Archive for identity

Rituals and Relationships

Every culture, every family, every couple indeed every individual, has their rituals. Some have been there for centuries – others are of a much more recent origin – but all are important to the formation of identity. Of course it is also true that as human beings we will at times seek to establish our identity by rebelling against the rituals that others use to define us. How many family arguments begin at that point where one or other parent says ‘Well that’s not the way we do things in this family….’

Often, in the counselling room, I am confronted by conflicting rituals, where one or other members of the couple will talk about their frustrations with the other. Their partner’s behaviour seems so unreasonable to them – Why? Because their way just isn’t a good way to mark an event, to celebrate something, or to do a particular task – it’s much more than that… it isn’t the right way to do it. Often it seems as though they are appealing to the therapist to validate their position, almost appealing to a moral adjudicator outside the couple’s experience. The secret as ever is to keep your own ears open to the assumptions you are making and then to share them with your partner whilst being open to hearing a different perspective on them. There is often no right or wrong way of doing things – just different.

But rituals don’t all need to be set in the context of negativity. The fact that every culture has them shows us just how significant they can be in helping us to feel safe, bring comfort, form our identity and mark stages of our lives. In building long term relationships rituals can have an important role. One of the things I encourage couples to think about and to seek to establish are forms of rituals in their own relationships. In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday night curry, or a date night once a month or if they always buy flowers or a gift for each other on particular anniversaries – it is for each couple to work out what’s meaningful for them in their relationship. What matters is that they find some building blocks to create solid foundations for themselves – to create rhythms and traditions that are about the new couple that they are forming. This brings shared meaning and deepens connection in a relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

Counselling when considering Separation

Couples sometimes contact Coupleworks when they are facing the end of their relationship and have the wish to separate as amicably as possible, and with consideration and understanding.

Counselling can offer support when the grief at the thought of a break-up feels overwhelming and help is needed with managing difficult feelings. This is particularly true if the couple have experienced other significant and painful losses in their lives. Broken attachments can provoke great anxiety – and counselling offers the time and space to think about needs and how to tap resources of support.

Being part of a couple can define and strengthen a person’s identity and suddenly being alone requires a re-figuration and understanding of oneself: ‘Who am I now?’ If there are issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth this can feel a monumental task. When there has been a custom of sharing, now there may be an aching sense of loneliness and panic. It may be important to identify and uncover one’s inner resilience.

If the threat of the end of the relationship has come out of the blue, then a partner may have trouble accepting a future that is not the one that was anticipated. Feelings of well-being and certainty have been shaken to the core and plans will need adjusting. There may be financial implications, child-care issues, even the selling of the home. It can be difficult to grasp the extent of the upheaval – and challenging to find the confidence to face life alone.

If there have been childhood insecurities, or rejections, or abandonments, past memories can resurface and create a worry that this present loss just cannot be managed. Starting over, facing the unknown, can cause panic and dread – but talking to an impartial counsellor offers a chance to think more calmly. Family and friends can sometimes find it difficult to stand back, not take sides, and be detached from their own concerns.

When there are feelings of betrayal, bitterness and anger it may be important begin to understand how things have come about. There can be benefit from gaining an insight into the dynamics of the relationship, the patterns of behaviour, and the impulses and reactions of each partner. Untangling the confusion may alleviate feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and prevent getting stuck in recrimination and blame.

Kathy Rees

The Challenges in finding a Healthy Work/Life Balance: Work

ONE:  When we focus on work…

  • • We can often prioritise the demands made by work over the demands emanating from relationships. There can be a disproportionate focus on job over family.
  • • The requirements of the job seem more straightforward, more clearly defined and more easily understood. We list the assignments and achieve the deadlines and, as a result, receive a reassuring sense of competency. There can be a satisfying confirmation of our identity and role in the world.
  • • Feeling in control, being task-orientated, receiving positive feedback from colleagues, can stave off a susceptibility to insecurity and anxiety.
  • • Work can increase our confidence and self-esteem, and soothe a fear of failure; particularly if we have a tendency to feel ‘not-good-enough’
  • • In addition, the time and energy expended is difficult for a partner to challenge when it is justified in terms of earning money and developing a career.

Placement in the Family A useful task in a learning group

First and last children have an identity by the nature of their position.

An only child has an identity because it avoids sibling rivalry but has to face other difficult issues within family life on his/her own.

The middle children however many there are have to form their own identity within the group.  This may be, the joker, the rebel, the sick one, the athlete, the academic, the good girl/boy, the quiet one or the attention seeker.

All these defenses are formed in order to gain special attention from the parents or parent.

When these children become adults many of these learnt behaviour patterns repeat throughout their lives, sometimes making relationships difficult to manage.  An interesting experiment which can be reassuring and helpful in a group is to form sets of same place children who then share their experience of what being that number felt like.

The feeling of being alone becomes a shared one and enables management of difficult issues to feel easier.

Clare Ireland