Archive for behaviour

Anger and the Couple

Like a sniffer dog recognising the scent of explosives, we all learn to be alert to any hint of danger to our psychological well-being. Whenever we have a suspicion that our partner may be behaving in a way that makes us feel vulnerable, we move to defend ourselves against the threat.

Deep in our brain, the amygdala is responsible for recognising and responding to the perceived danger. It sends out an alarm so that we can be prepared to protect ourselves. It is responsible for the ‘act first, think later’ response. We become all about ‘reaction’ – and it is so rapid that there is no time to think about our behaviour or consider the consequences.

There is an almost instantaneous physiological reaction as the amygdala triggers a surge of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. There is an immediate change in both our physical and mental state as a result.

Cortisol increases our muscle tension, breathing and heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. Our focus becomes intense and fixed on the danger. 

The next influence is our individual propensity to one of the stress responses of ‘Freeze’, ‘Flight’, or ‘Fight’.

So we might ‘go cold’ (freeze), avoid eye contact and close down, shrink inside, and be unable to think. We hope the danger will pass without us having to engage.

Or we might have an urge to escape and get away (flight). We might need actual physical separation and space; or our partner senses that we have become emotionally unavailable, become distant, and have withdrawn from actively engaging with them. We have retreated into our cave.

Alternatively, our default survival mechanism might be angry confrontation (fight). We become hostile or threatening (both verbally and physically); or we sulk and become passive aggressive. The assumption here is that ‘attack is the best form of defence’.

Sometimes anger is energising and allows us to recognise something is wrong. We can become assertive and work for change. But that can only happen when there is a balance of reaction from the cortex. This is the ‘rational’ part of the brain which is responsible for thinking and judgement.

Frequently, we lose the ability to think and the anger escalates and becomes destructive (and even violent and dangerous). Couples describe being caught up in a repetitive spiral of arguments that never get resolved. They easily lose control, and lose access to the competent, creative, problem-solving parts of themselves. It becomes all about ‘feelings’.

 Because anger masks the fear and anxiety that has provoked the reaction, the partner is oblivious to the underlying feelings of vulnerability and the actual issues are never addressed. It becomes about ‘the dirty cups’ and not about ‘I feel you don’t care enough about me’.

There is a ‘Catch 22’ situation where describing those feelings would increase the sense of panic. After all, the person we love is the person who has the ability to hurt us the most. But they are also the ones who could soothe and reassure if only we could let them. But anger blocks that. When we are aggressive they stand up to us in return. Or they just want to get away from us, and we remain misunderstood.

Relationship counselling offers a calm space to uncover and understand the underlying issues. A couple can discover why they react to certain triggers and think about alternative ways of responding. Paradoxically, exposing the vulnerability can strengthen the relationship. It can become a safe place not haunted and overwhelmed by past hurts. The love, care, trust and generosity in the relationship can be used to heal emotional wounds. Counselling can offer the opportunity of experimenting with managing angry feelings – and equip the couple with constructive, supportive coping strategies. 

Kathy Rees

Jealousy: How to Embrace and Talk about it with our Partner

Dr. Ari Kiev, a New York psychiatrist, who has written on the subject of jealousy, calls it “the most painful” of human emotions. He claims that jealousy often strikes in the early stages of a relationship when the couple have not developed a sufficiently strong “sense of self” and are prone to doubts and suspicions. It then invariable becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Jealousy brings out the worst in people and most of us don’t want to admit we can be jealous and are ashamed of feeling this secret emotion. Yet, jealousy is a common and normal feeling.  When we learn to accept our feelings of jealousy then we have a better chance of starting to think about it differently and start to talk to our partners effectively. 

The definition of jealousy is often connected to envy and by distinguishing between the two, we can have a better understanding of the origin of this feeling. Envy is a two- person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person scenario. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone.

Knowing whether your jealousy is well founded can be a confusing process. A client of mine was talking about “her jealousy” telling me her husband thinks she is behaving in an unreasonable and irrational manner when he looks at other women in front of her. She admits she reacts badly when he does this and can’t seem to communicate this without her husband turning it around to become about her behaviour. This is when the dynamic becomes confused between them.

When this happens, her behaviour becomes the focus of the issue and her husband’s behaviour is forgotten and the conversation is at a stalemate. Until the dynamic between them shifts, this is the only conversation they can have.

When my client was able to work through her feelings more clearly, she was able to begin a dialogue with her husband to own her jealousy but also pointing out that his behaviour was reinforcing this feeling. She explained that she felt it was as if she couldn’t hold his attention and that hurt her. The blame was taken out of the conversation and he was able to see that his behaviour was making it worse. It’s important to say, this shift in the conversation took some time, but they stuck at it until they were able to see the situation less defensively and from each other’s point of view.

So how can couples best deal with jealous thoughts?

Start to cultivate the connection to jealous feelings. Your body will alert you. It might be a tightness in your chest or stomach. Listen to it and slowly the feelings will emerge. Once you are clear what the feeling is try not to judge yourself, accept it. This will allow you to stay with it and not get caught up in any negative thought patterns: “she’s cheating on me”, “I’m not enough for him”. etc. Once you feel more comfortable with the feeling you can begin to enquire what is triggering it? With this information, you can begin a conversation with your partner. Be patient, it might take a while! 

Recognising that our partner needs more than us is key. We can’t fulfil every aspect of our partner’s need just as they can’t ours.    Logically, we understand this but our wounds of not being enough often triggers us into jealousy and we end up condemning ourselves and then the relationship.

We are all attracted to other people besides our partners, physically, spiritually and emotionally. The more we’re able to normalise this reality the better. When we start to develop a stronger sense of who we are, we begin to live and feel comfortable with the parts of ourselves that ‘are not’ and we become more. 

Be patient and kind with yourself during this process, it’s not easy. Staying with the discomfort is part of the process of getting there. Have faith. 

Shirlee Kay

Ducks, birds and humans .. cont’d from 22/11/2015

Taking a leaf out of John Bowlby’s attachment theory, originating in the study of sheep, I have spent time observing Mallards and Moorhens.

Unlike Swans, I don’t think they are monogamus, however both the beautifully  coloured male Mallard and the black male moorhen seem faithful, caring and protective partners.

Human couple behaviour, if observed by visitors from another planet, might sometimes not appear to be so ordered, loyal and nurturing.

Some of the following duck and bird traits could be helpful to follow once in an ongoing human partnership.

Decide who to pair up with and to breed with if this is the couple’s choice.

Share home building.  Birds nest with great strength, enterprise and building skills, sharing the furnishing and positioning of a safe nest.  The position is important so it is safe from predators.  For humans the positioning is important for schools, hospitals, jobs, trains and neighbours and other reasons the couple feels important.

Once the eggs are laid or the human couple embark on a pregnancy, health and safety are paramount.  The male duck or bird spends all his waking hours feeding himself and his partner with tasty titbits.  Often ducking down and finding goodies below the surface.  The human expectant father is wise to select and encourage a good diet and suitable exercise for the future mother and himself.

Once born in all three species, there is much activity and nurture, working long hours to provide for their new addition or additions.  The most common human remark following birth is:  ‘I am so tired,’ yet in the bird and duck world the growth and preparation for their offsprings’ life is so fast it seems little or no sleep is taken.

If the visitor from outside our world were to comment, they might say the behaviour of human and other species seems to be very alike and despite looks, colours, shapes, sizes, skin or feathers each could learn from the other about harmony, sharing, containment and peace.

This hypothesis can be applied to other species outside the three described.

Clare Ireland

Group member or stand alone.

Group member or a stand alone.

Group behaviour is something which can be a comfort if the members know and follow the rules, the culture and the language.  Belonging can tick boxes for some  people and brings a sense of ease and security.  Rules have to be followed, and there is a way of being within the group which becomes known and adhered to.

Sport, music, hobbies, eating, marriage, parenting, art, drinking, books, crafts, stamp collecting, any specific collections, motoring, motor biking, cycling, walking, gardening and film or theatre, crosswords, chess, debating, technology, magic, cooking and many more all have representative clubs to join.

As well as the interests in common goes a language, dress, friendships, rules and regulations, leaders, troublemakers, talkers, quiet ones, the jokers, the serious ones and many unspoken ways of being which are followed.

All this and more brings comfort and a feeling of well being and safety for many, yet for others, group behaviour is to be avoided and can be seen as threatening and fearsome.  Some will stand on the fringe of a group and are able to dip in and out but not be a fully paid up member.  They also have the ability to dip in and out of several clubs but never fully join any.  Some will long to join but feel inadequate in some way so tend to criticise the caricature of the members as a form of defence.  Those who stand alone in life, are often successful in their field, are respected yet not particularly liked.  Joining a group for them would be risky and unfamiliar.

Groups, threatening and frightening to the outsider, can be supportive and loyal to their own.

School, which is enforced and not chosen, is a first lesson in how to join or not join a group.  The loner, depending on how they represent themselves, can be tolerated, admired and even envied or if they are very different to the main stream can experience kind teasing at best or bullying and cruelty at worst.

Join a group or stand alone.  Sometimes to choose to be one or the other or interchange the choice is a preferred position but to be forced into either role is when personal choice has gone and real fear becomes the drive.

Coupleworks can help with determining why people choose which way to be and this can sometimes help them to select a partner with whom they are in tune.

Clare Ireland