Archive for shame

Is it Gutsy to stay in a marriage after Infidelity?

Hilary Clinton was speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America this week to promote a book she wrote with her daughter Chelsea The Book of Gutsy Women. 

When asked “what was the gutsiest thing Hilary had ever done” she replied “politically running for President and personally making the decision to stay in my marriage with my husband – just getting up every morning and keep going.”  

Esther Perel whose book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity: challenges the stigma of shame we face in choosing to stay with a partner whereas it used to be choosing to divorce that carried the stigma.

This raises very challenging questions for couples facing issues of infidelity and seems to be what brings more and more couples to couples therapy.  

Is it gutsy to stay in a marriage with someone who has cheated on you or is it cowardly and self destructive to stay with someone who has broken your trust and let you down so very painfully?

Knowing the relationship will never be the same again does it take more guts to leave a marriage and leave the mess behind you? Or is it more gutsy to stay with a partner when you have been betrayed to try to make sense of what has happened rather than justify ones behaviour.

Although infidelity is still the main reason why couples split up and is the most painful and agonising to go through it can also be the most incredible turning point in a relationship where a very different relationship can be created and thrive.

Both partners have to make the decision to really work on their relationship there is no simple answer to this horrific situation – to stay can be seen as self defeating and fearful.  What message am I giving you by deciding to stay?

Lots of things have to change after an affair.  It takes a lot of courage to admit to being so hurt and betrayed by your partner. Just as it is so shameful for the betrayer to face up to how much hurt and humiliation they have caused.

How do you show contrition?  The person who has strayed demonstrates how sorry they are but after time can get irritated by continually having to show remorse.

This is what psychotherapist Lucy Beresford calls the Museum of Hurt.  If the betrayed partner is constantly reminding the betrayer of what they have done, after a while this is not helping and perhaps signifies that only one partner is doing some of the work to repair.

Saying sorry is not enough- actions have to speak louder than words that give the message that they are not going to hurt their partner again.

However there are people who either find it very difficult to do all the work or are not prepared to put the amount of time and effort required to heal this trauma. 

If you are in a long term relationship where there is a lot of care and love when was the last time you really took time out to really work together to check in with each other, to make time to show real interest and connection?  Affairs are very rarely about having more sex or falling in love with someone else but more often a commentary on the individual as well as the relationship as it is at this moment in time and where we are, what we have lost or what we feel is missing. 

Lucy Beresford in her conversation with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London says that Infidelity forces us to look in the mirror and take a long hard look at ourselves.  Do I like what I see?  Who have I become in this relationship and what do I need to change?

Taking time out to talk to a couples therapist often feels risky for some couples but it can really help to make sense of what has happened to us, what responsibility we both take in taking care of ourselves and our relationship and what changes we both need to make.  Placing trust in an experienced couples therapist to shine a light on a relationship that has been in hibernation and help you as a couple make decisions whether you can stay together and grow together or address the need to end the relationship.  Now that’s gutsy!

Dawn Kaffel

Secrets and Lies

Couples come to therapy for a range of different reasons and one of the most important requirements for any good therapeutic experience is that there is openness and honesty in the sessions.  But clients are not always honest with themselves, or their therapists and this often leads to a break down in the therapeutic alliance and a breakdown in the relationship.

From the start therapists need to be clear with their couples as to what their policy is on secrets especially if they have some individual sessions or if one partner contacts the therapist between sessions to reveal a secret.   It is not a therapist’s role to hold onto secrets for the couple but to help and prepare them to have a more honest relationship with their partner.  To understand and explore together what their fears about what might happen and why it seems easier to withhold than be honest and open.  Sharing these difficulties and bearing the tension and the shame is the path towards a more open and intimate relationship.

Definition of Secrets and Lies

Keeping secrets from your partner is a deliberate intent to keep information hidden.   This choice is usually because you fear the impact on yourself or others that the information may have.  What often underlies secrecy is a fear of judgment and reprisals.   A lie is a deliberate act of deceiving another person by hiding the truth or trying to manufacture an untruth.

Secrets and lies jeopardize trust in our relationships and can cause irreparable damage in the following ways:

*Trust and vulnerability are blocked

*The need to constantly cover up and watch your back leads to tension

*Easier to blame a partner than recognise your choice to maintain secrecy

*Jeopardises sexual intimacy

Being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to share every single detail all the time.  Knowing what to share and what not to share is an important communication skill in any relationship.

It may seem like your relationship is smooth sailing but having secrets can cause catastrophic results:

Secrets that hurt a marriage

Unhappiness

In my experience the reason that couples come into therapy often too late is because sharing their unhappiness or discontent with each other is too difficult.  The reason for keeping these feelings a secret for so long is hoping that the problems will eventually sort themselves out, or the fear things could get a lot worse if true feelings were disclosed.  Sometimes it’s hard to just be honest and admit we are unhappy. 

Finding intimacy outside a marriage

Disconnection between couples is often around for a long time before an affair happens.  If you have stopped having sex for a long time and there is a lack of affection and intimacy, it needs to be understood and talked about.  Often it feels that it’s easier to turn to someone else and get emotional and sexual fulfilment than manage the honesty and vulnerability that is needed with your partner.

Financial Decisions

Keeping secrets about how you spend money or make financial decisions without sharing with your partner is a major violation of trust and can have devastating consequences.

Dishonesty 

Making decisions together as a couple is an integral part of any relationship.  However feeling that you have to agree all the time for a quiet life is not being honest with yourself or your partner.  This leads to unresolved feelings and resentments.  Working through disagreements and difference is essential for a closer emotional connection.

Past relationships

Couples often find it hard to share or hear experiences they had with previous partners for fear of exposing aspects of themselves that partners may not feel very attracted to.  However part of growing closer together is knowing and understanding each other’s different experiences and how you were affected by them both positively and negatively.

Knowing you are being lied to is often worse than being hurt by the truth.  This quote sums it up for me:

If you tell me the truth

I’m going to get mad but

I’ll get over it.

If you lie to me, I’m never going to be

able to trust you again.

Your choice!

Dawn Kaffel

Self Care – looking after number one

We need to allow clients, whether coming as a couple or individually, the time and space to better understand, and have empathy for, an other whose opinions or outlooks they don’t always share. This can often be can be a real challenge.
One of the primary factors referred by clients as a reason to need therapy is described as ‘bad communication’. And observing them finding new empathy is a rewarding part of the work.
But an often overlooked factor can be how hard it often seems to find this same level of compassion and understanding within ourselves.
It’s a given that on every airline safety procedure, we are asked to put on our own oxygen masks in advance of attending to others.
Before we can look after those around us, we need self care, and it can be tricky to better understand why we can sometimes be so critical or judgemental of our own thoughts and responses.
Self compassion needs to be seen as completely different to self pity which victimises the self. Here, we’re looking at coping strategies to overcome very human feelings of shame and self punishment.
How much easier is it to listen to a good friend, or someone we really care about, and find ways to explain and forgive traits or mistakes that we should dwell on if thinking about them in the context of our own experience.
How often do we reflect on long-gone situations and still feel twinges of shame or embarrassment.
Wikipedia suggests that ‘we need to recognise that suffering and personal failure is part of the shared human experience’
See? It’s not only you….
we can’t eradicate our feelings, thoughts or past actions but we can learn to look at them with a more gentle and thoughtful mindset. Making a bad call on some decision doesn’t make you a bad person. Doing the right thing when you can, and giving yourself permission if you slip sometimes, is key.
Most spiritual beliefs centre around a concept of a universal love.
Self-criticism while being thoughtful towards others outside, makes for false distinctions that can only bring isolation. Buddhist thinking suggests that the way of relating to the self is with kindness – not to be confused with arrogance or conceit which can be an indicator of a lack of self love.
Learn to love ourselves unconditionally isn’t easy but here’s India.Arie doing it her way.

An empty or depressed sense of self will look externally for ways to find validation. Feelings of unworthiness can mean depending on others to fulfil us. Sadly, this is likely to lead to disappointment. We can’t ask another person to complete us – we can only ask that they accept us.
There are tried and tested ways to self nurture. Mindfulness, therapy, and the ability to allow ourselves to be good enough.
Remembering that Excellence is the enemy of the Good.
If we strive for perfection then ‘good’ will never seem enough. Giving ourselves permission to make mistakes at times and understand that others have felt this way too.
Small treats, time outside, space to think and the confidence to explore creativity will all help,
Good, empathetic therapy that can give the time to further explore all this shows a real degree of self compassion.
Take a little time to treat yourself with as much care as you would give to a good friend, partner or child. Support yourself with as much kindness as you would offer a loved one. Compassion for our self is often a forgotten element of our busy lives. Go on – give yourself a hug, no-one is watching.

Christina Fraser

OMGYes – breaking the taboo of female sexuality

In my work as a psychosexual therapist I am always on the look out for new articles, books or websites that might be useful for clients in their journey to improve their sexual relationship. The area of women’s sexual pleasure has always been a rather taboo subject. It has been much less well researched and written about than men’s with the result that it has remained shrouded in secrecy, if not shame.

When clients first come to sex therapy we look at their individual sexual histories; this includes exploring areas such as how they found out about sex, what sexual messages they were given in their early life, any religious and cultural influences, and any experiences of inappropriate sexual advances or sexual abuse. Part of this history taking is also about talking through their own feelings about their bodies. Many women grow up feeling less positive about their own genitals than other parts of their bodies. This can lead to insecurity about their own sexuality and also a lack of sexual responsiveness.

One of the great new websites that I have come across recently and which clients have been talking about is called OMGYes.com.

It has been on the web for a couple of years now but was picked up the media when Emma Watson, the Harry Potter star, described it in this way
‘ I wish it had been around longer. Definitely check it out, it’s an expensive subscription but it’s worth it.’

The founders of this site collaborated with researchers from Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute, to interview and do a large scale study on sexual techniques that lead to greater pleasure with 2000 women, aged between 18 and 95. This resulted in 62 short, down to earth videos, and also interviews with ordinary women talking about different techniques for sexual pleasure. There are also11 interactive videos that you can use with a touch screen to ‘practice’ your techniques.

I think what is so helpful about this site is that it really gives specific instructions and techniques to help women with their arousal. Although very explicit in that the videos show women masturbating, it is not in the least pornographic; in fact it is educational and fun. The messages are all portrayed honestly and with no shame and that helps to break down the barrier that women’s sexual pleasure is something shameful and that they should keep quiet about.

Whilst the main aim of the site is to give insight to women and break down the taboo of women’s pleasure, it also offers insight to both men and couples. In my therapeutic work I find that increasing knowledge of the body’s capacity for sensual and sexual pleasure enhances a sexual relationship. As the OMGYes site states

‘Couples who constantly explore new ways to increase pleasure are 5 times more likely to be happier in their relationships and 12 times more likely to be sexually satisfied’

Clients I have worked with have found it really helpful (and no I am not getting paid to write this!). At £29 for a one off subscription it can be money very well spent.

Sarah Fletcher

The Mistakes that Couples make

A recent article in the Times entitled “you’re doing it wrong! the 60 mistakes we all make” made me reflect on how often couples can make mistakes in the their relationships without even realising the potential damage this can cause.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that couples repeatedly make that are avoidable:

1. We’ve known each other for so long, we don’t have to work on our relationship
Too many couples are falling victim to Complacency. Content with rushing through life and maintaining a certain life style, couples are oblivious to the reality that their most important relationship is missing out on the effort, attention and care it so desperately needs.

2. Work and children take up all of our time
It’s too easy to allow work and children to become the centre of your universe. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on the time when you were the centre of each other’s universe and how that’s been lost. How important it is to recognise that you both need to show more interest, concern and affection towards each other.

3. Trying to change the other person
Couples are often attracted to each other because of difference but after a while we can be tempted to try to change them to be the same as us. This often leads to a build up of on-going disappointment and resentments which contributes to emotional disconnection
Try to take a step back and remember why you fell in love in the first place.

4. Trying to control your partner
We are often driven crazy by our partner’s behaviours. Being told what to do and how to do it consistently can drive a wedge. Do not treat your partner like a child, who has to be told what to do you are a partner not a parent!

5. Criticising and complaining about your partner
Couples get into bad habits of often using always and never statements that criticize the whole person. When this happens we often feel distant and pull away. This in turn creates feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that triggers the complaining behaviour.

6. Not feeling listened to
Being able to communicate well with your partner is an essential component of a close loving relationship. By paying closer attention to how you talk to each other the tone of your voice, your body language is likely to make you feel that you are being heard, valued and understood. It is more likely to elicit more empathy and understanding from your partner rather than a defensive and negative response.

7. Not feeling understood
Its important to recognise that men and women communicate so differently and getting through to each other in a meaningful way is often a struggle. Women often feel misunderstood by their partner’s emotional disengagement and their offer of a solution. Men often feel overwhelmed with partners changing and often challenging emotional needs.

8. Bringing unresolved issues from our past
Often our past experiences in our families can get re-awakened and projected into our current relationships and its important to take responsibility for what belongs to us as individuals and what belongs to the partnership. This shared understanding can bring empathy and closeness.

9. Depending on each other for happiness
Being completely dependent on the other for your own happiness will only lead to disappointment. Its important to stay connected to who you really are and what you need for yourself to bring happiness both inside and outside your relationship

10. We never argue
Never arguing is often seen as a badge of honour for some couples. In fact couples that argue effectively are more likely to have a stronger more secure attachment than those who avoid arguments out of fear.
Couples who argue tend to be more passionate

11.Spontaneity is the only way to have sex
How difficult is it to bring spontaneity into any aspect of our busy lives let alone our sex lives.
It is argued that putting aside set times to enjoy sex takes away any excitement. However planning sex can help couples maintain their sexual connection and feel closer and intimate.

12. Coming to couples counselling is a last resort and will make our relationship worse
Couples often put off going to couples counselling because for some there is shame in having to ask for help and others believe the therapy process will end the relationship.
In reality counselling offers a safe non-judgmental space to understand and explore our relationships better, in the same way as we use a gym to help us improve our bodies.

Being more aware of these common relationship mistakes means you have a much better chance of happy healthy relationship

Dawn Kaffel

Addiction in a Couple

In couple therapy where one has an acknowledged addiction, there is a real challenge for them to see that this situation can only be changed by both partners adapting their behaviours.
Addictions are based on distorted thinking and this is underpinned by the co-dependency that often accompanies these complicated couples.
Therapy can be a safe place to unpick the misconceptions that form the fragile shell that appears to protect, but actually blocks, a healthy way forward.
Therapists should be wary of allowing the addiction to be the sole focus when it is actually both of them who are keeping the couple stuck.
It’s sometimes hard for the seemingly supportive partner to acknowledge that their enabling behaviour actually exacerbates the situation. It’s difficult to understand that kindness can be a block, but by caring and sheltering the other they are co-operating with the addiction.
Intimacy for some couples can be based on the concept of one persons drive to rescue and the others apparent inability to escape their dependency.
Addicts suffer from low self-esteem and drama keeps them attached to their partner by the attention they receive. Many ‘carers’ are terrified of abandonment so by becoming pivotal to the situation, they keep the other close and connected. One thinks they show love by nurturing while the other is kept safe by being looked after.  The dynamic is seen through the window of one person’s distress and the other ones hope of rescuing the problem.
In therapy, clients can begin to unravel this by looking at the early systems from childhood that may reinforce repeated patterns in adulthood.  They can examine what processes may have led each of them to seek the role they adopt. And by understanding some of the unconscious systems that they follow they can, together with the therapist, begin to explore a way to change the situation.
Shame is very close to addiction, and couples can benefit hugely from the safe space offered in therapy where they can begin to feel able to discuss their vulnerabilities. Self-compassion is so important, as without knowing and tolerating our own faults, it can be hard to believe that it’s possible for an other to accept us.
There can never be true intimacy without vulnerability, but in the counselling room people can gently begin to reveal their fears and allow themselves the risk of being accepted and can then see that they can also love the other completely in spite of both their flaws.
By taking responsibility for their current situation, many people can free themselves from the fear of repeating negative patterns.
Breaking a serious addiction is the work of a lifetime and requires specialist help, but by giving up the toxic control and trusting that there is a better life, many people can, and do, triumph over their dependencies.

Christina Fraser

We need to talk about Sex Addiction

A recent TEDx talk by Paula Hall, a specialist in treating both men and women who experience sexual addiction, is well worth watching.

In it she stresses the need to recognise and talk about the increasing problem in our society of sexual addiction.

What she means by that is an addiction or compulsivity where a person’s sexual behaviours have grown beyond their control.

This can manifest itself for example in the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, the need for affairs, multiple one-night stands or cybersex. It is not the amount of sex or any particular way of having sex that is the issue; it is where these behaviours have become out of control and interfere with a person’s ability to form relationships or are having other unwanted effects on their lives. For instance these could include a lack of engagement with a wider social circle, poor concentration and performance at work, anxiety or depression.

As is well known the Internet and smart phones have led to an increase in the availability of pornography, which is now accessed by so many. That is in itself is not a problem, but when the use of porn is being used for example to numb some deeper emotional distress, or to alleviate boredom, this can lead to an addiction. As with alcohol and drugs, a cycle of addiction develops leading to distorted thinking and self-justification coupled with a desire for secrecy and feelings of shame.

Paula Hall argues that the easy access of pornography compounded by the lack of education of the risks that involves is what is leading to an increase in sexual addiction. To counteract these she says that people need to be able to talk more openly about these problems and to be less judgmental and more compassionate about those who experience these difficulties.

Coupleworks counsellors often come across clients for whom these issues are a problem either to an individual or within a relationship. From our experience we would strongly agree that naming the problem can provide the starting point for real healing.

Sarah Fletcher