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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The Benefits of Using Couples Counselling To Repair A Relationship

When your life gets busy, you may find that you and your partner start drifting apart. Couples Counselling is a great way to repair your relationship and get back to a point where both of you are happy. Here are a few benefits of using couples counselling to repair your relationship:

 

Clarify your feelings

Couples counselling will allow you and your partner to figure out where you would like your relationship to go. Speaking to a professional and giving yourself and your partner a specific time and space to speak to each other about your feelings can help you decide whether or not the relationship should continue.

 

Resolve past problems

Sometimes it is beneficial to speak about your problems with a professional third party involved. Often, you will find that you and your partner may argue about something and then suppress the emotions once the fight is ‘over’, but all you’re doing is holding in your true feelings in order to stop the argument. These unresolved emotions settle into your unconscious like an ‘unexploded bomb’. Going to couples counselling will allow you to speak in a controlled environment with a patient professional at hand. They can help you and your partner positively resolve past problems before that ‘unexploded bomb’ goes off.


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7 Tips on How To Maintain Your Mental Health

You are the most important person in your life. It may sound selfish, but you need to take care of yourself first before you can take of other people. Self-care is a combination of looking after your body and looking after your mental health – the two work hand in hand. There are a number of ways to take care of your mental health to ensure that you are in a good space.

 

Talk about your feelings

Something as simple as talking about your feelings can benefit your mental health immensely. A lot of people don’t like talking about their feelings and so they bottle everything up and try to deal with it themselves. Doing this will make your mental health deteriorate until you get the point where you just can’t cope with your emotions.

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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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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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How healthy is your relationship?

In my practice I routinely see couples who are in unhappy relationships, some on the brink of separation or divorce. When I ask them how things where at the beginning, there is often a stark contract to the state of their relationship now.

How do many good relationships deteriorate over time? We are all aware that relationships need to be constantly worked on in order to continue to strengthen and grow. How do we go about this though?

An article by Jennifer Priem in “Psychology Today” (Posted 5th February 2019) gives some good pointers on maintaining a good relationship.

She talks about three aspects of communication that are essential – openness, positivity and assurances and two elements to maintaining a strong relationship referred to as routine and strategic maintenance.

How many of these five aspects do you practice routinely in your relationship?

 

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Conflict and anger. How are these handled in your relationship?

Is your relationship happy and healthy?

If so, you are probably handling disagreements and conflict in a constructive way.

Its never easy to confront one’s partner of sensitive and painful issues that come up in our everyday lives. Doing this well requires mindfulness, empathy and respect. However, when faced with problems that evoke hot emotions, many people tend to respond and react instinctively and say and do things in the heat of the moment that they later regret.

In many cases individuals don’t blow up with each other, however one or the other withdraws themselves from their partner and goes into a “sulk” for days or weeks on end. This pattern can be equally damaging as issues don’t ever get resolved and merely get pushed under the carpet.

If this pattern continues unchecked over time, the relationship can be severely damaged, sometimes irreparably if the resultant hurt and disillusionment is so severe that one or both partners decides that they can’t see a future for their relationship.

If you are finding that you and your partner are not dealing well with conflict, it may be a good idea to seek help. Sometimes one of the couple will come for counselling to help them manage their anger and frustration, but first prize is, of course, if both partner come in for couple counselling so that the issues within the relationship can be worked on by both partners. This gives the relationship the best chance to recover and even to thrive.

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Is it ever OK to swear at your partner?

The answer should go without saying, right?!

I am surprised, however, to discovery, when I hear about the experiences of my distressed couples in therapy, how many couples routinely swear at each other during arguments. In many cases this behaviour is not seen as problematic regarded as anything to be concerned about and is often rationalized and normalized.

In my opinion, though, when partners resort to swearing at each other this is an indication that they have crossed a line in their relationship – that of respect/disrespect. Relationships are unable to flourish in a climate of disrespect.

I would suggest that if you and your partner have reached the point in your relationship where swearing, and other forms of disrespect are the order of the day, that you take the initiative to get help to transform your relationship into a healthy and mutually satisfying bond.

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Jealousy. Does it plague your relationship?

Over the years I have seen many individuals and couples where jealousy has ruined an essentially good relationship. Often no reason can be cited for the jealousy. Often jealous partner has found no evidence that their “other half” has been cheating. In fact, it is often the case that the partner is to all intents and purposes totally faithful and committed to the relationship.

So why do some individuals report extreme levels of jealousy?

Consider the following example:

Mary has been Lewis for about eighteen months. She describes her relationship as “close”. However, each time Lewis talks about a female co-worker or glances at another woman in the street Mary is overcome by feelings of anger towards both her partner and the woman in question. She reports that Lewis appears completely committed to their relationship and as far as she is aware, as never stepped out of line.

We have been exploring the underlying dynamic of her jealousy in our counselling sessions.

It has emerged that Mary had a less than ideal childhood and never really bonded with her mother and father. Her mother was warm and nurturing and her father tended to be very judgemental. She was evidently not securely attached as an infant and young child and as a result, failed to develop a strong sense of trust in her caregivers. Research on attachment theory indicates that insecure attachment as a child can lead to problems later on in intimate relationships.

It also emerged that Mary suffers from low self-esteem and has an extremely judgemental attitude towards herself. It is therefore likely that she doubts her own attractiveness and desirability and is thus anticipating that sooner or later her partner will leave her for someone she perceives to be more worthy of his affections.

Of course these two factors play out on a largely unconscious level and each person and each couple will present with their own combination of personal and relationship dynamics.

Is there hope that jealousy can be successfully treated?

Yes, I believe that, armed with a greater degree of self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-management skills, individuals can and do make strides to overcoming irrational jealousy. It is best, however, to seek help early on before a relationship gets irreparably damaged by accusations and mistrust

 

 

 

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Successful partner bids. Why these are crucial to healthy relationships.

What are partner relationship bids*?

Consider the following example:

You experience an upsetting incident at work and arrive home feeling highly emotional and stressed. You need desperately to tell your partner about it in order to offload and get some emotional support. However, when you try to bring up the topic your spouse is preoccupied with checking something on his/her phone and mumbles something about discussing the issue later and promptly forgets about it altogether.

This is an example of an unsuccessful partner bid.

We constantly make all kinds of bids in our relationships, including bids for:

attention

consideration

support

love

help and

understanding .

Successful bids cement relationships and bring couples closer. Unsuccessful bids, on the other hand, tend to reduce intimacy and cause relationship dissatisfaction and unhappiness. (Of course it is not possible for every relationship bid to be successful as we are all making numerous relationship bids in every interaction we make every day. However, what is important is our general receptiveness and openness to the needs of other people in our lives and our mindfulness regarding the importance of maintaining good relationship bonds).

Susan Johnson, who pioneered Emotion-focused Couple Therapy, maintains that the fundamental question each of us asks ourselves (often unconsciously) in respect of our intimate partner is:

“Is he/she there for me when I need him/her?”. The answer to this question will determine one’s degree of relationship satisfaction.

We should therefore not take for the granted the importance of being present and responsive in our relationships.

When psychologists talk about the importance of constantly and consistently working on relationships, this is what it is all about!

 

It might be an idea to ask yourself whether or not you are paying sufficient attention to your partner and to his/her needs.

And what role does technology play in the health of your relationship?! More on this topic in a future post!

 

  • * John Gottman’s term.

 

 

 

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