Archive for couples therapy

Couple Therapy can help with Mental Health Issues

Mental Health Awareness week takes place from 8-14 May and this year’s theme is ‘Surviving or Thriving’. Since 2005 mental health problems are on the rise – we are making progress on our physical health but not doing the same with our mental health. Thanks to journalists and TV programmes speaking out against the stigma of mental health, our awareness is being heightened as to the effects of mental health issues on daily lives. Thanks to Prince Harry leading the charge of his own experience of depression and anxiety and his work with the Heads Together Campaign with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge they have highlighted the importance and power of conversation and how being able to talk openly about mental health challenges can be life changing. It now seems a good time to think about how mental health issues impact on our couple relationships.

Mental Health Professionals tend to focus on symptoms and treatments with the individual and overlook the huge impact this has on our couple relationships. Any couple relationship can have its proverbial ups and downs but what about when there is the extra challenge of being the partner of someone who has a mental illness. Losing harmony and connection in a relationship is difficult enough but especially so if some of the relationship changes are brought about by one or both partners developing mental health issues. Things can be very challenging for a partner without mental illness who has to assume a care giving role

Most people fall in love because they are enjoying each other’s company, have fun together and live harmoniously. Life doesn’t always work out as planned. When a partner becomes depressed, they often tune out, withdraw and have little energy to do much except sleep. This can often give the impression to a partner that they are no longer cared about, and there is no interest in them, or going out or having sex. This often leaves the other partner having to pick up the slack especially if there are children. As frustration and exhaustion develop over time, this often turns to anger and resentment at a partner who cant seem to “get over ‘ the depression. If this pattern continues it can often lead to affairs and a complete breakdown of the relationship.

Issues with mental health can be debilitating and its important that partners recognise some of the signs that suggest a partner is suffering:
signs to look out for:
withdrawal
agitation
hopelessness
acute tiredness
poor self care
change in personality

In my work with couples I see how a healthy relationship can serve as a buffer to help ward off mental health conditions. Equally it is well documented that relationship stress can negatively affect the person who is struggling with mental illness and make the condition worse.

We all come to our adult relationships with conscious and unconscious patterns from our own experiences and feelings around mental health. For example growing up with a parent or family member who may have been depressed, anxious or suicidal can greatly influence how we manage mental health issues in our current partnerships.

Couples coping with some mental health issues are not that different from other couples in therapy. Often individuals experienced a difficult childhood, a history of low self esteem and lack of confidence, trauma and loss. Although many of these things happened in the past, they often find a way of infiltrating the couple relationship resulting in on-going conflict. They too develop patterns of poor communication, increased conflict and loss of intimacy. They too have got stuck in negative cycles leaving them feeling distant, helpless and sad.

Give therapy a try

Coming to Couples Therapy with your partner is a positive step forward. Every Mental Health issue presents its own unique challenge and can be complicated and testing on our relationships. It requires special attention in couples therapy from a skilled couples therapist to help give clarity to the situation.

Finding a qualified couples therapist is a valuable option to help explore the roots of the mental health issues and to try and understand how it affects each partner. At Coupleworks we pride ourselves in taking care to consult with the patients GP, primary care worker or psychiatrist so that we can all work together for the patient to bring about change. We don’t have to just Survive we can learn to Thrive.

Dawn Kaffel

Silence is Golden

I came back from a five-day silent retreat in Cornwall this past week and it gave me the time to reflect and sit with myself. The silence wasn’t difficult; in fact, it was a relief not talking. This got me thinking about how couples talk to one another and how sometimes silence might be the better option.

Couples therapy is all about talking. It is without question that by doing so it gives couples a better understanding of their problems. This in turn allows them to process what their feelings are, and also to learn what their partners are feeling. Couples therapy provides a framework for couples to reflect and think before they speak, usually because there is a therapist in the room!

Tips on Mindful Speaking:

SLOW IT DOWN:
It’s a reflex reaction to say the first thing that comes into ones head when talking about difficult issues with your partner.
This is exactly the time to STOP, GROUND OURSELF AND NOT REACT. This advice is easily said and even when we sometimes manage it, we will inevitably relapse. It is a slow process and being patient with oneself is key.

HOW TO SLOW IT DOWN:
Listen to your body; it is our biggest resource. Even when we cannot connect with the signs and signals our body will reveal them to us. It is the fight or flight reaction we instinctively knew as children but need to relearn again as adults. Growing up, we’ve lost these innate tools from years of learning to protect ourselves from hurt and pain. These walls need to come down.

SIGNALS OUR BODIES TELL US:
A tightening to parts of our bodies such as chest, stomach or throat is the first clue. These are the most common signals that something is going on within us. When we are able to notice these tensions in our bodies and allow ourselves to sit with them without judgment, we are allowing a process of accessing the unconscious part of our psyche to let us know what we are feeling.

STATING AND NAMING THE FEELINGS:
By giving this internal space and not allowing our mind to start creating a narrative about the feelings that are arising, we can see the situation more clearly. When we are clear as to what the feeling is and why that bothers us we then have a better capacity to communicate this to our partner.

The more in tune we are with ourselves the more in tuned we become with others. This will help let us know instinctively when it’s time to speak and when it’s better to let things go. Fine tuning….

Shirlee Kay

The Coupleworks Counselling Kit

Recently I was invited by a company called Employees Matter to attend a Mental Health Awareness Breakfast. This brought together HR directors from diverse companies to make a commitment to putting mental health in the workplace on their agendas.

One of the speakers spoke movingly about her struggle with depression in the work -place and how her anti-depression kit helped lift her spirits and bring a smile back.

It started me thinking about how a COUPLEWORKS KIT sitting on the table in our therapy rooms can really help lift the spirits of someone close to you. We can use it in couples therapy to reach out to our partners in a loving and meaningful way.

Here are 7 suggestions I would put into my COUPLEWORKS KIT:

A pair of glasses to help see more clearly the patterns of behaviours we get ourselves into

A tape measure to make us realise how distant we have become

An alarm clock to help us slow down in order to help us think before we react

A stapler to keep things together when it feels everything is falling apart

A torch to shine a path forward when everything can seem dark and gloomy

A favourite piece of dance music to remind us if we keep playing the same music it’s hard to change the dance steps. In our relationships we can’t just focus on specific steps, especially the other persons, – we have to step back, slow the music down, and see the whole picture in order to create new steps that create safety and connections

A hug and a kiss to remind us that we all need to feel cared about

A bottle of bubbly to celebrate when we feel more connected and secure in our loving relationships

Why not take some time out to think about what you would like to put into your own COUPLEWORKS KIT!!

Dawn Kaffel

Is this the end of the relationship?

I was reading about Jon Stewart’s decision to quit the Daily Show, the American satirical news program he has hosted for 16 years, as something closer to the end of a relationship. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’ “These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”

For many couples, these thoughts might resonate. Long-term relationships bring good times and bad but couples usually find a way of getting through them. There are moments of dissatisfaction, anger and love but hopefully couples begin to accept and continue to value their relationship.

When couples get to a point where they feel the relationship no longer offers them what they hoped for or what they need now, problems naturally arrive. The narrative many couples get caught up in is that ‘because something in their relationship is problematic it means everything is wrong’. At this time, slowing down and considering couples therapy is one way of addressing these feelings.

Couples can learn to see the pitfalls of creating a disaster out of an issue and learn to talk about it differently. This can create an opportunity of having a different, more positive perspective.

Questions to ask before blaming the relationship:
1. Are you unhappy yourself or is your relationship in really in trouble?
2. Are you creating a story about the issue that is worrying you?
3. Are you playing a part in the dynamic that you can take responsibility for? In other words, are you blaming your partner for the entire problem and not seeing your part in it?
4. Can you clearly and specifically identify what the issue is and communicate them to your partner without blame and recrimination?
5. Are you able to listen to what your partner has to say and hear it without prejudice and our own point of view getting in the way?
These are some questions that can disentangle difficult feelings that couples become entrenched in. By clarifying concrete problems from confused feelings we can have a better understanding of what’s really going on.

All relationship change and evolve over the years. Successful long-term relationships are those that accept these changes in ourselves and our partners learn to see what there is there rather than what we feel is missing.

Shirlee Kay