Archive for dynamics

Relationships – which ‘season’ are you in?

A friend of mine was recently facilitating a group of people from the Voluntary and Community Sector.  In seeking to assess where they were at in their work, he talked about how organisations often go through different ‘seasons’ in their lives: Spring, with its fresh shoots and burgeoning new life, Summer, in its abundance, Autumn with its fruitfulness and drawing back, or Winter a time for retrenchment, but also of subterranean activity.  He began by asking them where they felt we are as a nation, before beginning to get them to think about where their organisations were at, and where they themselves were professionally.   Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority felt that we are currently in the season of ‘Winter’ as a nation. 

For clients who are not used to analysing their relationships it seemed to me that a similar exercise might provide a useful way in to considering them. At Coupleworks we see individuals and couples in enormous conflict and distress in their relationships.  So often too many people come blaming almost exclusively their partners for their problems, arguing it’s they who need to change, rather than beginning by stepping back to take a look at themselves in the midst of their distress.

Helping couples to look at the dynamics in their relationship and what each partner as an individual contributes to the pattern that is currently being lived out between them is a complex task.  Often it is hard for people to begin to think about – they become very fixated about the particular problem of an affair, sex, money or how their partner has let them down, doesn’t do enough with the children or whatever. Very often the break through in the log jam begins to occur when each one starts to realise how they are contributing to what is happening in their relationship, rather than focusing solely on their partner’s shortcomings.  Then by working with that realisation we can help to explore a new or shifted dynamic between the couple.

But getting to that starting point is a challenge in itself – as it was for my friend facilitating the group that day.   Putting some context to people’s lives by beginning to identify ‘seasons’ can open up a conversation when things have become very stuck.

So why not try for yourself, or with your partner, some of the following questions.

Which season are we in as a nation?

Which season are we in as a family?

Where am I in myself?

Where do I think my partner is at?

Which season might my partner think I am in?

Where are we as a couple?

Where were we 5 years ago?

Where would we like to be in 5 years time?

I hope that using this might open up a deeper dialogue for you and your partner.

Sarah Fletcher

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