Archive for intimacy

Couples Therapy can help with Mental Health Issues

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week was ‘Surviving or Thriving’. Mental health problems are on the rise – we are making progress on our physical health but not doing the same with our mental health.  Thanks to journalists and TV programmes speaking out against the stigma of mental health, our awareness is being heightened as to the effects of mental health issues on daily lives.  Thanks to Prince Harry leading the charge of his own experience of depression and anxiety and his work with the Heads Together Campaign with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge they have highlighted the importance and power of conversation and how being able to talk openly about mental health challenges can be life changing.   It now seems a good time to think about how mental health issues impact on our couple relationships.

Mental Health Professionals tend to focus on symptoms and treatments with the individual and overlook the huge impact this has on our couple relationships.  Any couple relationship can have its proverbial ups and downs but what about when there is the extra challenge of being the partner of someone who has a mental illness.  Losing harmony and connection in a relationship is difficult enough but especially so if some of the relationship changes are brought about by one or both partners developing mental health issues.  Things can be very challenging for a partner without mental illness who has to assume a care giving role

Most people fall in love because they are enjoying each other’s company, have fun together and live harmoniously. Life doesn’t always work out as planned. When a partner becomes depressed, they often tune out, withdraw and have little energy to do much except sleep.  This can often give the impression to a partner that they are no longer cared about, and there is no interest in them, or going out or having sex.  This often leaves the other partner having to pick up the slack especially if there are children.  As frustration and exhaustion develop over time, this often turns to anger and resentment at a partner who cant seem to “get over ‘ the depression.  If this pattern continues it can often lead to affairs and a complete breakdown of the relationship.

Issues with mental health can be debilitating and its important that partners recognise some of the signs that suggest a partner is suffering:

signs to look out for:

withdrawal

agitation

hopelessness

acute tiredness

poor self care

change in personality

In my work with couples I see how a healthy relationship can serve as a buffer to help ward off mental health conditions.  Equally it is well documented that relationship stress can negatively affect the person who is struggling with mental illness and make the condition worse.

We all come to our adult relationships with conscious and unconscious patterns from our own experiences and feelings around mental health.  For example growing up with a parent or family member who may have been depressed, anxious or suicidal can greatly influence how we manage mental health issues in our current partnerships.  

Couples coping with some mental health issues are not that different from other couples in therapy. Often individuals experienced a difficult childhood, a history of low self esteem and lack of confidence, trauma and loss.  Although many of these things happened in the past, they often find a way of infiltrating the couple relationship resulting in on-going conflict. They too develop patterns of poor communication, increased conflict and loss of intimacy.  They too have got stuck in negative cycles leaving them feeling distant, helpless and sad.

Give therapy a try

Coming to Couples Therapy with your partner is a positive step forward. Every Mental Health issue presents its own unique challenge and can be complicated and testing on our relationships.  It requires special attention in couples therapy from a skilled couples therapist to help give clarity to the situation.  

Finding a qualified couples therapist is a valuable option to help explore the roots of the mental health issues and to try and understand how it affects each partner.   At Coupleworks we pride ourselves in taking care to consult with the patients GP, primary care worker or psychiatrist so that we can all work together for the patient to bring about change.  We don’t have to just Survive we can learn to Thrive.

Watch out this week for The Duke of Cambridge who will be attending the inaugural This Can Happen Conference highlighting solutions and innovations in the workplace to support mental health.

Dawn Kaffel

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 Legacy of Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent

It has recently been reported that current government investments are looking at funding some proper support for children of alcoholic parents, and recognising the long lasting effects of this legacy.
Finally, there’s some formal acknowledgement of the ongoing devastation caused to children growing up in a family where one, or both, parents are addicted to drink.
As therapists working with adult relationship issues, we usually ask clients to outline their family backgrounds. As soon as the phrase ‘my mother/father was an alcoholic’ comes up, this will give a lot of clues as to how this person may have been raised and what difficulties they could have faced while growing up and trying to make sense of family and relationships.
Many of these alcohol dependent parents will have no idea of the effects their habit has on their families, but the fall-out is generally profound and long-lasting and can impact on their children well into adulthood, if not forever.

Trust
Growing up in the family of a drinker is likely to involve secrecy, there’s the possibility of not knowing how the parent will react as there’s often no consistency in their behaviours. Unpredictability becomes the norm. They may be unreachable, or break promises. Sometimes one parent will cover for the other and truth becomes a fluid concept. The children will have no ongoing feelings that trust and safety are a given. If you can’t trust the people that are your role models, then hope of future solid relationships becomes a lost ideal.

Normality
Well, there just isn’t any, but for the children in these household, chaos or change is their normal, as this is the way that family life continues for them. They may view other ‘ordinary’ families, but we are all mostly affected by our own day-to-day life, and if this is a helter-skelter of experiences, then that’s what we shall accept as reality.
It can be hard for these children to grow into adults who can accept a smooth path, it can also be hard to differentiate between good and bad role models or to integrate into a ‘normal’ family model.

Conflict
Ideally, children should grow up in a situation where anger can be seen as an ordinary part of any loving relationship. Parents can row sometimes, that’s a normal part of couple life. Parents can get cross with children, that’s pretty normal too. But it only works when it doesn’t get out of hand and the child sees that an occasional heated disagreement doesn’t break the caring bond between people. The knowledge that a hug, a kiss and a loving attachment underpins annoyance and is the stronger part of any connection will render reasonable anger as safe and negotiable. The child of an alcoholic is likely to fear any conflict and find it tricky to safely express negative emotion in a healthy way. Assertiveness can later be interpreted as anger and the legacy may be that of constantly seeking the approval of others and hiding their own feelings. Showing need can be dangerously disappointing.

Self criticism
Growing up in these unpredictable environments will often lead a child to become an adult with an over sensitive view of themselves, lacking self compassion and with low self-esteem. Always having to cautiously fit around another, powerful figure leads them to lose their own sense of robustness and identity.

Intimacy
This is a real loss for these clients, as safe intimacy relies on vulnerability. We have to be able to trust another with our deepest feelings and allow them to know our fears to be in an authentic relationship. For the child of an alcoholic, expressing fear can be an alien concept. Losing control will feel massively unsafe. This can also lead to a raft of other, seemingly soothing or distracting habits.
Addiction, eating disorders, co-dependent relationships, or other compulsive behaviours – not inevitable, but if necessary these are important things to be able to express in a safe, therapeutic situation.
Often, these clients have been assigned the role of ‘rescuer’ as a child – this can mean confusing love with pity.  Finding a partner they can concentrate on ‘helping’ to avoid looking after their own needs will repeat this pattern. Alternatively, many will find a partner who is emotionally unavailable, thus repeating the absence of feeling special in their original family.
Staying alert and vigilant was often their natural defence against the fear of the nameless dread that exists when a child feels unsafe on a deep level. Taking this  mindset into adult relationships will undermine the safety and easy companionship that we all need in adult couples.

This might seem a depressing list, but as couple therapists it’s our job to help our clients acknowledge their past. Nothing can change the places we all come from and few of us have a perfect upbringing, but by naming the fears and looking at the full context, together we can begin to make sense of the patterns they may have inherited.
It may be important to look at the unhappy, chaotic parental situation with some compassion. People with addictive personalities are usually suffering themselves and easily afflicted by distorted thinking.
In a safe therapeutic situation we can begin to think about helping clients to distance themselves from this past drama and understand that it need not control the present. Learning to let go is a difficult but rewarding task. Future relationships need not echo those that have gone before.
Let’s hope that the investment in helping today’s children to achieve a healthier childhood will lead to more adults finding loving family relationships of their own in the future.

Christina Fraser

Couples and Conversations about Sex

All sexual relationships can change over time and be affected by so many different circumstances: a critical relationship dynamic, an affair, medication, the distress of infertility, stress at work, loss of libido, health issues, ageing, low self-esteem, menopause, poor body image, pregnancy, or the arrival of children. Even the closest of couples can sometimes find it difficult to talk about their changing sexual needs. Sometimes we actually do not know how we feel ourselves, let alone explain to our partners. Couples, who otherwise talk freely, can curiously find themselves uncertain about expressing themselves. They can be anxious and nervous about offending or hurting their partner, or feel embarrassed and shy of the topic.

The counsellors in Coupleworks see many couples relieved to find a calm and supportive space in which to have the kind of relaxed conversations about sex that can lead to understanding, closeness and renewed intimacy.

Having a counsellor in the room who encourages each partner to listen, understand, and be non-judgemental, means the couple can begin to speak openly and share their feelings.

In the meantime the following questions may help you both to start communicating about sex:

– How do you feel about talking about our sexual relationship? Do you find it difficult to talk openly? What can I do to make the conversation easier? Are there some moments that are better than others?
– Some say their sexual experiences are dependent on feelings. Do you need to feel close to me in order to want sex? When do you feel closest to me? Do you remember a particularly romantic occasion? What was it that made it special for you? What did you feel? What can I do to encourage that feeling of closeness now?
– What do you like about my body? What do you like best about your body?
– What, for you, is the difference between making love and having sex?
– Do you think we have a different sex drive? How can we manage differences in desire?
– What do you feel about looking into each other’s eyes, touching, hugs, cuddles, spooning, caressing, kissing, caressing? What don’t you like so much?
– Sex in a long relationship often needs to be premeditated and prioritised. Foreplay can start a long time before making love and be an accumulative number of small gestures. What foreplay do you like best?
– Are there times you would enjoy a spontaneous ‘quickie’? When could that be? What circumstances would allow it to happen?
– How do you feel about inviting or being the initiator? What kind of love talk makes you smile and engage in idea of sex?
– Arousal starts in the brain. What kind of situations, interactions, do you find erotic and arousing? Is a long or short arousal stage best for you? Do you enjoy the ‘simmer’ or can you go ‘off the boil’? What can I do to improve feelings of arousal for you?
– Do you feel ‘performance anxiety’ at times? Are there things I can do to ease that pressure and make you feel more relaxed and confident?

It’s good to talk!

Kathy Rees

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

The Course of Love Alain de Botton

‘Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completion.’

This quotation, which in many ways both expands and focuses Plato’s search for your other half as described in his Symposium, comes early on in the book by the contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton. The Course of Love is by no means a dry and academic dissertation on the theme of love – still less a series of speculative notes detached from human realities. Rather it is a delightfully written novel, following the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten, which takes the time to unpack what is happening for them along the way.

Listen to him again…

‘In reality, there are rarely squabbles over ‘nothing’ in Rabih and Kirsten’s marriage. The small issues are really just large ones that haven’t been accorded the requisite attention. Their everyday disputes are the loose threads that catch on fundamental contrasts in their personalities’

Botton explores and unpacks the ordinary everyday issues that many couples struggle with and are common themes that come into our consulting rooms at Coupleworks. Through the engaging and compelling narrative of Rabih and Kirsten’s lives, interwoven with profound and thought provoking commentary, he covers issues of conflict, sulking, sex, blame, children and parenting, staying faithful and aging parents.

Underpinning his understanding of the couple relationship is the way in which we are shaped by our early attachment figures – our parents – and how this script forms a pattern for us in our expectations and actions towards our significant partner. On the one hand we expect our partners to respond in ways that are familiar to us, whilst on the other hand we can find ourselves reacting powerfully or seemingly irrationally to certain behaviours. This can lead to conflict, misunderstandings and a growing distance between a couple.

One of the themes he highlights which I find to be one of the most common features of couple therapy, is working with the disappointment that our partner is not going to be the person we would like them to be. But this doesn’t have to mean an unhappy ending. In working through the disappointment and letting go of a sometimes idealistic dream, there is much contentment to be found in an acceptance of the fact that our partners are different and other, and finding an intimacy and connection through that difference.

A final quote from Alain de Botton.

‘The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace’

This book is accessible and a recommended read for all those who face the joys and challenges of being in a relationship!

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

Difficulties with Commitment in your Relationship

January is a month where we were bombarded in the press about the need to make new year resolutions, make changes to our work life balance, loose weight and go to the gym more, eat less sugar and more complex carbohydrates.

In my counselling room recently, I have been aware of how many couples hope and expect 2017 will be the time when their relationship moves forward. However when the subject comes up couples can be faced with very different views on what moving forward means for both of them.

It is clear that making a commitment to a relationship means different things for different people: for some its moving in together, for others its getting engaged, wanting marriage or deciding to have a baby together. For many, these steps come easily and for others making a decision to commit can bring a great deal of distress and disharmony to an otherwise healthy relationship and often results in looking for help from a couples counsellor.

I often encounter couples who appear to present with a really secure and connected relationship and this all goes out the window when one partner wants the relationship to move forward as a natural progression of a committed relationship and the other is in no hurry to change this and is more than happy to stay where they are.

Often discussing moving forward and making a commitment brings happiness and excitement for one and overwhelming anxiety and panic to the other. This is something that affects both men and women.

Some sessions with a Coupleworks counsellor would help partners to look at:

What are some of the causes of Commitment Anxiety?

♣ Fear of intimacy and deep emotional connection
♣ A damaging previous break up or ending of a relationship
♣ A belief this is not the ‘right relationship’
♣ Trust issues
♣ Difficulty with attachment needs being met in childhood
♣ Experience of separation or divorce in parents relationship
♣ Fear of rejection
♣ Negative media exposure on unhappiness of committed relationships
♣ Over focusing on divorce statistics
♣ Fear of loosing independence and being tied down
♣ Not wanting to parent
What are the effects of Commitment issues on a relationship?

♣ Tendency to avoid long- term relationships
♣ Closeness and safety is replaced by distance and avoidance
♣ Risk of developing depression
♣ Loss of confidence in self and partner
♣ Increase in conflict to avoid discussion

Treating commitment issues in couples therapy

An experienced therapist can help identify potential causes of commitment issues in a couple relationship and explore useful ways to work through these issues.

Couples can learn how to understand their fears of commitment, where and how it may have originated and how a rigid way of thinking can be quite paralysing. It opens the way for partners to better discuss fears of making a commitment with each other in a calmer, safer way, and hopefully develops an ability to be more truthful and open about their needs and desires.

Dawn Kaffel

A New Year – a New Relationship

Many of us start the New Year with various resolutions ranging from the need to eat healthier, stop drinking, commit to more exercise etc. Let’s spare a thought to starting 2017 by thinking about making resolutions in our relationships that will help make them more loving and fulfilling.

Here is my A-Z of how to enhance your relationship in 2017 and bring about change.

A is for Accessibility
Take note how available and accessible you are for each other. Can you access your partner’s presence, support and attention when you need it?

B is for Boundaries
Ensure there are clear boundaries between how you divide your time between work, children, family commitments and your partner.

C is for Caring
Take time to think about how you show care to your partner. Is it how they wish to be cared for?

D is for Dance
Relationships are like dances. We often get stuck playing the same music and dancing the same steps. Understanding and validating the feelings of our partners, meeting their attachment needs, changes the music. As the music
changes, so does our dance.

E is for Emotions
Emotionally Focused Therapy helps couples tune into their own important feelings and needs and then helps to put those needs and feelings across to a partner helping to create more closeness and security.

F is for Fun
Relationships can often loose their sense of fun that you used to have at the beginning of a relationship. Discuss together how to bring back the fun you once enjoyed.

G is for Glamour
Lounging around in a tracksuit and pj’s is Ok at times but don’t forget to step up the glamour sometimes and put on the lippy and heels!

H is for Happiness
Having a smile on our faces, and sharing laughter together brings happiness to a couple relationship

I is for Intimacy
By making time to talk, discuss and play together, intimacy helps build feelings of safety and security and knowing that your partner is there for you.

J is for Joy
Often partners get bogged down with complaining about each other and forget about the feelings of joy they once had. Discuss what would bring joy back into the relationship

K is for Kindle
Think about different ideas and things you can do that would rekindle a relationship that may be stuck

L is for LOVE
When we communicate with our partners we should:
LISTEN with an
OPEN mind
VALIDATE and acknowledge each other
EXPRESS our thoughts and feelings, slowly and simply

M is for MOMENTS
Be more mindful of the little inconsequential moments that happen every day which are taken for granted. We can feel a lot closer when we feel our partners have noticed.

N is for NOURISHMENT
Think of ways to nourish your relationship – it may be as simple as going down the road for a coffee or arranging a surprise.

O is for OPENNESS
Don’t hold onto resentments and negativity. Find a way of being more open about how you feel in a gentle sensitive manner

P is for PASSION
Couples find happiness through intimacy, passion and commitment. Keeping passion alive in a long-term relationship is not always easy but giving each other more time and energy and thinking outside the box is often a way forward

Q is for QUICK FIX
There is no pill for a quick fix of your relationship. Relationships need time and effort to make them the best they can possibly be and only you can figure out what that is.

R is for REFLECT
To be able to self reflect on our own behaviours and emotions rather than criticise and blame another is crucial to building a stronger more connected relationship.

S is for SHARING
Spending more time sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas makes partners feel listened to and validated

T is for TIME OUT
There are times in all relationships when feelings can get out of control. Taking time out away from each other in a calm measured way, gives us time to calm down and reflect and control our own behaviour.

U is for UNDERWEAR
Taking time to go shopping together for new underwear can help couples connect more intimately and sexually

V is for VALIDATION
Instead of responding with a knee jerk defensive reaction, it’s important that we make an effort to validate what our partner says as its important to them. This helps to make them feel respected and listened to, even if your view is different to theirs.

W is for WITHDRAW
It’s easy for couples to get into negative patterns of behaviour where 1 partner is the pursuer and the other closes down and withdraws. By identifying these patterns of behaviour partners can start to understand each other’s feelings better and make changes in their behaviour.

X is for X-RATED
Where is sex on your priority list? Are you making enough time for a good sexual connection, or is it way down the list of your priorities? “Emotional connection creates great sex and great sex creates deeper emotional connection”

Y is for YOGA
Yoga teaches true mindfulness – living in the present moment. Yoga can be a great stress reliever and certain positions improve flexibility and increase blood flow. For a closer sexual connection with your partner practise yoga positions together. Breathing, and moving together can be great foreplay.

Z is for …….Zzzzzzz
Turn off the computer, ipads and phones. Go to bed together, in a restful, calm manner and see what a difference a good nights sleep brings to your relationship.

 
Dawn Kaffel

Resilience in the Couple Relationship

Couple therapist Esther Perel writes that ‘we each come out of childhood with a greater need for either separateness or togetherness’ and, as a result, managing our adult relationships is a constant challenge. Very often a close couple relationship is one of our principal sources of emotional sustenance, reassurance and intimacy, but a difference in our levels of need can be disconcerting and frightening. Feelings of abandonment from what seems like a lack of concern can create panic. Feeling engulfed by what seems clingy over-dependence can feel smothering. At the start, balancing is not seen as a problem, but major life-events, stresses, and crises can cause ripples in the smooth surface and a once-stable relationship can suddenly feel unsafe. Each partner’s response to a feeling of disconnection will be individually shaped by past experience, but the differences can cause both a worrying confusion and insecurity: ‘I feel I don’t know you anymore!

Disagreement can flare into destructive conflict and anger. Repetitive, stuck behaviour patterns begin to emerge with downward spirals of protest and defensiveness. The couple can feel helpless and lost and come into counselling fearing their relationship is broken. The concept of the relationship as a safe haven has been challenged and they are wary, reluctant to trust. Suspicion has replaced good will.

Counselling, however, can offer a restorative healing experience. If a couple can be ‘brave-hearted’ and engage with the process of discovery and understanding, they can find the motivation needed to turn a stressful experience into an opportunity for growth. Transformational coping-strategies- such as working to change ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ (ANTs) into ‘Positive Alternative Thoughts’ (PATs) – allow for a discovery of powerful emotional resilience.

From the brain’s perspective, it is usually safer to stick to what is familiar, deeply ingrained, how we always react (even though we also know it does not serve us well) rather than risk the vulnerability and uncertainty of doing something different. Change is uncomfortable. So, resilience is a quality that needs to be developed – it is not a fixed character trait.

In order to feel the confidence and safety to strike out for change we need to feel buffered against what we pessimistically see as potential disappointment. Counselling, then, gives the opportunity to set events into the required broader perspective. Optimism is not helpful unless it is realistic – and realism is the ability to assess the situation clearly and challenge negative distortions.

For those traumatised by past relationship wounds, trust can be difficult. However, significant gestures of reassurance and ‘turning towards’ make for a relaxation of tension. Renewed closeness has a soothing reparative effect that goes towards healing hurt. Shifts and accommodations are evident and a recognition of a partner’s love, care and concern allows for significant recovery and hope for the future.

Kathy Rees

Building and Repairing Trust

As we watch with astonishment the battle that is being played out between Clinton and Trump and the bitter attacks that are being thrown at each other, its very difficult to believe that we can trust either of them to fulfil the role of President of the United States.

Being able to trust your partner is one of the cornerstones of a healthy strong relationship. Without trust it’s difficult to build a strong connection that helps deepen and grow a relationship. We need trust to feel safe and secure and have confidence that our partners are there for us physically and emotionally.
Building trust in a partnership is a gradual process and requires commitment from both parties. It is the foundation of any long term relationship and helps to
make us feel confident and secure with each other. It also helps us cope with challenges that may arise in the future trusting that our partner is there by our side throughout more difficult and testing times.
Being able to trust ourselves is an important element in being able to trust a partner. Perhaps you may have been hurt in the past, which may affect your ability to trust yourself and therefore others.

At Coupleworks we see many couples struggling with trust issues in their relationships for many different reasons such as money, addiction, texting, emotional and physical affairs. Trust is one of the easiest feelings to loose and the hardest to regain. Without it couples find it hard to deepen their relationship.

How to build Trust – Its worth checking out these pointers:

Are we there for each other?
Does your partner listen to you and is open with you?
Do you feel your partner supports you?
Do you feel genuinely cared about?
Do you feel its safe to talk about feelings and you don’t get a negative response?
Can you depend on your partner?
Is there consistency in what your partner says and how they behave?

What happens when we lose Trust

Not being open and honest with each other, keeping secrets erodes trust.

At times lack of trust can be something we experienced as children growing up in our family of origin. This imprint we can take into our adult relationships and may make us feel more vulnerable around trust issues. Its important to understand whether the mistrust is a pre-existing condition or something that has developed in the relationship due to the behaviour of your partner.
Believing that your partner does not have your best interests at heart can lead to a lack of trust creeping into your relationship.
Loosing trust in one another can be damaging and long lasting often creating wounds and scars that prevent closeness and intimacy growing between partners.
Betrayal of trust such as an affair can lead to trauma and injury.

Affairs can completely rock a marriage. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel while infidelity can shatter trust, it doesn’t mean couples cant find a way to rebuild their relationships.

How to repair Trust

Understanding this is a crisis in a relationship
Consider each other’s views and feelings and listen to each other calmly
Engage in positive and constructive discussion
Strong shared motivation to work together to resolve the issue
Understanding and appreciating the damage caused
The more effort put into the repair process the more you will make it through the crisis

Sometimes, despite all efforts, repairing a relationship when trust has been tested is not possible, seeing a couples counsellor may be a good idea if you are stuck and unable to move forward.

“The most precious thing in the world is trust – without trust you have nothing – with it you can do great things”

 
Dawn Kaffel

How to keep sex alive

Summer might only just be upon us but it is the season of weddings nonetheless. Many couples are experiencing the results of much planning and anticipation as they come to their big day. Many hopes and expectations abound as to what their life together will be like – the unknown of the journey ahead for many at this stage is exciting and yet possibly unnerving.

But what of those years ahead – one of the questions I am asked a lot in counselling is ‘How do we keep our relationship and particularly sex alive?’ Sex in the first couple of years of a relationship is passionate, urgent and much wanted for most couples. But then the ordinariness of life sets in – the familiarity, the pressures of work, young children bring time pressures and sleepless nights and suddenly years down the line couples take each other for granted and sex gradually becomes something that moves way down the list of importance, or it even becomes a matter of conflict for the couple.

So here are some tips for how to keep your sex alive after those early years in a relationship. Broadly speaking, sex will be better if you are more fully yourself, and if you are emotionally more connected to your partner..

1. Spending all your free time together can stifle difference and individuality. Those elements are needed for good sex in a long-term relationship. Pursue some separate interests – it is healthier for you both to be able to be fully yourselves and keeps some mystery and interest between you.

2. Show appreciation and say thank you to your partner. Daniel Keltner is quoted in the Observer saying that studies show that romantic partners who express gratitude are more than three times less likely to break up. The warmth and good feeling that is generated by simple gestures of goodwill can make an amazing difference to sex.

3. Stay emotionally in tune with your partner – check out how they are and take time to talk. Being connected emotionally is a starting point to being connected physically.

4. Take time to have fun together – play tennis – go dancing – enjoy a movie – or make time for a weekend break. Fun outside the bedroom can lead to more fun within.

5. Make the bedroom a digital free zone.

6. Schedule sex. Let go of the idea that the best sex is spontaneous. There can be fun in the anticipation.

7. Remember to kiss your partner and take time about it. It is a way of building real intimacy between a couple.

8. Try something new – surprise your partner. Don’t just use the same routine and path that you know works. Familiarity can become dull, and sexual arousal can be enhanced by a fresh approach.

9. Finally don’t look back to the past – enjoy who you are now both individually and as a couple and look forward to new and life-enhancing times together.

Sarah Fletcher

Being Yourself.

Being yourself.

Being in a functioning, learning, exploring and interested couple is all part of intimacy. Some of the experience of getting there can feel like a rollercoaster of misunderstanding and helplessness. Having paid for the ride, the couples who learn from it and don’t jump off, can reach a safe and peaceful place when coming into land.

Part of what two people discover from living in close proximity over many years, is that true love comes from balancing their own and each other’s different selves. This ambiguous acceptance allows for the loveable bits and the difficult bits in self and other to create adult and realistic respect, tolerance and understanding.

Counselling and analysis is rooted in trying to establish who the person or people really are and how much they are acting out under an umbrella of other peoples’ selves and voices. Their complex self can become a jigsaw of internalised ‘shoulds’, ‘ought to’ and ‘musts’.

Religion, politics, culture, families, employment and other structures are often the foundation bricks from which a person’s original self and learnt self grows and becomes their thought process.

Extracting blended self from defended self can take a lifetime of gradual awareness. The learning process can take time and trust to establish two whole selves within a couple. More than two people are present in the dialogue. On the first encounter a couple may only see the blended self in the other and that is often a part of the seduction. What follows, however, over the years can be that the original self becomes smothered by the outside persona and the balanced self is incomplete. Therefore the seductive bit at the outset becomes the difficulty which brings people into Coupleworks.

Far from being on the brink of disaster, it can with skillful counselling become the brink of positive change. So the early glimpse becomes the bit which develops into a true, balanced and containing self in each other. Completing the rollercoaster ride takes patience and acceptance of the disappointment of unrealistic expectations at the outset, but the reward is coming into a safe and loving landing.

Clare Ireland

Holidays – a Dream or a Nightmare?

Holidays are usually seen as a break from the stresses and strains of everyday life, a chance to take a deep breath and have a change from everyday routine.

Going away with your significant other can be joyful and a great time to spend more time together to relax and reconnect. However for others spending a period of concentrated time together can be difficult and stressful and not always a bed of roses!

Perhaps it is taken for granted that because we go on holiday it means that we should get on better, but if there are issues that are unresolved at they are going to come on holiday with you!!

So as we approach a time in the year where thoughts go to planning a holiday here are a few guidelines to avoid some of the common pitfalls:

1.Plan the holiday together. Make sure you are both going somewhere that you both want to visit. This can eliminate disappointment and frustration of the others choice of destination.

2.Make it clear and discuss what you both want to achieve from your holiday.

3.If you want to sit in the sun and your partner prefers to explore and sightsee, just make sure there is enough time and space to do the things you both want to do, both separately and together.

4.Don’t make the mistake of doing too much running around on holiday and replicating what happens at home. A holiday is the opportunity to do something different from the normal. Doing nothing and just being comfortable with this is part of relaxing on holiday.

5.It’s important that we feel that we have our partner’s undivided attention, so avoid constant use of mobile phones and laptops. If you need to be in touch with the office, make sure it is the minimum and at a time that suits you both and quickly return to holiday mode.

6. Don’t use the holiday to bring up past arguments and resentments. It will be much more beneficial to focus on the positive bits of each other to help relax, reconnect and achieve closer intimacy so you can deal with the niggles and annoyances better when you return home.

Enjoy!

Dawn Kaffel

Are Couples using Social Media to avoid Intimacy?

A young couple in their early 30’s sits in front of me trying to understand why they’ve been struggling with intimacy. He describes coming home from work and how his girlfriend spends their evening with the phone, IPad and computer surrounding her, not speaking. Facebook, email and texts messages join them in the bedroom and the day draws to a close. This is an ongoing scenario and is taking a toll on their relationship.

On the surface, the issue is simple, just put down the computers and pay attention to your partner. It’s a reasonable request, but many couples struggle with keeping it going. It has become the modern day “Honey I have a headache” to avoid having sex and is becoming a common theme in couple’s therapy.

While I am not sure it’s helpful to pathologize this issue of using social media to avoid connecting to your partner; it does feel valuable to pay attention when it does happen. Becoming more conscious of when we use our computers to ‘disengage’ from our partner allows us to reconnect to our feelings of resistance. When we are able to identify these feelings, we are more likely to be able to name them to ourselves and to talk to our partners about what’s really going on.

Steps to breaking the habit of social media:
1. Make a conscious effort to finish your e-mails, look at Facebook and tweeting before coming together in the evening.
2. Interact and discuss what social media activities you have been up to with your partner.
3. Try watching entertainment together on your IPad for a more intimate experience.
4. Choose an activity that you both find enjoyable: working out, watching a film or cooking together. Why not sign up for a course or do something you may not have done before such as yoga, the opera or a massage course.
5. If you are tempted to go on Facebook or email ask yourself if you may be avoiding spending time together or being intimate with your partner. Ask yourself why this is and discuss it.
6. Be present with your partner; spend time just being together without the distraction of your computer. Talk to each other about what you’ve been reading, thinking or dreaming about? Let them know a part of you no one else does. You might find the spark with your partner that you lost before you hooked up with the virtual world.

Shirlee Kay

Online Relationships Vs The Couple

Losing closeness
The act of connecting on social media of all kinds is really quite narcissistic. It’s about ‘ME’ – my popularity, my selfies, my adeptness at games, my rating on twitter.
In a close couple we have to learn to give, to listen and sometimes allow quietness into the relationship.
Intimacy can only come through a feeling of real connectedness and feeling special.
Digital life has its place, but not when it feels as if it has replaced the significant other in the couple relationship.
Sometimes it can feel like a battle for attention when a partner wants more time and complains that a screen appears to be more enticing than spending time focused on each other.
Keep those links on the outside and don’t allow them to become a dangerous distraction.

Why can’t we allow ourselves to sometimes feel lonely?
The impulse is to avoid this at all costs and an easy solution is to rely on social media where there are countless potential friends with whom to engage.
We can link with others through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. to find friends and like-minded mates or colleagues. We can get an instant fix for our isolation and be part of a limitless community. We can collect ‘friends’ but then too easily lose a sense of real closeness so that now we no longer need to feel isolated.
Why then is being connected to this apparently enabling group of others such a source of frustration in couples therapy?
It can be hard, sometimes, to distinguish between meaningful relationships in the real world and casual connections that make a useful shield to reinforce our anxiety about our actual place in society.

Change your habits
There will always be jobs to do online, and sociable linking – some of which is a response to chores and duty, some of which is fun and playful. But there need to be boundaries.

• Agree to have a date night, preferably weekly in which there is an allowed time (not more than 45 minutes) to catch up on work/family/domestic issues. After that the conversation has to revolve around the two of you.
• At least three nights a week, try to go to bed at the same time. Intimacy is not just about sex, but engaging fully with each other. Don’t use the excuse of a late night TV show or a compulsive game to avoid this closeness.
• Screens should be turned off at least one hour before lights out. We need time to have a digi-detox regularly.

We have all witnessed the sad picture of two people at a restaurant table, each glued to their small screen, temporarily oblivious to their companion.
Don’t let your social media connections fill up the spaces that should be kept for your partner.

Christina Fraser

Under the Covers, Intimacy and Sex

A client of mine mentioned a new app called Under the Covers, which allows couples to let their partners know what their sexual fantasies are. The app works by the couple separately typing their fantasies into the app and only if the partners type the same fantasy it comes up on both their screens (and saves them the embarrassment of the other seeing the ones that don’t match).
This allows couples to go forward in playing out the fantasy and gives them both the reassurance that it is mutual and welcomed.

This made me start to think about how very difficult it is for couples to talk to one another about sex in general. Many of the couples we see at Coupleworks come because they aren’t having sex, enough sex or that sex they are having isn’t satisfying or diverse enough.

After taking a sexual history and clearly identifying the specific issue, the first question I ask is ‘how do you talk about this together?’ Unsurprisingly, the answer is usually ‘Rarely’ or ‘ Never’. The problem this can create is that couples make assumptions about their sexual relationship without checking with their partner if it’s accurate or not.

Sex and intimacy are closely aligned and couples often don’t realise that the best way into a good sexual relationship is to talk about it. It’s not as simple as ‘This is what I like or don’t like,’ although this is also important, but to express your discomforts, embarrassments, not knowing how or what to do and other insecurities surrounding sex. Disclosing intimate parts of ourselves is what enables couples to know one another and to begin to trust and rely on each other to accept all parts of them. This is intimacy.
Shirlee Kay

Managing Virtual and Face-to-Face Relationships

• It would seem that there is a fundamental human urge to connect and relate to others – although that may be expressed in a multiplicity of ways. Each person will have their own definition of intimacy, closeness, love, relationship, connection, friendship – and what is necessary for them to remain comfortable and relaxed within their different relationships.
• How we relate to one another as adults is affected by our reactions to the combination of our family histories, our friendships, our school experiences, our romantic liaisons, our work colleagues. But connect to others we do. It is an expression of our need to be known and belong, to be recognised and heard, to be attached, to be seen as special.
• This seems to be indicated by the growth of Social Networks – whether Facebook (with billions of members), Twitter, Linkedin – where we count the number of ‘friends’, ‘followers’, or ‘contacts’ and get a sense of affirmation and validation that we matter.
• But how does a development of online relationships, and an absorption with our screens, impact on our face-to-face relationships? Is our understanding of what is a ‘friend’ changing? We can feel challenged and frustrated when we are faced with the complexities and flaws of the ‘whole’ person in reality. We can escape into online relationships, which are often ‘part’ relationships, with fantasy filling in the bits that are unknown. The ‘perfect’ person seems tantalisingly within reach. On dating websites there is always someone else to choose, with the click of a mouse, as we chase the elusive perfect match.
• There can be a danger of developing a powerful emotional connection with someone we message online but whom we have never met. The difficulty lies in the fact that we do not have to accommodate their foibles, idiosyncrasies, mood changes and we can role-play in return. There can be a frisson of excitement that transcends the mundanity of ordinary life. We can become addicted to the escapism offered by the virtual world. Do we use social media to avoid tackling a problem in our ‘real’ relationships?
• Does confiding in an online friend matter if we are in a close couple relationship? If the messaging becomes sexual will it be experienced as a betrayal and viewed as an affair? Are boundaries broken if photographs and images are exchanged? Aaron Balick describes it as one of the partners going ‘missing in action’. If things are serious it may be time to seek counselling and explore what is happening in the dynamics of the relationship.
• Recognising it can be compulsive, it may be that consciously monitoring our use of tablets and smartphones will be enough. We may need to discipline ourselves to switch off during mealtimes, sitting on the sofa, at bedtime, and talk face-to-face and touch skin-to-skin!

Kathy Rees

Holidays – a Dream or a Nightmare?

Holidays are usually seen as a break from the stresses and strains of everyday life, a chance to take a deep breath and have a change from everyday routine.

Going away with your significant other can be joyful and a great time to spend more time together to relax and reconnect. However for others spending a period of concentrated time together can be difficult and stressful and not always a bed of roses!

Perhaps it is taken for granted that because we go on holiday it means that we should get on better, but if there are issues that are unresolved they are going to come on holiday with you!!

So as we approach a time in the year where thoughts go to planning a holiday here are a few guidelines to avoid some of the common pitfalls:

1.Plan the holiday together.  Make sure you are both going somewhere that you both want to visit.  This can eliminate disappointment and frustration of the others choice of destination.

2.Make it clear and discuss what you both want to achieve from your holiday.

3.If you want to sit in the sun and your partner prefers to explore and sightsee, just make sure there is enough time and space to do the things you both want to do, both separately and together.

4.Don’t make the mistake of doing too much running around on holiday and replicating what happens at home.  A holiday is the opportunity to do something different from the normal. Doing nothing and just being comfortable with this is part of relaxing on holiday.

5.It’s important that we feel that we have our partner’s undivided attention, so avoid constant use of mobile phones and laptops.  If you need to be in touch with the office, make sure it is the minimum and at a time that suits you both and quickly return to holiday mode.

6. Don’t use the holiday to bring up past arguments and resentments.  It will be much more beneficial to focus on the positive bits of each other to help relax, reconnect and achieve closer intimacy so you can deal with the niggles and annoyances better when you return home.

Enjoy!

Dawn Kaffel

 

Boarding School Syndrome

The way in which we form our early relationships with our parents or primary carers affects our long-term relationships in later life.

Young children who have to deal with early separation and loss, either from adoption, bereavement of a parent or prolonged separation from their parents for whatever reason, have to manage the strong feelings that are evoked by this trauma in some way or other.  Children who are sent to boarding school at an early age also suffer in this way.

Joy Schaverien, an author and psychoanalyst published a paper on ‘Boarding School Syndrome’ in the British Journal of Psychotherapy in May 2011 and is currently writing a book on the psychological impact of boarding school.

She suggests that these young children who become ‘looked after children’, have to develop coping mechanisms to manage the separation from their parents. Joy identifies a cluster of learned behaviours:

  •  Pattern of Emotional Encapsulation (Self-sufficiency)
  •  Problems with Intimacy
  •  Inability to talk about Feelings
  •  Making deeply dependent relationships and then cutting off

This of course has an impact when the ex-boarder forms an intimate relationship in later life. As a young child in an alien environment, the boarder learns to cope with things on their own, to shut down their feelings and to cut off from their feelings of loss and grief at leaving home. They then often struggle in adult life to allow closeness and intimacy, preferring to be self-sufficient and independent.  This is a defence against igniting the earlier feelings of loss and separation, which were too painful to bear as a child.

For ex-boarders or those in a relationship with an ex-boarder, it can be helpful to begin to explore the impact of those early experiences on their current relationship.  The learned behaviours that were adopted as a way of surviving in their early years get in the way of a fulfilling and satisfying adult intimate relationship.  Being able to begin to understand and process those early experiences is a good place to start.

For further information visit Joy Schaverien’s website www.joyschaverien.com