Archive for affair

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

Rupture in a Relationship and the Idea of Kintsugi

‘The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love. It is perhaps the price we pay for love…’ (Dr C. M. Parkes psychiatrist St Christopher’s Hospice)

‘Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in…’ (Leonard Cohen)

Coupleworks often works with couples who fear that they cannot recover from, or continue after, an event which causes such a crisis in their relationship that they are driven apart. They can feel lost to each another – as if the partner, suddenly, is a stranger.

An affair or even, strangely perhaps, a new baby, can have a disorientating and disturbing impact on their understanding of each other. The couple come into counselling shaken and bewildered. A life which they saw as certain and secure appears shattered, and they no longer know what to trust. It feels as if ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.’ (W.B.Yeats) The comfortable patchwork of their relationship feels broken up and the counsellor is asked, ‘Is there hope for us?’.

A crisis is always a turning point and now things will happen differently. However, it can be an opportunity for positive change and growth. Embracing and engaging with change is hard, but giving up on love and belonging can be worse. There may be horrible fear and vulnerability but the experience of brokenness can shed a light on what has previously not been understood.

Through talking and listening, the means of recovery and repair and healing can begin to emerge. Safely exploring the issues with a counsellor can lead to the deliberate rewriting of the ‘contract’ – building a relationship that is different (and never could be quite the same). A relationship that is safer, deeper, richer, and more resilient than the one that existed previously, can be created. The vicissitudes of a committed relationship are recognised and, crucially, hurt is not disowned, dismissed or repressed.

Japanese ‘Kintsugi’ means ‘golden repair’ or ‘join with gold’. It is the Japanese art form of repairing ordinary broken pottery with seams of precious metal such as gold.

‘Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… The ceramic is, in fact, more beautiful after the break and after the repair’ (Christie Bartlett). Rather than throwing away the damaged article or trying to disguise or minimise the break, the pot or dish is transformed into a piece of art. Kintsugi is a way of acknowledging the history, and wear-and-tear, of an everyday object. The repair takes time, cannot be rushed, and is done with great respect, care, and consideration – and the result is beautiful.

The philosophy that ‘there can be treasure in life’s scars’ is at the heart of the craft. It challenges expectations of ‘perfection’ and promotes the concept of forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion.


Kathy Rees

Coupleworks can help…

We often feel more confident when we know what we want to do and how we can make things happen. We can feel a sense of focus which provides purpose and direction in life.

But we can also feel anxious and disconcerted when things do not go to plan. Feelings of frustration and resentment can arise when people close to us behave differently from the way we expect.

This can be particularly true when we have to adapt to the changes involved in a big life event. Even positive changes take adjustment and become stressful – requiring an emotional resourcefulness that may be hard to find.

A new job, moving house, a new baby can be joyous experiences of our own choosing. But the emotional costs can be hugely underestimated and cause frightening distress and loss of connection in a couple. Arguments can become frequent when our responses and needs are exposed as different – and our expectations of the other are disappointed. We can cling to ideas of how life should be when it is no longer possible. The relationship can quickly get stuck in a repetitive pattern of blame and defensiveness.

And what happens when life throws ‘a curved ball’? Redundancy, illness, bereavement, an affair, can be so unsettling that we scrabble to find the resilience to cope. The trust and security that allowed us to relax in the familiar seems to have disappeared. The tectonic plates have shifted and world is not the same. How do we accommodate and accept the inevitable differences when we feel so vulnerable? Because our trust and belief in a secure base has been so badly shaken, we can fall into denial and resistance.

Coupleworks offers the safe space needed to explore and understand the complexities of a whole new set of circumstances.

Counselling can be a support in the struggle to regain equilibrium and control. It is important to rediscover the potential to deal with the sudden and unexpected, but that needs to be at a pace that is appropriate. There will be a need to be kind and gentle with oneself in order to find the way to make the necessary small steps to recovery. Counselling can help in the discussion when reconsidering plans and priorities and ideas about the future.

Kathy Rees