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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Your partner has cheated on you and you decide to stay. How do you cope?

What do you do when you find that your spouse has been having an illicit affair?

Of course one’s first impulse would be to say “I would certainly leave the relationship!” However, this is invariably not a simple or easy decision, especially when it involves potentially leaving a loved spouse and a long and committed relationship. This decision is even more difficult when a couple have children together and leaving a relationship would also  mean breaking up a family and putting the children’s psychological health in jeopardy.

Of course this choice involves a great deal of soul-searching and ambivalence. There are emotional risks and potential gains and losses attached to both options. For a partner who chooses to stay and to try to work on the marriage, the process is invariably a protracted and often lonely emotional roller-coaster ride. Often it may feel that it is all too much to handle. Concerned friends and family members often provide well-meaning advice but they are seldom able to understand fully what the individual is going though.

It is usual for a person in this situation to question their decision continually because it is so hard to hang in there. They simultaneously love and hate their “cheating” spouse and are obsessed by thoughts that their partner may still be involved in the other relationship. It often feels as if trust in the partner has been irrevocably lost and that there is no hope for reconciliation.

Partners who have been cheated on often ask themselves whether their decision to stay and work on the marriage let’s their spouse off the hook for his/her transgressions and thus makes it too easy for them to move on without any serious repercussions.

So how does someone who chooses to stay in their marriage post-infidelity cope with the emotional fall-out?

First, it is important that the person find someone they can confide in and who can allow them to explore their feelings and their ongoing internal struggles fully with no judgement or advice giving. This is often a tall order as the topic of infidelity brings out strong feelings in most people.

Talk honestly to your spouse and tell him how you feel and what you are going through every day. If  he/she shows understanding, patience and emotional support this is a good sign that there is acknowledgement of the harm that has been caused and a commitment to the long haul in healing the relationship. Explain the ambivalence you are feeling and explain what you need to enable you to cope and to stick with the process.

Focus on self-care and self-development. The shake-up of your marriage also presents an opportunity to think critically about your relationship prior to the infidelity and whether or not you permitted yourself to live totally authentically and develop your true potential. This may be a good time to make some significant changes.

Decide on what type of marriage you would like in the future and discuss this topic with your spouse. Ideally once you and your spouse have successfully worked through the aftermath of the infidelity you will be in a stronger and better place in your life as a result.

 

 

 

 

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Aging gracefully. Is it possible?

Today I am “celebrating” a landmark birthday and for a few weeks now I have been thinking a great deal about aging and mortality – and all the existential-type questions that come with the territory.

I also have a number of clients who wrestle with these issues in my therapy room. Questions that are asked include “what is the purpose and meaning of my life?” and “how do I cope with aging and my own death?” There is often a great deal of anxiety and fear associated with the thought of one’s inevitable  physical decline and possible ill-health and the suffering associated with this. Issues around dependency and vulnerability are  common.

Most of us don’t like to dwell on these issues too often or too long as they tend to evoke strong negative feelings. Often they can be successfully pushed aside when life is going along well and there is much to occupy one’s day and one’s mind. However, such questions cannot be ducked successfully forever and become especially salient when we experience turning -points in our lives. The mid-life crisis is a case in point!

Is there a good way to cope with aging?

Psychologists who are proponents of “Health Psychology” and “Positive Psychology” speak about the concept of “Successful Aging”. There is an emphasis on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and an optimistic and positive mindset.

Of course it is not possible to be happy and upbeat 24/7. However, it is possible to work on the adoption of an attitude to life based on a sense of awe, curiosity and gratitude. Mindfulness and meditation are also strongly recommended.

Strangely enough this often becomes easier to achieve the older one gets. Research has found that older adults tend tho be happier than adults in their late twenties and early thirties, possibly because there is more time to smell the daisies and there is the realization that Life is unpredictable and  finite and that we need to appreciate every day!

I would also suggest planning well ahead of time for the last and possibly most challenging period of life even though this is quite a daunting prospect!

So yes – I am happy to say that I am succeeding in having a lovely birthday!

 

 

 

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Psychology and discriminating psychotherapy: The importance of finding an effective psychologist.

The importance of finding a solutions-focused psychologist.

One of my gurus, Michael Yapko, published a new book today called “The Discriminating Therapist” which is available as a download on Amazon.

Dr Yapko is a seasoned therapist, hypnotherapist and presenter. You can find his website and his new book at http://www.yapko.com/the-discriminating-therapist/

He came out to South Africa a few years ago and I was fortunate to be able to attend a hypnotherapy workshop that he presented in Pretoria. His approach to therapy is so practical and useful that I use his ideas and his strategies routinely in my therapy with clients, both in individual and in couple’s counselling.

Why is his approach so useful? Ironically, Dr Yapko would disagree with this question but would no doubt restate it it this way: how can the therapist be of help in enabling their clients to reach their stated goals? The client’s goals may involve achieving a desired state, such as becoming calm and content (if they suffer from depression or anxiety) or gaining mastery over some aspect of life, such as conquering procrastination or improving communication in their marriage.

Dr Yapko maintains that, in life, “how” questions are more useful that “why” questions.

Why does he say this? If you think about it, we can look for reasons for our behaviour until the cows come home! However, this doesn’t help us to identify, and change whatever behaviours (or patterns of behaviour), thinking patterns or thinking strategies that maintains our problems, such as depression or anxiety. Once the therapist has helped the client in this regard, positive change can be facilitated. 

This brings me to the topic of choosing a therapist that will be right for you. Dr Yapko would ask “How do you go about choosing an effective therapist”! 

I would ask a psychologist upfront whether or not you could have a short, free (15 minute) introductory session with him or her so that you can have an opportunity to assess whether or not his or her approach seems to be right for you in terms of how you relate to each other and also in terms of whether or not you are both on the same page regarding their focus, approach to therapy and envisaged time frame for the achievement of your desired goals for therapy.

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Couples Counselling and Relationship ambivalence: Should you stay or should you leave?

And can couple counselling help in making this call?

To stay or to leave an unhappy relationship is one of the hardest decisions many of us have to make at various times in our adult lives. There is so much at stake, especially when there are children involved.

When a marriage or a relationship has been troubled or unhappy for some time it is inevitable that one or both partners may start to harbour serious thoughts about leaving. There will often be a period of intense internal contemplation, accompanied in many cases by long conversations with a confidant or with close friends.

When a partner has been going through this process without letting you know about his/her thoughts or  feelings regarding the relationship, it can come as a huge shock when finally the topic is raised. Suddenly a person’s world in thrown into disarray and the future seems highly uncertain and threatening. There is usually a feeling of intense hurt accompanied by a sense of the anticipated loss.

This is often the moment when couples decide to come in for counselling.

The partner who has initiated the conversation about a possible breakup of the relationship is often not yet sure about what he/she wants to do – whether they would like to try to save the relationship or if they would rather call it quits. This confusion invariably adds to the hurt and anxiety being experienced by the partner, who usually tries to push their partner for some clarity and some definite answers. However, in many instances the partner cannot comply as he/she is invariably experiencing a great deal of confusion and ambivalence regarding their feelings and about the possible future of the relationship.

So what is a couple to do in this type of situation?

In my couple counselling practice I often see the partners for individual sessions interspersed with couple counselling sessions to enable the partners to each work on the issues that are raised for them as a result of their relationship’s dynamics and problems.  

I often advise the “surprised” partner to try to refrain from bombarding their spouse with questions about his/her intentions, especially if no clear and consistent answers are forthcoming. Of course, this often leads to heightened anxiety and frustration which is worked through in the individual counselling.

The “disclosing” partner’s ambivalence and confusion is worked through individually as well. Once some clarity has been reached the partner’s discuss their progress and the way forward in a couple sessions. A decision is then reached (ideally) regarding whether or not they wish to give their relationship another try. If they do they usually elect to continue with couple counselling, if not, I often recommend mediation, especially if children are involved and I provide names of suitably qualified mediators.

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Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the year ahead and about the future in general?

If your thoughts are somewhat bleak when you think about the future, this can lead to depression!

Some very interesting research has recently been published on the subject of the link between how we think about the future (known as prospection) and our mood states (Roepke and Seligman, 2015). Up to now there has been a generally accepted view that a pessimistic view of the future is a pointer for someone who is depressed – that depression causes a person to have negative expectations about the future.

However, it seems that it may also be the other way around – that if we harbour overly pessimistic views and expectations of our future, this could cause us to become (more) depressed!

So why is this new finding important?

Well, the good news is that if our thoughts influence our moods (and they do, according to Cognitive-Behavioural theory and Therapy (CBT), we can change these moods by altering our thinking! The implication of this is that our emotions are under our own control (to a certain degree).

How can prospection affect our emotions and possibly lead to depression?

These researchers have identified three ways this happens:

  1. Telling ourselves different scenarios about possible futures. If you think about your future, do you foresee good or bad things occurring? Are there more positive predictions than negative ones, or vice versa?
  2. Judging your possible future life in either a positive or a negative way. You might say, for example, that you predict that you either have a number of positive options which could enable you to have a bright future or you believe that you have few options for the future and that you will inevitably have nothing much to look forward to.
  3. Harbouring either positive or negative beliefs about the future. These would include beliefs or thoughts about a personal future, but also about the future of the country and the planet as a whole).

 

In my next post I will discuss ways in which our patterns of prospective thinking can be altered to become more positive and optimistic.

 

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