I believe it involves being emotionally tuned in to your partner! And of course it needs to go both ways!
Unfortunately, being able to tune in to one's partner doesn't always come naturally and easily, except during the early, heady days of the relationships when you are both madly in love!
This becomes particularly difficult when partners are at loggerheads over entrenched issues and goodwill between the couple has eroded away over time. The way in which couples communicate with each other is often a yardstick of relationship health and the depth of intimacy the couple enjoy. If couples are emotionally attuned they tend to have high levels of intimacy and relationship satisfaction.
So how do you go about becoming more emotionally attuned to your partner?
It all boils down to empathy!
I will talk more about empathy in future posts.
Over the weekend I attended a wonderfully stimulating and informative workshop by the American expert in the field of interpersonal neurobiologyy, Dr Daniel Siegel. I had read a number of his books which I have found extremely relevant to my clinical work as a psychologist in the field of health and positive psychology. I was, however, quite bowled over by his one day presentation of his concept of "Mindsight".
Mindsight refers to our ability to become aware of our awareness and our ability to be present with ourselves and with one another in our relationships. Dr Siegel has developed a mindfulness technique called "The Wheel of Awareness" to help anyone who wishes to deepen and stengthen their ability to relate and connect with themselves and with others. This is a hugely worthwhile practice as it underpins both social and emotional intelligence and hence our success in relating to our nearest and dearest but also with people in a variety of social situations, including the workplace.
Dr Siegel defines the human mnd as "the emergent self-organising embodied and relational process that regulates the energy flow within and between us". This may seem to be pretty complex, and it is of course, however, what is interesting from a relationship point of view is that our brains are wired for relationships with other people, for being able to empathise and resonate with the emotions of others. We are therefore "built" for being in relationship with others and from an early age our attachment with significant others in our lives builds up neural circuits for interpersonal relationships.
How I see the implications of Dr Siegel's cocept of Mindsight for relationships and for couple counselling:
* We each have the potential to relate meaningfully with others as our minds are designed for relationships. However, if we as individuals are not self-aware and in a state of inner harmony, we will probably find it difficult to access the parts of our mind which allow us to empathise with our partner. This begs the question: Can we maintain good relationships if we as individuals are in a bad space and/or we are functioning largely on auto-pilot?
* Sometimes our early experiences as a child with our primary attachment figures are less than optimal and may negatively affect our ability to develop deep and meaningful relationships. If you think that this may be the case and you are finding that your relationships are suffering as a result, the optimistic message is that it is possible to make positive changes to your brain through mindfulness training, meditation and psychotherapy and by doing so, you could in all likelihood improve your ability to relate meaningfully in all areas of your life.
Reference: Mindsight; Transform your brain with the new science of kindness. Daniel Siegel.
How to succeed at being a good mother-in-law (by really trying!)
Mothers'-in-law tend to have a bad reputation (similar to that of landladies)!
Are mothers'-in-law really so problematic?! I know that I personally had a less than ideal relationship with my own mother-in-law (to put it mildly) and in my individual and couple counselling many of my clients report that relationships with the parents of their spouses can be fraught with problems. However, it was only when I became a mother-in-law in my own right that I found that I could totally sympathise (and empathise) with both roles of daughter, and mother-in-law.
(For the purposes of this article I will stick to the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship as this is, in my opinion, the relationship that tends to be particularly sensitive and potentially problematic. Why would this be the case? It is invariably difficult for a mom-in-law to accept, after a life-time of being the no.1 woman in her son's life and the one who calls the (domestic) shots in the household , that another woman has now taken up that position (through no fault of her own except that she loves a mother's son!). Where does this leave the mom-in-law? She has to carve out a new niche for herself, and this is where the challenge lies!
So what do I suggest?
For mothers'- in-law:
First – remind yourself continually that, for your child to be happy, his marriage needs to succeed. Therefore your role essentially should be to facilitate and help to strengthen their mutual bond. Thus diplomacy and the fostering of goodwill between you and your daughter-in-law should be the order of the day!
Work on accepting your daughter-in-law wholeheartedly and unconditionally, even if there are aspects of her personality or behaviour with which you disagree or regard as contrary to your own views, priorities or values.
Try to disinvest from believing that you are right and that you know best, especially when it comes to relationships and to parenting (and grand-parenting). Wait to be asked for advice rather than providing it unsolicited.
Be supportive and available (within reason) and not overly demanding and needy. Give your child's relationship with his partner/wife room to breathe!
If your child comes to your for a listening ear or for advice and support when issues arise in his marriage, don't allow this to colour your relationship with your daughter-in-law! Be careful not to voice any criticism of your daughter-in-law as, once they have made up, this may remain "hanging in the air" between you and your son, which won't be good for your relationship either!
Understand that the dynamics between you and your mother-in-law can be complicated and in many cases difficult to negotiate. Be sensitive and empathic!
Allow your partner/husband to enjoy one-on-one quality time with his mother if this is important to them both. Their relationship also deserves to be acknowledged and respected.
Mothers and daughters-in-law can be a wonderful source of love and support for one another, especially when there are children to be parented and grandparented. Therefore I believe that every effort should be made on both sides to strengthen this relationship!
What role does money play in your relationship?
Where do you and your partner stand when it comes to money issues?
In order to help you to answer these questions, consider the following questions:
Do you and your partner:
1. See eye-to-eye on financial matters most of the time?
2. Keep details of your personal finances private?
3. Have certain secrets when it comes to your personal finances?
4. Make major financial decisions together?
5. Tend to agree on priorities when it comes to money?
6. Have a shared vision of the future?
7. Battle to agree or compromise when it comes to financial decisions?
If you both answered "yes" to questions 1,4,5 and 6 you and your partner seem to have a healthy approach to financial matters in your relationship. However, if items 2 ,3 and 7 apply to your relationship, money appears to represent a potential problem and source of conflict between you both.
Perhaps you are wondering why I am advocating total transparency when it comes to financial matters?
This is how I see it:
The majority of unhappy couples who walk through the door of my psychology practice say that they yearn for deeper intimacy with their partner and a more meaningful level of communication yet in many cases they are resistant to the idea of sharing all aspects of their finances with each other.
How can a couple hope to (re-)establish trust and intimacy in their relationship if they are simultaneously giving their partner the message that he/she is being shut out of a fundamentally important aspect of their partner's life? In addition, how can a couple make informed decisions about their future together if they cannot openly discuss their joint finances together?
it is so important, therefore, to talk to your partner in depth about all aspects related to money and finances as early as possible in your relationship and thereafter on a regular basis so that you can be confident that you are both on the same page when it comes to money matters in your relationship.
Couples: Can your relationship survive a major breach of trust?
In my cinical psychology and mediation practice I see many couples who present for counselling because their relationship is reeling under the impact of a perceived betrayal, such as infidelity or a failure on the part of one of the partners to 'be there' for their spouse when they have been going through some major (often traumatic) life event, such as a death of a family member or other significant loss, such as their health or their job.
The event or situation in question may not be perceived by the other person as 'a big deal' for a number of reasons, such as a lack of empathy,( which is often due to the couple being 'out of step' with each other emotionally) and hence to poor and misleading communication patterns.
Strong relationships are built on a foundation of trust and the knowledge that one's spouse will always have your back, no matter what happens. Dr Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotion-focused Therapy (EFT) for couples states that this is a fundamental need that individuals have when they are involved in a committed relationship). So when a breach of trust occurs the relationship is seriously undermined.
Many couples make the mistake of pushing such events 'under the carpet' and endeavouring to move on with their lives without getting to grips with the issues involved, not realising that there is now a major 'crack' in the foundation of their relationship, which is unlikely to heal with time. (In fact, in many cases, couples will come in to see me years after the breach occurred, when some other issue serves to uncover the original 'breach', which is as emotionally devastating as it ever was (sometimes even more so because it has caused more damage over time because the failure to address it has been perceived as a secondary breach of trust).
The fundamental question is:
Can a relationship recover from such serious breaches of trust? And if so, how can this be achieved?
I will discuss some possible answers to these questions in my next post.
Relationship commitment – how does the process work?
Over the last few weeks I have had a number of couples coming to my psychology practice for relationship counselling, stating that their problems centre around relationship commitment, where one or both partners are ambivalent or confused about where they want their relationship to go (if anywhere!).
One, or sometimes both, members of the couple report that they are unsure about either:
a) whether their current partner is the person they ultimately want to marry.
b) whether they actually really want to enter into a lasting and binding commitment with anybody.
Most of the couples who find themselves in this situation are not in their teens or twenties, but are usually in their early to late thirties. They see their friends getting married and having babies, and they often report that they feel that they are out of step with their friends, and that their families are often putting on the pressure (sometimes in less than subtle ways) for their offspring to get marriage and to produce some grandchildren.
Invariably, when I talk at length with these couples, I get a sense that they feel "stuck" , to the extent that they can't even enjoy their day to day lives together because of the presence of this "elephant in the room". If one partner is not ambivalent and is ready to commit, this can cause immense feelings of frustration and there is also a great deal of ambivalence. In this case the ambivalence is around whether or not to hang in with their partner to wait for him/her to come to a decision, and how long they should hang in there before moving on with their lives. This question becomes even more pressing when one of the partners is also aware that their biological clock is ticking inexorably, and that the possibility of future parenthood is also hanging in the balance.
In children, teenagers, adults and couples: why is validation of the self so important in our lives?
What do we mean by validation and why is it so important?
Last week I attended a training workshop on the topic of self-injury.
It was stated that in many cases of self-injury there is a history of some form of abuse. However, another factor which is seriously damaging to the (developing) psyche is invalidation where parents and other caregivers fail to acknowledge their children, punish, demean or embarrass them repeatedly for their behaviour or fail to believe them when the child reports a serious concern such as bullying or sexual abuse.
A sense of being valued for our uniqueness is essential for healthy psychological development and for a sense of psychological coherence and wellbeing.
As parents, friends and lovers we need to remember this. I believe that if each of us could commit to treating all our significant others (and also our acquaintances) with respect and a non-judgemental attitude (even though the latter can often be extremely difficult!), we could not only build up the self-esteem of those who matter the most to us in our lives, but we could also greatly improve the quality of all our relationships!
Of course, this is easier said than done, and a great deal of what I do in therapy with individuals and couples is coaching in the necessary skills to become validating and also self-validating!
And if so, what can you do?
Often couples contact me only when their relationship is in a very bad way. Both partners may be sitting in my counselling room telling me that they want desperately to work on their relationship when if fact one (or both) have already decided that this is the last stop before they intend to call it quits.
Sometimes one partner believes that their spouse is committed to making things work, when they may either:
a) be feeling very confused and uncertain about whether or not they still want to be together.
b) may have already decided that they "want out" and are merely waiting for the counsellor to confirm their belief that the relationship cannot be saved.
This can come as a huge shock to the partner who is invested in making things work out.
What can, and should the "committed" partner do in this situation?
What not to do:
The sudden knowledge that a partner is thinking about ending your relationship will probably cause intense feelings – of anxiety and even panic.
However, pressurising your partner at this point won't usually get you the answers you crave!
Your partner may not actually know what he/she feels or wants and pressurising them will probably only cause further negativity.
So what is a better course of action?
I will talk more about this in the next post….