Clinical Psychologist & Family Mediator

Welmoet Bok

Wynberg - Cape Town

Infidelity in relationships. Do both partners need to change to save a marriage?

On Sunday this week I was asked to take part in a CapeTalk podcast on the subject of infidelity.

PODCAST: ‘An emotional affair can be equally as hurtful as sexual infidelity’

One question that was put to me was regarding whether or not a partner who has been cheated on in a relationship also needs to make changes in order for the couple to reconcile and recover their bond. When listening to the podcast the next day I realized that I hadn’t answered the question!

I regret this omission as this is an important question. 

When one partner cheats in a relationship it is a sign that the couple aren’t communicating totally openly and that there is some degree of estrangement. The degree and quality of this “disconnect” will vary between couples of course. I couples where the disconnect is severe, the partners would tend to keep a great deal of their inner lives very private. As a consequence, each partner will start to live a disconnected life and will, to all intents and purposes, start to “suit” themselves when it comes to choices and decisions.

When an infidelity is discovered, and the couple decide to try to work through the associated hurt and betrayal, they have to begin to become a “we” again, with the resultant requirement of mutual compromise and consideration. For the partner who has been cheated upon, this is often a very difficult pill to swallow as there is usually a great deal of anger and resistance to the suggestion that there is a joint responsibility on the partners to work towards a mutually satisfactory and satisfying quality of life as a couple.

For example, where a couple have not had an intimate connection for some time and one of the couple has an affair, then the spotlight is put on the nature and quality of their sex life when they attempt to reconcile. In this scenario, the partner who has been cheated on is often privately quite content with not having sex with their partner and now feels pressurized to reconnect on an intimate level. This is particularly common in couples who are no longer young as is not an easy problem for couples to solve!

Often a compassionate and empathetic professional can make all the difference in helping such individuals find a way forward in their lives that will work for each of them.

 

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Is your relationship surviving Covid 19?

What is so much togetherness doing for your relationship? 

In my experience of seeing couples over the last few months, it seems that most relationships have undergone significant changes over the course of the lock-down, with some couples reporting that their relationships have gone from strength to strength whilst other couples have had the opposite experience and have found that they have become increasingly unhappy.

Of course there are a multiplicity of factors and reasons that account for these differences between couples. 

A major factor is stress. Many couples and families have been under extreme stress during the lockdown. Financial concerns and hardships, home-schooling and working-from-home demands as well as health concerns and anxieties are amongst the major culprits. Job insecurity and job-losses are also common sources of major stress. 

How couples handle these stressors and whether or not they co-operate with each other and work as a team has a significant impact of the degree to which a couple is able to successfully weather the impact of Covid 19 and the lockdown. Couples who support each other and operate as a team will also benefit psychologically, experiencing more contentment and happiness and less anxiety and depression.

I therefore recommend that couples who are experiencing difficulties find ways of working on improving the quality of their relationship. They will be happier for it, and so will their significant others!

 

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Relationship recovery tips from a Couples’ Counsellor

What advice do I give to all my couples who see me for relationship problems?

Lately I have been reviewing all my recent couples counselling sessions in an attempt to distil the main ideas I introduce to almost all couples in our first few sessions together. 

The following have come to mind:

  1. Blaming your partner for the problems in your relationship will get you nowhere! It is extremely common for unhappy couples to blame each other for the demise of their relationship. However, this dynamic only serves to deepen the rifts between the partners. It is essential to take personal responsibility for your contribution to the problems that exist. This is an essential first step to relationship improvement.
  2. Listen to your partner in order to really hear what he/she has to say. Defensiveness will only perpetuate your relationship problems.
  3. Avoid attacking your partner’s personality. Focus on behaviour not personal attributes. Treat your partner with respect at all times. 
  4. Avoid  using absolutes when arguing such as “you always” or “you never”. This will only escalate arguments and emotions.
  5. Don’t nag. Rather mention to your partner what behaviours you would like or would prefer rather than harping on and criticizing.
  6. Mention every day to your partner what you appreciate about them. Look for their strengths and not their faults. 

If you and your partner manage to start to implementing all the above points, your relationship should go from strength to strength in no time! 

Best wishes!

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The advantages of on-line psychotherapy and counselling.

Why on-line therapy and counselling is such a bonus!

A hot topic on psychotherapy forums at the moment is on-line therapy, which comes as no surprise. Many of us psychologists have used skype and face-time for psychotherapy sessions for quite some time, for clients who are in other cities or countries. However,  now due to the Covid 19 lock-down we tend to be looking at moving the majority of our sessions on-line.

Of course on-line therapy has its challenges, such as establishing and maintaining strong emotional rapport when physically separated, privacy and confidentiality concerns and other logistical issues, to name a few.

However, most of us are so used to, and comfortable with, relating to family and friends via skype, whatsapp and facetime that one soon becomes comfortable with this mode of therapy, I have found, as long as one’s internet connection is stable and reliable, on-line therapy can be very effective.

The advantages of on-line therapy

Of course, the obvious advantages are that you can consult with a psychologist from anywhere in the world, from the convenience of your home. This is particularly ideal at the present time of general lock-down, when anxiety levels, depression and stress are at an all-time high globally, due to the general uncertainty and our fears for our own health and the health and welbeing of all the people we care about.

Another advantage is the flexibility aspect. Psychotherapy and counselling sessions can be scheduled at any time at the convenience of the therapist and the client. I have found it convenient, with some of my clients, to schedule shorter, more frequent sessions at the moment, to support clients more often and regularly, which has become really important, especially for individuals who are living alone and/or have little social support. 

Other people who can and do benefit from online therapy during the corona virus epidemic are individuals who are battling to cope with isolation, particularly those with mental health issues and any time of addiction. 

Couples who are in unhappy relationships, where there is a great deal of conflict at home can also benefit from attending on-line counselling and mediation sessions. Extended periods of isolation will tend to exacerbate relationship problems so it is advisable to deal with anger and relationship issues before they escalate. 

If anyone has any questions regarding the practicalities of online counselling, please let me know.

Best wishes to you all!

 

 

 

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Maintaining healthy relationships in the face of the corona virus.

Do’s and Don’ts…..

Now that most of the world has been advised to self-isolate, how will our closest relationships be impacted?

As things stand at the moment – we are all going to be spending a great deal of time under the same roof as our immediate family. For many families this is great news – no need to spend hours in the traffic, lots of unstructured time, and the opportunity to be together.

However, for many people, the heightened stress and anxiety about the uncertainty about the impacts of the virus in all spheres of life will cause many people to become preoccupied and irritable, which will, of course, impact negatively on their closest relationships.

What can you do?

  1. Be aware and mindful – of what you are saying, and the tone of voice that you are using. Keep an eye on your moods and your anxiety and stress levels. If your anxiety and stress levels are moderate to high, do something about these – such as speaking to someone, downloading a mindfulness or meditation app and exercising regularly, in the outdoors if possible.
  2. Be committed to being respectful and kind to those close to you, especially when tensions are raised in the household.
  3. Focus of what is important and meaningful in your life, value the present and try not to stress the small stuff.
  4. Get enough exercise and sleep.
  5. Arrange some daily alone time.

And the don’ts?

  1. Don’t let anxiety, stress and depression get the better of you. Practice good thought hygiene (read up on the principles and practice of CBT or attend some counselling or psychotherapy sessions to learn these skills).
  2. Don’t evade personal responsibility when it comes to improving relationships. It is easy to assume the other person is at fault. Ask yourself what you can do differently to improve your close relationships.

Empathy and consideration go a long way! Make this period of self-isolation an experience that your family members will remember with fondness in the decades ahead!

 

 

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How do you protect your mental health from the spectre of the coronavirus?

With all the world-wide mass-hysteria and panic that has accompanied the imminent threat of the coronavirus,  I have been wondering how we all as individuals have been coping on a day to day basis!?

Of course we each have our own coping styles when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety. However, the coronavirus threat is something so out of the normal range of stressors that we routinely have to deal with, and is causing such major disruption in so many areas of life on a global scale, that it is challenging each of our inner resources and resiliency to the maximum.

The ubiquitous news updates of the world-wide spread of the virus serves to make us as individuals feel personally vulnerable, insecure and unsafe, which fuels a feeling of anxiety, depression and hopelessness, especially in those of us who are prone to anxiety and depression. 

So what can each of us do to mitigate against the psychological effects presented by the spread of the coronavirus?

  1. Manage your anxiety by practicing CBT techniques such as monitoring your thoughts for patterns of “what if” thoughts that lead to heightened anxiety and challenge catastophizing thoughts about worst-case scenarios.
  2. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to focus on the present moment and to calm your mind.
  3. Manage any depressed or hopeless thoughts by challenging their validity and usefulness. Don’t allow yourself to sink into a “doom-and gloom” mind-set. Internalise the principles of Positive Psychology by working on your stress management and psychological resilience.
  4. Adopt a solutions-focused “how” approach to the problems presented by the coronavirus. We as humans are amazingly inventive and adaptable. Use this ability to the fullest and this will increase your sense of personal control and positive self-esteem.
  5. Remember that “this too shall pass”.  Adopting a pragmatic approach and conveying this to your family and friends, will not only help you personally but perhaps you can also make a positive difference to the mental health of those closest to you.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries or comments!

 

 

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Getting married soon? Are you sure you are compatible?

In my couple counselling and couple coaching practice I see mostly unhappy couples – those who are struggling with communication problems and unresolved areas of conflict. It often strikes me how seldom couples speak about how they are planning to navigate central issues in their lives once they are married. Couples who have been married for some time often recall how they had been so in love with each other when they were dating and then got carried away by all the excitement of the wedding and honeymoon, only to discover when “real life” began in earnest, that there were serious differences in their values, beliefs and approaches to life.

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Do you suffer from anxiety or depression?

If so, how healthy are your thoughts?

These days most of us are conscious of our health and we do a great deal to ensure that we stay well. We watch our diet, many of us exercise regularly, and we know we need to get good quality sleep.

But how many of us are aware that to we need to watch what we think as well to protect our mental health?

In my psychology practice I am very aware that few people monitor their thinking. In fact, many people are of the view that the thoughts that go through their minds are outside of their control.

Individuals who are prone to anxiety thing a great many “what if” thoughts during the day, such as “what if I mess up during my exam”, whilst people who suffer from depression tend to ruminate excessively.

These types of thought patterns serve to “feed” anxiety and depression.

It is possible to gain control of your thoughts through CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy). This will enable you to break the cycle of anxious and negative thinking.

There was an interesting article on the Psychology Today facebook page today, which speaks about the serious consequences to one’s mental health of negative thinking habits:

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201208/the-most-dangerous-word-in-the-world?

Steering away from negative thinking towards a positive mindset is the subject of Positive Psychology.

If you would like to be happier, more optimistic and hence more psychologically resilient I recommend that you embrace the principles of Positive Psychology.

Wouldn’t this be a great way to begin 2020 (and enjoy the festive season)?

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Anxiety. Are you dealing with it in the best possible way?

And what does your approach to anxiety tell you about yourself?

In my previous blog-post I talked about how important it is to examine your life and to work at understanding yourself.

Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. Why? Because life tends to be uncertain and unpredictable, and comes with a certain amount of risk – of accidents, illness, financial hardship and natural disasters – to name a few.

Evolutionary psychologists tell us that anxiety has been with us since the dawn of time and is a major factor in our survival as a species. Fear and anxiety are hard-wired into the most primitive parts of our brain.

However, of course, some individuals experience a great deal more anxiety than others do. Many have generalised anxiety disorder, where one is generally anxious without necessarily knowing what one is anxious about. Other forms of anxiety relate to a specific thing or situation, such as having a fear of heights or a phobia of snakes.

How do you deal with the uncertainty and potential risks in your life? If you tend to avoid things that make you anxious, this can lead to more and more situations that need to be avoided to relieve your anxiety, and life becomes very tough and stressful as a result.

A much better anxiety-management strategy is to identify your sources of anxiety and stress and examine your thought patterns that lead you to feel anxious. This is an element of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT and is an approach I use a great deal in my psychology practice.

Other very useful strategies for dealing with anxiety include meditation and mindfulness training. Regular exercise is also a very positive way to manage stress and anxiety.

If you have any questions about managing your anxiety better, please get in touch.

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