Archive for secure base

Relationships and Commitment and ‘Why You will Marry the Wrong Person’ (Alain de Botton)

‘The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she does not exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently – the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the ‘’not overly wrong’’ person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its pre-condition.’ (Botton)

Relationships are complicated and yet, at the beginning, can feel so simple and so intoxicating. Partners feel they ‘fit’ together. There is a powerful mutual attraction and there seems so much agreement. There is a delight in the similarities of shared values, interests, ambitions, outlook, or sense of humour.

The glow that emanates from feeling so understood and accepted helps establish a unique and intricate web of inter-connection. Each feels in safe hands and senses the relationship has now established a secure base which can be trusted. The couple dares to feel optimism and hope for the future. The decision to commit to one another, (get engaged, move in together, make their vows in a civil partnership or a wedding), is cause for celebration. 

Yet it is a sad fact that, despite such early promise, many relationships end and 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce. 

Of course, couples are aware that life can be challenging and that the glossy romantic dream sold by celebrities, the movies and the media, is not the whole story. 

It is also accepted that preparation for a big event can be of benefit and pre-empt misunderstanding. Many couples seek pre-marital counselling before the ‘big day’. Couples who are pregnant generally accept that attending ante-natal classes will be helpful in preparation for a birth. 

However, classes that prepare for parenting over the next twenty years of a child’s life are less common. And, similarly, discussions that consider and explore our convictions and expectations of long-term relationships are rarely offered in school. We can be ill-prepared to deal with the complexity of a long relationship, for a life-time spent with a partner, and we can so often end up confused and disappointed.

There can be an assumption that we, ourselves, are quite easy to live with so, when things get difficult, it must be the other who needs to do something differently. However, if the partner is then resentful of the critical complaint and resists the demand for change, feelings of unease, distress and even panic can seep into the relationship. 

We are confused: ‘Why did this happen?’

Their reaction was unexpected and bewildering: ‘Why did you think/say that?’

Something feels contradictory and not right:  ‘How could you do that?’

They can feel unaccommodating and provocative: ‘Why can’t you listen to me/ just do as I ask?’

Suddenly the partner seems not as trustworthy and as reliable as had been first thought. They seem not as easy to live with after all. We are confronted by their differences and the bits that do not ‘fit’ with us. We want them to be ‘normal’ like us. Interactions can become conflicted and fractious. They have fallen from the pedestal and they are not as loveable. In fact they are infuriating!

However, De Botton writes that, 

‘The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person’. 

There will always be things wrong. The concept of the perfect partner is, of course, a myth. No-one is normal. In fact, the only normal people in this world are the people you don’t know very well. (Adler)

When a couple does get to know each other very well, ‘we mustn’t abandon him or her, but abandon the founding romantic ideal upon which the Western idea of marriage has been based for the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning… Every human being will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us – and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.’ (De Botton)

But what to do when a couple becomes stuck and at breaking-point when faced with this dilemma? The choice to stay or leave can feel agonising.

There is an urgent need for bypassing the stalemate and allowing a different conversation, one that is challenging and creative, to begin. The question is whether this relationship has legs?

First, create three columns

  1. 1. Write a list of 50 positives about oneself (It is very important to start with oneself)
  2. 2. Write a list of 50 positives about the partner
  3. 3. Write a list of 50 positives about the the relationship

And I mean 50!

Now, with the intention of a softer interaction, create the time and space (with phones and screens switched off) to share the lists.

Circle where you find agreement. 

Describe the items that leave you feeling most relaxed and satisfied?

Highlight items from the list to which you would like more attention paid.

On which items would you like more focus so they can flourish?

Which items have been neglected or not prioritised and, as a result, have left you feeling disconnected and anxious?

Which ones reassure you that you are loved?

What’s Love Got To Do With It? (Tina Turner)

It’s complex – so start the conversation!

Kathy Rees

Mothers’ Day

According to retail analysts there is no question about it – Mothers’ Day is big business. Estimates vary but Coresight Research predicted that approximately £260 million will have been spent on flowers and around £50 million on greetings cards for last Sunday’s celebrations. Add in the meals out, special treats and the presents and the total spend was predicted to reach £1.4 billion – a significant sum!

But it’s not just the retailers who see the significance of mothers. At Coupleworks, along with many other counsellors and therapists we see the role of our mothers, and our fathers, as being very significant in our emotional growth as human beings. Writing in her book ‘Hold Me Tight’ Dr Sue Johnson briefly describes the ways in which ‘Attachment Theory’ as pioneered by John Bowlby and others, has proved the significance of parents for our emotional development. Writing of him she says

“His experience spurred him to formulate his own idea, namely that the quality of the connection to loved ones and early emotional deprivation is key to the development of personality and to an individual’s habitual way of connecting with others”.

It seems unbelievable now that for much of the last century parents were not allowed to stay in a hospital with their sick children – they had to drop them off at the door and children suffered in the long term as a result.

In the therapy room it becomes obvious that people who have lacked that secure base of consistent and loving parenting often struggle when it comes to forming good relationships with their partners. For example, someone who has experienced their mother as being harsh and judgmental can often assume sub-consciously that their partner will behave in a similar way towards them. Or if an emotionally absent parent has dominated a child’s experience, they could then find it difficult as adults to be present to another, fearing a repetition of that emotional abandonment.

Becoming more conscious of these early patterns of relating can have a huge impact on our ability to be present and connected in our adult relationships. We cannot rewrite or change the past, but we can learn of its impact on us, and therefore become more able to find ways of deepening our connections with our partners. That process of separating or individuating from our parents is crucial to our psychological health as a person. To mourn the loss of what we haven’t had, or process the pain and trauma or early experiences through counselling is a healing process that often brings change and hope to our adult relationships.

Sarah Fletcher

Coupleworks can help…

We often feel more confident when we know what we want to do and how we can make things happen. We can feel a sense of focus which provides purpose and direction in life.

But we can also feel anxious and disconcerted when things do not go to plan. Feelings of frustration and resentment can arise when people close to us behave differently from the way we expect.

This can be particularly true when we have to adapt to the changes involved in a big life event. Even positive changes take adjustment and become stressful – requiring an emotional resourcefulness that may be hard to find.

A new job, moving house, a new baby can be joyous experiences of our own choosing. But the emotional costs can be hugely underestimated and cause frightening distress and loss of connection in a couple. Arguments can become frequent when our responses and needs are exposed as different – and our expectations of the other are disappointed. We can cling to ideas of how life should be when it is no longer possible. The relationship can quickly get stuck in a repetitive pattern of blame and defensiveness.

And what happens when life throws ‘a curved ball’? Redundancy, illness, bereavement, an affair, can be so unsettling that we scrabble to find the resilience to cope. The trust and security that allowed us to relax in the familiar seems to have disappeared. The tectonic plates have shifted and world is not the same. How do we accommodate and accept the inevitable differences when we feel so vulnerable? Because our trust and belief in a secure base has been so badly shaken, we can fall into denial and resistance.

Coupleworks offers the safe space needed to explore and understand the complexities of a whole new set of circumstances.

Counselling can be a support in the struggle to regain equilibrium and control. It is important to rediscover the potential to deal with the sudden and unexpected, but that needs to be at a pace that is appropriate. There will be a need to be kind and gentle with oneself in order to find the way to make the necessary small steps to recovery. Counselling can help in the discussion when reconsidering plans and priorities and ideas about the future.

Kathy Rees

Managing a Disagreement

Within a relationship there is the reassurance of feeling that there is someone with whom we can share life’s difficulties and satisfactions. It is consoling to think that there is a person who understands and on whom we can lean. There is a comfort in knowing a partner has the same values, shares the same outlook and interests, and has a familiar perspective on the world. The similarities are affirming and help us relax and feel trust. Even differences can be perceived as offering an opportunity to widen our horizons.
However, there are some differences which create a frisson of panic and appear to us to attack the secure base of the relationship. A certain difference of opinion seems to be the polar opposite of our own and we feel vulnerable and insecure – perhaps not taken into account. We make interpretations that, if s/he thinks that, or can do that, perhaps they are not the safe pair of hands that was imagined. Maybe s/he should not be trusted. Maybe s/he does not love as much as was hoped.
When this anxiety grips there is an unconscious rationalisation that a fault-line in the relationship has been revealed. Linked to the strength (or the precariousness) of the attachments in our childhoods, a fear of abandonment can be evoked. It leads us to be defensive and either withdraw or protest. We defend against the loss of the loved relationship – while making the loss dangerously possible. An angry exchange can quickly escalate into a bitter argument. Paradoxically, the fight is an attempt to reconnect and regain concordance. We are trying to deny, disprove, attack an opposing view and re-establish the cocoon of unity.
As an alternative, wonder why your own reaction is so strong. Are you overlaying a past experience onto the present? Don’t jump in too quickly. Avoid starting a sentence with ‘Yes, but…’ and LISTEN instead of contradicting. Try to be curious instead of dismissive. Without feeling you have to concede your own position, ask for more information. What is the underlying story? Wonder about the FEELINGS as much as the facts. Ask for time to give your own explanation. This should not be about attacking your partner but should be focussed on yourself. Use ‘I’ not ‘you’. Avoid finger-pointing and global statements that stress ‘always’ and ‘never’.
Find the common ground, even if it is just agreeing that there is an unresolved issue, and join forces as a couple to solve the problem. Brainstorm and ask for possible solutions and alternative suggestions. There may be room for small concessions on both sides. It is not about scorekeeping or tit-for-tat. See yourselves as collaborators once more.

Loss

It is not only the loss of a partner, or someone in our family, that can cause us to feel distressed and grief-stricken. Losing a close friendship can cause overwhelming feelings of sadness of bereavement.

Friends form part of the jigsaw which makes up the secure base of our lives. We feel safer and more confident when we create links and have a circle (no matter how tiny or how large) of people with whom we have understanding and on whom we can rely.

The reality of a friend moving away, or travelling, or even emigrating, will be hard to bear but can be rationalised. It will be painful, we will be sad, but the idea can be borne.

However, when the friend is focussed on another person, when they seem so preoccupied with another and there seems no room for us, uncomfortable anxiety can grow.

All-encompassing emotional life events like the birth of a child, or falling in love, can give the impression that there is no longer room for the friendship. It is very hard to cope with being suddenly demoted, side-lined and not the priority. We have thoughts of betrayal.

Although the rational, thinking, part of us explains that the friend is in a whirlwind of enrapture, we feel the cold wind of panic. The situation recalls, and resonates with, any abandonment or rejection we have suffered in our past.

If we have previously experienced traumatic relationship losses or break-ups, the re-opening of a painful wound is keenly felt.

Psychologically there has been a break in one of the attachment bonds which we wrap around ourselves. We feel displaced and insecure as the emotional ground we stand on has shifted. Our world seems changed and the kaleidoscope has been reconfigured.

We need time to assimilate the different patterns. Our other primary relationships become even more important by offering stability and reassurance.  We can be soothed when these other important attachment figures remind us that we are loved.

It may help to remember that our friend has been overtaken by a tsunami of emotion. It was not their intention to weaken the links between you both. Sadly they are no longer on the same track that you thought would continue forever, but their motive was not to hurt or be unkind. They might not even comprehend the impact on you.