Archive for relationship

The Value of Knowing We Can Be Wrong

I was reading an article in the Times this weekend about Intellectual Humility and people’s willingness to accept the possibility that their beliefs and attitudes might be wrong.

Research shows that “At the high end of the trait are people who recognise their beliefs are fallible and are willing to consider the possibility that they are incorrect”.
“At the low end of the trait, people are generally convinced that their views are correct”. Saying this, most of us lie somewhere in between.

Although I am sure the article is written with Donald Trump in mind, it started me thinking about the difficulty most couples have in accepting different points of view from that of their partner’s.

Couples in therapy often spend too much time arguing their point rather than accepting and listening to each other. Many of my clients talk about needing to be heard by their partner. The desire to be listened to and understood is the foundation of a strong and loving relationship and helps a person feel valued and respected.

Here are some tips for healthy Intelligent Humility:

Listen to your partner. Go into the discussion with an open mind and before interrupting, listen and mirror (say) back what you think you heard. Ask your partner if this is what they meant and listen further if there’s more. Not an easy task and requires the patience of a saint.

Do not assume you know what is about to be said. Clear your mind before coming up with your own narrative. Again, this takes patience and requires a lot of breathing!

Be curious and lean into the understanding that there is not only one-way of seeing an issue. Ask questions and ask yourself about where you might have learned these views, reflect on whether these views are still useful.

Have compassion towards your own feelings and argue your views but do it with sympathy and an open mind.
Remember, we can feel triggered and therefore defensive when we are up against a different point of view so move forward gently.

Shirlee Kay

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

Working with Family Members

As couple therapists, our training is focused on two people: a man and a woman, two women, two men, transgender couples. These are couples that have chosen to commit to a relationship. They have a history of meeting, dating, getting to know one another and (hopefully) falling in love. They come to therapy because their relationship is in trouble, and they want to understand why and how to resolve things.

So what happens when two sisters, two brothers, a mother and daughter, mother and son, father and daughter or father and son need help with their relationship?

When a client I have been working with asked if I would see him with his brother, I was in a quandary as to how I might serve them best. I decided that I would work with the issues that they wanted to address as I would with any couple. But was it as simple as that? What else did I need to consider?

I asked myself what the difference might be working with them, and what I came up with is that this ‘couple’ didn’t choose one another but were born into the same family. The other difference is that the family history is shared but not always experienced in the same.

What struck me about meeting these brothers was there was the same tension between them that ‘normal’ couples often bring into the consulting room. There was also a natural hesitance about delving into difficult feelings between them (opening the ‘can of worms’) and doubted that the other could understand them.

Mike and James grew up with a controlling and divisive mother who would keep one of them in favour and criticise the other. And then, periodically, she would switch. It felt good when they were the chosen one and both acknowledged how difficult it was to protect the other or name what was going on within the family.

By telling the story, the brothers were able to appreciate how they were caught up in a dynamic that they didn’t choose but were forced to adapt to.
As children, they had no guidance and did the best they could to manage, but it left them feeling unprotected and wounded with one another.

I worked with them for eight sessions and they started slowly to trust one another and move forward together. They consciously made a pact to protect one another when the other was out of favour and keep the communication between them open and loving. They realized that changing their mother’s behaviour wasn’t possible but they were determined to step into it, with one another, in a different more thoughtful way. After a time, they found that this made them stronger together and as a result, their relationship became closer and deeper.
Working with two people means simply learning to understand how they experience and relate to one another. Whether it is a romantic couple or siblings going through difficulties, therapy can help disentangle things between them.

Shirlee Kay

Endings

Reading the Sunday papers recently I was struck by how many articles there were dealing with endings. Whether it’s Boris Johnson ending his Mayorship, President Obama coming to the end of his term in office or the UK being uncertain about whether to end its long relationship with Europe.

This set me thinking about how couples often struggle with endings. It’s not easy
Shall we end it? Should we? Can we? are often questions I hear in my consulting room.

Ending a relationship is never easy no matter how many times it has happened. Often we get so caught up in the comfortable patterns of our lives that even when we know things aren’t working for us ending a relationship can be too much effort, take too much time and seem way too difficult and we can end up just treading water.

Ending a relationship can feel like bereavement and we will often avoid having to deal with painful feelings of sadness and loss by choosing to stay.

Here are some scenarios that suggest its time to end the relationship:

 
• Loosing trust and respect for each other

• Only one partner in the relationship wants to have a baby

• Couples that have been together since they were quite young and have grown up together, a degree of comfortableness and security sets in but the intimacy has been lost and often one partner wants to find that with a new partner

* Sexual attraction has disappeared

• No longer share the same values and dreams

• You don’t feel you are thought about in the same way

• Find yourselves making plans with friends and family rather than your significant other suggests you are starting to let go

• Has the fun and laughter gone out of the relationship?

• Is the majority of the time spent together taken up with arguments and conflict

• A strong desire to be with someone else

• A future you once believed in with your partner is no longer there and brings into question why you chose to remain in a relationship with no long term investment

• Recognising your partner feels like a stranger

• Any kind of abusive or violent behaviour

 
Often the fear of being alone, feeling of failure and concerns about what other people may think are feelings that keep us in relationships far too long. It is far better to focus on whether you have given it your best, is it bringing the best out of me, am I getting what I need and to trust your instincts.

It is not easy to make these decisions. Working with an experienced couples therapist to explore some of these difficult and painful issues can help clarify whether the relationship can move forward or needs to end. Taking time out to end a relationship in a good way can really help future relationships.

To quote Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

When you begin, you envision a better end but, when you get to the end, you see the beginning better!

Dawn Kaffel

Rupture in a Relationship and the Idea of Kintsugi

‘The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love. It is perhaps the price we pay for love…’ (Dr C. M. Parkes psychiatrist St Christopher’s Hospice)

‘Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in…’ (Leonard Cohen)

Coupleworks often works with couples who fear that they cannot recover from, or continue after, an event which causes such a crisis in their relationship that they are driven apart. They can feel lost to each another – as if the partner, suddenly, is a stranger.

An affair or even, strangely perhaps, a new baby, can have a disorientating and disturbing impact on their understanding of each other. The couple come into counselling shaken and bewildered. A life which they saw as certain and secure appears shattered, and they no longer know what to trust. It feels as if ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.’ (W.B.Yeats) The comfortable patchwork of their relationship feels broken up and the counsellor is asked, ‘Is there hope for us?’.

A crisis is always a turning point and now things will happen differently. However, it can be an opportunity for positive change and growth. Embracing and engaging with change is hard, but giving up on love and belonging can be worse. There may be horrible fear and vulnerability but the experience of brokenness can shed a light on what has previously not been understood.

Through talking and listening, the means of recovery and repair and healing can begin to emerge. Safely exploring the issues with a counsellor can lead to the deliberate rewriting of the ‘contract’ – building a relationship that is different (and never could be quite the same). A relationship that is safer, deeper, richer, and more resilient than the one that existed previously, can be created. The vicissitudes of a committed relationship are recognised and, crucially, hurt is not disowned, dismissed or repressed.

Japanese ‘Kintsugi’ means ‘golden repair’ or ‘join with gold’. It is the Japanese art form of repairing ordinary broken pottery with seams of precious metal such as gold.

‘Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… The ceramic is, in fact, more beautiful after the break and after the repair’ (Christie Bartlett). Rather than throwing away the damaged article or trying to disguise or minimise the break, the pot or dish is transformed into a piece of art. Kintsugi is a way of acknowledging the history, and wear-and-tear, of an everyday object. The repair takes time, cannot be rushed, and is done with great respect, care, and consideration – and the result is beautiful.

The philosophy that ‘there can be treasure in life’s scars’ is at the heart of the craft. It challenges expectations of ‘perfection’ and promotes the concept of forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion.


Kathy Rees

Difficulties with Commitment in your Relationship?

January was 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 2016 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

Is this the end of the relationship?

I was reading about Jon Stewart’s decision to quit the Daily Show, the American satirical news program he has hosted for 16 years, as something closer to the end of a relationship. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’ “These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”

For many couples, these thoughts might resonate. Long-term relationships bring good times and bad but couples usually find a way of getting through them. There are moments of dissatisfaction, anger and love but hopefully couples begin to accept and continue to value their relationship.

When couples get to a point where they feel the relationship no longer offers them what they hoped for or what they need now, problems naturally arrive. The narrative many couples get caught up in is that ‘because something in their relationship is problematic it means everything is wrong’. At this time, slowing down and considering couples therapy is one way of addressing these feelings.

Couples can learn to see the pitfalls of creating a disaster out of an issue and learn to talk about it differently. This can create an opportunity of having a different, more positive perspective.

Questions to ask before blaming the relationship:
1. Are you unhappy yourself or is your relationship in really in trouble?
2. Are you creating a story about the issue that is worrying you?
3. Are you playing a part in the dynamic that you can take responsibility for? In other words, are you blaming your partner for the entire problem and not seeing your part in it?
4. Can you clearly and specifically identify what the issue is and communicate them to your partner without blame and recrimination?
5. Are you able to listen to what your partner has to say and hear it without prejudice and our own point of view getting in the way?
These are some questions that can disentangle difficult feelings that couples become entrenched in. By clarifying concrete problems from confused feelings we can have a better understanding of what’s really going on.

All relationship change and evolve over the years. Successful long-term relationships are those that accept these changes in ourselves and our partners learn to see what there is there rather than what we feel is missing.

Shirlee Kay

What’s in a name?

Well the writing is over and the bookies are settling the bets – it’s official – the names of the new Princess are Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. And as the commentators have rushed to confirm, each of those names were carefully chosen to link the baby to Kate and William’s families. Charlotte is taken from the French origin of Charles in honour of her grandfather. The name Charlotte is also the middle name of Pippa Middleton so links well to both families. Elizabeth and Diana speak for themselves – named after Charlotte’s great grandmother, the Queen and her late grandmother, Princess Diana.

All of which raises some interesting questions for many couples when it comes to the naming of a new baby. How far should they go along with family tradition? And how far should they aim simply to choose a name that they like, regardless of what others may think about it?

Of course that’s just one example of an issue that every couple faces at some stage in their relationship. All of us have expectations about how to run our lives – varying from the ‘proper’ way to do Christmas, to the priority we place on our family get togethers, to what is right to spend money on – but the problems come in relationships when these expectations clash and one member of a couple just assumes that the other will come into line because that’s what they have been bought up to expect.

In my own experience there are unhealthy and healthy ways to handle these differing expectations. Some couples will never compromise and end up bickering endlessly. In other couples one person will so dominate another that a different perspective never gets a look in. A more healthy dynamic is when couples are able to spend time listening carefully to each other and to be open to making change. Very rarely is there an objectively ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things – it is about the couple working out what is right for them.

One of the many refreshing things about William and Kate is their willingness to put their own stamp on the way they run their lives and no doubt they’ve had to talk about the blending of families expectations on many occasions. Long may that continue and Coupleworks send their congratulations to William and Kate on the birth of their new Princess.

Sarah Fletcher

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

The growth of a couple

The awakening of gardens all over the country can be likened to the growth of a couple and what is needed to constantly care for and fertilise the ongoing story of a relationship.

Like a mother plant, cuttings have to be made, tonic has to be given and weeding around the base needs attending to in order to keep the health and strength of the original root. Sacrifices have to be made to make way for new shoots and changing shapes and ideas.

With a relationship, daily care is needed, new ideas formed and new friendships, hobbies and interests outside and within the couple to enable change and passion to happen without threat to the trust and containment of the two people forming the root couple.

Trusting the other to the extent you trust yourself is an essential part of individuation. Following different interests and incorporating some different groups of friends for each person is like fertilisation and tonic to a plant and couple.

As well as shared ideas, hopes and concerns, outside input is a necessary part of development and change. If a plant is left to soldier on, becoming weaker each year, it will often live a long life but without vibrancy and energy.

Freedom, within trust and interest in the other person’s life on the planet as well as your own, is a wonderful thing if achieved without a sense of abandonment from either side. It brings with it the colour and shape of an interesting garden which changes with time and nurture.

Clare Ireland.

Expectations

Couples naturally come into relationships with predetermined expectations, as well as their own unconscious understanding of how a couple ‘should be’.  This is usually based on what they experienced growing up with their own parents.

If we grew up with parents who did everything together: be it the shopping, household cleaning or making financial decisions, it would make sense that we might expect the same from our relationship.

Difficulties arise when couples are unable to accept that their partner may have different expectations from their own and when they are unable to accept these differences.

Ways of Working with Different Expectations:

1. Ask yourself, what are your expectations from the relationship and from your partner.  Be specific and clear.

2. Enquire where this belief came from, and question whether it is still important in your present relationship or if it’s an old belief system or pattern from the past.

3. Be curious and open about your partner’s expectations and try to accept that they may not be the same as yours.

4. Check in with your body (is your body tensing up?) to see if these differences cause you discomfort?  If so, notice the feelings and accept them.  When we accept our own feelings we can more easily accept our partners.

5. Talk about issues as and when they come up so resentment doesn’t build up.

6. Trust that your partner is NOT trying to injure you, just reacting from his or her own experience.  Trust you are both doing your best and it takes time.   Keep with it.

Shirlee Kay

The challenges of finding a Healthy Work/Life Balance

THREE:  Keeping a healthy Work/Life Balance…

  • It is crucial that the relationship itself is prioritised, considered, nourished and cared for.
  • There is a need for both partners to find the generosity and good-will within themselves to continue to reach out to the partner with arms open wide.
  • It is important that each identifies the ways they can enrich the partnership and not to wait for the change to come from the other.
  • If loving gestures are offered in a way that is meaningful, and recognised as such by the partner, then there will be a tangible easing of tension.
  • Often the biggest first step towards change comes from offering attentive, non-defensive, passionate listening.
  • The empathetic warmth created when feeling really ‘heard’ allows us to relax and stretch in the relationship.