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Split loyalties can cause serious problems in intimate relationships.

What can you do if you find yourself in such a situation?

For example: You are in a relationship with a partner who has an ex-wife who seems to be totally helpless and calls your man every time there is some sort of crisis or emergency in her life. Because he is such a loving and giving person he jumps every time she makes any type of request, even when you have something planned to do together. This situation is starting to drive you crazy and is causing problems in your relationship because you tend to complain again and again about the issue.

Or an even more difficult situation:

Your partner whom you love very much has a child from a previous relationship and he regularly puts the child’s interests and requests ahead of considerations in respect of your relationship.

As a psychologist, over the years I have had many such clients who are grappling with this type of problem which can put intense strain on a current relationship.

What is the best way to approach such a situation?

First I would like to suggest things that are far from helpful such as:

1. Trying to give advice to your partner about his or her situation. Advice can very quickly turn into frustration when your advice is not taken or is actually ignored. A partner who is in this situation can very easily start to feel judged and controlled. He or she will very likely feel that he or she is being pulled in two opposing directions at once, leading to elevated feelings of stress which can lead to unproductive arguments between you both.

Because your spouse or intimate partner undoubtedly also feels a great deal of guilt in leaving his previous family, he is likely to resist any efforts on your part to cut back on his involvement with his previous family. If anything is going to give, it will in all likelihood be your relationship. This will seem totally unfair but is usually the reality unfortunately.

So what should you do?

Best to keep your own views to yourself initially and ask for advice from a trusted third party. Try not to feel too emotionally invested in resolving the problem in your favour (this is very difficult).

I would also suggest that you think empathetically about the situation from your partner’s point of view, and also those of his ex-partner and his children. This will help you come across to your partner as more sympathetic and encouraging of a contact scenario that will work for everyone in the family network.

 

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Generalized anxiety – is there an antidote?

Of course anxiety is an emotion we all feel from time to time. We wouldn’t survive without anxiety as it alerts us to possible danger and threat. Think of the last time you had to write an exam or had to visit the dentist. Very few of us can contemplate these types of experiences without a certain amount of butterflies in the tummy!

What I am speaking about here is “normal” anxiety which is situation specific. However, some people experience anxiety that is more general and unremitting. Often this is related to a dread of uncertainty. The future is often regarded as threatening as life is unpredictable and outside one’s control.

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Couples: Is your relationship as happy as it could be?

If not, what aspects are preventing you and your partner achieving a mutually fulfilling relationship?

Over the years I have provided couple counselling to many unhappy couples who are experiencing major problems in their relationships. In many cases couples tend to wait much too long before accessing couples counselling when relationship problems have become chronic and trust and goodwill between the partners has become seriously eroded.

What issues often undermine relationships?

  1. Infidelity. Cheating on one’s partner, whether it be a fully-fledged sexual affair, secret texting to a third party or even spending money without the partner’s knowledge often places any relationship under serious strain. Partners often have unrealistic expectations that infidelity can be swept under the carpet after a brief discussion and/or apology. This is invariably not the case. A lengthy process is usually involved, where both partners need to commit to the long haul of recovery.
  2. Chronic arguments that do not get resolved successfully but tend to recur over the months and years on a regular basis. In couples, this type of habitual and long-term conflict often centres around disagreements around money, parenting, friends and in-laws.
  3. Poor communication. When partners are dissatisfied about the quality of their communication, this often indicates relationship problems. Intimacy becomes an early casualty of poor communication as partners who no longer communicate their deeper feelings and needs to their partner are invariably removing themselves emotionally from their relationship. Resentments and misunderstandings often result, which takes the relationship further into a negative cycle.

Relationship deterioration can happen suddenly, for example in the cases where infidelity is discovered or revealed, or can happen gradually and often unconsciously over months and years.

It is a good ideal to regularly gauge the health of your relationship by couples asking each other the question “Are we happy” and “what can we do to improve our relationship happiness”. As with our physical health and fitness, relationship health, too,  requires regular work to maintain peak happiness!

 

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Jealousy in relationships: Justified or irrational?

Consider the following scenario:

Your intimate partner is regularly staying late at work. You know that the only other person in the office after hours is your spouse’s attractive and single boss.  In addition they often have “working” lunches together.

Do you have a right to object?

I have just come across an article in Psychology Today which addresses this question:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/maybe-its-just-me/201005/adultery-what-counts-and-who-decides

The author of the article states that infidelity is in the eye of the beholder – that if you or your partner objects to a certain behaviour of on the part of the other, that said behaviour should be stopped.

However, how do you determine whether or not concerns about your partner’s actions are rational and justifiable?

Should your partner always alter their behaviour based on your reservations and/or insecurities? The main problem that arises is that the person whose behaviour is questioned will feel that their partner does not totally trust them, which will very likely cause major problems between the couple.  Taken to the extreme a relationship where this type of dynamic is initiated could start to feel extremely constricting and unhappy.

So what is the answer when insecurities arise in a relationship?

I am of the view that these types of issues need to be discussed in an open discussion between the couple. It is important that each partner not come into the discussion being convinced that they are right and that their partner is wrong. Empathy and goodwill are essential in order that a decision can be reached that each partner is able to live with.

If you find that this type of discussion tends to become heated and that you and your partner battle to constructively resolve important issues, it is advisable that you find a wise and unbiased third party who can help you find mutually acceptable solutions.

 

 

 

 

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Couples: What are the rules in your relationship?

And do you always agree on what they are?

 

What do I mean by the rules of a relationship?

 

I am referring to the decisions you both make together as a couple as to what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of values, norms, behaviour and boundaries. For example, when it comes to the subject of children – there will undoubtedly be discussions on whether or not you want to have children together and if you decide to be parents, how you plan to bring them up (if of course you are both at this stage of life!).

When it comes to finances, couples often have discussions upfront regarding money management. Often there can be major disagreements in this area, which if not resolved will in all likelihood lead to recurring conflict throughout their union.

In many areas of a couples’ life, however, there will have been little discussion and each person will have their own views regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable, based on their own background, beliefs and upbringing.

For example, one partner may make a decision to go out to a club with a friend, only telling their spouse about this one the date has been made. The partner may react angrily, saying that their relationship should be a priority and that all invitations from “outside” of the couple should first be discussed between the couple. This may take the partner by surprise, as they may have thought that seeing a friend once in a while without their partner’s prior knowledge/agreement/consent is no big deal!

This example demonstrates that a great many “rules” in a couples’ relationship are implicit (i.e they are never explicitly  discussed).  This can cause problems in a relationship if partner’s tend to bottle-up their resentment and don’t bring up any issues that are on their minds at the time when a concern comes to light.

If partner’s are upfront with their “other halves” there is a much better chance that compromises and mutual understandings can be reached.

 

 

 

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Infidelity. One of the biggest challenges a relationship can face.

Why is recovery from infidelity so difficult?

 

As we all know, intimate relationships are based on a foundation of trust.

When one partner admits to their spouse that they have been unfaithful, trust disappears in an instant, causing the dynamic between the couple to change radically.

The first question that couples in this position ask me when they enter couples counselling is whether their relationship can be saved. This is impossible to answer upfront as many aspects come into play, including both individual personality factors, the history and dynamics of the relationship as well as the nature of the infidelity and the meaning and significance of the infidelity from the point of view of each partner.

My couple counselling clients often underestimate the personal strengths and commitment that will be required in order to survive as a couple. I would equate the process to climbing Everest successfully if you have only ever climbed Table Mountain beforehand!

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Are your managing to satisfy your partner in your relationship?

And visa versa?

If not, what tends to come in the way of a happy and fulfilling relationship? What are the barriers in this regard?

I’m not referring here specifically to the intimate aspects of your relationship, though of course this is usually a crucial component in most relationships.  I’m meaning this in a more general sense.

Often because of our busy lives we take this type of issue for granted – everything seems fine at home so we tend to concentrate of urgent and pressing tasks until something serious happens, for example a huge fight in which very hurtful things are said or some type of infidelity comes to light. At that point couples often take stock of their relationships and their lives together and begin to pin-point recurring problems and issues that they are experiencing in their relationship.

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Do you consider yourself good relationship material?

And why this matters!

Perhaps you have been in a happy and fulfilling relationship for a long time! If so, to what do you attribute this success?

(Do you see this as predominantly due to mutual hard work, your partner’s positive attributes or perhaps are own? Perhaps you see it as a combination of all three)?

I find it fascinating to ask this question of happy as well as unhappy couples.

I wonder if you can predict how the answers of these two groups differ from each other?

It goes without saying really. On average happy couples are generous with their praise of their partners’ positive attributes, such as patience, respect and appreciation for their “other half” whilst troubled couples tend to play the “blame game” and often battle to recall their partner’s positive aspects. Sometimes troubled couples even fail to recall what attracted them to their partner in the first place!

Each of us could do with reflecting regularly on what we personally bring into our most significant relationship, in areas such as:

Our unique personality make-up and attitude to life:

Are you an optimist or a pessimist, for example?

Are you even- tempered or moody? If you tend to be depressed or if your emotions tend to be volatile, your partner may be at the receiving end of your unhappiness. I find that unhappy couples tend to blame their bad relationship for their unhappiness, when there is often more of a circular causal relationship at play.

How do you manage your anger?

When you have a major disagreement with your partner how do you go about finding a resolution?

Do you initiate a discussion with your partner by asking when would it be convenient to talk about the issue on your mind or do you loose your cool and insist on dealing with it immediately? Individuals who lack control over their anger run the risk of seriously damaging their relationship in the long-term should he or she say and 0r doing things that can’t ever be retracted.

Perhaps you are someone who withdraws from your partner when you feel angry or hurt? You may go quiet for hours or days and when communication resumes perhaps the issue in question is never discussed or resolved. The danger here is that partners fail to communicate adequately and constructively with one another and their intimate connection becomes lost along the way.

Are you an anxious person?

It is often difficult not to let heightened levels of anxiety affect your relationship. Anxious individuals tend to crave certainty and predictability. How does this impact on a relationship? Of course every anxious individual will be different in this regard. However, it is common for there to be a strong need for control and an aversion to taking any type of risk. 

How can you do to ensure that you are doing all that you can to prevent your “dark side” from damaging your relationships?

I would suggest that the first step could involve becoming mindful of how you feel during each day and the way in which you are interacting with others. If you believe that you may be suffering from depression, anger issues or high levels of anxiety I would suggest that you speak with someone about it as soon as possible. You owe it to yourself, your partner, family and your friends!

 

 

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