Archive for connection

Building and Repairing Trust

As we watch with varying degrees of disbelief the goings on between the Conservative candidates vying for the job of Prime Minister, it’s very difficult to believe that we can trust any of them to fulfil this important position.

Being able to trust your partner is one of the cornerstones of a healthy strong relationship.  Without trust it’s difficult to build a strong connection that helps deepen and grow a relationship.  We need trust to feel safe and secure and have confidence that our partners are there for us physically and emotionally.

Building trust in a partnership is a gradual process and requires commitment from both parties.  It is the foundation of any long term relationship and ensures confidence and security with each other.  It helps us cope with challenges that may arise in the future trusting that our partner is there by our side throughout more difficult and testing times.

Being able to trust ourselves is an important element in being able to trust a partner.  Perhaps you may have been hurt in the past, which may affect your ability to trust yourself and therefore others.

At Coupleworks we see many couples struggling with trust issues in their relationships for many different reasons such as money, addiction, texting, emotional and physical affairs. Trust is one of the easiest feelings to loose and the hardest to regain.  Without it couples find it hard to deepen their relationship.

How to build Trust – It’s worth checking out these pointers:

Are we there for each other?

Does your partner listen to you and is open with you?

Do you feel your partner supports you?

Do you feel genuinely cared about?

Do you feel its safe to talk about feelings and you don’t get a negative response?

Can you depend on your partner?

Is there consistency in what your partner says and how they behave?

What happens when we lose Trust

Not being open and honest with each other, keeping secrets erodes trust.

At times lack of trust can be something we experienced as children growing up in our family of origin. This imprint we can take into our adult relationships and may make us feel more vulnerable around trust issues. It’s important to understand whether the mistrust is a pre-existing condition or something that has developed in the relationship due to the behaviour of your partner.

Believing that your partner does not have your best interests at heart can lead to a lack of trust creeping into your relationship.  

Losing trust in one another can be damaging and long lasting often creating wounds and scars that prevent closeness and intimacy growing between partners.  

Betrayal of trust such as an affair can lead to trauma and injury.

Affairs can completely rock a marriage. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel while infidelity can shatter trust, it doesn’t mean couples cant find a way to rebuild trust in their relationships.

How to repair Trust

Understanding this is a crisis in a relationship

Consider each other’s views and feelings and listen to each other calmly

Engage in positive and constructive discussion 

Strong shared motivation to work together to resolve the issue

Understanding and appreciating the damage caused

The more effort put into the repair process the more you will make it through the crisis

Sometimes, despite all efforts, repairing a relationship when trust has been tested is not possible, seeing a couples counsellor may be a good idea if you are stuck and unable to move forward.

“The most precious thing in the world is trust – without trust you have nothing – with it you can do great things”

Dawn Kaffel

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

Secrets and Lies

Couples come to therapy for a range of different reasons and one of the most important requirements for any good therapeutic experience is that there is openness and honesty in the sessions.  But clients are not always honest with themselves, or their therapists and this often leads to a break down in the therapeutic alliance and a breakdown in the relationship.

From the start therapists need to be clear with their couples as to what their policy is on secrets especially if they have some individual sessions or if one partner contacts the therapist between sessions to reveal a secret.   It is not a therapist’s role to hold onto secrets for the couple but to help and prepare them to have a more honest relationship with their partner.  To understand and explore together what their fears about what might happen and why it seems easier to withhold than be honest and open.  Sharing these difficulties and bearing the tension and the shame is the path towards a more open and intimate relationship.

Definition of Secrets and Lies

Keeping secrets from your partner is a deliberate intent to keep information hidden.   This choice is usually because you fear the impact on yourself or others that the information may have.  What often underlies secrecy is a fear of judgment and reprisals.   A lie is a deliberate act of deceiving another person by hiding the truth or trying to manufacture an untruth.

Secrets and lies jeopardize trust in our relationships and can cause irreparable damage in the following ways:

*Trust and vulnerability are blocked

*The need to constantly cover up and watch your back leads to tension

*Easier to blame a partner than recognise your choice to maintain secrecy

*Jeopardises sexual intimacy

Being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to share every single detail all the time.  Knowing what to share and what not to share is an important communication skill in any relationship.

It may seem like your relationship is smooth sailing but having secrets can cause catastrophic results:

Secrets that hurt a marriage

Unhappiness

In my experience the reason that couples come into therapy often too late is because sharing their unhappiness or discontent with each other is too difficult.  The reason for keeping these feelings a secret for so long is hoping that the problems will eventually sort themselves out, or the fear things could get a lot worse if true feelings were disclosed.  Sometimes it’s hard to just be honest and admit we are unhappy. 

Finding intimacy outside a marriage

Disconnection between couples is often around for a long time before an affair happens.  If you have stopped having sex for a long time and there is a lack of affection and intimacy, it needs to be understood and talked about.  Often it feels that it’s easier to turn to someone else and get emotional and sexual fulfilment than manage the honesty and vulnerability that is needed with your partner.

Financial Decisions

Keeping secrets about how you spend money or make financial decisions without sharing with your partner is a major violation of trust and can have devastating consequences.

Dishonesty 

Making decisions together as a couple is an integral part of any relationship.  However feeling that you have to agree all the time for a quiet life is not being honest with yourself or your partner.  This leads to unresolved feelings and resentments.  Working through disagreements and difference is essential for a closer emotional connection.

Past relationships

Couples often find it hard to share or hear experiences they had with previous partners for fear of exposing aspects of themselves that partners may not feel very attracted to.  However part of growing closer together is knowing and understanding each other’s different experiences and how you were affected by them both positively and negatively.

Knowing you are being lied to is often worse than being hurt by the truth.  This quote sums it up for me:

If you tell me the truth

I’m going to get mad but

I’ll get over it.

If you lie to me, I’m never going to be

able to trust you again.

Your choice!

Dawn Kaffel

Working with Older Couples

Recently, I have found myself working with couples who have been together for a long time. Sometimes for decades.  They often come to see me not because there is something horribly wrong with their relationship but because they are struggling to find meaning and a deeper connection they long for.  It’s as if having got through their professional lives, raising a family together and managing the difficulties life presents, they are left with a profound disappointment that begs the question “What has this all meant?”

Helping couples to find their way back to one another can be challenging, but I have found that couples who are invested enough to want to come into couples therapy to explore their relationship are far less likely to walk away and better able to work together and find one another again.

When couples begin to sense their disconnected from each other, some common issues tend to come up, such as not feeling supported, leading separate lives and not making an effort to do the things the other likes. Feeling unloved, uncared for, and unappreciated often are what hurt and make couples think that their entire relationship has been meaningless.  Acknowledging this hurt and disappointment doesn’t need to translate into blame but can become an opportunity for understanding and healing.

By going back and better understanding the “unconscious agreements” couples make when they first meet (these are the expectations that are bought into present relationship that are informed by unconsciously witnessing their parent’s) couples are better able to consciously see the part they bring into the relationship. This awareness can help reframe their narrative so they can begin to clearly state what their needs are now.

At the heart of a long-term relationship is the ability to see the value of staying together through thick and thin (despite it not being perfect) and appreciating that “we all learn as we go” and usually have done the best we could at that time.
Accepting each other’s flaws starts with us accepting our own. Learning to forgive ourselves teaches us the compassion to forgive our partner for sometimes letting us down (and knowing we are capable of letting them down). Our own consciousness gives us the tools to be more compassionate, kind and appreciative of our partner and brings us closer to having a loving and authentic relationship which is essential for a long term relationship.

Some things we can do to sustain long term relationships:
Make contact with each other. Say good morning, good night etc.
Take time to ask the other how they are, how they feel.
Leave each other sweet messages.
Do unexpected things, book a favourite restaurant, arrange a special night out.
Run a bath for your partner
Make physical contact daily. Kiss, touch one another often.
Be sweet and playful with each other.

Shirlee Kay

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