Archive for Christmas

Lighten the Darkness

In the London Borough of Hackney where I live, the twinkling fairy lights decorating the trees and street lamps are switched on at the end of October, just as the evenings get darker and winter sets in. They mark the start of the winter festivals of light that are celebrated over the next couple of months. The first is usually Diwali, followed by Hanukkah, Advent, St Lucia’s Day, and Christmas. London is a vibrant, diverse, multi-cultural city and, even for those with no faith, there is something symbolic and uplifting about piercing the gloom with the glow of candles, lamps and lights as we approach mid-winter and the end of the year.

Sometimes it is hard to remain hopeful. For too many it has been a difficult challenging year. Our hearts ache at the plight of Cumbrian communities plunged into darkness by the floods. Refugee camps are frightening, cold and dark. Many will have experienced the dark times of loss. For others relationships have ended and feelings of certainty, safety and security have been shaken.

Often the people I see for relationship counselling are in despair. Yet I am struck by their courage in reaching out to make that first appointment. Somewhere, amongst all the distress, anger, fear, frustration or resentment, is the idea that changes can be made and things could be different.

Alongside the painful description of conflict and disappointment, and alongside an exploration of the difficulties, I ask clients to remember the beginning of the relationship: how they met, how they fell in love, what it is that was so special and valued about their partner. So often a couple will look at each other and smile. Faces will light up at the recall of a particular intimate memory.

I am privileged to work with people who dare to believe there could be a light at the end of the tunnel – while simultaneously overwhelmed at the risk of daring to hope. It can take resilience to tolerate the feelings of vulnerability as they dare to lower defences and reach out to each other. I try to encourage them to stay in touch with the good things they share, the love, the strengths of their relationship, however fragile they may seem. They need those thoughts to balance the darkness when confronting the toxic elements of the relationship, the painful differences, the hurt, and where they are stuck.

‘This too can pass’ – if we keep hold on to the light!


Kathy Rees

Inbox Anxiety – F.O.B.O (fear of being offline)

If we are to believe advertising agencies, the lead-up to Christmas is one glamorous flurry of excitement, parties and glorious food shared with smiling friends and relatives  (dozens of them, and all perfectly dressed and coiffured)
Rooms are styled and presents are heaped. Piles of gorgeous beribboned boxes of hope lie in wait. Children are cheerful and beautifully behaved and families are in full control of their happy lives.
Right then – let’s get real.
The wonderful Paul Simon wisely offered,
“The thought that life could be better, Is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.”
Counselling can often uncover feelings of shame and anxiety, which are amplified at Christmas when people are prone to wonder if others are having a more successful time.
This can so easily lead to a search for rescue through phones and tablets culminating in the infectious syndrome ‘FOBO – Fear Of Being Offline’
Could there be somewhere out there an invitation or message that could lead to a night of fun and frolics? Are others more organised, and worse still, are they more popular?
Research now uncovers a worrying trend showing that we are so linked to our smartphones that we are firmly attached to them constantly through our waking hours and keep them close even when we are asleep.
This leads to problems in couples when the phone starts to feel as if one, or both, partners are having a better relationship with their phone than with their significant other.
In some cases, the phone will be described as a major barrier to closeness. One in ten of us checks emails straight after having sex.
This can fracture real human closeness while we desperately try to keep connected with people and experiences contained in a tablet.
We search constantly to be linked to places, people and sites that could add to self esteem and fuel a sense of importance and acknowledgement.
Holidays such as Christmas take us out of our ordinary routine and our usual habits.
It can also be a time to relish quietness. But for some, the absence of ‘normal’ activity feels frightening.  Being relentlessly busy means always being connected …. But this is a false sense of self.
Let’s accept our real lives. At this time as at every other there will be disappointment and let-downs. Understand this and don’t let commercial and social pressures feed insecurity. Take a digital holiday break. Learn to do without phones and tablets, especially while in the company of others.
That backlit blue light raises Seratonin not compatible with the natural rhythms of our bodies.
Real life might not live up to the fantasy of what else could be out there – but the task is not to allow the need for imaging a better time spoil what is good enough, as especially during these holidays when we can so easily live with a constant state of yearning or disappointment.
Paul Simon finishes here by his thought that
‘Life is what you make of it, so beautiful or so what’


Christina Fraser

You’re half the world away

Once again the John Lewis Christmas Advert

is drawing a lot of publicity – to say nothing of a whole string of parodies. ‘You’re half the world away’ focuses quite rightly on the million older people who will go for a month without speaking to anyone.

But that experience of loneliness can happen to those in relationships as well as to those who don’t have contact with anyone over the Christmas period. “I’ve been lost, I’ve been found, but I don’t feel down” speaks of an optimism that many don’t feel over this period of the year when people are telling us we should feel happy. The reality is that every year those of us in Coupleworks get requests for therapy because of the loneliness and frustrations that the experience of Christmas triggers.

However, if all of that feels a bit gloomy, let me give you my six top tips for relieving stresses on your relationship and giving you and your partner a better chance to enjoy being with each other over the Christmas period.

1. Talk with each other about your expectations for the holiday and be realistic and honest about them. It doesn’t help if you live in some golden haze of Christmases past. They haven’t all been fabulous up until now so don’t pretend they have been. Be honest about how you find having the in-laws to stay – or going to visit your own parents – or how it feels to be woken up at an unearthly hour on Christmas morning.
2. Make sure that, if Christmas is a mad whirl, you carve out some quality time to talk with your partner. It doesn’t need to be very long but it does need to genuine.
3. Do some things that you want to do and don’t be trapped into just doing what others are demanding of you. If you want to see a film, or go for a walk, or watch a Christmas special then make time to do that.
4. Pace yourselves on the run up to Christmas – December can be a really busy time in many jobs combined with lots of socialising.
5. Don’t pressurise yourselves when it comes to sex. It may happen – and it may not.
6. Plan ahead as much as you need to. Leaving things to the last minute can be very stressful, especially if your partner finds it very difficult if you do. Equally someone who has got everything sorted out can be a real problem to a partner who likes a degree of spontaneity. Once again the secret is to talk to each other.

My hope would be that by using some of these top tips ‘You’re half the world away’ won’t be your experience this Christmas.


Sarah Fletcher