Archive for bereavement

Can you stay friendly with your ex?

Looking at the royal family for an overview it would appear that there are two hugely differing outcomes of a separation. We can all see Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s rumoured enduring and affectionate connection and we have also seen the apparent face of far less harmonious royal divorces played out in a sadly public manner.

A passionate love affair will not easily reform quickly into a fond friendship.

All that strong feeling can’t dissipate overnight. We need time to elapse in order to create a new relationship without the heat and intensity that used to bind us. This is when it may be worth taking a while to decide exactly why we actually want to stay friends with an ex lover

If they ended the relationship then perhaps it mitigates feelings of rejection. See? We aren’t unloveable after all, they don’t want to completely let go of us, and maybe a small bit of the cake is better than total deprivation.

If we ended it, well keeping in touch shows that we aren’t that cruel after all. And someone who loves us is still in our life, most of us do like to be adored.
The reality is that uncoupling is usually a painful process. So a lot of people swerve a brutal ending by not ending at all. This avoids the pain of grief, but it’s worth considering if this mateyness is a way of soothing this pain rather than the healthier option of enduring it which allows for reflection and acceptance and a capacity to experience change and to understand that this will always also bring loss.

The finish of a love affair is similar to a bereavement and can involve the same incredibly sad and hurtful stages.  But for some, there’s the added pain of knowing the other is now significant to somebody new.  In the age of social media, a clean ending is almost impossible. It can be agonising to see happy snaps of a beloved ex cosying up to their new love and moving on without you. It may be necessary to disconnect from media sites that bring pain, and even to avoid old haunts for a while.

These are the tricky bits, but let’s also look at the positive reasons that can help twosomes maintain good contact

Some couples can live comfortably like housemates without sex or passion. If they truly are friends, there may come a time that sex does become important and a new love can bring feelings that don’t totally diminish the bond between them. Real friends should be capable of unselfish pleasure and be able to see and enjoy renewed happiness for each other.

Time can settle old scores and bring a fresh perspective to a relationship. Empassioned feelings can fade, and once an ending has been mourned and accepted, then people can begin to see the good in what they once had, and want to preserve that affection. If a person has been truly important in our lives, it’s worth remembering the good times and not allowing those happy experiences to melt away or be completely eclipsed by the pain of the end.

Do both partners agree to a new way? If so, clarifying fresh boundaries will be important.This will be another, new kind of couple. Talk about how often you both feel it’s appropriate to talk or connect. Maybe daytime meetings are best in the initial period, and away from anywhere that holds memories.

How might you cope with seeing each other in new relationships?    Is this truly an equal agreement and are you really sure that neither of you might possibly be hanging on in the hope of repair?

Of course the biggest and most powerful reason to stay friends with an ex is if you have children together.

You are co-parents for life, so it’s imperative to look at your relationship in the most positive way that you can muster.  As relationship counsellors who have witnessed many of these couple breakdowns we are familiar with a scenario in which, initially, the ending will be harder for one half of the couple.  It takes sensitive thought and great care to see that the main focus has to be on safeguarding children from any unnecessary fall-out.

Whatever unresolved or negative feelings may surface, especially at the outset of what may be a traumatic time, the connection between parents has to be seen to be restrained and polite in order to maintain security and stability for the new arrangements that their children will have to experience.

In time many couples can forge friendships  as they are compelled to stay connected through the family links.  If we keep anger and grievances within us, this will only block our capacity for the best outcome with new partners.  It takes time and kindness to come out of our previous relationship and to allow both people the freedom to enjoy a future that won’t be blocked by negative feelings.

So, here’s to conscious decoupling and shaping some new horizons of a different kind of love.

Christina Fraser

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.