Archive for power struggle

Let’s have a good row

Couples coming to counselling will usually describe communication problems as one of the main reasons for seeking outside help.
A magnetic twosome that starts in a glowing bubble of love, fuelled by a powerful cocktail of chemical reaction is likely to have some disappointing moments as realism and disappointments begin to sneak up on the happy couple.
Psychologists describe this first stage in the passage of a relationship as the Romance Stage which generally lasts around 18 months to 2 years before life cruelly pushes us into the Power Struggle stage. 
Often, the higher the hope the deeper the disappointment when our ‘other’ transpires to be just that … No longer our twin soul, but another who just doesn’t see things the right way (that is, the way we see them)
This is where couples endeavour to point out to each other, often not with much gentleness, exactly where the other one is going so very wrong.
The partner who had seemed so kind and understanding can often become an enemy who just doesn’t get us at all.
Now, when momentarily disenchanted with our beloved, all we see are the flaws and the differences instead of those glowing attributes and understandings that seemed to blind us at the start.
The power struggle is a hard system to shift, but when I ask in a first session how a couple argues, it’s the answer ” O, we never row” that makes me know the work will probably be long and hard.
It is often the ability to have a creative row that can lead a couple to some better understanding of each other and show there is passion in the dynamic between them.
There is, however, a big difference between abusive anger which is unsustainable and cruel, and a good barney which often leads to repair and an affectionate re-entry into the safety of the loving side of our partner.
Here are some tips for A Good Row.

1. Pick your battles 
It’s pointless to keep moaning about unloading the dishwasher (aka ‘nagging’) unless you can recognise what is really being said. Are you actually asking for more help around the house, or maybe it’s about just feeling generally unheard and unimportant. Think it through and try to explain your feelings. Behind most power struggles is fear.

2. Avoid accusatory language
This one is easy. So when describing some issue of contentiousness, don’t use the ‘you’ word, as in ‘you always..’ Or ‘you never…’ And instead, own the feeling that it evokes in you.
‘When X happens, it can make me feel …..’  (Fill in your own reaction)

3. The impact of childhood 
Ingrained issues often come from past experiences. Think of where you may have felt this way before you ever met your partner. Ask how anger was dealt with in their family. Conflict averse families don’t help kids to learn how to process difficult feelings. Critical parents can breed critical children – often they grow up to be hard on themselves and will dole it out because they can’t bear their own feelings of not being right.

4. Try to listen
This one is tricky in the middle of heightened emotions. But do try to think about what is being said rather than just waiting to speak. If people feel heard, they are more likely to listen to your point.

5. Not in front of children
Sounds so obvious, but often doesn’t happen. Children can be really scared by continual rows. Never include them or confide in them. Sometimes gripes are bound to become public, but make sure they also see you hugging and close so they grow up seeing that anger isn’t a deal breaker, but can be successfully and lovingly negotiated.

6. Keep it clean
However bruised we feel it’s important to keep to the relevant issue and not allow anger to take over and become a character assassin. Hurting because we feel hurt can only cause deeper pains that take a long time to heal.

7. Don’t use sulking as a weapon
Sometimes confused feelings cause people to withdraw. It’s ok to discuss this at a quiet moment and explain that we need a period of quiet time to regroup. This is so different to doling out The Silent Treatment, which is borne out of inability to express feelings and is tantamount to withholding and over-harshly punishing the other.

Now for the good news, overcoming the worst of the Power Struggle Stage can lead to a healthier Commitment Stage and a far stronger and successfully tested relationship.
Here’s Huey Lewis to explain.

Christina Fraser

 

Election fatigue

Q. How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?

A.  None. They will just spend the time blaming each other for the failure of the dud one.

As couple counsellors, we are often called upon to try and better understand the power struggle that erupts when partners don’t feel heard or understood by each other.
Couples can talk over one another, score points by attacking each other and loudly dismiss each other’s concerns until a situation becomes so loaded that it is hard for them to understand how they can ever find a peaceful middle ground.
If they reach the point of dissolve, they then often also disagree how best to parent their children.

Employing the same tiring rhetoric, the Dave and Ed election sessions appear to be getting just as fruitless as the couple desperately intent on trying to impress their audiences with just how right they are and how the other is completely muddled.

We, the poor kids in the middle of all this, now have to decide which parent gets our vote. They are both promising lots of treats and explaining how much better life will be if they are the parent making the big decisions about our health, wealth and safety.
Professional rivalry disintegrates into personal rivalry. Currently it’s all getting grubbier by the day. Playground politics rule.
Their couple sessions on TV and in the media are accompanied by each other’s back up friends and relatives. Leaders are only ever pictures clinging onto their spouses to ensure we understand how empathetic and family orientated they both are. Everyone is desperate to show their golden side. The shadows will come later.
Accusations, insults and assassination by media spin. It all gets in the way of the truth which is the same here as it is for our couples.
There is no ‘right’ way. There are two viewpoints to each truth. Sometimes more than two. Reason and compassion should be the main helpmates, but these are in short supply.
Counselling could help, but that would involve the tricky business of really listening, not just waiting to speak.

Currently it’s getting childishly competitive. Voting for the best parental guidance will be a confusing choice for many.  Mudslinging just gets tiring and messy for the audience. Will the victor sadly just be the biggest and loudest and the one that can throw the most dirt?
For many in couple therapy feeling victorious can be more important than caring about the other.
The winner takes it all. But will it make them happy?

 

Christina Fraser

Five Tips for Improving your Relationship in 2014

We can offer praise in so many situations, but this can so easily disappear in relationships. remember to thank each other for the small things. Make a point of showing appreciation for at least one thing a day.

Find time for each other. The couple relationship will not flourish without attention. Take the time to do things together. If finances are tight and going out is tricky, try and make an evening at home special even if it is just eating at a table and switching off tv, phones and computers for a few hours.

Listen to your partner if they are trying to get a point across. You think you have heard it all a thousand times already, but try and think why this situation always becomes so loaded, and why they feel so strongly. Remember that behind nearly every power struggle is fear. Look out for the deeper issues and find out how these things were sorted in their original family.

Walk and talk. being in a confined space during a difficult discussion can make things feel worse. if there are subjects that need serious thought, try going for a walk. Being outside and together but not looking at each other can help. We are less likely to misread facial expressions and body language.

Finally remember that we can never change another person, and it is tiring and frustrating to try. The only person we can change is ourselves. Try dealing with problems in a different way, and it is almost inevitable that your partner will therefore respond differently.

Christina Fraser

Valentines Day – Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered? Love does not always run smoothly – even the best of partners can take a moment to look at their relationship, and the rest of us always need a few pointers, Coupleworks is here to give you some tips for today, and everyday…

  • We can offer praise in so many everyday situations, but this can so easily disappear in our most important relationships. Remember to thank each other for the small things. Make a point of appreciation for at least one thing a day. And keep touching, sometimes a hug Is a good painkiller
  • Find time for each other. The couple relationship will not flourish without attention. Take the time to do things together. If finances are tight and going out is tricky, try and make an evening at home special even if it is just eating at a table and switching off tv, phones and computers for a few hours. Agree on an electronic truce, and concentrate on each other.
  • F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) is the driver behind a lot of phone and screen checking. If you take each other for granted it will be the vital relationship that misses out the most.
  • Listen to your partner if they are trying to get a point across. You think you have heard it all a thousand times already, but try and think why this situation always becomes so loaded, and why they feel so strongly. Remember that behind nearly every power struggle is fear. Look out for the deeper issues and find out how these things were sorted in their original family. How was anger dealt with? Did they come from a conflict averse family, or was rage freely expressed? And importantly how were rows repaired. The family that can express fury but also show loving repair is the best example, but not all of us have this template. Each new family can learn to UNlearn the examples shown to them, and set up better ways of resolving conflicts.
  • One truth, two perspectives. Yes, of course you are right, but that is your ‘right’ – the other side has theirs, and it is just another slant on the same situation. Sometimes there is even a third way of looking at something. Agree to disagree, it is not a mortal battle. You can see another point of view, acknowledge it and then put the whole thing away.
  • Walk and talk. Being in a confined space during a difficult discussion can make things feel worse. if there are subjects that need serious thought, try going for a walk. Being outside and together but not looking at each other can help. We are less likely to misread facial expressions and body language.
  • Often it is just feeling heard that is vital. Give up the need to ‘fix’ the problem. A search for the solution and a parental opinion may just frustrate even more.  Often the hardest thing to do is just to listen and not feel that all dilemmas needs solving. Don’t be tempted to soothe or minimise fears, let your partner know that you are really giving them all your attention, they are then much more likely to want to listen in turn, when you need this.
  • Finally remember that we can never change another person, and it is tiring and frustrating to try. The only person we can change is ourselves. Try dealing with problems in a different way, and it is almost inevitable that your partner will therefore respond differently.