Archive for counsellors

Couples and Conversations about Sex

All sexual relationships can change over time and be affected by so many different circumstances: a critical relationship dynamic, an affair, medication, the distress of infertility, stress at work, loss of libido, health issues, ageing, low self-esteem, menopause, poor body image, pregnancy, or the arrival of children. Even the closest of couples can sometimes find it difficult to talk about their changing sexual needs. Sometimes we actually do not know how we feel ourselves, let alone explain to our partners. Couples, who otherwise talk freely, can curiously find themselves uncertain about expressing themselves. They can be anxious and nervous about offending or hurting their partner, or feel embarrassed and shy of the topic.

The counsellors in Coupleworks see many couples relieved to find a calm and supportive space in which to have the kind of relaxed conversations about sex that can lead to understanding, closeness and renewed intimacy.

Having a counsellor in the room who encourages each partner to listen, understand, and be non-judgemental, means the couple can begin to speak openly and share their feelings.

In the meantime the following questions may help you both to start communicating about sex:

– How do you feel about talking about our sexual relationship? Do you find it difficult to talk openly? What can I do to make the conversation easier? Are there some moments that are better than others?
– Some say their sexual experiences are dependent on feelings. Do you need to feel close to me in order to want sex? When do you feel closest to me? Do you remember a particularly romantic occasion? What was it that made it special for you? What did you feel? What can I do to encourage that feeling of closeness now?
– What do you like about my body? What do you like best about your body?
– What, for you, is the difference between making love and having sex?
– Do you think we have a different sex drive? How can we manage differences in desire?
– What do you feel about looking into each other’s eyes, touching, hugs, cuddles, spooning, caressing, kissing, caressing? What don’t you like so much?
– Sex in a long relationship often needs to be premeditated and prioritised. Foreplay can start a long time before making love and be an accumulative number of small gestures. What foreplay do you like best?
– Are there times you would enjoy a spontaneous ‘quickie’? When could that be? What circumstances would allow it to happen?
– How do you feel about inviting or being the initiator? What kind of love talk makes you smile and engage in idea of sex?
– Arousal starts in the brain. What kind of situations, interactions, do you find erotic and arousing? Is a long or short arousal stage best for you? Do you enjoy the ‘simmer’ or can you go ‘off the boil’? What can I do to improve feelings of arousal for you?
– Do you feel ‘performance anxiety’ at times? Are there things I can do to ease that pressure and make you feel more relaxed and confident?

It’s good to talk!

Kathy Rees

Trauma and the Couple

‘The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviours. But trauma doesn’t have to be a life sentence.’ (Peter A.Levine: ‘Healing Trauma’)

Counsellors in Coupleworks frequently work with couples who are struggling to deal with the repercussions of traumatic life events. Depending on our backgrounds, past experiences, and psychological states of mind, we respond in our own unique way to the impact of sudden, shocking or distressing events and couples can be upset, confused and shaken when the other’s response seems alien and the opposite of their own. For example, the death of someone much-loved can cause one person to shut down, close off and withdraw, and appear unavailable at the very time their partner is looking for connection and support.

We can all become overwhelmed by powerful reactions to difficult childhood experiences, violent intrusion, attack, abuse, loss and bereavement. The critical factor seems to be that at the time we had a perception of helplessness, a sense of disconnection from our usual effective competent self, and a feeling that we had lost the ability to deal with the incident. The pain, the shock, the level of threat experienced, and the sense of incapacity, causes the brain to release a flood of adrenaline and cortisol and react with a ‘Flight’, ‘Fight’ or ‘Freeze’ response. We are not in control of this reaction and symptoms can be observed in disconcerting bodily reactions: either overwrought physical hyperarousal – or denial, numbness, dissociation, immobility and freezing.

Peter Levine explains that, not dealt with, these aftereffects can be evident and ever-present. Or they can be unstable – ‘they can come and go and can be triggered by stress. Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface… They can grow increasingly complex over time and can even feel unconnected with the original trauma.’ There can be a detrimental effect on mental health and the development of psychosomatic illness.

It can be particularly confusing for a couple when re-enactments are played out in their relationship but they are not aware of the trigger. They have not made the link to the trauma that is the source. It can result in each partner feeling bewildered, hurt and disconnected. A seemingly unbridgeable gulf of misunderstanding opens up and they feel lost and emotionally unavailable to each other.
For example, it can feel lonely and hard to reach a partner suffering from a distressing bleak depression. A frightening rift can be created when a partner turns to alcohol or drugs in order to obliterate the pain. Angry or violent outbursts are terrifying and disturbing. Complaint and critical attack fosters resentment and negativity erodes good will.

Careful and sensitive relationship counselling can aid recovery. Appropriate and gentle guidance towards approaches for dealing with the distress can create understanding. Peter Levine again: ‘It is not necessary to consciously remember an event to heal from it.’ But it is important that it is addressed and managed in a supportive environment. With the recognition of their resilience, and of the love, care and concern that they hold for each other, the couple can emerge from their difficulties to establish a deeper more fulfilling relationship.

Kathy Rees