Archive for connection

Couples Come in Many Surprising Ways

Traditionally, a couple is defined as two people involved in a committed relationship and who are (usually) in a sexual relationship. In the past few years, individual clients have asked if I could see them and a member of their family or a close friend in a therapeutic setting. The prospect of this both intrigued and slightly intimidated me. As a couple’s therapist I am trained to work with two people but had never worked with this type of dynamic. Of course, there have been issues that I’ve not encountered before with clients but I’ve managed to work through the ‘not knowing’ and managed to work reflectively through these issues. Because of this, I allowed myself to trust my instincts and agreed.

My first experience was with a client who wanted to tell her father a few things she found difficult to say to him. She felt ready to speak in what she believed was a safe environment, with the support from a therapist. We agreed on 5 sessions and in that time, they were able to disentangle some of their old narratives and heal deep historic wounds that had created distance between them. This helped my client feel heard in a way she had not experienced with her father and they were both able to begin to make sense of what happened between them and how this had impacted on their relationship. My admiration for this ‘couple’ was huge and it was to their credit that they managed to stay with the uncomfortable feelings and worked through their issues.

What struck me was that all people, no matter what kind of couple, share a sense of not being heard, not being seen, feelings of hurt and a fear of losing their relationship. The longing for repair and need for harmony between people is part of our drive as humans. We are born to connect and love but we don’t always have the tools to know how best to achieve this. This is when people reach out for help and therapy can be a tool that enables individuals to connect with themselves in order to connect with others. Couples bring their hope of creating a new understanding and better communication between the people they love.

There is clearly a difference between working with traditional couple issues and relatives or friendships. My own understanding of these differences has been informed by own experience, by my willingness to ask questions and to learn to not assume anything. As a therapist, I am disentangling and constantly trying to make sense of feelings and where they might be originating from. The dynamics between people, whether a romantic couple or between relatives or friends are usually based on a connection that has been severed in some way. In both cases, the work is the same, reestablishing that connection.

Shirlee Kay

Rituals and Relationships

Every culture, every family, every couple indeed every individual, has their rituals. Some have been there for centuries – others are of a much more recent origin – but all are important to the formation of identity. Of course it is also true that as human beings we will at times seek to establish our identity by rebelling against the rituals that others use to define us. How many family arguments begin at that point where one or other parent says ‘Well that’s not the way we do things in this family….’

Often, in the counselling room, I am confronted by conflicting rituals, where one or other members of the couple will talk about their frustrations with the other. Their partner’s behaviour seems so unreasonable to them – Why? Because their way just isn’t a good way to mark an event, to celebrate something, or to do a particular task – it’s much more than that… it isn’t the right way to do it. Often it seems as though they are appealing to the therapist to validate their position, almost appealing to a moral adjudicator outside the couple’s experience. The secret as ever is to keep your own ears open to the assumptions you are making and then to share them with your partner whilst being open to hearing a different perspective on them. There is often no right or wrong way of doing things – just different.

But rituals don’t all need to be set in the context of negativity. The fact that every culture has them shows us just how significant they can be in helping us to feel safe, bring comfort, form our identity and mark stages of our lives. In building long term relationships rituals can have an important role. One of the things I encourage couples to think about and to seek to establish are forms of rituals in their own relationships. In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday night curry, or a date night once a month or if they always buy flowers or a gift for each other on particular anniversaries – it is for each couple to work out what’s meaningful for them in their relationship. What matters is that they find some building blocks to create solid foundations for themselves – to create rhythms and traditions that are about the new couple that they are forming. This brings shared meaning and deepens connection in a relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

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

Pre-marital Counselling

Coupleworks’ counsellors have found that couples, planning a wedding and making a commitment to share their lives together, can really benefit from a time to reflect on their hopes and expectations. It is wonderful to relish the feeling of being known and understood, to revel in shared similarities, and experience being in love with a soulmate, but every couple has to accommodate their differences too.

It may feel scary and challenging but acknowledging, embracing and understanding the differences between each other can lead to a deeper sense of connection. Negotiating different perspectives, viewpoints, and outlooks can be liberating and enriching. Pre-marital counselling contains no suggestion of incompatibility, and is not a matter of letting go of one’s own values, but is a means of increasing the ways partners invest in collective decisions.

The safe environment of the counselling room allows an opportunity for deeper listening and empathy. Checking out with ‘Is this what you mean?’ and ‘Is this what you are saying?’ questions assumptions and avoids the danger of second-guessing and any attempt at mind-reading. An ability to see where the partner is coming from creates a relaxed flexibility in the relationship. There is also the curious paradox that when we accept each other as we are, we allow the possibility of change

Often it is a feeling of being misunderstood that builds frustration or resentment and can create a defensive couple dynamic. However, if it is too cosy the relationship can feel suffocating or too constricting. A fear of opening Pandora’s Box, or a fear of rejection, can then lead to an avoidance of ‘difficult’ issues. If issues feel too risky partners can withdraw. So, opening up takes courage – but can result in closeness, acceptance, and reassurance.

The following questions are not a test. There is no right or wrong. They should be used as a way of encouraging curiosity, and beginning dialogue and discovery.

1. Where was I born and where did I consider ‘home’?
2. What does ‘Home’ mean to me?
3. What were my favourite holidays?
4. What country/place is on my bucket list?
5. When I am old what would I regret if it hasn’t happened?
6. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life?
7. What does money mean to me?
8. What would I consider my ideal job?
9. How do I manage stress and what stresses am I facing right now?
10. How do I self-soothe?
11. Do I want children? Why? When? How many?
12. What does ‘Family’ mean to me?
13. Do I have a secret dream?
14. In which ways am I an extrovert/introvert?
15. What is one of my favourite ways to spend an evening?
16. What type of film/book/TV show do I enjoy?
17. What turns me on sexually?
18. What are some of my most important values/beliefs?
19. What is one of my favourite desserts?
20. How important is tidiness/cleanliness at home?
21. What was one of my best childhood experiences?
22. What do ‘friends’ mean to me?
23. What do ‘presents’ mean to me?
24. What does living in the city/countryside mean to me?

Kathy Rees

Are you in Competition with your Partner?

With a plethora of competitive activities taking place in London and around the World this summer ranging from the Chelsea Flower Show to the football World Cup and everything in-between, made me think about Competition – and how it works in our relationships.

Are you in a relationship where there is constant competition between you? It may range from who has the more prestigious career, who earns the most money, who has the highest IQ, to who is the better cook or who runs the fastest marathon?

Competition is not a bad thing. It keeps us on our toes. Sometimes if there is too much competition in a relationship, it can cause rivalry and disconnection between a couple rather than support and connection. Is continual competition in a relationship the need for attention and affirmation? Are you trying to prove something to yourself and to each other?

Too much competition begins to take a toll on the relationship when it starts to undermine more of the positive aspects of your connection. It can start to feel more about me than about us?

If you have any of these thoughts, take time out to talk to each other and check out whether it feels as if you are working together on the same team and not on an opposing one. Being more aware of what is driving the competition helps a couple make more choices that will concentrate on the partnership rather than the competition.

Instead of seeing competition as rivalry, why not praise and celebrate your partner’s talents and achievements. Discuss how you can work towards being more of a collaborative partnership than a competitive one.

Dawn Kaffel