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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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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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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Parents and spouses: What impact is your cellphone usage having on your family relationships?

Of course smartphones and all other forms of modern technology have greatly improved our ability to connect to other people. It is hard to remember how we survived in the past without cellphones.

However, lately there has been a great deal of coverage in the media on the likely negative impact that screen- time may be having on our close relationships. Most of us spend a great deal of time every day focused on a screen – my ipad alerts me to this each week when I get told how much screen-time I have indulged in every day!

Let us first consider parent-child relationships. How often do you see parents glued to their cellphone screens whilst their young children have no option but to amuse themselves. When I see this my heart goes out to these children – and to their parents, who are missing out on a huge slice of their children’s early lives.

But how damaging is this behaviour to the overall well-being and psycho-social development of children? For many years psychologists and researchers have highlighted the crucial importance of secure attachment between parents and their babies/young children on a child’s emotional development. Secure development can’t happen if and when parents are habitually physically, psychologically or emotionally absent from their children’s lives. Children learn to master and manage their own emotional reactions by growing up with parents who are emotionally available and who contain their young children’s emotional outbursts. This requires consistent attention from parents and other caregivers.

Time magazine (January 28th, 2019, pg 33, “Protecting kids”) cites research reporting that 74% of a sample of kindergarten and primary school principles have noted a marked increase in emotional problems in their learners. Of course, there are numerous other factors that might potentially affect this figure.

However, as parents we understand that many of their factors are outside our control. However, our cellphone usage is something we can control. I would recommend therefore that each of us become more mindful of our cellphone usage (and our screen-time in general) and honestly assess how this is impacting on the quality of your relationships.

In future posts I will talk about the impact of cellphone usage on our intimate relationships.

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Would you like to improve your relationship?

Current research can show you the way!

When it comes to relationship well-being I believe that both happy and unhappy couples could do with some pointers on how to improve their relationship.

Couple counsellors and their clients are fortunate in being able to access, and make use of  research findings with provides us with insight into what to do, and what not to do, if one want to foster a happy, fulfilling intimate relationship.

Psychologist John Gottman is the “guru” in this field and has written a number of publications which outline his findings over 40 years of work in studying couples’ interactions under rigorous scientific conditions. His findings are enormously useful and I routinely recommend his books to my clients who are having relationship problems.

So what does his research reveal?

When comparing groups of couples in long-term relationships – one group consisting of happy couples and the second who are unhappy in their relationship – the following differences were found to be especially significant:

  1. In everyday conversation happy couples expressed statements in the form of positive emotions rather than in a negative state in a ratio 5:1. Couples in trouble tended to a ratio of 1:1 or less.

(Examples of positive emotional states include: a calm frame of mind, being interested, affectionate, humorous or empathetic towards one’s partner whilst examples of negative emotional states include being dismissive, contemptuous, stonewalling, being angry or defensive, appearing hurt, belligerent or domineering).

2. When couples have arguments it is crucially important to a positive outcome that the partner initiating the conversation introduce the topic with a soft (as opposed to a hard) start up. A soft start-up involves framing a topic with care and consideration when you are calm and in control. Tacking a topic when you are upset or angry will almost guarantee an unsuccessful, and potentially damaging, outcome.

3. Another important aspect to effective conflict resolution in relationships involves successful repair when arguments get our of hand. It has been shown that the main reason unhappy couples battle to reverse the negative cycle in the relationship is due to a general failure to make successful repair attempts during arguments. This makes it especially difficult to for troubled couples to rectify their negative/positive emotion ratio.

I will discuss further aspects of this research in future posts.

Reference:

John and Julie Gottman. The Science of Togetherness. Making Couples Therapy more Effective. In Psychotherapy Networker (September/October 2017).

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