Archive for difference

Body Language

The social psychologist Amy Cuddy has given a TED Talk (June 2012) entitled ‘Your body language shapes who you are’. She discusses how our body language influences how we are perceived by others – but that it can also change our perception of ourselves. More than that, we can even affect our own body chemistry by adapting the way we sit or stand – and consciously alter our mood by shifting our body shape.

(Try it now…
Stand up and fling your arms wide apart.
Hold that position.
Now smile with your eyes as well as your mouth.
Hold that position.
How do you feel?)

When we feel confident of love we metaphorically and actually spread our arms out wide.
Think of greeting someone you love. We fling open our arms in a gesture of welcome and acceptance and envelop them in an embrace – bring them close. Our bodies feel full of energy, loose and relaxed
However, when feeling vulnerable we curl into the foetal position. When feeling defensive we fold our arms across our bodies. We shut out the person who might cause us pain and harm. When feeling hurt we can become cautious and wary. We withdraw and become emotionally unavailable. The face becomes closed, expressionless and unrevealing and we avoid eye contact. If we are angry our bodies hold a tension and stiffness and we become unapproachable – ‘don’t touch me!’

Our mental state mirrors our physical state. When feeling under attack, we become defensive and shuttered off from the feelings of the other person. It is a state of mind that is the opposite of ‘open wide’. We struggle with empathy or curiosity. Concern and intimacy, interaction and connection, can be lost.

In her book ‘Marriage Rules’, Harriet Lerner describes defensiveness as ‘the archenemy of listening’.
If you cannot listen without interrupting then, effectively, you are blocking your partner. Dialogue breaks down. There is no room for an acceptance of difference, or an engagement of ideas.
Sentences that begin with ‘Yes, but….’ and ‘No, no…’ are rebuttals of the perceived reality of the other. Both feel unheard.

But how to step out from behind a defensive barricade and start a conversation – not an argument?
Consciously choose to change position from passionate fury to ‘passionate listening’ (Harriet Lerner)
Change the body chemistry. Alter your mind’s position and lower the flood of adrenaline released by the ‘flight, flight, or freeze’ reflex reaction.

Pause.
Breathe in deeply.
Exhale slowly.
Metaphorically stay present (mind open wide).
Say ‘tell me more…’

Counselling with a Coupleworks therapist offers a safe environment to begin to take this first step towards change.

The advantage of difference.

I have written about the difficulties of difference in an earlier blog (posted on August 4th 2011 filed under Relationships) and looked at ways to include them in a couple rather than allow them to become something which pushes the couple into feeling the thread between them has broken.

I am now looking at the advantages of difference .. how valuable it can be in strengthening the thread of intimacy.

At Coupleworks we see so many couples where difference has set them apart to the point of feeling the damage to the couple is irreparable. We work with the couple to explore why this has happened and if there is another way of looking at difference which is actually part of the glue that they need.

It is important to hear why each person chose the other at their first meeting. What made them feel that here was someone who could repair difficulties encountered in their previous experience. Often each will insert into the other a hope for change and a feeling of security, safety and acceptance which were perhaps missing in earlier years.

It is often difference that features more than sameness; difference of culture, social positioning, religion, language, looks and ideas. Depending on the early story, this can be a good choice but after really getting to know each other, it can become the difficulty which brings a couple into Coupleworks..

Interestingly, cultural difference can be easier to tolerate than social difference within a culture. So much can be put down to cultural ways without offending, yet anything highlighted about social difference can be received as insulting and hurtful; an attack on their family, upbringing and root.

Tolerating the differences and making them work rather than hinder is a loving and giving thing to do for a partner and if well received is felt as acceptance and admiration rather than the end of love. I try to encourage the couple to allow their differences and even borrow some of them without fear of reprisal, hopefully encouraging more warmth and respect.

Raising children can be the time when difference becomes highlighted and for the sake of the children’s future these issues need to be carefully discussed before starting a family. Compromises need to be made without each parent feeling the loss of part of themselves. Different views can enhance the way children learn as long as a feeling of antagonism is not present between the parents. They learn about how to have different viewpoints without them becoming ammunition. Negotiation becomes a valuable asset for the children’s entry into adult life.

Following the last blog posted by Shirlee Kay about the latest Royal Wedding, difference can now be seen as an advantage and not a cause for shame and humiliation leading to argument and discourse. This new light can be seen as a triumph of positive thinking and tolerance.

Clare Ireland.

The Mistakes that Couples make

A recent article in the Times entitled “you’re doing it wrong! the 60 mistakes we all make” made me reflect on how often couples can make mistakes in the their relationships without even realising the potential damage this can cause.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that couples repeatedly make that are avoidable:

1. We’ve known each other for so long, we don’t have to work on our relationship
Too many couples are falling victim to Complacency. Content with rushing through life and maintaining a certain life style, couples are oblivious to the reality that their most important relationship is missing out on the effort, attention and care it so desperately needs.

2. Work and children take up all of our time
It’s too easy to allow work and children to become the centre of your universe. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on the time when you were the centre of each other’s universe and how that’s been lost. How important it is to recognise that you both need to show more interest, concern and affection towards each other.

3. Trying to change the other person
Couples are often attracted to each other because of difference but after a while we can be tempted to try to change them to be the same as us. This often leads to a build up of on-going disappointment and resentments which contributes to emotional disconnection
Try to take a step back and remember why you fell in love in the first place.

4. Trying to control your partner
We are often driven crazy by our partner’s behaviours. Being told what to do and how to do it consistently can drive a wedge. Do not treat your partner like a child, who has to be told what to do you are a partner not a parent!

5. Criticising and complaining about your partner
Couples get into bad habits of often using always and never statements that criticize the whole person. When this happens we often feel distant and pull away. This in turn creates feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that triggers the complaining behaviour.

6. Not feeling listened to
Being able to communicate well with your partner is an essential component of a close loving relationship. By paying closer attention to how you talk to each other the tone of your voice, your body language is likely to make you feel that you are being heard, valued and understood. It is more likely to elicit more empathy and understanding from your partner rather than a defensive and negative response.

7. Not feeling understood
Its important to recognise that men and women communicate so differently and getting through to each other in a meaningful way is often a struggle. Women often feel misunderstood by their partner’s emotional disengagement and their offer of a solution. Men often feel overwhelmed with partners changing and often challenging emotional needs.

8. Bringing unresolved issues from our past
Often our past experiences in our families can get re-awakened and projected into our current relationships and its important to take responsibility for what belongs to us as individuals and what belongs to the partnership. This shared understanding can bring empathy and closeness.

9. Depending on each other for happiness
Being completely dependent on the other for your own happiness will only lead to disappointment. Its important to stay connected to who you really are and what you need for yourself to bring happiness both inside and outside your relationship

10. We never argue
Never arguing is often seen as a badge of honour for some couples. In fact couples that argue effectively are more likely to have a stronger more secure attachment than those who avoid arguments out of fear.
Couples who argue tend to be more passionate

11.Spontaneity is the only way to have sex
How difficult is it to bring spontaneity into any aspect of our busy lives let alone our sex lives.
It is argued that putting aside set times to enjoy sex takes away any excitement. However planning sex can help couples maintain their sexual connection and feel closer and intimate.

12. Coming to couples counselling is a last resort and will make our relationship worse
Couples often put off going to couples counselling because for some there is shame in having to ask for help and others believe the therapy process will end the relationship.
In reality counselling offers a safe non-judgmental space to understand and explore our relationships better, in the same way as we use a gym to help us improve our bodies.

Being more aware of these common relationship mistakes means you have a much better chance of happy healthy relationship

Dawn Kaffel

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