Archive for Relationships

Present giving between partners.

If money is no object or every penny counts, getting present giving right is tenuous at best… an accident waiting to happen at worst.

Trust comes into the equation of giving.  Defined as: care–duty–hope–assurance and expectation, trust is paramount but so often precarious, tentative and uncertain.

Money is often referred to as ‘means’.  An interesting definition.  What does money mean?

The successful present is not about monetary value, it is about listening throughout the year.  Hearing, not telling or knowing.

Listening, perhaps the greatest gift in a couple’s demonstration of intimacy and being placed as number one to each other, is about taking notice,hanging on words, pricking up your ears and remembering.

Often in the consulting room, money becomes a representation of unspoken yet deeply felt hurts/joys, anger/pleasure, resentments/closeness, rejection/inclusion and other opposites.

Presents given with love rather than apology, showing power, conscience ridden or a bribe will be cherished for life.  Car boot sales are full of present disasters.  The trained eye, however,  will spot one given with love, buy it and feel the aura of a loving couple’s history. The feeling will then spread to an unknown source.  This, in turn will become part of a chain of listeners and lovers.

The most revealing programme of late about lasting couples was about how similiar the selected couples were –  despite privilege and entitlement for some and hardship and struggling for others.  Both put family, home, understanding by listening and kindness at the head of their priority lists.  Duty and hard work is a by-product of these needs.

One of the few times the Queen has been seen to shed a public tear was at the decommissioning of The Royal Yacht Britannia. The only place when not on official business the couple could really be off duty. As near to ordinary as possible. Even in their carefully chosen furniture and possessions on board, a more ordinary and less opulent existence was apparent.

The more cocooned money makes couples, it can, at the same time rob them of awareness about and trust in the other.

A simple paperback book, picture, gadget, tool etc seen and admired by a partner from January onwards, may be the most intimate and loving present to turn up on 25th December or at a birthday or anniversary.  Hints will be dropped along the way.  Listen, take note and file them in your mind for the next present giving day.

Clare Ireland.

Give thanks on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my very favourite holiday (you’ve guessed it, I’m American). The annual tradition and ritual of celebrating Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends brings a profound feeling of gratitude for our life and people we love. It’s a day to register and observe the things we are grateful for and to embrace those around us in grace.

When I was training as an Imago therapist, the most useful exercise I took away was the appreciation/gratitude piece, where couples spend time hearing and mirroring back what their partner appreciates and values about the other. Couples would do this in the session and what always took me aback was how surprised the other was to hear their partner’s appreciation. I noticed how difficult it was for some people to hear the positive things said about them. When I ask them to take time to ‘take these words in,’ often it felt quickly dismissed as if it was too unbearable to hear. With others, I noticed how little they needed to feel appreciated.

Couples often forget to remember to be grateful for the relationship they have and acknowledge to themselves and to their partners of this fact. As time goes on, couples can lose touch with this appreciation and in turn, notice that their partners are no longer making the effort they once were.
This pattern between couples can erode a relationship and leave couples feeling neglected and unloved.

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
What Couples can do to develop Gratitude for one another:

1. We need to start with cultivating gratitude towards ourselves before being able to develop appreciation for others. Taking the time to reflect what you appreciate and value about yourself is your starting point. It might be helpful to journal your thoughts.

2. Take time to notice what you appreciate about your partner. It may be as
simple as your partner making you a cup a tea before work or asking you how your day has been at the end of the day. Take note, make a list and remember.

3. Acknowledge these appreciations to your partner. Tell them what you value and ask them to tell you what they heard. This can be transformational for both of you.

Couples find it hard to share their appreciation for many reasons ranging from not growing up hearing it themselves or assuming their partners should know. Whatever the reason, it is important to reinforce this thanks to one another so the relationship can start to change and deepen. Saying and reinforcing affirmation is not a pointless exercise, it’s what we all need to hear to feel valued and cared for.

Shirlee Kay

Are things what they seem?

In his latest blockbuster, ‘La Belle Sauvage’, Philip Pullman graphically describes a group of people who have lost touch with the realities that surround them. They live in a make believe garden of abundance and pleasure, whilst the ‘fog’ that envelops them hides the truths of their world. As one character comments ‘That fog’s hiding everything they ought to remember, if it ever cleared away, they’d have to take stock of theirselves, and they wouldn’t be able to stay in the garden no more’ (p491).

This led me to think about my experience at Coupleworks where few people come into therapy with the deliberate intention of trying to hide some part of their current or past experiences, but for many the therapeutic process does uncover some part of their story that ‘they ought to remember’. Part of the therapist’s task is to help them face up to this process of remembering, whether individually or as a couple.

In couple therapy few things are more important than looking at the patterns internalised in early childhood and to help people see how these continue to affect them in adult life. For each individual it is helpful to think and understand about his or her early childhood patterns and ‘scripts’ – how their family dealt with emotions – how they got to feel valued and loved.

What is particularly important to ‘remember’ is what they then might expect from their partner. For example, a person who has experienced a very disciplined and rigid parenting style, might then perceive any request from a loving partner as controlling, and therefore respond with stubbornness or antagonism. It is important that they can learn to recognise what is being ‘projected onto’ and therefore expected from their partner. They need to learn to trust that this new relationship can be one in which their wishes and desires will be thought about.

In relationships where there have been years of acrimony and mistrust, it can be hard to ‘remember’ the good parts and why the couple got together in the first place and how they had fun and connected. The build up of hurts and disappointments that go unrecognised cloud the relationship and someone who has been knocked down time and again can get to the point where they simply do not want to take the risk of it happening yet another time. Holding those fears, moving away from a culture of blame, and working through the hurts and having them understood and valued, can help lead the couple to ‘take stock of theirselves’ and to begin the journey into a new phase in their relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

Stress and the Couple

Two news items caught my attention this week: how stress impacts relationships and whether there is a stress gender divide.

The first is new research released for National Stress Awareness Day on 1 November 2017 shows that many more women than men are feeling stressed and anxious.

Data showed that more than half of women (54%) experiencing stress or anxiety are struggling to sleep – while less than 4 in 10 men do (39%)

More than half eat junk food due to stress compared to a third of men

Nearly half (45%) have taken out their stress on partners or family – in contrast to less than a third of men (31%)
Almost a third (29%)have had panic attacks due to stress compared to less than one in in five of men (31%)

Do women juggle with more caring and parenting responsibilities which need to be juggled with their careers?

The second is the BBC 2 programme Trust me I’m a Doctor Mental Health Special who were testing out some of the claims that can help to reduce stress of which only some are supported by scientific evidence.

Working with couples it is becoming more evident how big a part stress can play between partners and how difficult it is to stay connected amid the difficulties.

When conflicts arise, it’s much easier to blame our partners –how could you have done that? Why didn’t you empty the dishwasher? You never ask me about my day.

These are all everyday examples of annoyances, disappointments and criticisms that can easily lead to the blame game with our partners. It seems simpler to focus on these negative interactions than to consider how much stress may be a major contribution. Do we even realise how much stress can be the cause of our relationship distress?

Many couples continually juggle with busy work schedules and parenthood and run a hectic lifestyle. This can be difficult enough. Throw into the mix lack of sleep, financial worries, illness and family issues – it’s not difficult to appreciate stress’s constant presence in our lives.

How does stress affect a relationship?

When a stressed partner does not get the support they need from their partners, this often leads to feeling isolated and ignored in the relationship and the tendency is to withdraw or fight. If we confront our partner for not supporting us, they often feel misunderstood – not even realising their own behaviours.

Even if we aren’t stressed ourselves, we are often not very responsive or miss the opportunity to provide comfort and help to our partners. We often don’t want to admit to ourselves that everything and everyone is making you irritable.

If both partners are overwhelmed with stress at the same time, which often happens, the situation worsens. We use each other to vent and take it out on our partners by picking fights over little things and being overtly critical. This often becomes a competition for who is not cared about the most.

How to stay connected under stress

Some partners chose to keep stress to themselves in order to protect a partner. Other partners chose to off-load at every opportunity making it difficult to find any relief. Neither way is ideal. Use this situation as an ideal opportunity to connect with your partner and really try to understand what they need in the way of support from you right know and how to give it. It may be as simple as practical hands-on assistance or it may include more physical comfort and emotional reassurance.

Learn to be more aware of just how much stress your partner may be experiencing. Don’t just look at the negative behaviour but try and understand together what might be going on below the surface.

At times we presume our partners should know when we are stressed and get reactive when they don’t respond in the way we want them to. Perhaps the answer to this is to ask for help when it is needed in a way that will get the response you need from your partner.

Take time out to support your partners stress head on. By sitting down together, taking time out to listen and offer comfort and understanding rather than focusing on yourself are not only key factors in managing stress but show our partners in those important moments that we are truly there for them side by side no matter what.

Stress doesn’t need to threaten our connection to our partners, it can bring us closer together when our stress hormones activate our brains systems to respond with compassion, love and cooperation.

Dawn Kaffel

Illness and the Relationship

Tough times are likely to invade all relationships at some stage, and unexpected challenges can come upon us very suddenly. Life will sometimes deal unforeseen blows that appear with shocking suddenness.
When ‘Sickness/Poorer/Worse’ replace the ‘Health/Richer/Better’ options that we hoped would be our lot, we need to find fresh skills and understanding in order to learn how to cope in any new situation.
A sudden diagnosis of illness in one partner can prove a serious challenge to even the most solid of relationships. Resilience will be needed by any couple faced with the prospect of having to cope with unexpected adversity. The person with the diagnosis may well react strongly to the changes they are experiencing, some of these changes may be temporary, although it may seem a mighty mountain to climb when the process is being endured.
The supporting partner needs time to adjust to what may seem a situation unfairly imposed upon them, too.
Loss of control around the established pattern of our lives is a situation likely to bring difficult emotional responses of helplessness and unfairness leading both partners, at times, feeling trapped and out of control.
It’s so vital to talk to each other, to exchange feelings and reactions, to listen with empathy to the world in which the other is now caught. The traditional family patterns will need to adapt. A turnaround in established roles may mean they now become a patient and a carer. It takes time to discover how habitual ways of relating could be now at odds with the new needs of both parties. 
Tricky feelings left unexpressed will stick and it’s easy for grievances to spiral. Remember that the frustration is with the illness or impairment and not with each other. Keep ‘the enemy’ on the outside, it’s so much easier to fight this in tandem than allowing it to come between you.
Talk and explore together, take time to find out how each partner feels, learn as much as you can about the situation you face – information gives feelings of control. Knowledge in this, as in so many other places, is power.
It’s very easy for couples to get locked into a cycle of competition – who is the most hard done by – and get enmeshed in the feeling that neither can ever truly understand the burden the other carries.
Illness and impairment can be lonely and isolating. Unfairness rankles and anger is an understandable response. It’s normal to be sad or overwhelmed and both people will need to find outside places to talk and offload a little.
New contacts or fresh interests can emerge from a need to sometimes break free and it’s possible to believe that we can still enlarge a life that might start to feel smaller and more insular.  It is so important to find new connections, as well as nurturing existing relationships.
It may be difficult at first, but explore groups, local resources and ideas that fit in with the different pattern of your lives.
Reach out. People, even those closest to us, often just don’t know what could help, so never be afraid to ask. We have no influence on what happens to us, but we do have choices around how we respond to these changes. Resilience is not a static situation but a life long and ongoing project. 
Facing adversity is a big challenge and needs some self-compassion. It’s easy to for couples to neglect themselves when life overwhelms. Always remember to look after ourselves as well as each other. Treats, sleep, good food will all help, but are easily pushed aside when we struggle. The patient and the carer both need to make sure that they know how to find, and use, all resources open to them – physical, emotional and spiritual.
After the sudden death of her husband, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg put her energy and grief into the book ‘Option B’, a good resource for anyone experiencing loss. Here she explains how it took a painfully long time for her to face the dreadful truth that what she yearned for, the normality of her life, was just not there any longer. 
She offers up her truism that:
‘if option A is no longer available, then let’s kick the shit out of option B’
Change is inevitable for us all, and will bring loss. There may have to be substantial adjustments in all areas of couple life. But the best defence is to change our defences and adapt to new situations.
Find that option B and use it to the best advantage of your new selves. Accepting the new normal takes time, and it’s sometimes hard to hold onto hope, but try defying gravity, and don’t let adversity bring you down.

Christina Fraser

Rubber stamping.

 

 

When couples come in for the first time there are one or two common questions which they ask.  How many sessions will they need and how long will it take are both very familiar to me.

This is very helpful in terms of trying to listen and hear their story and how they perceive themselves.  It seems an obvious and necessary question but it tells me many things.  Some of which might be a clue as to their couple’s sense of self.  The couple being the third client in the room.

Do they see their partnership as unique or do they see themselves within the couple as they hope others will see them?  Do they realise how valuable they both are and how precious their couple is?  They have built it by themselves and formed it into many shapes and sizes to fit their story.  It is all their own work, not a copy of other couples or a ‘normal’ couple.  There is no rubber stamping of a  couple.  It is their couple and the shape of it is how they formed the way to be together, often with great difficulty.

I tell them this right at the beginning so we can refer back to that question and see how the answer changes as a result of what we are all learning about their couple.  Some, feeling under pressure to change quickly, find this hard to bear.  With time, however, and with careful listening and hearing each other we all begin to understand how much is invested in their case..

Following the start of the work when the questions were asked they begin to value themselves in a much more personal way.  We learn how they have negotiated, compromised and tolerated the difficulties they have encountered and how each individual has found it intimate to carefully wend their way through the difficult episodes they encounter.  At the beginning when things became unmanageable they felt compromise  might be a sacrifice and loss of a part of themselves.

As we journey week by week through their ups and downs, we are all surprised by either the length of time or by the little time it has taken to arrive at a more manageable place.

I marvel at the ability of two people coming in, sometimes in despair, reaching a place where they feel closer and how they get in touch again with the origins of why they chose each other at the beginning.

Clare Ireland

Couple Relationships and the Importance of a ‘Safe Haven’

Couples often come into therapy anxious that their relationship has developed a disturbing negative dynamic. They are unsettled and ill-at-ease and have lost the sense of each other as an emotional safe haven. They have become less confident in their future together and cannot access the usual soothing reassurance from the other that all is well. They feel resentful that their partner has become so difficult. They blame and complain and are focussed on the frustrations.

An affair, most classically, attacks the belief in the safety of the ‘couple bubble’. However, trust and dependability (once the bedrock of the relationship) can be eroded in many ways. There can be ‘death by a thousand cuts’ when a relationship has been neglected and each partner no longer feels special and prioritised. Addictions, over-focus on work, on children, even on screens, means attention feels minimal and perfunctory. Sometimes the sexual relationship is affected and the old relaxed intimacy is missing. The couple mourn the loss of the delight, acceptance and intense focus that marked the beginning of the relationship.

Sometimes there can be difficulties managing life’s transitional moments that change an established relationship rhythm. Managing loss, or moving in together, the birth of the first child, differing career ambitions, illness, redundancy are times when significantly different personality traits come to the forefront. It can feel disconcerting when, under stress, a partner takes a different perspective or has unexpected heightened reactions: suddenly becoming withdrawn and unavailable, or with irritability and angry outbursts.

There is real confusion when faced with such behaviour: ‘Why are you reacting like this?’ The differences become threatening and upsetting. Feeling under attack, each becomes defensive. Listening stops and there is ’push back’ against opposing opinions. The implicit message becomes, ‘If I am to trust and relax I need you to agree with me and see it my way.’ Disconnection and tension ripple out. Louise Evans describes being like ‘a vigilant meerkat on sentinel duty’ searching for behaviours that confirm the mistrust.

Entrenched in conflict, the usual relaxed couple interactions become rigid and uncomfortable. They each feel the victim, deprived of understanding, and challenged by any concept of: ‘I have my way. You have your way. As for the right way, the only way, it does not exist’.

There is little inclination to understand or embrace complexity or contradictions when they create such anxiety. ‘We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve’ (Jakes). But the more we judge someone, the less space there is to love them.

Lincoln is quoted as saying, ‘I do not like that man – I need to get to know him better’ and counselling offers the opportunity for explanations, listening, being heard, understanding, and calming reassurance. It can help with reparation, allowing the couple reach out and regain the compassion and generosity that became somewhat lost. They agree, once again, to be the safe harbour in the storm.

‘Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true, But you and I know what this world can do… If, as we’re walking, a hand should slip free, I’ll wait for you. And, should I fall behind, wait for me…’
Bruce Springsteen: ‘If I Should Fall Behind’


An interesting listen:
Happy Brain: How to Overcome Our Natural Predisposition to Suffering: Amit Sood (Ted Talks)


Kathy Rees

A Spender or a Saver?

Learn to negotiate your money, the biggest pitfall in couple life

Forget the chores, the sex and even the in-laws, it is the unsolvable disagreements about money that research now shows to be the biggest source of serious difference leading to separation in couples. Interestingly, a recent YouGov survey puts problems with family finances at 26% of all difficulties. This comes ahead of understanding each other, physical relationships and household chores. So it’s well worth sorting this one out early in the relationship if it appears to overtake sex and the washing up.

Of course it’s not just about coinage – this just highlights deeper tensions, but exploring what is really at the heart of these rows can be vital in helping to save relationships.

Couples who come for counselling will often bring lists of perceived slights or grievances, but money is often not flagged up as an immediate problem. Yet it is pivotal as part of how we see ourselves and others. Money defines us, it can denote our place in society and will reflect to a large degree how others see us. Like it or not, It can influence how we dress, where we live and our perceived status in the world we inhabit.

Therapists dealing with couples will usually ask for a family tree to make better sense of each clients origins, influences and the relationship history that can shape future hopes and expectations.
Dig a little deeper and the way families deal with their assets can have a long lasting effect on their dependents.

We hear of parents or grandparents who made or lost a fortune. People who watched a hard working father lose his job, or get into debt. Clients who were raised by an alcoholic parent who spent recklessly on drink or drugs. Siblings who seemed favoured by ‘unfair’ levels of gifts or education. Bullying that appeared to be influenced by seemingly different lifestyles to classmates.
These are powerful messages absorbed in childhood and will have strong influences on how each of us decides to deal with our assets.
Money can be seen as security – a buffer against feared future calamities or it can signify a life enhancing conduit to fun and good things.

Spend or save? This can be where couples find it impossible to find a solution. Therapy can offer a safe place unpick the reasons behind these deeply ingrained beliefs. Arguments about money are not usually about money, they are about protecting hopes and dreams and can escalate horribly when people feel dismissed or not understood. We may define ‘value’ in many different ways and its vital to grasp what the other hears in this word. Couples need to dig beneath the obvious and try to understand the emotional content of what can seem a purely practical issue.
In the rosy glow of a new relationship, we often assume that we shall just mysteriously understand and be understood. Transparency around finances is an important foundation to any long term relationship.

It’s impossible to change the deeper messages that we all inherited from the way our families dealt with their own problems, but we can listen to each other with tolerance. The acceptance of what shaped the views of a partner who appears to see things fundamentally differently, can give insights that will lead to better understanding.
Sometimes, it’s not just about the money, but it is about what the money signifies. So discuss calmly with an open mind to find a better way.

Christina Fraser

Spring brings new possibilities.

 

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
― Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

Spring has sprung and showing signs of new shoots.  Spring cleaning living accommodation can be arduous but satisfying so the same can also be applied to couples and their relationships.

Over winter, with the sometimes tense gathering of families at Christmas, New Year, birthdays and indoor life, things can need re configuring to make them feel more peaceful.  We need peace even in a group in order to carry out whatever choices we have made in life.

With our social, family and work companions, we need ways to make social intercourse feel free and flowing.  In winter those interactions can become clogged and uneasy.  Spring with all its energy can teach us about warmth, new growth, pruning old and tired stems, sowing wildflower seeds (this could be deemed as taking a risk) and changing plants around to create a better scene.

A walk in Spring as a couple or as a family can help to awaken our minds to new ideas. To look at each other and see how we can alter things which have felt  monotonous in order to freshen our lives.  Moving furniture around, trying a new class together, encouraging children or ourselves to try a new sport or to learn a new instrument.  Cook together or choose a different nights for each family member to be in charge of the shopping, cooking and serving the meal.  Wash up together while talking about everyone’s experiences during the day.  Listen to or share the difficulties faced and give or receive energy to meet the next day.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste  adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”[Meditations Divine and Moral]”
― Anne BradstreetThe Works of Anne Bradstreet

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” ― Mark Twain

Clare Ireland

The Value of Knowing We Can Be Wrong

I was reading an article in the Times this weekend about Intellectual Humility and people’s willingness to accept the possibility that their beliefs and attitudes might be wrong.

Research shows that “At the high end of the trait are people who recognise their beliefs are fallible and are willing to consider the possibility that they are incorrect”.
“At the low end of the trait, people are generally convinced that their views are correct”. Saying this, most of us lie somewhere in between.

Although I am sure the article is written with Donald Trump in mind, it started me thinking about the difficulty most couples have in accepting different points of view from that of their partner’s.

Couples in therapy often spend too much time arguing their point rather than accepting and listening to each other. Many of my clients talk about needing to be heard by their partner. The desire to be listened to and understood is the foundation of a strong and loving relationship and helps a person feel valued and respected.

Here are some tips for healthy Intelligent Humility:

Listen to your partner. Go into the discussion with an open mind and before interrupting, listen and mirror (say) back what you think you heard. Ask your partner if this is what they meant and listen further if there’s more. Not an easy task and requires the patience of a saint.

Do not assume you know what is about to be said. Clear your mind before coming up with your own narrative. Again, this takes patience and requires a lot of breathing!

Be curious and lean into the understanding that there is not only one-way of seeing an issue. Ask questions and ask yourself about where you might have learned these views, reflect on whether these views are still useful.

Have compassion towards your own feelings and argue your views but do it with sympathy and an open mind.
Remember, we can feel triggered and therefore defensive when we are up against a different point of view so move forward gently.

Shirlee Kay

Rituals and Relationships

Every culture, every family, every couple indeed every individual, has their rituals. Some have been there for centuries – others are of a much more recent origin – but all are important to the formation of identity. Of course it is also true that as human beings we will at times seek to establish our identity by rebelling against the rituals that others use to define us. How many family arguments begin at that point where one or other parent says ‘Well that’s not the way we do things in this family….’

Often, in the counselling room, I am confronted by conflicting rituals, where one or other members of the couple will talk about their frustrations with the other. Their partner’s behaviour seems so unreasonable to them – Why? Because their way just isn’t a good way to mark an event, to celebrate something, or to do a particular task – it’s much more than that… it isn’t the right way to do it. Often it seems as though they are appealing to the therapist to validate their position, almost appealing to a moral adjudicator outside the couple’s experience. The secret as ever is to keep your own ears open to the assumptions you are making and then to share them with your partner whilst being open to hearing a different perspective on them. There is often no right or wrong way of doing things – just different.

But rituals don’t all need to be set in the context of negativity. The fact that every culture has them shows us just how significant they can be in helping us to feel safe, bring comfort, form our identity and mark stages of our lives. In building long term relationships rituals can have an important role. One of the things I encourage couples to think about and to seek to establish are forms of rituals in their own relationships. In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday night curry, or a date night once a month or if they always buy flowers or a gift for each other on particular anniversaries – it is for each couple to work out what’s meaningful for them in their relationship. What matters is that they find some building blocks to create solid foundations for themselves – to create rhythms and traditions that are about the new couple that they are forming. This brings shared meaning and deepens connection in a relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

Issues of Anxiety and Control in a Relationship

Couples in a close loving relationship often describe trusting that the partnership is an emotional safe haven. They feel optimistic for the future of the relationship because they hold the belief that their partner is looking out for them, has their well-being at heart and wants the best for them. The relationship feels a refuge from life’s pressures, and a support when facing the vagaries and stresses of the modern day world. They can relax with the understanding they are loved and accepted, they have someone to turn to, and their partner is someone they can lean in on when things are difficult. The couple feel ‘more than’ when together and relish the idea that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Which is why an affair can have such a devastating impact. The security has been breached and the relationship suddenly feels adrift, shaky and fragile.

However, our individual psychological insecurities can also wreak havoc on a relationship. Extrapolating from past painful experiences we become pessimistic and make negative predictions about the future. We assume that similar situations are bound to happen again.

A man would not get married on his birthday because it would mean that day would always be spoilt after they divorced. A previous girlfriend had let him down badly and he was predicting the end of this one even as he planned the wedding: ‘It’s the kind of thing that always happens to me.’
Childhood hurts can diminish our willingness to trust and so foster a dependency on overt displays of reassurance and expressions of certainty. However, constant requests for minute detail, concrete evidence, and proof of fidelity, can become oppressive and destructive.

The rationale can be that ‘I too felt unwanted when my father had an affair and left my mother. I believe all men to be somewhat untrustworthy and I need to be on the alert so that I’ll not be abandoned and rejected again’.

A woman had become hyper-vigilant and, despite his loving behaviour, was secretly checking her partner’s phone for possible proof of an affair. When he found out he was distressed and angry at what he felt was an attack on his integrity.

Open wounds from a previous relationship can colour the view of a present partner and suspicions about their sincerity, openness and honesty can breed. The joke ‘The figments of my imagination are out to get me’ no longer feels funny, and a runaway imagination becomes a primary source of stress. Fear is a response to the perception of an immediate threat, while anxiety is a response to a possible future threat. Both states mean the brain moves into ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ mode and releases high levels of adrenaline and cortisol with tension and agitation manifest in the body.

Attempting to avoid the possibility of more pain and hurt we work hard to keep ourselves safe, expending huge energy on being super-vigilant, well-informed, and in as much control of the situation as possible. To relax and trust feels counter-intuitive: ‘Why would I? It’s a dangerous world.’

And yet, ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened’ (Mark Twain). We need to beware of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a danger that the compulsion to avoid the imagined catastrophe can become obsessive and addictive and a chronic need for reassurance, being in control, can take hold. The attempt to manage the anxiety then becomes counter-productive when it causes distress and hostility as a partner resists the control and rails against being accused and blamed

Unchecked, anxious responses to uncertainty and states of not-knowing can create poisonous feelings of dread, panic, jealousy and anger. All are toxic to a happy relationship which needs a dynamic of acceptance, trust, contentedness.

You might find it interesting to listen to a (long!) lecture by Martin L Rossman on ‘How Your Brain Can Turn Anxiety Into Calmness’ and pay particular attention to the visual imagery exercise at the end.

Kathy Rees

Is giving up on marriage easier than working on it?

Over the past week I was lucky to attend two very different events that I found very interesting and which shared a common thread – the importance of resilience and survival.

The first was a strictly orthodox Jewish wedding where Rabbis from every sect and from all over the world were in attendance. One of the UK’s most eminent Rabbis was asked to address the bride and bridegroom under the wedding canopy. What was surprising was how he used this opportunity not to preach about Judaism and orthodoxy but focused on the very young couple in front of him and the importance of working on a marriage, of putting each other first, of showing each other how you love, care and show respect for each other every day for the rest of their lives. Without working on a marriage, he said, a long happy relationship is not guaranteed.

The second event was at Jewish Book week where Lady Rosa Lipworth and Dorit Oliver-Wolff were in discussion with the author Anne Sebba. Here were two women who as very young children endured intense pain and loss of their families during the Holocaust to survive against all odds through their incredible bravery and fortitude. They never gave up hope and today they inspire others with the resilience that kept them alive.

Today we are living in very uncertain times and I have wondered for some time how these feelings of unease and disquiet impacts on our couple relationships.
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Is it a mere coincidence that for some time now many more couples are coming to counselling wanting to give up on their marriages without really trying to understand or work on their relationships?

When couples struggle to live together in any meaningful way they often present with very negative feelings towards each other. They get caught up in patterns of behaviour that leave them feeling very emotionally disconnected and pretty lost and alone in a marriage. Resentments run very high and often become the shopping list for incompatibility.

For some couples the growing apart has taken years, for other it’s very sudden. By the time couples come to seek help from a Coupleworks counsellor, they are often so disconnected that it does feel easier to bail out rather than make the decision to really work on their relationship.

We are living in a quick fix world and some clients give up very easily, believing life will be different with someone else. Some clients meet at a very young age and years later are unable to manage the loss of the life they could have had before marriage. Others feel marriage makes them feel old and after 40 or 50 years of marriage yearn for something different before its too late. Loss of intimacy and sex is often another excuse to exit.
Whatever the reasons – we seem to find it much easier to work on our jobs and achieve success in our careers than we do in working on our marriages to stay strong and resilient together through the difficult times. Sometimes couples never had the experience of seeing their parents really work through difficulties.

So before you give up and walk out of a relationship because you have fallen out of love and feel so detached and disconnected from your partner, take some time to talk to a Coupleworks counsellor who will help make sense of the emotional distress that entangles many couples. Emotional Focused Therapy helps us to understand how to be more open and attuned and responsive to our partners and re-establish an emotional connection to grow together as a team. This takes hard work, strength and resilience.

Letting Go by Dorit Oliver-Wolff

The urge to live life in the fast lane
Has become an obsession with me
If only I knew how to let go
Let go of the past
Let go of the pain
Let go of others
Let go of me
Just drifting in weightlessness
In no man’s land
Without gravity
To pull me in either direction
Just drifting
With nature and myself
In unity with the omnipotent force
Where time stops
And the endless loop
Of eternal continuity
Takes away the fear of entering one’s time
Of the inevitable end

 
Dawn Kaffel

Talking in tongues.

Lack of communication is a phrase I hear a lot when seeing a couple for the first time.  In many cases, this is followed by, “there is no sex in our relationship any more”.

This indicates the possibility that words, phrases and sentences are an important part of seduction.  At the onset of a relationship, words are carefully chosen, seductive, kind, caring and appreciative.  As normal life sets in, these words can slowly become critical, punitive, complaining, judgemental and even cruel.  It can hardly be believed that the same two people who set out on a couple fit have suddenly become ugly and punishing.

How does this happen and why does lack of sex follow in its wake?

Wanting to please the other, becomes wanting to change their disappointing bits and what seems to be a drive to make them the same as yourself.  Sex with self carries no mystery and gives only partial relief and satisfaction.  For sex to be shared and safe there needs to be admiration, tolerance and acceptance of each other.  An understanding which good communication can encourage rather than exacerbate feelings of dislike and low libido.

Without an invisible message flowing to and fro through loving words the desire found at the start of the couple life can become toxic and negative sowing the seed of dislike and estrangement.

How can two people retrieve the early electricity when life and its ups and downs have become part of normal couple and family life.  Often the two adults become other children in the mix to be disciplined, taught and punished as if they too were being prepared for life in the world.  This increases the disparity between them and a sense of dissatisfaction and let down becomes the aura in the atmosphere.

Where are the people who seemed so perfect to each other?  Where is the sexual satisfaction which seemed so natural and easy before?  These things are still there  but have to surface again by penetrating through the resentment and criticism .  They need praise, admiration, listening, accepting difference and celebrating it without needing to convert.  A certain mystery has to be maintained by avoiding being each other’s therapist and feeling love can only be maintained by being changed.

Some different ways to communicate can be tried:

Take some seconds to monitor your own words before they escape.  Are they reacting or responding.

Think about why you are saying them and have they helped in previous angry exchanges.  Try to rephrase them with a different tone and facial expression.  Be careful of body language.

It will be impossible to be heard if these words are spoken to punish, used as a post mortem or as an attack.

Keep ‘you’ out of the sentence and speak about yourself and how what has just happened makes you feel.

Ask for tolerance while you work out why your feelings are so painful.

Come back to the topic when both of you have used an internal camera instead of a long angle lens.

 

Clare Ireland.

Difficulties with Commitment in your Relationship

January is a month where we were bombarded in the press about the need to make new year resolutions, make changes to our work life balance, loose weight and go to the gym more, eat less sugar and more complex carbohydrates.

In my counselling room recently, I have been aware of how many couples hope and expect 2017 will be the time when their relationship moves forward. However when the subject comes up couples can be faced with very different views on what moving forward means for both of them.

It is clear that making a commitment to a relationship means different things for different people: for some its moving in together, for others its getting engaged, wanting marriage or deciding to have a baby together. For many, these steps come easily and for others making a decision to commit can bring a great deal of distress and disharmony to an otherwise healthy relationship and often results in looking for help from a couples counsellor.

I often encounter couples who appear to present with a really secure and connected relationship and this all goes out the window when one partner wants the relationship to move forward as a natural progression of a committed relationship and the other is in no hurry to change this and is more than happy to stay where they are.

Often discussing moving forward and making a commitment brings happiness and excitement for one and overwhelming anxiety and panic to the other. This is something that affects both men and women.

Some sessions with a Coupleworks counsellor would help partners to look at:

What are some of the causes of Commitment Anxiety?

♣ Fear of intimacy and deep emotional connection
♣ A damaging previous break up or ending of a relationship
♣ A belief this is not the ‘right relationship’
♣ Trust issues
♣ Difficulty with attachment needs being met in childhood
♣ Experience of separation or divorce in parents relationship
♣ Fear of rejection
♣ Negative media exposure on unhappiness of committed relationships
♣ Over focusing on divorce statistics
♣ Fear of loosing independence and being tied down
♣ Not wanting to parent
What are the effects of Commitment issues on a relationship?

♣ Tendency to avoid long- term relationships
♣ Closeness and safety is replaced by distance and avoidance
♣ Risk of developing depression
♣ Loss of confidence in self and partner
♣ Increase in conflict to avoid discussion

Treating commitment issues in couples therapy

An experienced therapist can help identify potential causes of commitment issues in a couple relationship and explore useful ways to work through these issues.

Couples can learn how to understand their fears of commitment, where and how it may have originated and how a rigid way of thinking can be quite paralysing. It opens the way for partners to better discuss fears of making a commitment with each other in a calmer, safer way, and hopefully develops an ability to be more truthful and open about their needs and desires.

Dawn Kaffel

How to make boredom your friend

It’s that time of the year… What can we do differently, how can we improve our lives, how can we look and feel better.
Gym membership traditionally soars in January only to dip again by the start of February when the newbies realise they haven’t got the time, interest or will to factor this regularity into their lives.
Shops bombard us with stuff to replace the stuff that we have outgrown or just wearied of.
Magazines and papers remind us constantly that we should look better/thinner/younger.
Basically, we are being nudged to avoid the state we are in and seek a shinier one.
But wait, time for a rethink.
There is a big difference between looking to improve the things that will genuinely bring us a life more healthy, either physically or psychologically – and hopefully both, but after the stimulus of Christmas, one of the triggers for all this change is the fear of boredom.
There will be times when boredom is inevitable, often when we have no control over our circumstances. Stuck in a traffic jam, a tedious meeting or waiting room we are often unable to change the situation.
But working with couples, it often transpires that one of the things they dread is the thought of slowly creeping ordinariness and the feeling that they can become a prisoner to this.
Partners become so well know to each other that every comment, joke and conversation is a well trodden landscape, so predictable that they are no longer curious about each other. Couples need the security and safe attachment that is the flip side of this, but it’s up to each of us to keep interested and interesting. Relationships are no different. We don’t always need outside stimulation, sometimes it’s enough to cook together, play a board game, listen to music together or go for a walk somewhere new and try to rediscover what we once found so interesting about each other.
The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes said Susan Sontag.
Don’t lets allow a yawn-making apathy obsess us and obliterate our ability to live in the moment.
It’s tedium that usually drives us to check our phones and screens for something to obliterate a gap in the day. Noise and messaging will cover up any emptiness. Yet it’s those gaps in life that give us space for thought and a chance to be at peace with our own minds and think creatively for ourselves, without waiting for connection to cyberspace or TV to anaesthetise us.
Dorothy Parker wisely told us that the cure for boredom is curiosity – there is no cure for curiosity…

Christina Fraser

A New Year – a New Relationship

Many of us start the New Year with various resolutions ranging from the need to eat healthier, stop drinking, commit to more exercise etc. Let’s spare a thought to starting 2017 by thinking about making resolutions in our relationships that will help make them more loving and fulfilling.

Here is my A-Z of how to enhance your relationship in 2017 and bring about change.

A is for Accessibility
Take note how available and accessible you are for each other. Can you access your partner’s presence, support and attention when you need it?

B is for Boundaries
Ensure there are clear boundaries between how you divide your time between work, children, family commitments and your partner.

C is for Caring
Take time to think about how you show care to your partner. Is it how they wish to be cared for?

D is for Dance
Relationships are like dances. We often get stuck playing the same music and dancing the same steps. Understanding and validating the feelings of our partners, meeting their attachment needs, changes the music. As the music
changes, so does our dance.

E is for Emotions
Emotionally Focused Therapy helps couples tune into their own important feelings and needs and then helps to put those needs and feelings across to a partner helping to create more closeness and security.

F is for Fun
Relationships can often loose their sense of fun that you used to have at the beginning of a relationship. Discuss together how to bring back the fun you once enjoyed.

G is for Glamour
Lounging around in a tracksuit and pj’s is Ok at times but don’t forget to step up the glamour sometimes and put on the lippy and heels!

H is for Happiness
Having a smile on our faces, and sharing laughter together brings happiness to a couple relationship

I is for Intimacy
By making time to talk, discuss and play together, intimacy helps build feelings of safety and security and knowing that your partner is there for you.

J is for Joy
Often partners get bogged down with complaining about each other and forget about the feelings of joy they once had. Discuss what would bring joy back into the relationship

K is for Kindle
Think about different ideas and things you can do that would rekindle a relationship that may be stuck

L is for LOVE
When we communicate with our partners we should:
LISTEN with an
OPEN mind
VALIDATE and acknowledge each other
EXPRESS our thoughts and feelings, slowly and simply

M is for MOMENTS
Be more mindful of the little inconsequential moments that happen every day which are taken for granted. We can feel a lot closer when we feel our partners have noticed.

N is for NOURISHMENT
Think of ways to nourish your relationship – it may be as simple as going down the road for a coffee or arranging a surprise.

O is for OPENNESS
Don’t hold onto resentments and negativity. Find a way of being more open about how you feel in a gentle sensitive manner

P is for PASSION
Couples find happiness through intimacy, passion and commitment. Keeping passion alive in a long-term relationship is not always easy but giving each other more time and energy and thinking outside the box is often a way forward

Q is for QUICK FIX
There is no pill for a quick fix of your relationship. Relationships need time and effort to make them the best they can possibly be and only you can figure out what that is.

R is for REFLECT
To be able to self reflect on our own behaviours and emotions rather than criticise and blame another is crucial to building a stronger more connected relationship.

S is for SHARING
Spending more time sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas makes partners feel listened to and validated

T is for TIME OUT
There are times in all relationships when feelings can get out of control. Taking time out away from each other in a calm measured way, gives us time to calm down and reflect and control our own behaviour.

U is for UNDERWEAR
Taking time to go shopping together for new underwear can help couples connect more intimately and sexually

V is for VALIDATION
Instead of responding with a knee jerk defensive reaction, it’s important that we make an effort to validate what our partner says as its important to them. This helps to make them feel respected and listened to, even if your view is different to theirs.

W is for WITHDRAW
It’s easy for couples to get into negative patterns of behaviour where 1 partner is the pursuer and the other closes down and withdraws. By identifying these patterns of behaviour partners can start to understand each other’s feelings better and make changes in their behaviour.

X is for X-RATED
Where is sex on your priority list? Are you making enough time for a good sexual connection, or is it way down the list of your priorities? “Emotional connection creates great sex and great sex creates deeper emotional connection”

Y is for YOGA
Yoga teaches true mindfulness – living in the present moment. Yoga can be a great stress reliever and certain positions improve flexibility and increase blood flow. For a closer sexual connection with your partner practise yoga positions together. Breathing, and moving together can be great foreplay.

Z is for …….Zzzzzzz
Turn off the computer, ipads and phones. Go to bed together, in a restful, calm manner and see what a difference a good nights sleep brings to your relationship.

 
Dawn Kaffel

Date night: How often do Couples Spend Time Together

Recently I’ve become curious as to how often couples go out together, so I asked a few I work with how often they make an effort to spend time together. Not surprisingly, most couples responded, “It’s been ages since we last went to dinner, the cinema or theatre together, we are just too busy.”

And it’s true; life gets in the way of spending time together.
As responsibilities increase, jobs become more demanding, and when carefree life becomes ‘grown up live’ with mortgages and children we forget to make time for fun together.

Just as it is natural for a couple’s sex life to slow down, it’s normal to slow down going out together. But couples begin to feel disappointed when they lose that connection with one another as they cease to engage beyond the mundane and routine of every day life.

So why do couples stop making the effort to have fun together and how does it leave them feeling? As a couple’s therapist, it would be easy to pathologise why this might be, but my experience tells me that couple’s more often than not just get into a pattern of behaviour that rationalises not making an effort with one another.

One man told me that when he see girlfriend making plans with friends, arranging trips to museums and the theatre it makes him upset. This left him feeling uncared for and that others got the best of her and he’s only left with the scraps. He felt bereft because his narrative became one that said, “I’m at the bottom of the pile” and expressed feelings of not being valued and felt that his partner didn’t have fun with him.

This idea that fun lives outside the relationship is unfortunate and can be problematical. Living with this feeling can devalue the relationship, leaving couples feeling as if they have little between them. The good news is that when couples recall the fun they had together when they first started dating then they start to remember the feelings they had towards one another, feelings that can feel lost after time.

Couples may not want to go clubbing any longer but they can remember what it was like when they did. From there, adjusting to ones lifestyle and age, and finding new things to do with each other can hit that sweet spot. Going to dinner, working out together or going to a new exhibition… it doesn’t’ matter. What matters is learning to spend time together outside the couple’s everyday existence.

Changing the dynamics and the patterns between couples can transform the relationship substantially. A couple I’ve been seeing, who have had some extremely difficult feelings towards one another, recently had this transformative experience. The husband arranged for their four children to be looked after and told his wife that they were spending the day together. This surprising act of reaching out reminded both of them that they had plenty to talk about and that they still knew how to enjoy one another. I noticed the tension between them that once hung over our sessions had vanished, to be replaced by a softer and happier couple.
It told me two things: that couples need to spend more time together and that it really doesn’t take much to do this. The New Year is coming; these small changes can make a huge difference.
Shirlee Kay

Couple kindness.

I once attended a seminar where the speaker asked us to think about how unkind we can be to our partner. In fact she went further by asking us to visualise anyone else in our life circle whom we would feel as free to verbally abuse and still expect them to be there the following day. What does this say about a couple?

Hate seems to come naturally, love is to be learned. In a simple derivation of love it means no more or less than the wish to be together with another in an intimate harmony. And yet we often sabotage the very thing we wish for in our partnership.

How can we avoid the repetitive haranguing and pressing buttons in what is hoped to be the safest relationship we have. On the one hand we ‘make love’ and on the other we ‘make hate’. How many of us can put our partner down in company in the most subtle way which only we know can hurt and while the rest of the group may sense an atmosphere they will not challenge the couple.

Some couples I see ask how to arrest this dynamic in their duo. The following can be helpful if both people are committed to avoiding the habit.

1. Try to monitor the words about to be spoken and ask yourself why you want to say them. Does it give a kind of power, a relief, a payback or is it really about something else which has been simmering unspoken for possibly years. It may even relate to early experiences with close family members long before the couple met and is ignited by a familiar trigger between them.

2. Try to think what you hope to resolve by this way of interacting and why do you automatically think your partner will go on receiving the angry words and still be there for you.

3. Question whether you would say what you are about to say to an adult sibling, a parent, a friend, a work colleague or even someone you have just met and may never meet again.

4. Talk to each other at a better moment and share how it feels to get into one of these episodes. Explain how each of you could hear the words better if they were kinder and less judgemental and critical. Explain the buttons which you know it is hard to resist.

Trying to break the pattern and get off the malignant roundabout. Owning instead of blaming is complicated but it can be done if both sides want resolution.

There is a form of containment which each can offer to the other by not personalising what is hurled at them in bad moments. But, the containment must be a kind one and not an abusive one which, like a virus, is hard to stop. Kindness is also catching and used with care can be the intimacy they are searching to achieve.

Clare Ireland

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