Archive for couples therapy

Is it Gutsy to stay in a marriage after Infidelity?

Hilary Clinton was speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America this week to promote a book she wrote with her daughter Chelsea The Book of Gutsy Women. 

When asked “what was the gutsiest thing Hilary had ever done” she replied “politically running for President and personally making the decision to stay in my marriage with my husband – just getting up every morning and keep going.”  

Esther Perel whose book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity: challenges the stigma of shame we face in choosing to stay with a partner whereas it used to be choosing to divorce that carried the stigma.

This raises very challenging questions for couples facing issues of infidelity and seems to be what brings more and more couples to couples therapy.  

Is it gutsy to stay in a marriage with someone who has cheated on you or is it cowardly and self destructive to stay with someone who has broken your trust and let you down so very painfully?

Knowing the relationship will never be the same again does it take more guts to leave a marriage and leave the mess behind you? Or is it more gutsy to stay with a partner when you have been betrayed to try to make sense of what has happened rather than justify ones behaviour.

Although infidelity is still the main reason why couples split up and is the most painful and agonising to go through it can also be the most incredible turning point in a relationship where a very different relationship can be created and thrive.

Both partners have to make the decision to really work on their relationship there is no simple answer to this horrific situation – to stay can be seen as self defeating and fearful.  What message am I giving you by deciding to stay?

Lots of things have to change after an affair.  It takes a lot of courage to admit to being so hurt and betrayed by your partner. Just as it is so shameful for the betrayer to face up to how much hurt and humiliation they have caused.

How do you show contrition?  The person who has strayed demonstrates how sorry they are but after time can get irritated by continually having to show remorse.

This is what psychotherapist Lucy Beresford calls the Museum of Hurt.  If the betrayed partner is constantly reminding the betrayer of what they have done, after a while this is not helping and perhaps signifies that only one partner is doing some of the work to repair.

Saying sorry is not enough- actions have to speak louder than words that give the message that they are not going to hurt their partner again.

However there are people who either find it very difficult to do all the work or are not prepared to put the amount of time and effort required to heal this trauma. 

If you are in a long term relationship where there is a lot of care and love when was the last time you really took time out to really work together to check in with each other, to make time to show real interest and connection?  Affairs are very rarely about having more sex or falling in love with someone else but more often a commentary on the individual as well as the relationship as it is at this moment in time and where we are, what we have lost or what we feel is missing. 

Lucy Beresford in her conversation with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London says that Infidelity forces us to look in the mirror and take a long hard look at ourselves.  Do I like what I see?  Who have I become in this relationship and what do I need to change?

Taking time out to talk to a couples therapist often feels risky for some couples but it can really help to make sense of what has happened to us, what responsibility we both take in taking care of ourselves and our relationship and what changes we both need to make.  Placing trust in an experienced couples therapist to shine a light on a relationship that has been in hibernation and help you as a couple make decisions whether you can stay together and grow together or address the need to end the relationship.  Now that’s gutsy!

Dawn Kaffel

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:
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:

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.

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.

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.

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