Archive for security

A Spender or a Saver?

Learn to negotiate your money, the biggest pitfall in couple life

Forget the chores, the sex and even the in-laws, it is the unsolvable disagreements about money that research now shows to be the biggest source of serious difference leading to separation in couples. Interestingly, a recent YouGov survey puts problems with family finances at 26% of all difficulties. This comes ahead of understanding each other, physical relationships and household chores. So it’s well worth sorting this one out early in the relationship if it appears to overtake sex and the washing up.

Of course it’s not just about coinage – this just highlights deeper tensions, but exploring what is really at the heart of these rows can be vital in helping to save relationships.

Couples who come for counselling will often bring lists of perceived slights or grievances, but money is often not flagged up as an immediate problem. Yet it is pivotal as part of how we see ourselves and others. Money defines us, it can denote our place in society and will reflect to a large degree how others see us. Like it or not, It can influence how we dress, where we live and our perceived status in the world we inhabit.

Therapists dealing with couples will usually ask for a family tree to make better sense of each clients origins, influences and the relationship history that can shape future hopes and expectations.
Dig a little deeper and the way families deal with their assets can have a long lasting effect on their dependents.

We hear of parents or grandparents who made or lost a fortune. People who watched a hard working father lose his job, or get into debt. Clients who were raised by an alcoholic parent who spent recklessly on drink or drugs. Siblings who seemed favoured by ‘unfair’ levels of gifts or education. Bullying that appeared to be influenced by seemingly different lifestyles to classmates.
These are powerful messages absorbed in childhood and will have strong influences on how each of us decides to deal with our assets.
Money can be seen as security – a buffer against feared future calamities or it can signify a life enhancing conduit to fun and good things.

Spend or save? This can be where couples find it impossible to find a solution. Therapy can offer a safe place unpick the reasons behind these deeply ingrained beliefs. Arguments about money are not usually about money, they are about protecting hopes and dreams and can escalate horribly when people feel dismissed or not understood. We may define ‘value’ in many different ways and its vital to grasp what the other hears in this word. Couples need to dig beneath the obvious and try to understand the emotional content of what can seem a purely practical issue.
In the rosy glow of a new relationship, we often assume that we shall just mysteriously understand and be understood. Transparency around finances is an important foundation to any long term relationship.

It’s impossible to change the deeper messages that we all inherited from the way our families dealt with their own problems, but we can listen to each other with tolerance. The acceptance of what shaped the views of a partner who appears to see things fundamentally differently, can give insights that will lead to better understanding.
Sometimes, it’s not just about the money, but it is about what the money signifies. So discuss calmly with an open mind to find a better way.

Christina Fraser

Mistakes in communication, memory and perception

Earlier this month I was approached by Katie O’Malley to give some comments for an article she was writing for Elle Magazine online about how to be how to be happy in love. Read here As part of the brief Katie sent me a Ted Talk by Stan Tatkin, which I found really interesting.

Stan Tatkin is a developer of a psychobiological approach to couple therapy. He describes in a very accessible way something that at Coupleworks we come across all the time in our work with clients. He talks about how, when we come to a new relationship, we also come with unresolved hurts from past relationships that have become imprinted in our brains and form part of our ‘procedural memory’.

When we first start a relationship everything is new and exciting. However as things get ‘serious’ and time passes, we begin to take each other for granted and stop paying attention to each other. The brain then begins to work on automatic – ‘procedural memory’ takes over and it reverts to old patterns of learnt behaviour. For example we may believe that we are responding to our partner in a particular way, but in fact our pattern of response is dictated by our procedural memory forged by a previous relationship with a betraying abandoning person.

Tatkin says ‘we all make mistakes in communication, memory and perception’. Likewise in therapy I often encourage my clients to pay attention to each other and not to assume that they know their partner. The key thing is to be curious and interested in them for themselves and not to allow our procedural memories to dictate our responses.

One of the last points Tatkin makes in his 10-minute talk is the fact that as humans we can’t survive the loss of safety and security. He argues that one of the benefits from being in a relationship is to ‘have each other’s backs’. To be a couple involves protecting each other and to make each other feel safe and secure. Sadly this is one of the things that so often gets lost for a couple as things break down in their relationship. It can become more and more about fighting for each one’s own survival and the closeness suffers as a result. In maintaining and restoring relationships it is vital to ‘have each other’s backs’ – to care for and show our partner that we love them.

Interestingly a recent survey in a women’s’ magazine asked the question ‘What is the most important quality to look for in a partner?’ Much to many people’s surprise 94% replied kindness (5% humour and 1% good looks). Thinking of Stan Tatkin’s Ted Talk it struck me that he is talking about a similar thing.

Our relationships will be healthier and we will remain closer and more connected to our partners if we make the choice to pay each other attention, and secondly to be kind and caring.

Sarah Fletcher

How to make boredom your friend

It’s that time of the year… What can we do differently, how can we improve our lives, how can we look and feel better.
Gym membership traditionally soars in January only to dip again by the start of February when the newbies realise they haven’t got the time, interest or will to factor this regularity into their lives.
Shops bombard us with stuff to replace the stuff that we have outgrown or just wearied of.
Magazines and papers remind us constantly that we should look better/thinner/younger.
Basically, we are being nudged to avoid the state we are in and seek a shinier one.
But wait, time for a rethink.
There is a big difference between looking to improve the things that will genuinely bring us a life more healthy, either physically or psychologically – and hopefully both, but after the stimulus of Christmas, one of the triggers for all this change is the fear of boredom.
There will be times when boredom is inevitable, often when we have no control over our circumstances. Stuck in a traffic jam, a tedious meeting or waiting room we are often unable to change the situation.
But working with couples, it often transpires that one of the things they dread is the thought of slowly creeping ordinariness and the feeling that they can become a prisoner to this.
Partners become so well know to each other that every comment, joke and conversation is a well trodden landscape, so predictable that they are no longer curious about each other. Couples need the security and safe attachment that is the flip side of this, but it’s up to each of us to keep interested and interesting. Relationships are no different. We don’t always need outside stimulation, sometimes it’s enough to cook together, play a board game, listen to music together or go for a walk somewhere new and try to rediscover what we once found so interesting about each other.
The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes said Susan Sontag.
Don’t lets allow a yawn-making apathy obsess us and obliterate our ability to live in the moment.
It’s tedium that usually drives us to check our phones and screens for something to obliterate a gap in the day. Noise and messaging will cover up any emptiness. Yet it’s those gaps in life that give us space for thought and a chance to be at peace with our own minds and think creatively for ourselves, without waiting for connection to cyberspace or TV to anaesthetise us.
Dorothy Parker wisely told us that the cure for boredom is curiosity – there is no cure for curiosity…

Christina Fraser

Relationships – accepting the differences and remaining close

At the beginning of a relationship there is a developing awareness that we have found someone who fundamentally shares our view on life. Sometimes this person feels like a ‘soul mate’. Perhaps they have the same interests, the same values, and the same outlook. We can feel understood, accepted and known. The connections between us feel strong and we allow ourselves to open up and trust that the world is a safer place.

It can be a happy time when we are wanted both physically and emotionally. In return we are excited by our partner’s body and actual presence. There is security in the closeness and warmth from being cared for. We lean in on each other. The thought that we could share our lives together begins to burgeon.

Over time the relationship develops and matures. Just as on a cinema screen, instead of the close up image, the camera begins to pan out and we see more of the whole picture. Initially we focussed on similarities, but now we become aware of the complexities of our partner. We become painfully aware of differences in personality. We are disconcerted by the pieces in the relationship jigsaw that do not fit so well.

How we manage these differences depends on our personal histories. How did our parents relate to us? How safe and loved did we feel in the family? What is the initial feeling of threat when there is a disagreement? What is the default reaction to threat? If difference suggests conflict and we are conflict averse, we can feel anxious and vulnerable. If difference suggests disapproval then we can become resentful and defensive.

What were our expectations of this relationship? Did we imagine that it would be redemptive and heal past hurts? If so, how do we manage the disappointment that this cannot always be achieved and, at the most, the relationship can only be ‘good enough’.

Quite often we leap to blame the other person for being the disappointment and, naturally, this is rejected as unfair. It is difficult for them to counter a natural instinct for self-preservation if they are confronted with ‘I can only love you if you change’.

However, the fact that ‘the kitchen is in a mess when I need it to be spick and span…’ touches a nerve and sets off a domino effect of anxiety: ‘You are not looking after me and you are not caring for my needs, so maybe you do not love me as much as you say. If I cannot trust in the security of the relationship then I must prepare a defensive counter attack.’ By leaping to conclusions of catastrophe it seems instinctive to then protect ourselves from the projected hurt.

Our default defensive reactions depend on the behaviours that we learned in childhood when feeling vulnerable. Some people withdraw, become distant, go inside themselves, and are no longer emotionally available. When asked, ‘What is the matter?’ they probably reply, ‘Nothing’.

Others protest. They nag, or become bossy, and attempt to change the partner so that they can relax again. Some become angry, critical and attacking – becoming insistent about the need for change.

Unfortunately, such behaviours create an impasse in the couple dynamic. Instead of open channels of communication, connection feels blocked. The withdrawer feels overwhelmed. The pursuer feels adrift. Each feels lost to the other and it can be hard to find the way back.

1. It is important to remember that the similarities, the connections, the good in the relationship, have not disappeared. It is just the focus has changed.

2. It is no one’s fault that there are differences. Our past histories have created each of us as a unique character. We do not have to feel guilty for being different.

3. Do not look to change the other. No one likes to be told they are not good enough, or that they can only be loved if they change.

4. Reframe! Different perspectives and different opinions can open doors and be exciting. Challenge yourself and question your negative interpretation. Analyse why you feel so threatened and unsettled. It is usually the inner child surfacing.

5. Flex your emotional muscle and connect with your emotional resilience. Relocate the adult, competent and creative part of yourself. Look for ways of managing the situation. See it as a joint issue that the couple needs to problem-solve together. Negotiate!

6. Listen non-defensively and compassionately to each other’s explanations rather than be contemptuous or dismissive. Find the curiosity that flowed so easily at the beginning: ‘Tell me more’ and ‘What do you mean?’ and ‘Why do you think that?’ and ‘Why is that important?’

7. Forbid the use of ‘Yes, but…’ or ‘At least …’ as a response.