”

Dawn Kaffel

Stuck Couples

All therapists will know the feeling when the air in the therapy room feels thick and heavy. For both clients and counsellor, everything can seem to be slowing down to a tiring pace which defies logic. This is often the ‘stuck’ moment.
As a couple therapist, one of the signs of a static session is when I start imagining bright ideas that could ‘help’. This is quite a different feeling to that of sharing a conversation about creative ideas that can encourage clients to try to find new ways of interacting.
No, this is where I start to imagine nice places they can eat, or cheap locations for dates, even holiday destinations – when, of course, they are perfectly able to find these solutions without their counsellor acting as their social secretary.
This is often a clue to the ‘Yes, But’ moment, when one half of a partnership will stymie anything the other suggests. All ideas get blocked before they can be explored.  Offering up any therapeutic reflections in the counselling room can be quickly shut down too. We are all caught up in the defensive process and  ‘Yes, But’ is really taking a hold. The thoughts of the therapist are also pushed aside and there seems every logical reason why there is no space for reflection or insight.
This will also be part of the stage in many relationships when the couple report back week after week that they have been just ‘too busy’ to spend any time together, that they have ‘hardly seen each other this week’ (or last week, or next week)
This often evolves into a neat system of procrastination.
Ideas get deferred, babysitters can’t be found, snoring is keeping their bedrooms separate, the list can be endless. It’s a clever tool for resistance. But dig deeper and often ‘Yes, But’ is just a useful method for avoiding something that we are truly afraid to examine in case it won’t be how we imagine, or want, it to be.
Now it’s time for the big challenge and for the therapist to try and look at this situation in a way that will not feel critical, but can begin to acknowledge that the underlying problem is fuelled by deep fear.
We, as therapists, have to open up this dilemma and find a route into the clients anxieties that will tread a safe line between any possibility that an intrusive comment could feel unsympathetic or harassing, and that of being in tacit agreement, which colludes with them, but blocks any possibility of a shift in the status quo.
Intimate relationships open us all up to the fear of great vulnerability, and by continuing to find good reasons to stay put in their confusion, clients can find it easier to hold onto their defences rather than risk change
Allowing the challenge of being truly curious about how the other feels and reacts, can seem dangerous. We may not like what we hear in response if we expose ourselves to ask honest and interested questions.
‘Yes, But’ can be just one way to disguise the dread when clients feel they can’t really cope with the anxiety of accepting the other, and their differences, without it becoming a serious challenge to the bedrock of their relationship.
In therapy sessions, we can point out that listening does not necessarily mean agreeing, but it means better knowledge of each other. Listening without judgement is an art, and not always an easy one to master. We can all fear being criticised and a couple therapy room should be a safe place to find ways of open discussion and the space to play with new thoughts. It can allow couples  to better know their differences and for them to believe they are both still loveable in spite of examining these tricky parts of the couple relationship.
Change is risky, but being stuck leaves couples in a gloomy and frustrated place.
Clients invest in therapy with hopes for change.
Turning ‘Yes, but’ into ‘Yes,  …. and?’ can be a good start and brings hope of rebooting the impasse of the stalled relationship.

Christina Fraser

The Four Agreements: Simple Rules for Good Relationships

Ok, I hate to admit it but I started listening to Super Soul Conversations, a podcast by Oprah Winfrey. I have always strayed away from commercial spiritual teachings, with the exception of Eckart Tolle because he is The Real Thing but after Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards, I became a fan.

 

After listening to Oprah’s talk

with Don Miguel Ruiz I began to think about his simple idea of The Four Agreements and how relevant they were in everyday relationships. As a couple’s therapist, I try to break issues down as simply and concisely as possible. This enables me to help bring as much clarity and understanding to the entrenched issues many couple find themselves in.

Using The Four Agreements is a simple reminder of the internal resources we all possess
but may not have developed very effectively. When we do start to remind ourselves to pay attention, to
be impeccable with our word, to not take anything personally, to not make assumptions and to always do our best, our relationships have the opportunity to transform into something more satisfying and loving.

Below are the Four Agreements…

1) Be impeccable with your word.
“Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love…”.

Ruiz believes that we should speak with integrity. Hurtful words only create distance between couples and deepen wounds within the relationship. Choose your words carefully and be clear with precisely what you want to say. If you feel hurt, just say that and try not to react by saying hurtful words back to your partner.

2) Don’t take anything personally.
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality,
their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the
victim of needless suffering…”.

Couples frequently fall into this pattern and end up feeling wounded by their partner. The secret is to know ourselves well enough to be able to know what belongs to us and what doesn’t. When we accept all parts of ourselves, we can clearly see that something might be going on for our partner and it has nothing to do with us.

3) Don’t make assumptions:
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life…”.

Many of the couples I work with recognise this to be their biggest default in their relationship. It takes alertness, a conscious mind and real curiosity to enquire and shift through our assumptions. We need to be honest with ourselves and be flexible enough to see that we might be mistaken.

4) Always do your best:
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as
opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment,
self-abuse and regret”.

Doing our best doesn’t always mean doing things right. We can make mistakes and learn from them and try not to get caught up in judging ourselves. Our best is the best we can do at that moment and our relationship can act as a platform for us to grow and develop if we learn to accept ourselves. These simple Four Agreements should be looked at as a guide to deepen our relationship, not as a narrative but about who we are. When we start paying attention to these agreements, the relationship transforms into the the relationships we want.

Shirlee Kay

12 Rules for Life

A couple of weeks ago I was at the latest of a series of evenings organised by the How to Academy.

The speaker – Jordan Peterson – looked intriguing and I was particularly interested to learn about his new book ’12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos’. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the standing ovation that greeted him in a lecture theatre holding more than a thousand people – even before he had started speaking.

His ‘rules’ are fascinating in themselves and have a great deal to say both to individuals and to couples. Rule 4 ‘Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today’ is advice that could save a large number of people from a great deal of grief. People I see are often comparing themselves with what they think the ‘norm’ is or what they perceive other relationships to look like from the outside.

What also really intrigued me was his willingness to talk frankly about the capacity ‘nice people’ have to become something different. Writing in the Observer Magazine 10 days ago Tim Lott interviewed Peterson and commented on him saying – ‘The problem with ‘nice people’ is that they’ve never been in any situation that would turn them into the monsters they are capable of being’. To support his case Peterson looks to Nietzsche though he could equally well have quoted William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. He reflected further in his talk that it was so-called normal people not sociopaths, who were responsible for the atrocities of Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism. We must not forget, said Peterson, that we are corrupt and pathetic, and capable of great malevolence.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to express what Peterson is saying that bluntly nevertheless I am well aware as a couple therapist at Coupleworks of the problems and challenges faced by a couple when one member of the partnership has a seemingly immovable belief in the fact that all the darkness – or problems or difficulties – are located in their partner. Helping a person to see a different perspective and to move to a more realistic understanding of themselves and their contribution to the problems in a relationship is part of the challenge of couple therapy. Change can happen in a relationship when each partner realises how their ‘darkness’ is contributing to the issues.

Peterson’s 12 Rules has some interesting ideas to offer both to individuals and couples. However what will be of real help to the many people I work with, is to discover that in acknowledging their personal darkness they need not fear chaos but will in fact find its potential as a liberating route to life.

Sarah Fletcher