Archive for Blame

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

Couple Relationships and the Importance of a ‘Safe Haven’

Couples often come into therapy anxious that their relationship has developed a disturbing negative dynamic. They are unsettled and ill-at-ease and have lost the sense of each other as an emotional safe haven. They have become less confident in their future together and cannot access the usual soothing reassurance from the other that all is well. They feel resentful that their partner has become so difficult. They blame and complain and are focussed on the frustrations.

An affair, most classically, attacks the belief in the safety of the ‘couple bubble’. However, trust and dependability (once the bedrock of the relationship) can be eroded in many ways. There can be ‘death by a thousand cuts’ when a relationship has been neglected and each partner no longer feels special and prioritised. Addictions, over-focus on work, on children, even on screens, means attention feels minimal and perfunctory. Sometimes the sexual relationship is affected and the old relaxed intimacy is missing. The couple mourn the loss of the delight, acceptance and intense focus that marked the beginning of the relationship.

Sometimes there can be difficulties managing life’s transitional moments that change an established relationship rhythm. Managing loss, or moving in together, the birth of the first child, differing career ambitions, illness, redundancy are times when significantly different personality traits come to the forefront. It can feel disconcerting when, under stress, a partner takes a different perspective or has unexpected heightened reactions: suddenly becoming withdrawn and unavailable, or with irritability and angry outbursts.

There is real confusion when faced with such behaviour: ‘Why are you reacting like this?’ The differences become threatening and upsetting. Feeling under attack, each becomes defensive. Listening stops and there is ’push back’ against opposing opinions. The implicit message becomes, ‘If I am to trust and relax I need you to agree with me and see it my way.’ Disconnection and tension ripple out. Louise Evans describes being like ‘a vigilant meerkat on sentinel duty’ searching for behaviours that confirm the mistrust.

Entrenched in conflict, the usual relaxed couple interactions become rigid and uncomfortable. They each feel the victim, deprived of understanding, and challenged by any concept of: ‘I have my way. You have your way. As for the right way, the only way, it does not exist’.

There is little inclination to understand or embrace complexity or contradictions when they create such anxiety. ‘We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve’ (Jakes). But the more we judge someone, the less space there is to love them.

Lincoln is quoted as saying, ‘I do not like that man – I need to get to know him better’ and counselling offers the opportunity for explanations, listening, being heard, understanding, and calming reassurance. It can help with reparation, allowing the couple reach out and regain the compassion and generosity that became somewhat lost. They agree, once again, to be the safe harbour in the storm.

‘Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true, But you and I know what this world can do… If, as we’re walking, a hand should slip free, I’ll wait for you. And, should I fall behind, wait for me…’
Bruce Springsteen: ‘If I Should Fall Behind’


An interesting listen:
Happy Brain: How to Overcome Our Natural Predisposition to Suffering: Amit Sood (Ted Talks)


Kathy Rees

Couples: Communication and Conversation

Coupleworks’ counsellors frequently meet couples desperate to improve their communication – and often start by asking about the beginning of the relationship.

‘You’re My World’ Cilla Black


The time of falling in love can be marked by fascinated curiosity, rapt attention, delving into inner worlds and gazing into one another’s eyes. It can feel like the discovery of a best friend and soul mate and taking the couple back to the memory of when they experienced such closeness can reignite hope.

‘Where Are You Now…?’ Justin Bieber


However, later down the line, busy lives can mean conversation is brief, occurring in snatched moments, and focussed on practicalities. Each can lose sight of the other’s dreams, desires and longings. More light-hearted moments of warmth, laughter and sharing can often take place with friends and colleagues and not with each other. The relationship can become irritable, joyless and serious – weighed down by pressure at work, decisions about running the home, parenting, finances, aged parents. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed, a sense of being alone, unsupported and short-changed – can create an atmosphere of complaint and criticism.

‘Mind the gap…’ Nabiha


Parallel lives can mean moments of intimacy grow fewer. In his book ‘The Relationship Cure’ John Gottman says that reconnection and repair lies not in the grand gesture but in the ‘turning-towards micro-moments’ that indicate how you are seen, valued, loved and cared for. Couples constantly reach out and make bids to one another for affection, attention and support but they are sometimes misunderstood and misread as demands. Gottman describes how each partner has a ‘sliding-door’ moment in how they choose to respond: to rebuff, turn away or draw closer. The squeeze at the dishwasher, the wink across a crowded room, the pause for a longer hug at the door, sharing the preparation for dinner, the back rub, switching off all screens when eating – all mean ‘You are special’. But these can be rejected with a shrug of annoyance or received with appreciation and a smile.

‘Love Hurts…’ Nazareth


If the love bank is depleted or empty there is nothing to call on when times are tough and the disappointment in each other can feel sharp and result in flashpoints of anger and blame.

‘Working my way back to you…’ Four Seasons


Consequently, the couple’s emotional reserve requires constant topping up. The positive ways in which the mundane tasks, the work of daily grind and tedium, are managed allows caring and intimacy to establish itself once more. What might appear to be insignificant moments of consideration and connection can quickly add up to an environment of safety, relaxation and warmth. Mistrust and defensive interactions dissipate and love expands.

‘Talk To Me…’ Stevie Nicks


Gottman suggests creating a regular, twenty minute, DAILY, couple conversation time that is prioritised above all else. It should be a time for connection, focused listening, not interrupting, checking out, reflection, going deeper. It can be reparative after an argument and generally replenishing for the relationship. It can guard against the thread that connects the couple becoming too thin and stretched – possibly to breaking point.

Kathy Rees

Stuck couples

Couples get stuck, Relationships get stuck, Marriages get stuck
Feeling stuck in a relationship is often what brings couples into counselling. We can all identify situations in our relationships where a level of stuckness is to be expected. But when stuckness feels damaging and destructive couples tend to feel they are on a hamster wheel and cant find a way out.

It is important to identify what causes the stuckness in order to move forward.
Sue Johnson the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) calls them the Demon Dialogues where we cannot connect safely with our partners.
She has identified three basic patterns:
Find the Bad Guy– a pattern of mutual blame and criticism that keeps a couple miles apart, blocking reengagement and the feeling of relationship safety.
Protest Polka – a pattern of Demand-Withdraw or Criticise-Defend. This is a protest against the loss of the secure attachment that we all need in our relationships
Freeze and Flee or Withdraw -Withdraw
Partners feel hopeless and begin to give up and close down to escape the hurt and despair, leaving numbness and distance.

In dance terms Sue Johnson describes this as the most dangerous dance, when suddenly there is no one on the dance floor; both partners are sitting it out far apart from the other.

We begin to see the relationship as more and more unsatisfying or unsafe and our partner as unloving and uncaring.

Using Emotionally Focused Therapy couples make progress by increasing safety and security in their relationships which allows them to listen and respond more to each others needs which in turn helps partners tune into the important feelings and needs and then put those feelings and needs across to their partners in ways that invite positive responses rather than stuckness.

There are times in relationships where a partners past actions were linked to an experience of betrayal and breach of trust. In EFT terms these events are considered Attachment Injuries.

Attachment injuries can appear as relational traumas that affect a couples on-going relationship. It is the impact the action has had on the injured partner and what the action represents ie. abandonment or rejection.

Couples fail to develop deeper trust or risk vulnerability until these attachment injuries have been addressed. Attachment injuries create obstacles that block trust and connection and need to be worked through.

Working with an EFT therapist can help couples identify how their behaviours trigger each others emotions and change the course of negative patterns into positive relationship affirming connections which make for feelings of safety and security.

The stuckness that you and your partner may be feeling shouldn’t me ignored or minimised. As Dr Nicastro points out “stuckness is a source of information that can help you and your partner come together and work for the good of the relationship.

Dawn Kaffel

Blame or Acceptance and Understanding in a Relationship

Zen master Buddhist, Thic Nhat Hanh, writes:

When a plant does not grow well, you do not blame the plant. You look for the reasons that it is not doing well. You may need to do something differently: it may need feeding, or more water, or less sun – but you don’t blame the plant.

Yet, very often, if we have problems with our family, or with our partner, or with friends, we blame the person. Frequently, however, the blame has little positive outcome. It rarely results in the desired change in behaviour, or attitude, or belief and, more often, prevents the possibility of dialogue and discussion. At worst, a blaming culture in a relationship has a corrosive and destructive effect. We all know the feelings of frustration and resentment that arise when we feel misunderstood and unfairly blamed and we can become closed-off and angry.

The counsellors in Coupleworks often work with couples to learn the most effective ways to take care of their particular relationship so that it can ‘grow well’ and thrive. Sometimes a couple can get stuck in a culture of blame – and each partner needs to understand their own role in that dynamic and what they need to do differently. Why are they stuck with feeling that the other is not good enough or, somehow, should not be the way they are? Each needs to reflect on this anxiety and their urge to criticise and attack. How can each take responsibility for getting needs met with compassion and generosity, and what has to happen if they are both to make the choice to ‘tend’ and not diminish?

Of course we can be upset and distressed when our idea of what reality should be confronts a different reality understood by our partner. But a conflict in a relationship is a couple problem that needs both parties collaborating to resolve. Alienating one another prevents a shared creative thinking.

If a relationship is to flourish and deepen it needs to feel safe – and acceptance and understanding is fundamental. Acceptance does not mean approval, consent, permission, agreement, aiding, abetting or even liking what is. But it does require each partner seeing the other and accepting ‘That’s the way it is’ and ‘That’s the way they see it’.

As a therapist I am alert to when a couple begins to talk in absolutes: ‘You always…’, ‘You never…’ and when perceptions are filtered through ‘should’s, must’s, and ought’s. An insistence on wrong-doing, of being ‘right’ or wrong’, then requires a respectful exploration of value-systems, perceptions, and beliefs.

A challenge to our expectations can make us anxious and rigid and there is a danger that love can then become conditional: ‘I’ll love you if you are different’. The need to ‘walk a mile in your shoes’ to find understanding then becomes more critical than ever.

Kathy Rees

Is this the end of the relationship?

I was reading about Jon Stewart’s decision to quit the Daily Show, the American satirical news program he has hosted for 16 years, as something closer to the end of a relationship. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’ “These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”

For many couples, these thoughts might resonate. Long-term relationships bring good times and bad but couples usually find a way of getting through them. There are moments of dissatisfaction, anger and love but hopefully couples begin to accept and continue to value their relationship.

When couples get to a point where they feel the relationship no longer offers them what they hoped for or what they need now, problems naturally arrive. The narrative many couples get caught up in is that ‘because something in their relationship is problematic it means everything is wrong’. At this time, slowing down and considering couples therapy is one way of addressing these feelings.

Couples can learn to see the pitfalls of creating a disaster out of an issue and learn to talk about it differently. This can create an opportunity of having a different, more positive perspective.

Questions to ask before blaming the relationship:
1. Are you unhappy yourself or is your relationship in really in trouble?
2. Are you creating a story about the issue that is worrying you?
3. Are you playing a part in the dynamic that you can take responsibility for? In other words, are you blaming your partner for the entire problem and not seeing your part in it?
4. Can you clearly and specifically identify what the issue is and communicate them to your partner without blame and recrimination?
5. Are you able to listen to what your partner has to say and hear it without prejudice and our own point of view getting in the way?
These are some questions that can disentangle difficult feelings that couples become entrenched in. By clarifying concrete problems from confused feelings we can have a better understanding of what’s really going on.

All relationship change and evolve over the years. Successful long-term relationships are those that accept these changes in ourselves and our partners learn to see what there is there rather than what we feel is missing.

Shirlee Kay

Brene Brown – ‘I Thought It was Just Me’ (but it isn’t)

Read ‘I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) – Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power’ by Brene Brown and recognise an uncomfortable home truth!

She describes how the search for the unattainable goal of perfectionism exhausts and weighs us down.  We buy into the message that to be ‘imperfect’ is synonymous with being ‘inadequate’.  The implication that we are not good enough, unlovable even, encourages a shame reaction.  We become defensive, wary, and fearful of being found out.  Unfavourable comparisons with others who seem to get it ‘right’ leave us insecure and vulnerable.  We hide the shame – unable to face an imagined blame and critical judgement.

The shame sets us apart and alone.  It denies us opportunities for receiving the empathy, connection and affirmation for which we long. So shame then limits, constrains and restricts our relationships.  Guilt can drive an alteration in behaviour.  Shame, however, becomes the secret that corrodes any sense of well-being.  It attacks the confidence required for psychological growth and development.

Brene Brown writes with warmth and compassion and offers strategies for liberating the stranglehold of shame.  The hope is that we can then begin to deal with the concomitant feelings of distress, anxiety and depression and embrace self-acceptance.

Kathy Rees

Follow the link to Brene Brown’s great talk on the power of vulnerability.

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html