Archive for bereavement

Trauma and the Couple

‘The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviours. But trauma doesn’t have to be a life sentence.’ (Peter A.Levine: ‘Healing Trauma’)

Counsellors in Coupleworks frequently work with couples who are struggling to deal with the repercussions of traumatic life events. Depending on our backgrounds, past experiences, and psychological states of mind, we respond in our own unique way to the impact of sudden, shocking or distressing events and couples can be upset, confused and shaken when the other’s response seems alien and the opposite of their own. For example, the death of someone much-loved can cause one person to shut down, close off and withdraw, and appear unavailable at the very time their partner is looking for connection and support.

We can all become overwhelmed by powerful reactions to difficult childhood experiences, violent intrusion, attack, abuse, loss and bereavement. The critical factor seems to be that at the time we had a perception of helplessness, a sense of disconnection from our usual effective competent self, and a feeling that we had lost the ability to deal with the incident. The pain, the shock, the level of threat experienced, and the sense of incapacity, causes the brain to release a flood of adrenaline and cortisol and react with a ‘Flight’, ‘Fight’ or ‘Freeze’ response. We are not in control of this reaction and symptoms can be observed in disconcerting bodily reactions: either overwrought physical hyperarousal – or denial, numbness, dissociation, immobility and freezing.

Peter Levine explains that, not dealt with, these aftereffects can be evident and ever-present. Or they can be unstable – ‘they can come and go and can be triggered by stress. Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface… They can grow increasingly complex over time and can even feel unconnected with the original trauma.’ There can be a detrimental effect on mental health and the development of psychosomatic illness.

It can be particularly confusing for a couple when re-enactments are played out in their relationship but they are not aware of the trigger. They have not made the link to the trauma that is the source. It can result in each partner feeling bewildered, hurt and disconnected. A seemingly unbridgeable gulf of misunderstanding opens up and they feel lost and emotionally unavailable to each other.
For example, it can feel lonely and hard to reach a partner suffering from a distressing bleak depression. A frightening rift can be created when a partner turns to alcohol or drugs in order to obliterate the pain. Angry or violent outbursts are terrifying and disturbing. Complaint and critical attack fosters resentment and negativity erodes good will.

Careful and sensitive relationship counselling can aid recovery. Appropriate and gentle guidance towards approaches for dealing with the distress can create understanding. Peter Levine again: ‘It is not necessary to consciously remember an event to heal from it.’ But it is important that it is addressed and managed in a supportive environment. With the recognition of their resilience, and of the love, care and concern that they hold for each other, the couple can emerge from their difficulties to establish a deeper more fulfilling relationship.

Kathy Rees

Endings

Reading the Sunday papers recently I was struck by how many articles there were dealing with endings. Whether it’s Boris Johnson ending his Mayorship, President Obama coming to the end of his term in office or the UK being uncertain about whether to end its long relationship with Europe.

This set me thinking about how couples often struggle with endings. It’s not easy
Shall we end it? Should we? Can we? are often questions I hear in my consulting room.

Ending a relationship is never easy no matter how many times it has happened. Often we get so caught up in the comfortable patterns of our lives that even when we know things aren’t working for us ending a relationship can be too much effort, take too much time and seem way too difficult and we can end up just treading water.

Ending a relationship can feel like bereavement and we will often avoid having to deal with painful feelings of sadness and loss by choosing to stay.

Here are some scenarios that suggest its time to end the relationship:

 
• Loosing trust and respect for each other

• Only one partner in the relationship wants to have a baby

• Couples that have been together since they were quite young and have grown up together, a degree of comfortableness and security sets in but the intimacy has been lost and often one partner wants to find that with a new partner

* Sexual attraction has disappeared

• No longer share the same values and dreams

• You don’t feel you are thought about in the same way

• Find yourselves making plans with friends and family rather than your significant other suggests you are starting to let go

• Has the fun and laughter gone out of the relationship?

• Is the majority of the time spent together taken up with arguments and conflict

• A strong desire to be with someone else

• A future you once believed in with your partner is no longer there and brings into question why you chose to remain in a relationship with no long term investment

• Recognising your partner feels like a stranger

• Any kind of abusive or violent behaviour

 
Often the fear of being alone, feeling of failure and concerns about what other people may think are feelings that keep us in relationships far too long. It is far better to focus on whether you have given it your best, is it bringing the best out of me, am I getting what I need and to trust your instincts.

It is not easy to make these decisions. Working with an experienced couples therapist to explore some of these difficult and painful issues can help clarify whether the relationship can move forward or needs to end. Taking time out to end a relationship in a good way can really help future relationships.

To quote Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

When you begin, you envision a better end but, when you get to the end, you see the beginning better!

Dawn Kaffel

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

Loss

It is not only the loss of a partner, or someone in our family, that can cause us to feel distressed and grief-stricken. Losing a close friendship can cause overwhelming feelings of sadness of bereavement.

Friends form part of the jigsaw which makes up the secure base of our lives. We feel safer and more confident when we create links and have a circle (no matter how tiny or how large) of people with whom we have understanding and on whom we can rely.

The reality of a friend moving away, or travelling, or even emigrating, will be hard to bear but can be rationalised. It will be painful, we will be sad, but the idea can be borne.

However, when the friend is focussed on another person, when they seem so preoccupied with another and there seems no room for us, uncomfortable anxiety can grow.

All-encompassing emotional life events like the birth of a child, or falling in love, can give the impression that there is no longer room for the friendship. It is very hard to cope with being suddenly demoted, side-lined and not the priority. We have thoughts of betrayal.

Although the rational, thinking, part of us explains that the friend is in a whirlwind of enrapture, we feel the cold wind of panic. The situation recalls, and resonates with, any abandonment or rejection we have suffered in our past.

If we have previously experienced traumatic relationship losses or break-ups, the re-opening of a painful wound is keenly felt.

Psychologically there has been a break in one of the attachment bonds which we wrap around ourselves. We feel displaced and insecure as the emotional ground we stand on has shifted. Our world seems changed and the kaleidoscope has been reconfigured.

We need time to assimilate the different patterns. Our other primary relationships become even more important by offering stability and reassurance.  We can be soothed when these other important attachment figures remind us that we are loved.

It may help to remember that our friend has been overtaken by a tsunami of emotion. It was not their intention to weaken the links between you both. Sadly they are no longer on the same track that you thought would continue forever, but their motive was not to hurt or be unkind. They might not even comprehend the impact on you.