Archive for acceptance

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

Adulting

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

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

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

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

Shirlee Kay

Mindfulness and sexuality

The brain is one of the key factors that contributes to a good sexual experience.  It can either help us or hinder us.  We can often have distracting thoughts  – a shopping list or work, or thoughts about our bodies or the need to perform.  To have better sex we need to allow ourselves to be actually there when we have it, letting go of what is going on in our heads.

Mindfulness is about self regulating your attention to become aware of your immediate experience and allowing that experience to be what it is, with acceptance and without judgment.

The benefits of practising mindfulness can include:

  •  Increased awareness of physical sensations
  •  Managing and reducing anxiety
  •  Change towards positive body perceptions
  •  Deepening of life experiences
  •  More connection and intimacy in partner relationships

The practice of mindfulness can be used to enhance sex, and is often used as a specific tool in treating various sexual difficulties.