Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology Blog - Archive for Sep 2018
Our latest article was published in the Chiswick Herald on the 14th September on page 27, click here to visit the site or read the article below.
How to make your family times happy times
For some people their family feels like the best place in the world whilst for others the worst however for most there are good times and bad times. For everyone though there will be a pattern to peoples behaviours and sometimes those patterns might change for the better!
When relaxed and happy people are able to rub along together with little conflict however individuals in groups often take on particular roles and this can lead to tension between people. When something changes or when stressful situations arise, behaviours may not change to adapt appropriately and / or the defence mechanisms deployed by people may add to conflict.
Staying quiet is an option but one that rarely changes an ongoing problem.
If you want to break patterns of behaviour that cause problems then the first thing to do is to think about your family and the particular roles people take. It is normal for people to assume a “job description” and tensions tend to arise because these job descriptions either overlap or leave holes. For example, you might have four people willing to cook but no one who is willing to clean up afterwards!
Unfortunately, when behaviours remain unchallenged and the resentment starts to build thoughts such as “they are so selfish, so thoughtless, self centred” start to occur and these tend to generate even more difficult feelings.
Do you think that person really wants to be seen as difficult?
Such patterns are normally formed because things change but habits stay static. It can be really helpful to think that the person with the annoying habit is most likely doing something automatically and doing it because at some point it was what people appreciated.
But now you need accept that the behaviour is simply one that you find difficult and this cannot be changed alone - if it could have been then you would have managed it by now!
Even if you have been able to see the other persons behaviour as not intentionally difficult it is likely you will find raising this subject difficult. A good initial strategy is to think about how you tend to be under pressure and how others therefore experience you so you can find ways to stay calm.
Fight, flight or freeze?
Under pressure people with have a tendency to respond in a particular way - this means it can be possible to predict with a degree of accuracy how someone - including ourselves will be when something goes wrong. There is “fight” meaning becoming active. It doesn’t necessarily mean becoming aggressive but if you think of movement it would be a “step towards”. For those who tend towards “flight” a “step backwards” and for those where “freeze” happens think “standing still”.
Once you have identified the response you can think about what this means in handling situations - imagine the situation then think of ways to ensure you both remain calm.
FFTP - Fact, feeling, thought, preference
FFTP is a structure for how to have those difficult discussions! In this method of communication you provide the other person with all the information about what is going on for you in relation to the issue you are finding difficult.
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation. Your brother (Arthur) who is married with three children has, since having the children, started turning up late to family events you organise and when he finally arrives tends to disagree with things arranged in his absence. Today when the family were due to meet for a walk and lunch he arrives an hour late by which time everyone had decided where to eat and ordered drinks. He says he wants to go to a different place as he has heard good things about it. You find yourself feeling annoyed and thinking here we go again. You know that you tend to get angry and that in the past you have ended up shouting so you know it will help if you can stay calm. You’ve been thinking about this and have already planned to ask if you can speak away from the rest of the family, you also know that when you sit down you tend to stay calmer - so you find somewhere you can sit.
Fact - “We agreed to meet at 1pm and when you didn’t show up on time we decided on this place, looked at the menu and ordered drinks. Now you want us to change what we are doing.”
Feeling - “I am feeling annoyed, hurt and unloved”
Thought - “I am thinking that my time has been wasted, what I want doesn’t matter and not good enough for you - it is hard for me to enjoy our family time with these feelings and thoughts”.
Preference - “Can we find a way to ensure our arrangements work but can I also ask you don’t ask me to change what has been decided.”
“It is always so hard for us to get places on time with the children, something always seems to happen when we are leaving the house. I should allow more time but sometimes I agree to something and then don’t feel I can change my mind. Arriving late today I felt stressed and nervous because you have been angry with me in the past so I am always thinking I have to make up for being late. I think I have spoilt things and I need to find a way to make things OK so I try and suggest something that I think will be better. Now I am thinking that if I arrive late I can just relax knowing that I don’t have to do that - I don’t need to fix anything. But you are right maybe we can change the way we make our arrangements - I would like to know its OK not to agree a time on the spot so I can think about timings?”
Our latest article on relationship dilemmas has been published in the Chiswick Herald. You can read it below:-
Relationship dilemmas series - happily unhappy together and unhappily happy together
Often people come to therapy to talk about how they feel confused about their feelings in their relationships. For example, they might say they feel unhappy in their relationship but that it is not their partners fault or they may say they feel happy about their relationship although they can struggle with how their partner behaves sometimes. It seems some people will be happy in their unhappiness and some unhappy in their happiness.
One of my first questions is always “have you spoken with them about this?”
and often the answer is “no” or, “not really”. It is so common for people to struggle to talk about things. Unfortunately it is often the case that when someone struggles to talk about something they maybe judged as not being truthful or honest and that in itself can be a real barrier.
In my experience conversations are often avoided because of how difficult the person struggling with something may find it to start the conversation. For example, they might fear being misunderstood, they might fear the hurt or anger of the other person, they might not know how to start the conversation, how to pick the right time, they might also be thinking that it is not something worth talking about or when they think about what they want to say they find themselves confused and stuck, they might feel guilty about not being happy etc etc. Ultimately they may well fear that by talking things will get worse.
This reluctance is often a really positive sign as it shows just how important the relationship is and that means change, compromise and growth are always possible.
The relationships I worry about are where apathy and exhaustion have become the norm.
So lets look at how to have those difficult conversations. Firstly there is talking and then there is communication and that they can be very different things. If you have the same conversations over and over again then you are talking and not communicating. Communication is about understanding and being understood and when this happens things can change.
When people get frustrated about repeating conversations they start to get upset and at this point a common mistake is often made. It is so clear to them what they are saying they locate the “problem” in the person they are trying to talk to and this leads to conflict. Instead what I recommend is that you point out what you are observing, say how you are feeling and what you are then thinking.
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation. J and P are a couple together for eight years in their early thirties. J has been feeling increasingly unhappy lately and wants them to do more social activities together. They have come to therapy because every time J raises the subject they end up arguing.
In the session J says to P “Do you want to organise a dinner with friends?” and P grumpily replies “Not really, I am too busy with work”. Angry, J replies “you are always busy with work, you work too hard”. P now also angry replies with “well at least I was brought up to understand the value of working hard”.
I ask them to both go back through the conversation and structure what they say differently and to do this I ask them to say how they felt and what they thought and whether there was anything they would prefer the other to do or say. I ask P to now respond to J’s question.
P says “when you asked whether I wanted to organise a dinner with friends I felt stressed and I thought how can you be asking me to take something else on when you know how tired I am?”. J then replies “hearing that you felt stressed makes me sad and I feel confused because when we have dinners with friends I usually do all the organising. I am also not certain I do know just how tired you are, I have thought you look tired but this is the first time you have said”.
P says “I feel confused now because I am sure I have said I am tired but I am also thinking that I misunderstood your intention, I would have preferred for you to say “Can I organise a dinner with friends?”
J thinks for a moment and then says “so you aren’t against doing things with friends? I have been feeling lonely and missing our friends and how we are when we spend time with friends.”
P thinks for a moment and replies “I miss that too”.
They have a dinner with friends and it is a great success but more importantly this change in their communication leads to them to speak about how P feels pressurised to be successful at work as J has been talking about starting a family. They realise that they have not shared their thoughts and feelings on starting a family for a long time and this was the conversation that was actually needed.