Archive for attachment

The Course of Love Alain de Botton

‘Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completion.’

This quotation, which in many ways both expands and focuses Plato’s search for your other half as described in his Symposium, comes early on in the book by the contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton. The Course of Love is by no means a dry and academic dissertation on the theme of love – still less a series of speculative notes detached from human realities. Rather it is a delightfully written novel, following the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten, which takes the time to unpack what is happening for them along the way.

Listen to him again…

‘In reality, there are rarely squabbles over ‘nothing’ in Rabih and Kirsten’s marriage. The small issues are really just large ones that haven’t been accorded the requisite attention. Their everyday disputes are the loose threads that catch on fundamental contrasts in their personalities’

Botton explores and unpacks the ordinary everyday issues that many couples struggle with and are common themes that come into our consulting rooms at Coupleworks. Through the engaging and compelling narrative of Rabih and Kirsten’s lives, interwoven with profound and thought provoking commentary, he covers issues of conflict, sulking, sex, blame, children and parenting, staying faithful and aging parents.

Underpinning his understanding of the couple relationship is the way in which we are shaped by our early attachment figures – our parents – and how this script forms a pattern for us in our expectations and actions towards our significant partner. On the one hand we expect our partners to respond in ways that are familiar to us, whilst on the other hand we can find ourselves reacting powerfully or seemingly irrationally to certain behaviours. This can lead to conflict, misunderstandings and a growing distance between a couple.

One of the themes he highlights which I find to be one of the most common features of couple therapy, is working with the disappointment that our partner is not going to be the person we would like them to be. But this doesn’t have to mean an unhappy ending. In working through the disappointment and letting go of a sometimes idealistic dream, there is much contentment to be found in an acceptance of the fact that our partners are different and other, and finding an intimacy and connection through that difference.

A final quote from Alain de Botton.

‘The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace’

This book is accessible and a recommended read for all those who face the joys and challenges of being in a relationship!

Sarah Fletcher

Difficulties with Commitment in your Relationship?

January was 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 2016 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

The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship

There have been nearly 7 million hits on the Ted Talk by Esther Perel:


She questions, ‘Why does good sex fade – even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever? And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex?’

 
She explores the nature of erotic desire and the dilemmas for modern love relationships. She suggests that we live in an age where the expectation of sex is that it should continue over time to be about ‘pleasure and connection rooted in desire’. Yet that expectation can be confounded when there is a struggle to sustain the desire.

 
Perel’s research identifies this as a clash of two ‘fundamental human needs’. We have a human need for the intimacy, closeness and attachment offered by a loving relationship. It creates a feeling of wellbeing and emotional security that nurtures and sustains. However, we also have an urge for excitement, play, mystery – and for change and novelty.

 
These needs can clash and can be hard to reconcile. We want our partner to be a trusted confidant and offer warmth, friendship and understanding. But, from the same person, we want heightened excitement of passion.

 
We want the comfort of familiarity, being known, loved and appreciated. But then, in the sexual relationship, we want variety, surprise and adventure. While technique, toys and sexy lingerie can add spice, it is not about novelty. Perel says sex is not just something you do. It is not just a behaviour but about speaking a language too. Sex is a place you go for a conversation and for that you need a sense of a separate self, autonomy and self-esteem.

 
To challenge expectations, we need a more profound understanding of arousal, desire and unconscious longings and Perel concludes that ‘desire needs space; fire needs air’. For desire we need imagination, curiosity, playfulness and the spark of interest created by a sense of ‘Other’ and ‘Difference’.

 
The contradiction of a long-term relationship is that it offers the closeness, familiarity and sameness that can create ‘a kind of fatal erotic blow’. She suggests that desire is ‘to want’ and is about attraction and enticement. It is about looking with new eyes each time and seeing the other as different and unknown. Desire starts with an idea of separateness and the urge to move towards one another. She suggests the idea of a bridge to cross in order to find each other anew – starting from a point of willingness to play and want and give pleasure.

 
Interdependence, caretaking, parenting, while soothing, reassuring and comforting, can decrease the erotic charge between the couple. Sex makes babies and great joy, and yet babies can spell erotic disaster for the couple. Feeling weighed down by responsibilities, disliking your body, feeling anxious or depressed, stressed at work, can have a similar deadening effect. However, a couple can use the love and connection and emotional warmth to provide a springboard of energy for lovemaking.

 
Sex in a long relationship is premeditated sex as much as it was in the beginning and there is a need to debunk the idea of spontaneity. In a trusting relationship, there can be permission and a willingness to lead, or be led, into an erotic space. Foreplay starts with accepting and allowing the thought of sex to germinate in the mind. It is about encouraging thoughts of sex to keep ‘simmering’. It is about taking responsibility for making gestures and taking opportunities to initiate.

 
The couple understands that passion waxes and wanes but they know how to find the generosity needed to reconnect. It is accepted by both that a definition of their relationship includes ‘This is what we do’.

 

Kathy Rees

Counselling when considering Separation

Couples sometimes contact Coupleworks when they are facing the end of their relationship and have the wish to separate as amicably as possible, and with consideration and understanding.

Counselling can offer support when the grief at the thought of a break-up feels overwhelming and help is needed with managing difficult feelings. This is particularly true if the couple have experienced other significant and painful losses in their lives. Broken attachments can provoke great anxiety – and counselling offers the time and space to think about needs and how to tap resources of support.

Being part of a couple can define and strengthen a person’s identity and suddenly being alone requires a re-figuration and understanding of oneself: ‘Who am I now?’ If there are issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth this can feel a monumental task. When there has been a custom of sharing, now there may be an aching sense of loneliness and panic. It may be important to identify and uncover one’s inner resilience.

If the threat of the end of the relationship has come out of the blue, then a partner may have trouble accepting a future that is not the one that was anticipated. Feelings of well-being and certainty have been shaken to the core and plans will need adjusting. There may be financial implications, child-care issues, even the selling of the home. It can be difficult to grasp the extent of the upheaval – and challenging to find the confidence to face life alone.

If there have been childhood insecurities, or rejections, or abandonments, past memories can resurface and create a worry that this present loss just cannot be managed. Starting over, facing the unknown, can cause panic and dread – but talking to an impartial counsellor offers a chance to think more calmly. Family and friends can sometimes find it difficult to stand back, not take sides, and be detached from their own concerns.

When there are feelings of betrayal, bitterness and anger it may be important begin to understand how things have come about. There can be benefit from gaining an insight into the dynamics of the relationship, the patterns of behaviour, and the impulses and reactions of each partner. Untangling the confusion may alleviate feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and prevent getting stuck in recrimination and blame.

Kathy Rees

Making Sense of Love

In her Ted Talk ‘Why we love’ (September 2006) Helen Fisher describes the Darwinian purpose of love. Love ensures the survival of the species! It ‘pulls two people together strongly enough to begin to rear babies as a team’.

She suggests the ‘pull’ of love combines three biological drives.

Firstly, there is the sex-drive – which ‘evolved to get you out there, looking for a range of partners’. It comes with the excitement of the physical attraction, the flirtation, the lust, the urge for erotic physical gratification and orgasm. Satisfaction releases a spike of the hormone dopamine and we feel GOOD.

Secondly, there is romantic love – the most powerful of the drives – which comes with compelling biological rewards. The area of the brain most activated by falling in love is the same one that is activated by cocaine. There is a craving to be with this person and, when we are, we experience a rush from constantly elevated levels of dopamine. We feel GREAT.

It is not just about the body. It is about minds and hearts. We feel valued, appreciated, understood and accepted – and feel flooded with love in return. We revel in the similarities and dismiss the differences. Love is blind!

We are elated and excited and feel we can take on the world together and, as Ted Hughes says,
‘I think we were built to be/We’re like two feet/We need each other to get ahead’

The emotional bonds deepen and strengthen. We feel caring and protective and concerned for the wellbeing of this other person. The closeness and connection creates such a sense of emotional security that a rush of oxytocin is released. We feel EVEN BETTER.

Fisher thinks that attachment is the third drive. It evolves to enable us to remain together as long-term partners and deal with the challenge of ‘tolerating this other human being’ over time. Differences need acknowledging and negotiating. Compromise needs generosity. As trust grows, and we can picture sharing a future together, we can decide to make the commitment to have a family.

However, unfortunately, these drives can operate separately from one another and we can suddenly find ourselves walking to different rhythms!
Fisher says, ‘You can feel deep attachment to a long-term partner at the same time that you feel intense romantic love for somebody else, and at the same time feel sexually attracted to someone else again’.

The counsellors in Coupleworks work with couples who struggle with the conflict caused by the pulls of these different drives. Understanding how the brain works allows us to consider and manage our unconscious impulses. We can then make choices consciously and clearly – and deal honestly and openly with the consequences.

Kathy Rees

Family Breakdown

Fewer than half of children will celebrate their 16th birthday with their parents still together. Penelope Leach is a research psychologist and well known for her books on early childhood development written in the 1970s. She has recently published a book called ‘Family Breakdown: Helping children hang onto both their parents’. It is written for parents, and professionals involved in supporting those parents, to help to find a way to divorce ‘better’, very much focusing on the perspective of the child.

There has been some controversy surrounding the book even before it was published. In particular she has been criticised by fathers and some psychologists for advocating that children under 3 should be with their primary caregiver at night and not have overnight stays away from them. In practice this means of course that for a high percentage of children this will be their mother. Her evidence for this comes from recent studies and developments in attachment psychology, although some have disputed this particular research. To say that she is against fathers is simplistic: rather she has emphasised the importance of the father’s role in a child’s development. She speaks to the needs of the child to be with their primary caregiver during those early years up to the age of 3, whether that is their mother or father.

All too often, despite the best intentions of parents, each partner will struggle to separate their trauma of separation and divorce from their relationship to the children. In that context therapy can be helpful to process some of the accumulated hurts and resentments to try to prevent these being acted out through the children. This book could be a useful addition to help parents find the dos and don’ts of what might be best for their children in the midst of a difficult and painful process.

An interview with Penelope Leach was broadcast on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 at 10am on Monday 23 June. Listen here

Sarah Fletcher