Archive for trust

One way therapy can help.

I feel admiration for my clients who decide to discuss their couple life with a therapist whom they trust. The trust is often a difficult thing because there may have been a breaking of trust earlier in either or both of the people in the couple’s lives. This will make the forming of trust over a period of sessions a very important and delicate part of the work.

Some couples will arrive at my Coupleworks practice with hope that the process will somehow magically resolve their presenting difficulty but realise over time that the magic becomes their own acceptance of the fact that they hold the key to the progress of a sense of repair and hope.

These feelings come about through better communication aided by the therapist who can listen and interpret their words with an independent ear and voice. The therapist should have no agenda with the couple other than helping to resolve repetitive issues which have become stuck. This could be compared to a log jam where the water is stuck on one side of the logs with only a stubborn dribble getting through a small outlet at the other. The therapeutic work together can free up the places where the logs got stuck and encourage the water to flow through in a steady passage. This in turn, helps to open different avenues where the water can flow and makes the whole picture look less constrained and trapped. The sight of a flowing river and free fall over a waterfall is a picture which captures many photographers. It is popular because it seems to represent different things to different people just as all couples are different.

That picture looks relatively easy but often there are sensitive places where easy flow is painful and constricted. This, in a couple with a stuck pattern of behaviour and words, needs to be carefully and gently eased into a place of security. That early feeling of security with each other may have been discovered in the first stages of the couple’s life together and that time needs to be held onto with care in order to return, in part, to those feelings of togetherness, trust and safety. This, coupled with the progress of life with all its good and bad times, can encourage growth and a shape which is unique, treasured and valued by the couple.

Nothing goes backwards in a couple it is all about advancement into a natural flow which incorporates all the good and some of the bad bits of a long life together. The good bits are easy and nurturing but some of the bad bits not discovered until the couple faces all the comings and goings of couple and family life, are harder to negotiate. With gentle encouragement from the therapist, the harder bits can be looked at, the source of their importance uncovered and a different approach tried to enable better translation as the words come out of one mouth and enter the ear of the other.

Therapy can open up duos and trios formed in earlier life which caused misunderstanding, pain, anger and resentment. Once memory helps to dig these difficult feeling up and look at them, it becomes easier to put them where they belong in an earlier life and disallowing them to surface again when an adult relationship ignites earlier unresolved pain. The couple will find ‘here and now’ domestic or couple annoyances stay in the couple and can be resolved rather than many other characters from their past entering into the argument and therefore escalating the atmosphere into something which has little to do with the couple.

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

Couples: Healing and Reconnection after Betrayal and Infidelity

Coupleworks’ counsellors frequently witness the acute distress of a couple dealing with the aftermath of a betrayal when there have been secrets and lies and boundaries breached. Trust has gone, the relationship no longer feels safe, and there is the possibility of separation.

At the beginning of a relationship there can be explicit discussions, or sometimes just unspoken understandings, about what a committed relationship means to both. For some this will mean monogamy. For others polyamory is accepted. Each relationship will contain its own set of expectations about loyalty, values, needs, hopes, dreams which coalesce to form the couple’s contract with one another. This may evolve into co-habiting, or engagement, or marriage/civil partnership (with the very public declaration of vows and promises). Having children together links the couple in an extra dimension of commitment: co-parenting.

So it can feel devastating when one partner unilaterally does not adhere to the agreed promises and understandings. Affairs, online sexual addictions, gambling and risking financial security, alcohol or drug addictions, can shatter the stability of a relationship and a sudden loss of trust can create profound feelings of shock, grief and rage.

Pia Mellody in ‘The Intimacy Factor’ describes boundaries as protective not punitive; with the relationship boundaries created by a couple felt to be a comfort and not a limiting straight-jacket. It may seem paradoxical, but relaxing into the safe place of a ‘couple bubble’ can be liberating. A soothing relational security can encourage openness, the sharing of vulnerabilities, and the confidence to drop masks. Feeling the true ‘you’ is accepted and understood lessens the need for a false self. The connection is with a ‘soulmate’ and a relationship becomes life-enhancing not restricting or suffocating. 

However, problems arise when one partner, for whatever reason, chafes against the boundaries and acts out (with sex, alcohol, drugs, money) – rather than engage in renegotiating the terms of the relationship. 

The relationship is no longer a safe and even playing field when one person is in the dark about the reality and there is often a feeling that ‘something is wrong’. They may have been feeling anxious, confused and uncertain but when a betrayal is eventually exposed it can still come as such a blow that the distress is experienced as an actual physical reaction of shock (feeling faint, nausea, disorientated, breathless).

A couple coming to counselling at this point have an urgent shared need for containment and reassurance, but it is possible that each has a very different agenda. The betrayed partner, driven mad by not-knowing, is desperate to understand what has gone on. They seek facts, truth, and detailed information in order to regain a sense of control. 

However, sometimes the offending partner is frozen. Having lived a double life for so long, they cannot see a way of giving up either existence. Particularly if there is an addiction, the dilemma is acute. There is a simultaneous attachment to both worlds and the loss of one or other cannot be faced. 

The partner’s distress can lead to an abrupt reckoning and a concomitant terror of losing the relationship. But while there is real remorse and abject apology, there can also be an attempt to diffuse the situation. A desperate need to minimise the damage leads to a continuation of the lies and fudging. Wrongly, it is reasoned that deception lessens the impact and protects the partner from further distress: ‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you.’ They fear the full truth would mean they would lose the love and respect of those closest to them. It could mean public humiliation and everything falling apart. The prospect encourages obfuscation and the keeping of secrets.

With trust shattered, the hurt partner is disorientated and disempowered. The ground has given way. They require honesty, openness and truth from the other in order to gain understanding and insights into what has happened. However, this can come up against the betrayer’s reluctance to disclose and their stifling shame, guilt, and panic manifesting as denial, avoidance, and delusion.

What to do?

The counselling sessions will move through a number of stages involving painstaking exploration. At the beginning there is the need to work with ‘first order change’ in order to create new rules of engagement. It is essential that life regains a balance, terms are renegotiated, behaviours change, requests are respected, and a new pathway into the future is agreed. 

However, new foundations need to be built on rock and not on sand and Michelle D Mays in ‘Partner Hope’ explains that this requires a move to ‘second order change’;

‘’Second order change is when we go below the structures and change the foundational beliefs, feelings and thinking that guide our behaviours…It is deep and long-lasting. It changes things at the core, and these changes then weave and wind through our lives, rising up to create all kinds of additional changes in different areas. Second order change takes time and is experiential… It is not a quick fix and it and requires us to leave our comfort zone.’’ Change is challenging.

When a couple despairs and all feels hopeless it is sometimes the counsellor who understands the possibility of recovery and who holds the hope of repair and regeneration. Counselling offers the time and space necessary for the couple to begin the process of reconciliation, but the possibility of rebuilding from the rubble comes only when there is an authentic intention to engage in change and growth. Discussions about accountability and the taking of responsibility will be necessary. Genuine regret, heartfelt apology, acknowledgement of the hurt, will be part of the step towards healing. The development of a new trust is not easy but loving reconnection can aid forgiveness. 

Michelle D Mays describes ‘The Authentic Hope Process’ as a development:

1. Devastation (Feeling broken and in pieces)

2. Realisation (Surveying the damage, destruction and open wounds)

3. Stabilisation (Keeping afloat and clinging on to the wreckage)

4.  Reimagining (Visualising the shape of a different relationship)

5. Creating (Working together to build a new future)

6.  Flourishing!

Kathy Rees

Couples who live apart together. LATS

When setting out on any kind of committed couple, the hope is for a long lasting relationship. With long levity in certain areas of the world becoming more normal, it may be time to take a fresh look at how we perceive couple life. Most would agree that 24/7 together for possibly 50-70 years needs constant re shaping and re evaluating in order to stave off over familiarity and irritation ignited by habit.

The kind of couples people choose to be in has evolved from marriage, a law created to build up the population and a safeguard against lack of structure and safety, into all kinds of coupling, and if chosen, rearing a family. People choose to make their own unique couple without the more childlike safety of rules and regulations hampering their creativity.

One of the changes two people choosing to stay together from formation to death has to think about is longevity. People living to 100 is now no longer a rarity, rather it is becoming something which no longer is discussed as astonishing.

If a couple who choose to be together for life reach these bigger age numbers, certain prices have to be paid. Their bodies continue to age and their brains tend to lose short term memories which hitherto have been clear. Exercise and diet play a part in a long and healthy life but also peace of mind, caring for or being cared for in a kind and loving way can enhance a sense of well being and energy.

There are no set ways for these necessities to be achieved, it is up to the couple to work out a way to continue to want to be by each other’s side through good and bad times.

Living apart together is an option. This, of course, requires enough financial backing to put into place. A decision to live apart some of the time and together for the rest of the time can bring back what was present when the couple chose each other many years before.

Trust has to be one of the biggest assets to make this work. It enables each person to pursue outside interests, different groups of people, ideas, types of holiday, food, ways of running a home and where to live without loosing trust and admiration.

They can then be together for the things they love about each other and apart for the sometimes irritating differences. This can build up renewed respect and sense of self before the time comes when they may have to care for each other permanently.

This will allow them to use what they have built together over the years to be a reward at the end of life.

Clare Ireland

The Legacy of Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent

It has recently been reported that current government investments are looking at funding some proper support for children of alcoholic parents, and recognising the long lasting effects of this legacy.
Finally, there’s some formal acknowledgement of the ongoing devastation caused to children growing up in a family where one, or both, parents are addicted to drink.
As therapists working with adult relationship issues, we usually ask clients to outline their family backgrounds. As soon as the phrase ‘my mother/father was an alcoholic’ comes up, this will give a lot of clues as to how this person may have been raised and what difficulties they could have faced while growing up and trying to make sense of family and relationships.
Many of these alcohol dependent parents will have no idea of the effects their habit has on their families, but the fall-out is generally profound and long-lasting and can impact on their children well into adulthood, if not forever.

Trust
Growing up in the family of a drinker is likely to involve secrecy, there’s the possibility of not knowing how the parent will react as there’s often no consistency in their behaviours. Unpredictability becomes the norm. They may be unreachable, or break promises. Sometimes one parent will cover for the other and truth becomes a fluid concept. The children will have no ongoing feelings that trust and safety are a given. If you can’t trust the people that are your role models, then hope of future solid relationships becomes a lost ideal.

Normality
Well, there just isn’t any, but for the children in these household, chaos or change is their normal, as this is the way that family life continues for them. They may view other ‘ordinary’ families, but we are all mostly affected by our own day-to-day life, and if this is a helter-skelter of experiences, then that’s what we shall accept as reality.
It can be hard for these children to grow into adults who can accept a smooth path, it can also be hard to differentiate between good and bad role models or to integrate into a ‘normal’ family model.

Conflict
Ideally, children should grow up in a situation where anger can be seen as an ordinary part of any loving relationship. Parents can row sometimes, that’s a normal part of couple life. Parents can get cross with children, that’s pretty normal too. But it only works when it doesn’t get out of hand and the child sees that an occasional heated disagreement doesn’t break the caring bond between people. The knowledge that a hug, a kiss and a loving attachment underpins annoyance and is the stronger part of any connection will render reasonable anger as safe and negotiable. The child of an alcoholic is likely to fear any conflict and find it tricky to safely express negative emotion in a healthy way. Assertiveness can later be interpreted as anger and the legacy may be that of constantly seeking the approval of others and hiding their own feelings. Showing need can be dangerously disappointing.

Self criticism
Growing up in these unpredictable environments will often lead a child to become an adult with an over sensitive view of themselves, lacking self compassion and with low self-esteem. Always having to cautiously fit around another, powerful figure leads them to lose their own sense of robustness and identity.

Intimacy
This is a real loss for these clients, as safe intimacy relies on vulnerability. We have to be able to trust another with our deepest feelings and allow them to know our fears to be in an authentic relationship. For the child of an alcoholic, expressing fear can be an alien concept. Losing control will feel massively unsafe. This can also lead to a raft of other, seemingly soothing or distracting habits.
Addiction, eating disorders, co-dependent relationships, or other compulsive behaviours – not inevitable, but if necessary these are important things to be able to express in a safe, therapeutic situation.
Often, these clients have been assigned the role of ‘rescuer’ as a child – this can mean confusing love with pity.  Finding a partner they can concentrate on ‘helping’ to avoid looking after their own needs will repeat this pattern. Alternatively, many will find a partner who is emotionally unavailable, thus repeating the absence of feeling special in their original family.
Staying alert and vigilant was often their natural defence against the fear of the nameless dread that exists when a child feels unsafe on a deep level. Taking this  mindset into adult relationships will undermine the safety and easy companionship that we all need in adult couples.

This might seem a depressing list, but as couple therapists it’s our job to help our clients acknowledge their past. Nothing can change the places we all come from and few of us have a perfect upbringing, but by naming the fears and looking at the full context, together we can begin to make sense of the patterns they may have inherited.
It may be important to look at the unhappy, chaotic parental situation with some compassion. People with addictive personalities are usually suffering themselves and easily afflicted by distorted thinking.
In a safe therapeutic situation we can begin to think about helping clients to distance themselves from this past drama and understand that it need not control the present. Learning to let go is a difficult but rewarding task. Future relationships need not echo those that have gone before.
Let’s hope that the investment in helping today’s children to achieve a healthier childhood will lead to more adults finding loving family relationships of their own in the future.

Christina Fraser

A Couple Check List for the New Year

We are already three weeks into 2018 and how many of us are still going strong with our new year resolutions to do more exercise, eat less sugar, have a dry January? How many of us have given up already and prioritised on refocusing on work? How many of us have resolved to improve our relationship this year?

Judging from the amount of enquiries that Coupleworks have received from clients wanting to make appointments to see a counsellor, its very clear that many couples are struggling to make the significant changes that they need in their relationships to ensure that 2018 brings them more contentment, excitement and connection.

Relationship patterns are hard to break, but if you start to think more and use some of these strategies there is a strong chance your relationship can really improve this year:

Here are some things to think about:

*It’s the small everyday things that can make the biggest difference: how we greet each other, show kindness, respect and appreciation. What tone of voice and words do we use with each other.

*Can you let go of past hurts and focus on sharing your goals for 2018 to help each other achieve what you want.

*If you really want to make your relationship better, you both have to focus on making time to put energy and commitment into overcoming your problems to make your relationship the best it can possibly be. It won’t happen without this.

*How well do you know yourself and what you are looking for in your relationship? What do you bring to the couple? Is it what your partner needs?
How often do we check this out?

*The importance of feeling you come first for your partner.

* Do you feel supported by each other? Couples who feel they have each other’s backs and see each other as team-mates are usually more positively emotionally connected and see a future as an exciting time for growth.

*Are you still curious about your partner or do you think you know and understand everything about them and how they work?

*Recognising we have different needs and drives in our relationships that change over time. When was the last time you checked this out?

*Focus on your partner’s strengths rather than their weakness. Start by complimenting more and criticising each other less

*Taking responsibility for what each of you are bringing to the relationship and is that what you want?

*How good are you at making compromises that will help strengthen your bond?

*Recognising that we all make mistakes and the need to rebuild our trust in each other. Can we forgive?

*The importance of keeping your sexual energy alive and growing

*Take responsibility for your own behaviour in the relationship and how it makes your partner feel.

*Instead of closing down and turning away from your partner, turn towards your partner to share how you feel.

Of course the New Year will bring challenges – that is part and parcel of being in a relationship. With a shared desire to put more effort into spending time focusing on what you both need and what needs to change, you are on your way to a more loving and fulfilling relationship for 2018.

Dawn Kaffel

Present giving between partners.

If money is no object or every penny counts, getting present giving right is tenuous at best… an accident waiting to happen at worst.

Trust comes into the equation of giving.  Defined as: care–duty–hope–assurance and expectation, trust is paramount but so often precarious, tentative and uncertain.

Money is often referred to as ‘means’.  An interesting definition.  What does money mean?

The successful present is not about monetary value, it is about listening throughout the year.  Hearing, not telling or knowing.

Listening, perhaps the greatest gift in a couple’s demonstration of intimacy and being placed as number one to each other, is about taking notice,hanging on words, pricking up your ears and remembering.

Often in the consulting room, money becomes a representation of unspoken yet deeply felt hurts/joys, anger/pleasure, resentments/closeness, rejection/inclusion and other opposites.

Presents given with love rather than apology, showing power, conscience ridden or a bribe will be cherished for life.  Car boot sales are full of present disasters.  The trained eye, however,  will spot one given with love, buy it and feel the aura of a loving couple’s history. The feeling will then spread to an unknown source.  This, in turn will become part of a chain of listeners and lovers.

The most revealing programme of late about lasting couples was about how similiar the selected couples were –  despite privilege and entitlement for some and hardship and struggling for others.  Both put family, home, understanding by listening and kindness at the head of their priority lists.  Duty and hard work is a by-product of these needs.

One of the few times the Queen has been seen to shed a public tear was at the decommissioning of The Royal Yacht Britannia. The only place when not on official business the couple could really be off duty. As near to ordinary as possible. Even in their carefully chosen furniture and possessions on board, a more ordinary and less opulent existence was apparent.

The more cocooned money makes couples, it can, at the same time rob them of awareness about and trust in the other.

A simple paperback book, picture, gadget, tool etc seen and admired by a partner from January onwards, may be the most intimate and loving present to turn up on 25th December or at a birthday or anniversary.  Hints will be dropped along the way.  Listen, take note and file them in your mind for the next present giving day.

Clare Ireland.

Issues of Anxiety and Control in a Relationship

Couples in a close loving relationship often describe trusting that the partnership is an emotional safe haven. They feel optimistic for the future of the relationship because they hold the belief that their partner is looking out for them, has their well-being at heart and wants the best for them. The relationship feels a refuge from life’s pressures, and a support when facing the vagaries and stresses of the modern day world. They can relax with the understanding they are loved and accepted, they have someone to turn to, and their partner is someone they can lean in on when things are difficult. The couple feel ‘more than’ when together and relish the idea that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Which is why an affair can have such a devastating impact. The security has been breached and the relationship suddenly feels adrift, shaky and fragile.

However, our individual psychological insecurities can also wreak havoc on a relationship. Extrapolating from past painful experiences we become pessimistic and make negative predictions about the future. We assume that similar situations are bound to happen again.

A man would not get married on his birthday because it would mean that day would always be spoilt after they divorced. A previous girlfriend had let him down badly and he was predicting the end of this one even as he planned the wedding: ‘It’s the kind of thing that always happens to me.’
Childhood hurts can diminish our willingness to trust and so foster a dependency on overt displays of reassurance and expressions of certainty. However, constant requests for minute detail, concrete evidence, and proof of fidelity, can become oppressive and destructive.

The rationale can be that ‘I too felt unwanted when my father had an affair and left my mother. I believe all men to be somewhat untrustworthy and I need to be on the alert so that I’ll not be abandoned and rejected again’.

A woman had become hyper-vigilant and, despite his loving behaviour, was secretly checking her partner’s phone for possible proof of an affair. When he found out he was distressed and angry at what he felt was an attack on his integrity.

Open wounds from a previous relationship can colour the view of a present partner and suspicions about their sincerity, openness and honesty can breed. The joke ‘The figments of my imagination are out to get me’ no longer feels funny, and a runaway imagination becomes a primary source of stress. Fear is a response to the perception of an immediate threat, while anxiety is a response to a possible future threat. Both states mean the brain moves into ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ mode and releases high levels of adrenaline and cortisol with tension and agitation manifest in the body.

Attempting to avoid the possibility of more pain and hurt we work hard to keep ourselves safe, expending huge energy on being super-vigilant, well-informed, and in as much control of the situation as possible. To relax and trust feels counter-intuitive: ‘Why would I? It’s a dangerous world.’

And yet, ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened’ (Mark Twain). We need to beware of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a danger that the compulsion to avoid the imagined catastrophe can become obsessive and addictive and a chronic need for reassurance, being in control, can take hold. The attempt to manage the anxiety then becomes counter-productive when it causes distress and hostility as a partner resists the control and rails against being accused and blamed

Unchecked, anxious responses to uncertainty and states of not-knowing can create poisonous feelings of dread, panic, jealousy and anger. All are toxic to a happy relationship which needs a dynamic of acceptance, trust, contentedness.

You might find it interesting to listen to a (long!) lecture by Martin L Rossman on ‘How Your Brain Can Turn Anxiety Into Calmness’ and pay particular attention to the visual imagery exercise at the end.

Kathy Rees

Difficulties with Commitment in your Relationship

January is 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 2017 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

Resilience in the Couple Relationship

Couple therapist Esther Perel writes that ‘we each come out of childhood with a greater need for either separateness or togetherness’ and, as a result, managing our adult relationships is a constant challenge. Very often a close couple relationship is one of our principal sources of emotional sustenance, reassurance and intimacy, but a difference in our levels of need can be disconcerting and frightening. Feelings of abandonment from what seems like a lack of concern can create panic. Feeling engulfed by what seems clingy over-dependence can feel smothering. At the start, balancing is not seen as a problem, but major life-events, stresses, and crises can cause ripples in the smooth surface and a once-stable relationship can suddenly feel unsafe. Each partner’s response to a feeling of disconnection will be individually shaped by past experience, but the differences can cause both a worrying confusion and insecurity: ‘I feel I don’t know you anymore!

Disagreement can flare into destructive conflict and anger. Repetitive, stuck behaviour patterns begin to emerge with downward spirals of protest and defensiveness. The couple can feel helpless and lost and come into counselling fearing their relationship is broken. The concept of the relationship as a safe haven has been challenged and they are wary, reluctant to trust. Suspicion has replaced good will.

Counselling, however, can offer a restorative healing experience. If a couple can be ‘brave-hearted’ and engage with the process of discovery and understanding, they can find the motivation needed to turn a stressful experience into an opportunity for growth. Transformational coping-strategies- such as working to change ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ (ANTs) into ‘Positive Alternative Thoughts’ (PATs) – allow for a discovery of powerful emotional resilience.

From the brain’s perspective, it is usually safer to stick to what is familiar, deeply ingrained, how we always react (even though we also know it does not serve us well) rather than risk the vulnerability and uncertainty of doing something different. Change is uncomfortable. So, resilience is a quality that needs to be developed – it is not a fixed character trait.

In order to feel the confidence and safety to strike out for change we need to feel buffered against what we pessimistically see as potential disappointment. Counselling, then, gives the opportunity to set events into the required broader perspective. Optimism is not helpful unless it is realistic – and realism is the ability to assess the situation clearly and challenge negative distortions.

For those traumatised by past relationship wounds, trust can be difficult. However, significant gestures of reassurance and ‘turning towards’ make for a relaxation of tension. Renewed closeness has a soothing reparative effect that goes towards healing hurt. Shifts and accommodations are evident and a recognition of a partner’s love, care and concern allows for significant recovery and hope for the future.

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

Trends from the Sex Survey by the Observer

“The British are losing their sex drive” headlines the Observer newspaper following their recent sex survey. Perhaps a surprising result is that the average British adult has sex only four times a month compared to the figure of seven times a month in the 2008 survey. What’s more a third of the population does not have sex at all in a typical month.

There are, of course, debates about what is happening in our society that is bringing about these changes: the recession and the pressures of it, the continuing changing roles of men and women in relationships, online pornography, the popularity of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the rising use of digital technology, to name but a few.

Some other interesting results from the survey

• 57% said trust was the most important component of a relationship followed by 26% saying conversation/communication and 2% sex.
• 63% of people are satisfied with their sex lives compared to 76% in 2008.
• 33% considered themselves to have above average prowess as a lover, compared to 55% in 2008.
• More than half of Britons 56% have watched pornography on the Internet occasionally, with 15% admitting to watching regularly.
• 43% of people read or thumbed through ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
• 36% admit to having had sex with a work colleague, a rise from 26% in 2008

You can read the full survey online here

Before the results of the survey were published I and two other therapists were interviewed about what we felt were the key trends going on at the moment. You can read a full account of what we said here

Perhaps the biggest question most people face, whether it is about their sex drive, the size of their penis or their sexual performance is ‘Am I normal?’. At Coupleworks we specialise in working with individuals and couples, helping them to work through some of the difficult relationship and sexual issues that most people face in their lives at some stage.

Sarah Fletcher

Fundamentals for Couple Closeness

Couples come to relationship counselling with a wide range of unresolved issues, and the therapist often has to listen closely to hear the themes behind the words.
In the clamour of unheard grievances, missed opportunities and feelings of neglect, the predominant cry is “we can no longer communicate”
Somehow the ease of sharing has become fractured as time goes on, and couples cease to work as a trusting unit and often become defended individuals.
One subject that can easily become overlooked is money.
How a couple organises their finances can become a rich seam for therapeutic discussion.
Money rather than sex has become the hard-to-tackle conversation for many clients.
Once this becomes an open topic, it can release a torrent of unresolved grievances, with accompanying feelings of dependency and responsibility, plus fears around a perceived lack of transparency.
Trust is the foundation of a couple and usually only discussed in the context of fidelity or loyalty, but trusting the other with feelings of a fair and joint partnership can feel just as important.

Is ‘work’ only rewarded financially?
Do you need or want to know what your partner earns?
Do you need or want joint or separate bank accounts?
Do you sit together regularly and spend time understanding your incomings and outgoings?
Do you take time to plan for your future goals?

Each couple can add their own personal needs to this list, and it is important to retain an open conversation as things will change monetarily in tandem with individual circumstances
Opening up this often tricky topic can begin a process of transparency and sharing that can enhance the trust that most couples so desperately desire.

Christina Fraser

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

Adult trust

Trust is often aligned to unease about a possible affair.  But there are many other areas of trust which also cause disappointment, hurt, anger and a sense of unfairness and let down.

How much can you really trust yourself in any unforeseen circumstance however adamant you feel about how you would react to the test.

Rescuing the child in the burning house.

Never tell a lie.

Never flirt outside the couple.

Never steal anything or be economical with the truth.

Never put your partner down in a group.

Never talk down to a child. Never under any circumstance have an affair.The degree you can trust your partner is only equal to the degree you can trust yourself.

Some tips on how to understand each other’s idea of trust in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and the build up of resentment.If you are expecting something from your partner, ask yourself first, ‘Could I or would I do that for them’?

Try to think about the truth in this mindset: ‘I want you to love me unreservedly, care for me, understand me, never put me down, never humiliate me in company, always tolerate my difficult side, make love to me when I feel like it, etc.  But, I am not sure I could do the same for you’.

Talk to each other about what you need from your partner and tell them what you can do for them and what you would find difficult.  Then negotiate.

Sharing these concepts between you during good moments can boost your feelings of safety and trust together and this will aid the resolution following an affair or other serious breaking of trust issues and make way for less feelings of abandonment and loss.

Clare Ireland