Archive for couples

Understanding Changes in Sexual Frequency

Many couples we see at Coupleworks come into therapy feeling as though there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship when their desire starts to wane and the pattern of their sex life changes. It can sometimes be difficult to help couples normalise these feelings and avoid getting caught in an internal narrative that if their sex lives slows down the relationship is no longer viable.

When couples come to therapy, it is usually because the difficulty has gone underground and been around for quite some time. There is a tendency not to address sexual issues with one another (it’s uncomfortable and awkward), and the gap tends to widen to a point where it is difficult to see a solution. Couples seem able to talk about ‘the fact they aren’t having sex as often’ but less able to talk about their feelings of hurt and rejection. In my mind, it’s when couples bury their feelings that toxic thoughts start to surface between them. Couples usually begin to feel a sense of relief after the initial discomfort of actually starting the conversation.

Common reasons why couple’s sex lives change:
Work
Pregnancy
Children
Stress
Tiredness
Illness
Depression
Tension between Couples
Outside Factors

As couples get caught up in their daily lives, the attention towards their partner changes and a pattern begins between them. The key is to name the issues and more importantly tell the other how they experience these changes. I had a woman tell her husband in a session that his lack of desire for her brought up strong feelings that the relationship was over. These feelings triggered memories of her father leaving her mother for a younger woman. Her internal narrative didn’t allow her to be curious about what might be going on with her husband or the relationship and allow her to address the issue with him. As we worked through this, she discovered he was overstressed and exhausted, and we found ways to help him lower his stress levels and find his way back sexually to her. Disentangling these stories helps couples see one another separately and not personalise the experience. With this couple, it helped them to see that there were external factors contributing to the man’s change in desire and allowed them to find ways of addressing them.

What Couples Can do to Reconnect Sexually:
-Name the Issue.
-Tell each other how they experience it.
-Take time to spend more time with one another.
-Make physical connect with one another on a daily basis.
-Make eye contact.
-Kiss each other.
-Be present when speaking to one another.
-Touch one other regularly even when not having sex.
-Express your appreciation of the other often.
-Do special things for each other.
-Explore others ways of being intimate (sex is a way but not the only way).
-See a psycho-sexually trained therapist.

Long-term relationships naturally change and evolve. Accepting these changes and keeping an open dialogue is key to a couple’s intimacy. When they can see that their sex life is unique to them and not be influenced by what they ‘should be doing’ they are better able to understand what works for them. Being open and honest about these issues helps to generate a conversation. It’s not always about finding a definitive answer but more about understanding and living with the issue differently.

Shirlee Kay

Couples and Marriage

Over the next few weeks thousands of weddings, both of heterosexual and same sex couples, will be taking place up and down the country. The summer has been the most popular time to get married for many decades and with the British weather, that’s unlikely to change.

But what has changed is how people view their wedding day. Until around the 1970’s what was widely held to be the norm was that marriage provided the gateway to the whole experience of living together and sharing a single home. But the large majority of couples today have already been living together for some years before they tie the knot. So what is it that they see themselves doing? In my experience, most couples feel they have reached a point where they can take the risk of declaring to themselves and to others that they wish to be married. Of course other factors can be in play. They may want to provide what they see as a more secure base to have children. Sometimes too there is a hope that marriage will resolve problems in a relationship that already exist. But for most, getting married is a statement that their relationship is now sufficiently permanent to celebrate and give ongoing stability to.

They also think that the ceremony itself won’t make any difference to their day-to-day relationship and are often surprised to find tensions and difficulties surfacing. The reasons for this are often complex. For some making the public commitment proves to be profoundly unsettling, triggering memories and unconscious feelings of their own family experiences. The net result is that they are taken aback that at the point when they announce stability they feel de-stablised.

Therapy offers a place to talk through expectations, to explore and understand what might have been triggered and to work through these disappointments. This gives couples the opportunity they need to confront the reality that there is no end point to growth in a relationship but they will need to continue to work together on it throughout their lives.

Couples can begin to explore possible difficulties by talking through:

• Expectations of what marriage means

• How that is different in your mind – or not – from co-habiting

• What your experience was as a child of your parent’s marriage

• How would you like yours to be similar or different

 

Sarah Fletcher

Beware of the safety of Echo Chambers

We are probably all guilty in some way about only reading opinions which back up our thoughts on issues most of us can do nothing about anyway. We read the same newspapers and watch the programmes which back up our standpoint. We stick to our opinion on subjects which we only partially know about. We argue among friends about controversial happenings around us and in the world with often little hands on experience or knowledge about the subject or cultural practices we are discussing.

We feel comforted by and veer towards the friendships of people who seem to be of the same mind. By doing this we enter an echo chamber where opposing ideas are not welcome and where we feel safe. Without the echo, the feeling in the space can become hostile.

When this begins to happen with couples, it is a warning signal that all is not well. Coming up against a brick wall becomes the norm and echoes fade into a forgotten land.

In our consulting rooms this can be a signal that certain important bonding factors have become lost. This can tell us that the sexual side of the couple has somehow vanished, or one side of the couple is more successful in their presentation to their world than the other. Or respect, admiration and acceptance of difference has become lost and been replaced with spite, hurt, detachment and loss of attraction. Interested curiosity about the other’s difference…so seductive at the outset of a relationship disappears and is replaced by criticism, competition and argument.

The lost sexual passion in the couple becomes replaced by opposite opinions and ‘telling’ without discussion. Voices raise in order to be heard and ears shut to debate and reception of alternate possibilities. The discussion turns into a heated fight. Profound statements are made with no other foundation of fact than what has been written by a journalist, writer or film maker who shares the same approach to a subject, often based on hearsay and seldom by hard facts and experience in the first place.

The safety of an echo chamber is longed for but it may not be the place for resolution.

The early seduction game played by both sides of the couple which used to be about listening, learning and admiring your partner’s knowledge, turns into automatic disagreement and fighting corners. Being interested even if not converted and learning from the different approach encourages attraction and intimacy. Ugly and antagonistic slanging matches kills the couple trust and containment. Intimacy comes when there is someone who bears you in mind making a special place for you and your different viewpoint.

It can be very attractive to listen and hear what your partner feels about outside events which affect the world, yet all the time blending and moving with ideas as opposed to laying down the law and killing dialogue. Bringing back a remark you have thought about but not entirely agreed with by saying, “What you said to your friend made me really proud of you. I don’t follow that view but it has made me think and I am grateful for that”.

Other couples can pick up on their friends who have maintained the early respect for each other’s difference and often quote their envy of this seemingly natural flow between them. When in the presence of this atmosphere it can spread to others who have lost that
exchange and find they can regain that link to each other without either entering the safety of the echo chamber or descending into vitriol. They find the middle way.

Clare Ireland

A Spender or a Saver?

Learn to negotiate your money, the biggest pitfall in couple life

Forget the chores, the sex and even the in-laws, it is the unsolvable disagreements about money that research now shows to be the biggest source of serious difference leading to separation in couples. Interestingly, a recent YouGov survey puts problems with family finances at 26% of all difficulties. This comes ahead of understanding each other, physical relationships and household chores. So it’s well worth sorting this one out early in the relationship if it appears to overtake sex and the washing up.

Of course it’s not just about coinage – this just highlights deeper tensions, but exploring what is really at the heart of these rows can be vital in helping to save relationships.

Couples who come for counselling will often bring lists of perceived slights or grievances, but money is often not flagged up as an immediate problem. Yet it is pivotal as part of how we see ourselves and others. Money defines us, it can denote our place in society and will reflect to a large degree how others see us. Like it or not, It can influence how we dress, where we live and our perceived status in the world we inhabit.

Therapists dealing with couples will usually ask for a family tree to make better sense of each clients origins, influences and the relationship history that can shape future hopes and expectations.
Dig a little deeper and the way families deal with their assets can have a long lasting effect on their dependents.

We hear of parents or grandparents who made or lost a fortune. People who watched a hard working father lose his job, or get into debt. Clients who were raised by an alcoholic parent who spent recklessly on drink or drugs. Siblings who seemed favoured by ‘unfair’ levels of gifts or education. Bullying that appeared to be influenced by seemingly different lifestyles to classmates.
These are powerful messages absorbed in childhood and will have strong influences on how each of us decides to deal with our assets.
Money can be seen as security – a buffer against feared future calamities or it can signify a life enhancing conduit to fun and good things.

Spend or save? This can be where couples find it impossible to find a solution. Therapy can offer a safe place unpick the reasons behind these deeply ingrained beliefs. Arguments about money are not usually about money, they are about protecting hopes and dreams and can escalate horribly when people feel dismissed or not understood. We may define ‘value’ in many different ways and its vital to grasp what the other hears in this word. Couples need to dig beneath the obvious and try to understand the emotional content of what can seem a purely practical issue.
In the rosy glow of a new relationship, we often assume that we shall just mysteriously understand and be understood. Transparency around finances is an important foundation to any long term relationship.

It’s impossible to change the deeper messages that we all inherited from the way our families dealt with their own problems, but we can listen to each other with tolerance. The acceptance of what shaped the views of a partner who appears to see things fundamentally differently, can give insights that will lead to better understanding.
Sometimes, it’s not just about the money, but it is about what the money signifies. So discuss calmly with an open mind to find a better way.

Christina Fraser

Issues of Anxiety and Control in a Relationship

Couples in a close loving relationship often describe trusting that the partnership is an emotional safe haven. They feel optimistic for the future of the relationship because they hold the belief that their partner is looking out for them, has their well-being at heart and wants the best for them. The relationship feels a refuge from life’s pressures, and a support when facing the vagaries and stresses of the modern day world. They can relax with the understanding they are loved and accepted, they have someone to turn to, and their partner is someone they can lean in on when things are difficult. The couple feel ‘more than’ when together and relish the idea that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Which is why an affair can have such a devastating impact. The security has been breached and the relationship suddenly feels adrift, shaky and fragile.

However, our individual psychological insecurities can also wreak havoc on a relationship. Extrapolating from past painful experiences we become pessimistic and make negative predictions about the future. We assume that similar situations are bound to happen again.

A man would not get married on his birthday because it would mean that day would always be spoilt after they divorced. A previous girlfriend had let him down badly and he was predicting the end of this one even as he planned the wedding: ‘It’s the kind of thing that always happens to me.’
Childhood hurts can diminish our willingness to trust and so foster a dependency on overt displays of reassurance and expressions of certainty. However, constant requests for minute detail, concrete evidence, and proof of fidelity, can become oppressive and destructive.

The rationale can be that ‘I too felt unwanted when my father had an affair and left my mother. I believe all men to be somewhat untrustworthy and I need to be on the alert so that I’ll not be abandoned and rejected again’.

A woman had become hyper-vigilant and, despite his loving behaviour, was secretly checking her partner’s phone for possible proof of an affair. When he found out he was distressed and angry at what he felt was an attack on his integrity.

Open wounds from a previous relationship can colour the view of a present partner and suspicions about their sincerity, openness and honesty can breed. The joke ‘The figments of my imagination are out to get me’ no longer feels funny, and a runaway imagination becomes a primary source of stress. Fear is a response to the perception of an immediate threat, while anxiety is a response to a possible future threat. Both states mean the brain moves into ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ mode and releases high levels of adrenaline and cortisol with tension and agitation manifest in the body.

Attempting to avoid the possibility of more pain and hurt we work hard to keep ourselves safe, expending huge energy on being super-vigilant, well-informed, and in as much control of the situation as possible. To relax and trust feels counter-intuitive: ‘Why would I? It’s a dangerous world.’

And yet, ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened’ (Mark Twain). We need to beware of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a danger that the compulsion to avoid the imagined catastrophe can become obsessive and addictive and a chronic need for reassurance, being in control, can take hold. The attempt to manage the anxiety then becomes counter-productive when it causes distress and hostility as a partner resists the control and rails against being accused and blamed

Unchecked, anxious responses to uncertainty and states of not-knowing can create poisonous feelings of dread, panic, jealousy and anger. All are toxic to a happy relationship which needs a dynamic of acceptance, trust, contentedness.

You might find it interesting to listen to a (long!) lecture by Martin L Rossman on ‘How Your Brain Can Turn Anxiety Into Calmness’ and pay particular attention to the visual imagery exercise at the end.

Kathy Rees

Valentines Day Every Day

Most couples dread certain days in the year. New year’s eve, Christmas with the in-laws, etc. But nothing causes more anxiety than February 14th. The hype and expectations Valentine’s day demands doesn’t always equate to a couple’s expectations and, more often that not, the day ends in disappointment, arguments and often, tears.

Valentines Day comes with a heavy burden attached. It tells couples that if the flowers or chocolates are forgotten (or not posh enough) they are not loved. Comparisons are often made with other friend’s relationships, and judgments are thrown at one another as barbed as one of Eros’ arrows.

Learning to be loving and thoughtful on a daily basis give couples the connection that translates into love. As Dr. Sue Johnson says in her book “Hold me Tight”, ‘learning to be open, attuned and responsive to each other enables a close emotional connection.’ Couples are able to feel loved and cared for, even when their partner gives them dyed purple carnations, or a two-for-one voucher for Pizza Express on Valentines Day.
Forget the big gestures. Studies confirm the best way to show someone your love is far simpler than that.

The way we learn to feel loved comes from what we experienced growing up, how we felt loved (or not) in our own families. So it’s not surprising that we all experience feeling loved in different ways. With some, feeling loved means action: tea in bed, fixing the shower or cooking a special meal. For others, it might mean words: taking an interest in your partner’s day and then really listening. It could also simply mean saying thank you, or I love you.

Dr Sue Johnson believes couples need regular bonding rituals of meeting and separation or key times of belonging. These are deliberately structured moments that foster ongoing connections. They can sometimes feel a bit contrived, but it will help remind couples to stay connected.

1. Regularly holding, hugging and kissing on waking and going to sleep, leaving home and returning.
2. Writing letters, or leaving short notes for one another, especially when one is going away.
3. Calling or ‘checking in’ with one another to ask after one another.
4. Creating a personal sharing ritual. It could be dinner together or a daily walk after dinner.
5. Arranging a regular time to spend time together, also called “Date Night”.
6. Taking a class or learning something new together.
7. Remembering special dates such as birthdays or anniversaries.
8. Acknowledging your partner’s struggles and commenting on them. “I’ve noticed how hard you’ve been working; it’s inspiring.”
9. Publicly recognise your partners and your relationship, the affirmation lets them know you’re connected and appreciate them.

Valentines Day is a day to remember why a couple chose one another and what it was that attracted them to each other in the first place. The question helps couples remember the original feelings they had and helps underpins the relationship even when there are issues that keep a couple drifting apart. Feeling loved by one another helps to cement and underpin the relationship. These feelings are worth their weight in Valentines cards.

Shirlee Kay

How to make boredom your friend

It’s that time of the year… What can we do differently, how can we improve our lives, how can we look and feel better.
Gym membership traditionally soars in January only to dip again by the start of February when the newbies realise they haven’t got the time, interest or will to factor this regularity into their lives.
Shops bombard us with stuff to replace the stuff that we have outgrown or just wearied of.
Magazines and papers remind us constantly that we should look better/thinner/younger.
Basically, we are being nudged to avoid the state we are in and seek a shinier one.
But wait, time for a rethink.
There is a big difference between looking to improve the things that will genuinely bring us a life more healthy, either physically or psychologically – and hopefully both, but after the stimulus of Christmas, one of the triggers for all this change is the fear of boredom.
There will be times when boredom is inevitable, often when we have no control over our circumstances. Stuck in a traffic jam, a tedious meeting or waiting room we are often unable to change the situation.
But working with couples, it often transpires that one of the things they dread is the thought of slowly creeping ordinariness and the feeling that they can become a prisoner to this.
Partners become so well know to each other that every comment, joke and conversation is a well trodden landscape, so predictable that they are no longer curious about each other. Couples need the security and safe attachment that is the flip side of this, but it’s up to each of us to keep interested and interesting. Relationships are no different. We don’t always need outside stimulation, sometimes it’s enough to cook together, play a board game, listen to music together or go for a walk somewhere new and try to rediscover what we once found so interesting about each other.
The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes said Susan Sontag.
Don’t lets allow a yawn-making apathy obsess us and obliterate our ability to live in the moment.
It’s tedium that usually drives us to check our phones and screens for something to obliterate a gap in the day. Noise and messaging will cover up any emptiness. Yet it’s those gaps in life that give us space for thought and a chance to be at peace with our own minds and think creatively for ourselves, without waiting for connection to cyberspace or TV to anaesthetise us.
Dorothy Parker wisely told us that the cure for boredom is curiosity – there is no cure for curiosity…

Christina Fraser

Date night: How often do Couples Spend Time Together

Recently I’ve become curious as to how often couples go out together, so I asked a few I work with how often they make an effort to spend time together. Not surprisingly, most couples responded, “It’s been ages since we last went to dinner, the cinema or theatre together, we are just too busy.”

And it’s true; life gets in the way of spending time together.
As responsibilities increase, jobs become more demanding, and when carefree life becomes ‘grown up live’ with mortgages and children we forget to make time for fun together.

Just as it is natural for a couple’s sex life to slow down, it’s normal to slow down going out together. But couples begin to feel disappointed when they lose that connection with one another as they cease to engage beyond the mundane and routine of every day life.

So why do couples stop making the effort to have fun together and how does it leave them feeling? As a couple’s therapist, it would be easy to pathologise why this might be, but my experience tells me that couple’s more often than not just get into a pattern of behaviour that rationalises not making an effort with one another.

One man told me that when he see girlfriend making plans with friends, arranging trips to museums and the theatre it makes him upset. This left him feeling uncared for and that others got the best of her and he’s only left with the scraps. He felt bereft because his narrative became one that said, “I’m at the bottom of the pile” and expressed feelings of not being valued and felt that his partner didn’t have fun with him.

This idea that fun lives outside the relationship is unfortunate and can be problematical. Living with this feeling can devalue the relationship, leaving couples feeling as if they have little between them. The good news is that when couples recall the fun they had together when they first started dating then they start to remember the feelings they had towards one another, feelings that can feel lost after time.

Couples may not want to go clubbing any longer but they can remember what it was like when they did. From there, adjusting to ones lifestyle and age, and finding new things to do with each other can hit that sweet spot. Going to dinner, working out together or going to a new exhibition… it doesn’t’ matter. What matters is learning to spend time together outside the couple’s everyday existence.

Changing the dynamics and the patterns between couples can transform the relationship substantially. A couple I’ve been seeing, who have had some extremely difficult feelings towards one another, recently had this transformative experience. The husband arranged for their four children to be looked after and told his wife that they were spending the day together. This surprising act of reaching out reminded both of them that they had plenty to talk about and that they still knew how to enjoy one another. I noticed the tension between them that once hung over our sessions had vanished, to be replaced by a softer and happier couple.
It told me two things: that couples need to spend more time together and that it really doesn’t take much to do this. The New Year is coming; these small changes can make a huge difference.
Shirlee Kay

Couples and the UK-EU Divorce

After all the uncertainty over the past weeks and months we know now the UK has voted for a Divorce from our European neighbours.

The aftermath of this vote seems to be causing mayhem and anxiety amongst the political parties and stock markets around the world as everyone tries to come to terms with the biggest political decision made over the past 40 years. Millions of people are even signing a petition to reverse the Brexit decision.

Tensions are running high as Europe and the UK start to battle out how long the divorce will take and when the procedure for separation should start. Today Jean-Claude Juncker announces that “its not going to be an amicable divorce”.

Couples who come to Coupleworks are usually initially looking for ways to prevent separation and divorce and find a way of working through their difficulties. What we are witnessing being played out in front of us are parties who, as yet, have found no way of working through issues and building a future together.

However there are also couples who come into therapy recognising they have grown apart and reached the end of their relationship and are looking for ways of achieving an amicable divorce.

Here are some frequently asked questions that perhaps the political parties should have asked themselves before the vote to avoid one of the most bitterly fought political battles in living memory.

This is unknown territory – how do we start the process? Do we need a solicitor, or should we go to mediation?
How long will the process take?
What are the grounds for a divorce?
How much will it cost? Can we afford to break up?
How will we live and will everything have to be divided?
Do I need to move out?
Who gets the house and the pension?
What about the children and who will they live with and where?
How often will I see the children?
How do we prepare for divorce?
How do we tell the children?
What happens if we change our minds?
Sessions with a couples counsellor can provide personalised support to help and prepare clients emotionally through what can often be a long and painful ending process as they come to terms with the choices they have made.

Hopefully this country and our politicians in the weeks and months ahead will start to slow down and reflect on the best way forward for an amicable working Divorce rather than go into free-fall that seems to be happening today.

 
Dawn Kaffel

Competition and Compassion

The discussion of testing even very young school children has been topical recently. We are also nearing the summer GCSE and A’Level exam period – and concepts of success and failure abound. It seems we live in a competitive world. We set up value systems where we rigidly grade, compare and measure our own and others’ worth. What do we understand by ‘successful’? How much money do I have? How thin am I? What promotion have I achieved at work? How many friends do I have on Facebook?

 
Counsellors in Coupleworks often see clients overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed. The bar is set high and the focus is on achieving fixed goals. People can get caught in a loop of the ‘must-do’ and ‘having-to-do’, to the extent that lives are exhausting and can lack balance. Problems can occur when things do not quite work out to plan and people can become judgementally self-focused and develop a harsh inner voice. They become their own worst critics with their sense of self-worth and self-esteem becoming increasingly fragile. Unhappy couples, too, often come into counselling when they get stuck in a negative, critical loop of relating.

 
The media sells visions of glossy perfection and we all hold an idea of a ‘good’ relationship. Couples can fear their relationship may be broken when it is not meeting these standards. When expectations are challenged, when a partner has a different style or opinion, it can feel frighteningly disappointing and a hostile, attacking pattern of interaction can emerge. Even the sexual relationship becomes ‘performance’ orientated and be judged ‘not-good-enough’.

 
Often a couple can become competitive about who feels the most abandoned, not cared for, not listened to, the most taken for granted. They keep count of the slights and the hurts until the loved partner becomes the one most resented. Compassion is driven underground.

 
In therapy, considering what a ‘good-enough’ relationship might be, can relax things to such an extent that concern and generosity can flourish. Creating a supportive, caring relationship means building empathy. It means the appreciation of each other as flawed, quirky, unique, and lovably different. The couple can then revel in feelings of being accepted, valued and safe.

 
The psychologist Paul Gilbert, founder of Compassion Focused Therapy, says that ‘Getting unstuck is re-examining your values, recognising that your relationships are the most important things to help you feel happy’, and proposes that the secret of success is the ability to understand that mistakes and failure are not a catastrophe. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘I never lose. I either succeed or I learn.’ In order to manage our feelings of anxiety and vulnerability we need to explore and comprehend the dread. What really is the worst? Can we think laterally, more flexibly, and change and adapt? Gilbert compares it to judo where, in order to do well, we have to learn how to fall and roll with the punches. We, and our relationships, are often more special, valuable and resilient than we thought.

 
Kathy Rees

What happens to The Couple when children leave home?

Watching the mesmerising and compelling performance of Gina Mckee in Florian Zeller’s production of The Mother at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn last week left me questioning long after the final curtain.

Gina Mckee plays the role of a mother floundering between reality and hostility as her family starts to fall apart and move away from her. She captures the longing and desperation of a mother desperate to hold onto the memories of her life and children as it used to be and portrays a mother on the brink of madness as she sees her ‘little boy’ grow up and flow the nest and find a girlfriend.

As a couples counsellor we often find ourselves working with couples who present with relationships that have grown distant and disconnected and its often blamed on poor communication when really underneath the presenting problem are couples who are struggling to come to terms with children leaving home and the difficulties with having to be just the two of you.

For some couples when children have been the glue in their relationship when they leave there is a sense of dislocation as a huge void is now present which is often scary and unmanageable.

We know in theory that as parents we bring our children up to let them go as adults to make their own way in the world and seek out their adult relationships. But in practice this can play out in a very different way as parental addiction to children manifests. Strong feelings of grief, loss and rage can be projected onto our partners as we struggle to come to terms with this incomprehensible life transition. Especially as this time can also coincide with menopause, ageing parents and impending retirement.

At Coupleworks we often see couples who struggle to identify that children leaving home can cause such difficulties between them. What often manifests is their communication breaks down and they stop spending time with each other and seek out alternative experiences.

Feelings of sadness and loss of role for a mother who may have given up work to care for her children and has spent most of her life doing everything for children may make them more vulnerable to depression and marital conflicts. It can be very difficult for a partner who may still be busy at work to acknowledge the acute sadness and loss that the mother is going through when all he may be experiencing is her hostility and turning away from him.

Couples don’t have to fall apart when the nest becomes empty. For some it is important time to reconnect and spend more time focusing on being a couple than you have done previously. It is an opportunity to work on your own relationship and restore what has been neglected between you.

At Coupleworks we see many clients at this important transition in their lives, it is normal and important for children to feel that they are leaving behind a secure and solid home base to return to.

For others this transition according to psychologists, from being an actively involved parent to being two independent individuals can take up to 18 months to 2 years. It is important to talk to your partner about your feelings. You may be surprised that they have similar feelings and will relish the chance to talk it through.

 
Dawn Kaffel

Siblings at War

Sibling Rivaly. It can all sound a bit Freudian and irrelevant within modern couple difficulties.
But remember, this is where most of us start to investigate our relationship powers.
The first group most people encounter is within our original family and each new child hopes for the starring role. However, the disappointments of displacement can come all too fast as another, rival baby enters the home.
Sometimes there is already a co-star in the shape of a demanding toddler born before us who will be fighting for autonomy. Each child struggles for top billing – with their parents as audience.
As a beloved new baby, getting toppled from that important pedestal means that you are no longer getting all that precious attention, so sibling rivalry can be bitter. And for most children any displacement will feel too early.
As relationship therapists, we see this often. Many couples will mirror each other with similar positions in their early family structure.  When people’s feelings run high, the bickering can degenerate into playground style squabbling. Each trying to show who is the most hard done by, and the most wronged partner.
Conflicts like this often cover up the real issue which is fear. Couples can disagree on fundamental issues but the scary things is to trust that a partner will still love and respect us and our views even if they aren’t shared. Therapy can provide that safe space to reflect and really listen to a partner. We don’t have to agree with all their ideas and beliefs, but we do need to listen and better understand each other.
Sibling rivalry is based on injustice – real or imagined. Most of us struggle for feelings of fairness in couple relationships. If the other thinks we are wrong they are inferring we must be to blame. So we retaliate, insisting that they are wrong and so it goes. Except that sometimes nobody holds the golden ticket. Things can just be different for each of us.
When filled with frustration and rage, try to imagine where you may have experienced a similar struggle back in childhood. That’s often where it all begins.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. That brother or sister knows where all the skeletons lie within the family cupboard and can be a close ally as time goes on.
They know you well, and that can be a scary thing. But they can also be a deep support for life.

Christina Fraser

What cats can teach couples

I was speaking to clients about their cats the other day and the more anecdotes they told about them the more it occurred to me that cats live their lives very much on their own terms. I have two Burmese cats, myself, and they do indeed navigate their lives seamlessly. I thought, how much we can learn from them.

CATS GET WHAT THEY WANT:
Cats use their instincts and don’t tend to overthink things.
Their bodies tell them when they are hungry, when they are cold, when they want affection and when they don’t. There is no second-guessing, anxiety or guilt with them. When they want something they ask directly (quite loudly and forcibly, sometimes) for what they need. They can be charming with their requests and know when to back off when their needs are not forthcoming.

Couples, on the other hand, complicate their lives by not being clear what their needs are, they tend not communicate clearly and are often left feeling disappointed with the end results. This usually leads to blaming their partners and the relationship can become entangled in ways that are unconstructive.

CATS FIGHT AND GET OVER IT:
I often watch my cats fight over space, food or attention. They can be vicious with one another but somehow they are able to let this go and recognise that their kitty friend might just be irritated and reacting badly in the moment. In other words, cats don’t create a drama or a story about who hissed first or swiped out with a paw. They don’t hold on, they let go. When it’s over, it’s over, and they get back to curling up with one another and purring.

At Coupleworks, we see couples struggling to accept that sometimes their relationships aren’t purrfect (sorry, couldn’t resist). They hold on to incidents, they don’t let go and end up forgetting all the good that they do have together.

By taking a lesson from these seemingly simple cats, we can learn to normalise the ups and downs of our own relationships. By letting go and relaxing into a more gentle way of being with one another creates the potential of finding the kitten in your partner rather than seeing the pitbull.

I appreciate that cats aren’t human and I certainly don’t mean to simplify our own human relationships or condone abusive relationships; but this tongue in cheek cat analogy, is to point out that our feline friends can give us much food for thought about our own relationships.

Cat Advice:
*Be clear about your needs.
*Communicate those needs to your partner.
*Don’t create a story when there is no story.
*Accept your partner for their flaws
*Curl up and purr with your partner.

Shirlee Kay

Technology and Humans.

For many years I have been struck by the similarities between technical frustrations and difficulties which can arise in a couple.

If we look at the comparison of a computer’s hard drive and a human’s unconscious, we can see an example:  If you put the wrong software into an incompatible computer it will act out by throwing up windows full of incomprehensible jargon and probably shut itself down.

This is similar to pressing the wrong button in your partner and igniting an inexplicable reaction, far outweighing the nature of the trigger.  The human may well shut down and become an alien to the offender, just as a computer does.

With a couple, various scenarios may occur.  Anger, hurt, detachment, withdrawal from intimacy and a rift, hopefully temporary between the bemused offender and the withdrawn or furious reactor.

What follows with a computer shut down is further frustration, anquish and stress when ringing a call centre operative for help. This person, who within a brief of 10 questions and answers, tries to help. Temperatures rise, solutions don’t help and in the end a supervisor is found who helps to calm things down and get the computer working again.

With human breakdown in communication there is a similarity.  A number of accusations and denials, familiar to the couple, are hurled to and fro till in the end one or the other suggests that a couple counsellor needs to be found.  The result often being that things are calmed down and a different way of managing these communication breakdowns is found.

Technology and human interaction are, of course, not the same thing at all but technological hard and software both need human insertion in order to work,  thus it is not surprising that reactions in both cases are similar.  Coupleworks can help with human misunderstandings when couples have tried everyway known to them without success.  In the same way a supervisor has to be sent for as a solution to the computer break down.

Rapidly developing technology requires change  A sketchy knowledge of a multitude of different professions is now a necessary feature of couple and family life.  Travel agent, flight booker, medical knowledge and decisions about personal health, banking, user names and passwords crowding a human brain along with daily life.

Coupleworks listens to couples and treats their dilemmas with respect. Together they try to unravel the difficulties encountered in their individual stories.

Clare Ireland

Couples and immigrants – looking at the similarities.

How often do couples choose each other, in part, for their differences?  In our therapy rooms we notice this choice is often a slice of the whole seduction.   Couples who work through these differences on their own or by choosing couple counselling find their bond and intimacy increases. Sometimes, these differences are too hard to surmount and drive the couple apart.  With therapy this is less likely when there is a third independent party present with no agenda with the couple other than looking for different ways to overcome the stalemate.

Immigration across the world has some similarities.  People cross borders searching for something different from where they landed at birth.  There are so many reasons for this that to define them would be wrong.  What is known is that the promise or hope, once achieved, might be disappointing in reality and far from the perceived expectations and dreams.

The similarity between couples and immigrants is about the fear and anger when the dream fades and a sense of loss, abandonment, rejection and unfairness arise. At Coupleworks, we try to look at all sides of peoples’ stories and work out together how to find a middle way which, in the end might be better than the unrealistic dream.  This takes compromise, mediation, conciliation, adaptability and acceptance.  It takes listening to the anger and fear and by respecting that, finding resolution.

Clare Ireland

Fertility and Sex

When a couple is trying for a baby, sex can become contrived and mechanical.  Trying to conceive or after having a miscarriage can seriously impact on a couple’s sexual relationship.  The focus from having a sexual experience into one of creating a baby can cause anxiety and pressure on both partners.

Premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation or loss of desire are just some of the symptoms that can affect couples during this stressful time.  So what to do?

Talking about these issues allows couples to reflect on their sexual relationship and enables them to make choices about how to move forward.  If this feels too difficult seeing a therapist can also allow a couple to talk in a safe space.

Shirlee Kay