Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology Blog by Nicholas Rose

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Our latest article has been published on page 27 of the Chiswick Herald. Click here to visit the site or read below.

Relationship dilemmas - what to do when you want something to change
 
One of the concerns couples often bring to therapy is the conflict that arises when a partner wants something to change in the relationship. Maybe its something to do with lifestyle, socialising, money, sex - whatever the issue many couples struggle to integrate change.
 
A major reason is that before the need for change becomes clear there is often a period of growing dissatisfaction. During this period couples often start to argue and both end up taking polar positions on the issue, often the issue itself becomes overshadowed by a power struggle.
 
“Avoid playing the blame game.”
 
It can be difficult for the dissatisfied partner to talk because they can feel awkward or guilty asking for change or maybe the conflict has become so difficult they fear raising the subject? And for the other partner they may also actively avoid the issue, nervous that they might not want to make the change or that the change is the start of other changes for which they are not yet ready.
 
A very common situation is where something that was merely slightly irritating in the early stages of a relationship appears to grow in importance. We all tend to be on our best behaviour in a new relationship, not wanting to be difficult but also having a significant amount of goodwill. As our relationships settle down our desire for our relationship to be one we experience as supportive and relaxing means that things we find irritating can start to damage our relationship.
 
“It can be helpful to see this as a sign of a maturing relationship”.
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation - M & T have been together for two years. M has been increasingly annoyed about the amount of time T spends with children from a previous relationship. Things came to a head recently when there was a confusion about dates, there was a wedding for one of M’s friends on the same day as T’s youngest was graduating from University. They argued about it, M revealed that this was the latest in a long list of upsetting times, T was angry that M should be upset. The issue was not resolved, M went to the wedding and T went to the graduation - they both felt hurt and something between them shifted. After a few more arguments and with growing sense of unhappiness they came to therapy.
 
Through therapy the first thing we did was de-escalate the conflict. Both M & T could see that disappointing though it was to have struggled with this issue it was a relatively common problem. They were also able to discuss how having this issue had led to them “catastrophising” in other words they had starting to wonder if the relationship had been a bad one from the start. Such thinking had badly affected the relationship so by speaking about this they were able to see that the growing conflict was merely a symptom of a need to improve their communications.
 
In the second stage of therapy M & T learnt how to speak about things when they were upset or importantly sensed that each other might be upset about something. M spoke about how sometimes it had felt difficult to say how it felt in a situation and had seen something in T’s reaction that meant the possibility of conversation had closed down. Meanwhile T spoke about how it was difficult to see M upset, had spotted the upset but had been fearful that they would end up arguing. 
 
Following this M was now able to tell T that the worst thing about this was not that it prevented them finding a solution but that it raised a fear that T was not interested and that they could not communicate. Meanwhile T was able to say that M often appeared really angry and spoke in an aggressive way that meant it had to be M’s way. So they could easily see how they shared the fear that neither was interested in communicating but only getting their own way.
 
They were now able to see how the misunderstandings had occurred, they were relieved to hear that they both actually wanted the same thing - to be able to talk about things. When encouraged to make an agreement between them to deal with this going forwards M asked T to check out whether they needed to speak when such situations arose in future, meanwhile T stated clearly a desire to hear from M in those situations.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald on page 27, click here or read it below.

 
Relationship dilemmas - what to do when you want different things.
 
Over the next few months we will be outlining different dilemmas faced in relationships, in this article we will look at what happens when couples want different things.
 
The struggle for couples to find a way to handle situations when they both want different things is often brought to therapy. Where there is a repeating pattern of a couple not getting what they want resentment tends to build, goodwill is eroded, the relationship becomes a power struggle and the couple grow further and further apart.
 
There are only two possible outcomes when a couple find they have different wants:
 
  1. One gets what they want, the other changes position
  2. A compromise is reached
 
There is often a misunderstanding about “compromise”. Compromise still means that neither will get what they originally wanted however through working together they will find something new they both want.
 
What this tells us is that being in a relationship means a couple cannot realistically have an expectation they will both get what they want. A healthy relationship is therefore one where both agree that they will do whatever is needed to maintain and develop the relationship. 
 
This sounds obvious however when a partner starts to struggle instead of the focus being on “what do we need to do?” it tends to go to what each partner needs to do individually. Whilst this is a natural response it is simply not helpful. It is often also something about trust - trust that we can be understood and that we will end up with something helpful. 
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation - J and M have been together for just over ten years, last year M’s father died suddenly. J was in the middle of a redundancy programme at work at the time and although J escaped redundancy the environment has been unpleasant. M’s work have been very supportive but M has increased the amount of overseas travel. Over the last few months arguments have started to do with domestic chores and money, whilst sex has become sporadic and routine. 
 
Summer is coming and thoughts have turned to the annual holiday. J wants to go somewhere hot and lay on a beach in an all inclusive resort whilst M wants to go on a walking holiday staying in self catering accommodation. 
 
When they tried to discuss this they argued, it happened much like the other arguments they had been having but this time J picked up a bottle of wine and threw it at the wall. They found they were both shaken by what had happened and came to therapy. We looked closely at what had been said and how argument had developed. What we found was that:
 
First, they each stated what they wanted and then commented on what the other said they wanted.
Second, they said how the other had hurt them.
Third, they criticised each others behaviour in their conversation so M criticised J’s anger whilst J criticised M’s withdrawing.
 
So what is wrong with this? Well lets start at the end and work backwards:-
 
1. In arguments peoples behaviours are the revealing of defence mechanisms. Their activation is actually a sign that the individual is upset and responding - so this needs to be seen as an issue of the relationship - not the individuals. (With the exception of abusive behaviours). So instead of the behaviour it is more helpful to focus and understand the triggers. Ultimately to catch and prevent situations before they require defences.
 
2. In our relationships we have hurt feelings when our expectations are not met. Whilst is makes apparent sense to blame the other person it is far more helpful to think about how it is we have differing expectations. (Unless we believe the other person is abusive - in which case what are you still doing there?)
 
3. People often come up with solutions for problems and then are annoyed when others do not agree with the solutions. In relationships, a solution for something affecting both can only be found when both have agreed and understood the problem. 
 
So back to J and M. The “problem” was that they were both exhausted and upset with how the relationship was going and they recognised that their exhaustion was preventing them from being as flexible as they had been in the past. They had both been worried for themselves and each other and realised they had been trying to go on as normal and that included the holiday planning. They both agreed that the solution was they needed a holiday to relax / recuperate and when asked to think about each other they accurately identified they tended to have different ways of relaxing and recuperating (“expectations”). It had never occurred to them that holidaying apart might be feasible, fleeting thoughts had been dismissed because part of being on holiday was usually about enjoying time together. But this was not usual and so unusual solutions were valid. They agreed that for this holiday they would take separate holidays but they would also plan an extended weekend away together for a month later.
 
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Our latest article was published on page 29 of the Chiswick Herald on the 22nd June, click here or read below:

I’m a therapist because of loneliness.
 
For me, therapy works because the person struggling with something on their own no longer feels on their own! 
 
People come and see me because they are depressed, anxious, having panic attacks, having relationship problems, drinking too much, having problems becoming pregnant, have PTSD, are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, are suicidal, having trouble managing their anger but the baseline is they are coming to see me because they are alone with a struggle. 
 
No longer feeling alone brings a sense of relief and hope. 
 
The change, no matter how subtle brings new energy and makes it possible to express something that has previously been impossible to express. Feeling more relaxed means we can start to see the wood for the trees, be more rational, think about things more clearly, which in turn helps us to feel better.
 
It is only once we can express our difficulties we can start to understand them and once we understand them we have a chance of fixing them.
 
Although loneliness has been much in the news lately, the importance and scale of it is I think,  vastly overlooked. In my experience people find it hard to identify that they are lonely or even if they do feel lonely fail to see the importance of it.
 
When a person finds it hard to make sense of something, be it their thoughts, feelings or how they are experiencing themselves they can get stuck in their internal world. So they will find their thoughts going round in circles, have ever increasing and overwhelming negative feelings, have bodily symptoms - and the more they try to get out of the struggle the worse it gets.
 
This is a really lonely place to find yourself in.
 
When people find they cannot rely on themselves to find a solution they may move towards other behaviours, initially as coping mechanisms, that only act to escalate the problems and isolate them further - drinking, drugs, eating disorders, avoiding friends and family, giving up their hobbies, faith, work. 
 
It’s a natural response because once someone starts to focus inwardly they have already discounted, not thought about or had experiences which have led them to believe that they cannot be helped. 
 
But what is help?
 
The important thing about seeing a therapist is that you are meeting with someone who you do not know and who does not know you. This means that the problems you might experience in trying to talk to friends and family do not exist - you can feel more relaxed and speak freely, your conversations will be confidential, you do not have to worry about the therapists feelings, do not have to worry that they might not cope with you being upset, might change their opinion of you, be sure that they are there because they are focussed on helping you and as you are the client you are in control. 
 
One of the common problems people experience about sharing their struggles is a worry that somehow control might be taken away from them - with a therapist that is not the case.
 
Crucially though finding the right therapist for you is essential. Research consistently shows that the single most important factor in finding therapy helpful is the quality of the relationship someone has with their therapist. 
 
It is true that we go through years of training, undertake our own therapy, have experience in talking about things often not talked about in everyday life, so we might have some new way of looking at things, be able to share a wisdom but to know if you have found the right therapist I suggest you ask yourself “Do I feel lonely now I have my therapist to talk to?” If the answer is no, or not so much then I think you have found the therapist who is right for you. 

 
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Our latest article was published on Friday 27th April in the Chiswick Herald. Click here to visit the Chiswick Herald Online or read below:

 
Keep your children safe and well in their use of the internet - part three
 
My previous editorials have focussed on safety and how to speak to your children if you are concerned about how they keep themselves safe but also if you have any concerns because of they way you see them using the internet. Today I thought it would be useful to consider appropriate use of the internet to contribute to the wellbeing of your children.
 
In June this year new studies provided evidence that moderate use of the internet and social media does actually benefit children and young people. Suggesting that use of social media helps build resilience and develop social skills thus having a positive impact on mental wellbeing. So it looks as though the usual thinking about moderation in all things does also apply to the new digital age too.
 
More than a third of 15 year olds in the UK are understood to be classed as “extreme internet users” sending over six hours a day online and 95 percent are using social media. Extreme users are more likely to report being bullied online and research by the NSPCC identified that 80 percent of children felt unsafe using social media to some degree.
 
In all cases research suggests that parents need to be supported in helping children use the internet appropriately but there appears to be very little guidance out there on how to do that. Most focus is still on safety rather than wellbeing. 
 
Current thinking concludes it is unlikely that one size will fit all and that the appropriate use of the internet will depend upon a range of factors. You might like to think about your child’s age, interests, social networks and particular needs. 
 
If your child could do with help in particular areas then the internet will be able to offer advice, support and even tools. It is most likely that the most effective approach is to actively talk to your children about how they use the internet and look for how it can support them. Focussing purely on time spent online is going to be too limited.
 
To understand the uses that lead your child to experience positive outcomes and affirmation to their self esteem and seek to strengthen and support this use is likely to be more effective than focussing on usage where it either appears to be causing distress or at best appears to have little benefit.
 
Rather than any single solution, it appears that children benefit most when parents use a combination of approaches including modelling positive behaviour, using a collaborative approach to setting limits on usage, keeping up to date on developments and technologies around security and online safety and showing curiosity and a willingness to support positive behaviours. 
 
Technology can be something that parents can think they are ill equipped to deal with, especially when children can be more up to date and often more proficient in handling technology. However what parents do have more knowledge about is the importance of balance - you can therefore support your child in the same way as you would for any other issue - food, friendship, health. You don’t have to know about the technology - just about how best to find a healthy balance.
 
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Nicholas appeared on SkyNews this morning to contribute to a discussion about the recent and growing phenomena "relationship sabbaticals". A clip of the interview will be available soon.