Archive for change

Illness and the Relationship

Tough times are likely to invade all relationships at some stage, and unexpected challenges can come upon us very suddenly. Life will sometimes deal unforeseen blows that appear with shocking suddenness.
When ‘Sickness/Poorer/Worse’ replace the ‘Health/Richer/Better’ options that we hoped would be our lot, we need to find fresh skills and understanding in order to learn how to cope in any new situation.
A sudden diagnosis of illness in one partner can prove a serious challenge to even the most solid of relationships. Resilience will be needed by any couple faced with the prospect of having to cope with unexpected adversity. The person with the diagnosis may well react strongly to the changes they are experiencing, some of these changes may be temporary, although it may seem a mighty mountain to climb when the process is being endured.
The supporting partner needs time to adjust to what may seem a situation unfairly imposed upon them, too.
Loss of control around the established pattern of our lives is a situation likely to bring difficult emotional responses of helplessness and unfairness leading both partners, at times, feeling trapped and out of control.
It’s so vital to talk to each other, to exchange feelings and reactions, to listen with empathy to the world in which the other is now caught. The traditional family patterns will need to adapt. A turnaround in established roles may mean they now become a patient and a carer. It takes time to discover how habitual ways of relating could be now at odds with the new needs of both parties. 
Tricky feelings left unexpressed will stick and it’s easy for grievances to spiral. Remember that the frustration is with the illness or impairment and not with each other. Keep ‘the enemy’ on the outside, it’s so much easier to fight this in tandem than allowing it to come between you.
Talk and explore together, take time to find out how each partner feels, learn as much as you can about the situation you face – information gives feelings of control. Knowledge in this, as in so many other places, is power.
It’s very easy for couples to get locked into a cycle of competition – who is the most hard done by – and get enmeshed in the feeling that neither can ever truly understand the burden the other carries.
Illness and impairment can be lonely and isolating. Unfairness rankles and anger is an understandable response. It’s normal to be sad or overwhelmed and both people will need to find outside places to talk and offload a little.
New contacts or fresh interests can emerge from a need to sometimes break free and it’s possible to believe that we can still enlarge a life that might start to feel smaller and more insular.  It is so important to find new connections, as well as nurturing existing relationships.
It may be difficult at first, but explore groups, local resources and ideas that fit in with the different pattern of your lives.
Reach out. People, even those closest to us, often just don’t know what could help, so never be afraid to ask. We have no influence on what happens to us, but we do have choices around how we respond to these changes. Resilience is not a static situation but a life long and ongoing project. 
Facing adversity is a big challenge and needs some self-compassion. It’s easy to for couples to neglect themselves when life overwhelms. Always remember to look after ourselves as well as each other. Treats, sleep, good food will all help, but are easily pushed aside when we struggle. The patient and the carer both need to make sure that they know how to find, and use, all resources open to them – physical, emotional and spiritual.
After the sudden death of her husband, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg put her energy and grief into the book ‘Option B’, a good resource for anyone experiencing loss. Here she explains how it took a painfully long time for her to face the dreadful truth that what she yearned for, the normality of her life, was just not there any longer. 
She offers up her truism that:
‘if option A is no longer available, then let’s kick the shit out of option B’
Change is inevitable for us all, and will bring loss. There may have to be substantial adjustments in all areas of couple life. But the best defence is to change our defences and adapt to new situations.
Find that option B and use it to the best advantage of your new selves. Accepting the new normal takes time, and it’s sometimes hard to hold onto hope, but try defying gravity, and don’t let adversity bring you down.

Christina Fraser

Navigating Change in a Couple when children leave home

The summer holidays are over and the kids are back at school. Many parents up and down the country are bracing themselves for the inevitable when in the next few weeks their children will be leaving home for university.

Adjusting to children leaving home, whether its your first child or your youngest child for some couples, poses very little difficulty, whereas for others it presents such a major milestone that it can de-stabilize even the securest relationship. When a first child leaves, there is some comfort that there are others at home to help with this period of readjustment. When the last child leaves the nest is empty and it’s just the two of you. For some the feelings of heartache and loss are overwhelming and like a mourning period. For others it welcomes a period of change and excitement that is free from the daily stresses of parenting and an opportunity to enjoy doing different things as a couple and to focus positively on their relationship.

Often couples struggle to identify that children leaving home can cause such difficulties between them, so accepting that this can be a difficult time for relationships rather than denying it is vital.

Children are often the glue in their parents’ relationship and when they leave there can be a sense of dislocation as a huge void is now present which can be scary and unmanageable. Shifting back to being a couple again can often trigger a What’s my role now? It can often feel lonely and scary.

Worrying about your children leaving home is part of the letting go. Feeling sad they are leaving doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go!!

Here are some problems that couples can struggle with at this stage:

Communication breaks down
Finding faults with each other
Increase in arguments
Taking on more work to try to fill the gap left by children
Staying at the office later to avoid having to spend time just the two of you
Finding yourselves spending more time doing things separately
Using social media and texting more regularly is easier than talking
Seeking out alternative experiences like excessive drinking, drugs or affairs

Couples don’t have to fall apart when the nest becomes empty. It can be an important time to reconnect and to start adjusting to new roles and responsibilities by spending more time focusing on being a couple than you have done for years.

Here are some suggestions to help you work on your relationship and restore what may have been neglected between you:

Can we be friends again? Do we still have things to talk about? Do we have enough in common? Will I be enough for you? Do you still love me?
It may be surprising that you both have similar anxieties and will relish the chance to talk it through with each other in a way you haven’t done for a long time
Memories of being child free Enjoy the opportunity to share with each other how it was before children arrived and took over your lives. Use humour and examples to reminisce. Take pride and delight in sharing your accomplishments as a couple
Notice your spouse as a partner not a parent You may have been so busy working and being a parent that noticing each other as partners and what you need and how you nurture that precious relationship may have been way down the list of your priorities. Focus on being two equals. Show each other you are equally invested, equally involved and equally responsible.
Refocus and rethink life and fill gaps left by children
Start accepting each other for who you are, start putting each other first and learn to see other as partners again. When did you last compliment each other? Practice talking to each other about shared plans, your hopes, your concerns and what you are both looking forward to. Discuss together what you need and what you don’t need from each other? What you like and what you don’t like?
Start thinking about yourself and what you need
It’s an important time for you two as individuals. Discuss what you would like to do that you have been putting off for years. What new challenges would you like to take on? Its important that you feel fulfilled yourself in order to bring the best you can to the relationship
How do we look after our relationship?
Start to enjoy each other’s company again. After years of neglect the relationship needs to be prioritised. When was the last time you planned an evening out together? When was the last time you had a holiday just the two of you?
Do you enjoy doing things separately as well as together?
When was the last time you had sex? It may have been a while since you both felt very close and connected to each other. The more you talk to each about how you feel and what you would like and start focusing more attention on each other the intimacy and affection will start to grow and sex should begin to feel more exciting as you explore what you need from each other sexually. You now have more quality time to spend together.
Hopefully you will start to feel that although one chapter has ended another has just begun and what feels like the end is often just the beginning.
Dawn Kaffel

Resilience in the Couple Relationship

Couple therapist Esther Perel writes that ‘we each come out of childhood with a greater need for either separateness or togetherness’ and, as a result, managing our adult relationships is a constant challenge. Very often a close couple relationship is one of our principal sources of emotional sustenance, reassurance and intimacy, but a difference in our levels of need can be disconcerting and frightening. Feelings of abandonment from what seems like a lack of concern can create panic. Feeling engulfed by what seems clingy over-dependence can feel smothering. At the start, balancing is not seen as a problem, but major life-events, stresses, and crises can cause ripples in the smooth surface and a once-stable relationship can suddenly feel unsafe. Each partner’s response to a feeling of disconnection will be individually shaped by past experience, but the differences can cause both a worrying confusion and insecurity: ‘I feel I don’t know you anymore!

Disagreement can flare into destructive conflict and anger. Repetitive, stuck behaviour patterns begin to emerge with downward spirals of protest and defensiveness. The couple can feel helpless and lost and come into counselling fearing their relationship is broken. The concept of the relationship as a safe haven has been challenged and they are wary, reluctant to trust. Suspicion has replaced good will.

Counselling, however, can offer a restorative healing experience. If a couple can be ‘brave-hearted’ and engage with the process of discovery and understanding, they can find the motivation needed to turn a stressful experience into an opportunity for growth. Transformational coping-strategies- such as working to change ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ (ANTs) into ‘Positive Alternative Thoughts’ (PATs) – allow for a discovery of powerful emotional resilience.

From the brain’s perspective, it is usually safer to stick to what is familiar, deeply ingrained, how we always react (even though we also know it does not serve us well) rather than risk the vulnerability and uncertainty of doing something different. Change is uncomfortable. So, resilience is a quality that needs to be developed – it is not a fixed character trait.

In order to feel the confidence and safety to strike out for change we need to feel buffered against what we pessimistically see as potential disappointment. Counselling, then, gives the opportunity to set events into the required broader perspective. Optimism is not helpful unless it is realistic – and realism is the ability to assess the situation clearly and challenge negative distortions.

For those traumatised by past relationship wounds, trust can be difficult. However, significant gestures of reassurance and ‘turning towards’ make for a relaxation of tension. Renewed closeness has a soothing reparative effect that goes towards healing hurt. Shifts and accommodations are evident and a recognition of a partner’s love, care and concern allows for significant recovery and hope for the future.

Kathy Rees

Uncertainty.

Uncertainty.

 

The shock of unexpected change, when it is a superego decision, thus removing control, brings fear and anxiety into everyone affected.

We in the UK have seen this domino effect of shock reverberating around the country.  As well as amazement and disruption it has brought a sense of excitement, conversation, argument and newness into otherwise routine and busy lives across the country.

When observing what happens with change on a wide scale it is interesting to compare group reactions to those of a couple, their family and friends facing the unknown.

A family, getting on with their lives in a safe and certain routine can collectively face the ups and downs of day to day existence.

When sudden change manifests itself the whole family can be disrupted, bringing a forced difference in a very short space of time to the hitherto status quo in the family culture.

A move, loss of job, an affair following breakdown of communication, unexpected illness or death can throw all concerned into a whirlpool of vulnerability and fear.

Some people manage these traumas with difficulty but eventual resolution and some are not so fortunate.  At Coupleworks, we see more of the latter but with time, listening, respect and acceptance of change we can witness recovery taking place.  It is possible to encourage a more solid foundation within the couple management.

With the wider picture of the superego seeming to lose control and without a solution in place, an honest and straightforward approach may help to shift rigid views and more tolerance might start to form in a country currently at odds with itself.

This will, like with a couple, need acceptance that clinging to old ways which no longer fit the present time is like expecting a mother plant to flourish forever, instead of respecting the fact that new shoots with their energetic and creative growth can bring stronger yet different shapes and colours.

The advertisements on television for the coming Olympics and Paralympics have shown how creativity and change can help bring back positive excitement during uncertain times.

Clare Ireland

Post holiday blues

September is often seen as a month of nostalgia. The clocks are about to go back, there’s a shiver of winter in the wind and then comes the dreaded return to real life after a welcome break from normality.
Those Post-Holiday Blues can really hit at this time of the year. Here are some tips to get you back on track

CHANGE
One of the depressing factors on returning is that we pick up all the untidy threads we had left behind. We face the same niggles and worries that we avoided for a short time.
Take a look at what can be easily sorted and what might need more consideration. Some small tweaks can really help. Never make drastic alterations straight after a holiday, but give some thought to those areas that seem wearying after a break. What can be altered to reshape some of the issues that feel overwhelming.

NEW CHALLENGES
A fresh location on vacation gives a look at new habits. Are you spending too much time attached to smartphones or watching soporific TV programmes? Think of a challenge that can add to self-esteem instead. Learn a language, take up bread making, buy a sketchbook and some pencils. Remember the excitement of the new autumn term – get cracking. Do something new.

SELF CARE
Many of us sleep more on holiday and eat more fresh and interesting food. Keep these habits where possible. More sunlight makes us feel healthier. Get outside and soak up the last of the vitamin D before winter. Think of adding some healthier ingredients to normal foods. Recreate some of the meals you enjoyed and change the usual repetitive dinner or breakfast rota.

DE-CLUTTER
It’s likely you managed to survive from a suitcase (or two) and getting home can make us aware of the excess of belongings we so easily acquire. Give the local charity shop a treat and blitz those unnecessary possessions and clothes.  We need a tiny proportion of what most of us own. Purging is very cathartic. Space in drawers and cupboards is amazingly restorative.

CONNECT
Without work, routines, and domestic pressure, we are likely to have to make more effort to communicate with each other. Relaxing, sightseeing, or getting involved with sport and exercise gives us new reasons to connect with each other. Doing something different with our time can give topics to exchange as well as the time and energy to enjoy just talking and sharing. Keep up this good habit. Spend some couple and family time, without wifi to distract.

EXPECT A TOUCH OF THE BLUES
Often, a lot of time and hope goes into planning a holiday. If it disappoints in any way, don’t be too hard on yourself or others. Make those problems a signal for a very different trip next time.
If it goes well, it’s hard to have a painless re-entry to everyday life.
Expect those first days back at work to be a tad wearying at first.
Download some photos, change the screensaver and start planning your next break.

 

Christina Fraser

Moving house can be a positive step for a relationship

Statistics tell us that moving house can be one of the most stressful experiences alongside divorce and bereavement. Certainly at Coupleworks we often see clients who are facing a move into a different area or who may be considering relocating to a different country. This is often where communication breaks down and can be seen as a negative experience. This can raise unresolved issues between a couple at a crucial time of change and interferes with the feelings of joy and connection with starting somewhere new.

Having just been through the experience of moving out of a home shared for 32 years with a partner who has always been very reluctant to move, I appreciate how stressful it can be especially as we only had 4 weeks to do it in, which in our case probably was the best thing, as there wasn’t much time to process anything except start packing!!

I was rather anxious how we would cope knowing that moving house can put a strain on even the most solid of relationships. Here are some of the thoughts I had along the journey:

Moving house can be an incredible rollercoaster. Change can be scary for one and exciting for the other. Home was always comfortable and familiar. Going someplace else is new and very unfamiliar. Despite the stress and tensions, it is surprising how beneficial it can be if treated in the right way and if we take advantage of opportunities open to us. Managed well, far from straining a relationship, it can often strengthen it and breathe new life into it.

Here are a few tips to help reduce anxiety and ensure your move progresses as smoothly as possible.

• Delegation of responsibilities. You know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Discuss and work out who is going to do what and when and keep check lists.
• Discuss what you need to take with you, what you need to leave, what you need to dispose of and what you may wish to give to charity
• Give yourselves time to talk about the things you might miss about your old home. Remember the happy and sad times spent there, the neighbours, the familiarity, the views. Acknowledging all the losses and expressing sadness is a positive step
• Don’t be afraid to express your fears of the unknown – the what if’s…
Moving from where you know to where you don’t can bring on anxiety for most people. However change can be very exciting and can bring new life to a relationship so go and grab it and make the most of it.

Counsellors at Coupleworks specialise in helping clients resolve any difficulties that might make moving house easier to manage. This can be via face to face, telephone, or if you don’t have time to attend in person through our Skype counselling service. Please do contact us at Coupleworks

Dawn Kaffel

Counselling could have helped

It’s a couple thing. What happens when a partner decides they no longer want to be in the relationship. Were the signs not clear enough?
Scotland, it’s been a long and historic union – when did you decide that you no longer felt that your needs we’re being met? And did you not talk about this clearly? Or did we not listen early enough?
All relationships need to feel safe, and partners need to feel appreciated. Why did we not sit down and discuss this rationally before the divorce lawyers were called in.
Anger and blame are sometimes easier to express than the quiet sadness and feelings of loss that accompany the pain of possible separation.
Our identities are entwined. After we abandon the cliches of our individual profiles (please don’t mention heather, bagpipes, beefeaters or bulldogs) our DNAs are mingled. Some of us even live in each other’s countries.
You say you want to leave us, but instead of explaining how good we are together, maybe some of us have been telling you how much you will lose, and even suggesting that you won’t get a fair share of our combined family assets.
We’ll all get through, but many of us won’t get what we desire here. It could even be 49% of us. Change brings losses, but we should have talked about this much earlier.
Better together? Who knows, but by exposing our feelings so vehemently for these past weeks at least we all know that this is important. The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite is apathy – we are neighbours forever, so together or apart, please let’s stay friends.

Christina Fraser