Archive for difference

Coupleworks, Counselling, Difference and Sex

Couples often come into counselling describing their struggle to manage the conflict provoked by manifest differences.

The beginning of a relationship is often a time of revelling in the similarities: the shared values and interests, the feeling of being known. Differences are minimised and can even seem exciting and enriching. The reassurance of connection and understanding is more important.

As the relationship grows and deepens the demands made upon it reveal the complexities and intricacies. The complexity of the partner’s character also becomes more apparent. Anxiety can arise when certain needs of each partner seem in opposition. The couple can get stuck in a negative behaviour pattern of trying to get the other person to change and fit in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sexual relationship.

In her recent book ‘Come As You Are’, Emily Nagoski stresses the importance of accepting differences instead of being negatively judgemental and critical (of oneself as well as the partner). She suggests that a basic assumption should be that everyone’s body is different and everyone’s reactions are different. They are what they are!

She also draws the conclusion that, in a heterosexual relationship, there are basic gender differences which should be celebrated and not denied. Men and women are different! Her research shows that a woman’s sexual response often does not follow the same pattern as a man’s sexual response. And it can be so liberating when that is understood and accommodated. Women can frequently be more context sensitive. She may be more open to experiencing desire when there is closeness, connection and acceptance. She finds pleasure as a result of responsive desire. Sex is not context dependent. But pleasure for a woman is often context dependent.

Nagoski debunks many of the myths that can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and distress in a couple’s sexual relationship. The most destructive myth is the existence of a standardised ‘normal’. ‘‘Sexual arousal, desire and orgasm are nearly universal experiences, but when and how we experience them depends largely on the sensitivities of our ’brakes’ and ’accelerators’ and on the kind of stimulation they are given… We’re all made of the same parts, but in each of us, those parts are organised in a UNIQUE way that changes over our life span.’’

‘’In the right context, sexual relationships can be pleasurable, bond us with partners, flood us with happy chemicals, and satisfy deep biological urges. But the brain’s perception of sensation is context dependent. If you are stressed you tense and your brain is vigilant to threat. When you are relaxed you are open to erotic reaction. Same sensation, different context, and different perception and reaction.
Nagoski describes the best context as high affection, low stress, and concordant eroticism. She suggests that we all need to be cognizant that sexual arousal is the process of both turning up the ‘’ons’’ and turning down the ‘’offs’’.

Differences can be celebrated when it is not how your sexuality functions, but how you feel about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your partner. The context determines whether sex is characterised by confidence and joy. Context also can create anxiety as you become the ‘spectator’ to the event, focussed on ‘not good enough’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and preconceptions of ‘normal’.

Coupleworks works sensitively with clients when discussing sexuality and the sexual relationship that is uniquely right for them.

Kathy Rees

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

Autumn

Autumn has early memories for all of us who live in countries with seasons and brings many feelings as it arrives. It can bring a sense of wellbeing and comfort and also melancholy and depression.

This disparity highlights how hard a couple needs to work together with kindness and understanding to incorporate difference and find a creative third space to share their feelings and benefit by the other’s experience.

The quotes which follow show different thoughts on this particular time of year. A gateway to winter and a closing of sun and warmth. Reading them can throw a light on all angles and collectively expand what would otherwise be only one way of thinking.

October gives a party
The leaves by hundreds came,
The Ashes, Oaks and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky…George Cooper.

The sun tires of summer and sighs itself into autumn. Terri Guillemets.
Autumn repays the earth the leaves which summer lent it. Georg Christoph Lichenberg.
Winter is dead; spring is crazy; summer is cheerful and autumn is wise. Mehmet Murat Ildan.
Of all the seasons autumn offers the most to man and requires the least of him. Hal Borland.
No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face. John Dunne.
Autumn – the year’s last, loveliest smile. William Cullen Bryant.
Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad? Dodie Smith.
falling leaves
hide the path             a haiku from John Bailey.
so quietly
Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay. Robert Browning.
Love the leaves until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year. Chad Sugg.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. Albert Camus.
There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves. Remy de Gourmont.

Autumn is the perfect time to take account of what we’ve done, what we didn’t do and what we’d like to do next year. Author unknown.

Clare Ireland.

Coupleworks, Counselling, Difference and Sex

Couples often come into counselling describing their struggle to manage the conflict provoked by manifest differences.

The beginning of a relationship is often a time of revelling in the similarities: the shared values and interests, the feeling of being known. Differences are minimised and can even seem exciting and enriching. The reassurance of connection and understanding is more important.

As the relationship grows and deepens the demands made upon it reveal the complexities and intricacies. The complexity of the partner’s character also becomes more apparent. Anxiety can arise when certain needs of each partner seem in opposition. The couple can get stuck in a negative behaviour pattern of trying to get the other person to change and fit in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sexual relationship.

In her new book ‘Come As You Are’, Emily Nagoski stresses the importance of accepting differences instead of being negatively judgemental and critical (of oneself as well as the partner). She suggests that a basic assumption should be that everyone’s body is different and everyone’s reactions are different. They are what they are!

She also draws the conclusion that, in a heterosexual relationship, there are basic gender differences which should be celebrated and not denied. Men and women are different! Her research shows that a woman’s sexual response often does not follow the same pattern as a man’s sexual response. And it can be so liberating when that is understood and accommodated. Women can frequently be more context sensitive. She may be more open to experiencing desire when there is closeness, connection and acceptance. She finds pleasure as a result of responsive desire. Sex is not context dependent. But pleasure for a woman is often context dependent.

Nagoski debunks many of the myths that can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and distress in a couple’s sexual relationship. The most destructive myth is the existence of a standardised ‘normal’. ‘‘Sexual arousal, desire and orgasm are nearly universal experiences, but when and how we experience them depends largely on the sensitivities of our ’brakes’ and ’accelerators’ and on the kind of stimulation they are given… We’re all made of the same parts, but in each of us, those parts are organised in a UNIQUE way that changes over our life span.’’

‘’In the right context, sexual relationships can be pleasurable, bond us with partners, flood us with happy chemicals, and satisfy deep biological urges. But the brain’s perception of sensation is context dependent. If you are stressed you tense and your brain is vigilant to threat. When you are relaxed you are open to erotic reaction. Same sensation, different context, and different perception and reaction.

Nagoski describes the best context as high affection, low stress, and concordant eroticism. She suggests that we all need to be cognizant that sexual arousal is the process of both turning up the ‘’ons’’ and turning down the ‘’offs’’.

Differences can be celebrated when it is not how your sexuality functions, but how you feel about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your partner. The context determines whether sex is characterised by confidence and joy. Context also can create anxiety as you become the ‘spectator’ to the event, focussed on ‘not good enough’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and preconceptions of ‘normal’.

Coupleworks works sensitively with clients when discussing sexuality and the sexual relationship that is uniquely right for them.

Kathy Rees

 

Drama versus Denial. Opposites attract.

Depending on childhood experiences, adults often seek difference as part of the attraction within the love of their choice of partner.

This conscious or unconscious choice can be part of the glue for a long term relationship.  It can be a positive collusion but it can also carry negatives which need altered management skills.

An example of the interaction of drama versus denial might develop in the following way.

In a social interaction, a couple experiencing stress, anxieties, loss, trauma or any of life’s difficult feelings, might be asked how they are.

The person defending their painful feelings with drama will go into full details of the situation dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts.  The defence of denial from the other person might encourage the reply, ‘We’re fine’.

These different ways of protecting yourself can be comforting at the outset of a relationship because each side feels safer when they see no apparent harm coming to their loved one when they act out their feelings so carefully defended against by the witness.

This can encourage each person to try and modify their defence which may have become extreme.

Sometimes, however, our therapists at Coupleworks notice that the difference becomes so polarised that couples enter therapy to try and make some sense of their estrangement.

Clare Ireland.

Crossroads in Relationships

Crossroads in Relationships

In every relationship there comes a point where a couple starts to think about moving forward.  This might mean a more serious commitment, such as seeing each other exclusively; introducing each other to parents; living together marriage or children.  This is a crucial and difficult time for couples to negotiate because it becomes a statement for themselves, friends and family that their relationship is serious.  This is invariably a make or break time between couples.

Who says it first?

Couples rarely feel ready to move their relationship forward at the same time and this can create an imbalance in the relationship.  If couples can learn to accept that difference doesn’t need to translate into rejection it can reduce tension and allow a couple to think about their relationship and move forward in a way that can accommodate them both.

‘But I thought we would have six children and move to Italy.’

When couples assume that their partners want the same things that they do problems arise.  Being clear with ourselves about what we expect from our relationship helps us communicate this to our partner.  Difference is not the problem; it is not being clear (and specific) about what these things are that result in conflict.

It’s a relief to say it as it is.

When we feel free to name what we need and want it helps to give shape and direction to our lives as a couple. Of course we need to learn to compromise, but as our mothers’ used to say: ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get.’ So get talking.

Shirlee Kay