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Our article - "Reduce conflict and stress in relationships" published in the Chiswick Herald on the 9th November. Please read below:

Reduce conflict and stress in relationships
 
Conflict and stress in relationships often come from misunderstandings and poor communication. We cannot expect others to change how they communicate but we can change ourselves and when we find communications of others upsetting then having a better understanding can help.
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and how we can also apply this when we find the communications of others upsetting.
 
Recognising the difference between interpretation and fact
 
For example, a friend who you had agreed to let know whether you would or would not be able to make it for coffee, replies saying 
 
“You are late contacting me! Bad behaviour from a friend?” 
 
As you can see the response contains judgements which are negative towards your actions namely, “late” (no date or time had been agreed for confirming) and “Bad” (a subjective interpretation) - with such wording it is likely that you will have had a negative reaction to these words?
 
Beware - negative interpretations cause escalations in both yourself and others
 
Your feeling response to these judgements is likely to be negative. What feeling it evokes in you will depend upon your current situation and also how you to tend to respond to negative comments. Importantly your own negative reaction to the judgements may well lead you to negative judgements in return. For example, if you have been really busy and not very well you might feel upset and then your own negative judgement will be to think you are being misunderstood, if you have a history of disappointments, you might feel anger and think they are unfair, if you have had critical parents you might feel anxious or nervous and think you are in trouble?
 
So likely responses you send in these three scenarios might well be something like:
 
“You just don’t understand and are not being nice”.
“You are unfair, I know what it is like to feel disappointed and you have no right to feel this way”.
 
With these first two responses your friend is likely to be respond with further negative judgement and accusation. A third possibility and just as harmful to your friendship would be the following:
 
“I am sorry, I’ve changed my diary so I can make it”.
 
In this response you are dismissing yourself and doing what the other person wants just to avoid conflict, ultimately the cost to you of doing this is to have inauthentic relationships that bring you little in return!
 
Facts, facts , facts
 
So what can be done?
 
When you receive something from someone that results in a negative feeling here is what to do:
 
  1. Pause - It can be tempting to allow your thinking to take over but this is also unlikely to be helpful as your thoughts will be based upon your negative feelings.  Also when you have allowed your thinking to gain momentum you may find it hard to avoid taking action that has negative consequences.
  2. Take a breath and then ask yourself “what is factual here?”, with this example it can be helpful that having spotted there is little factual content and noting your negative reaction, that the important message from this interaction is that your friend is upset but not able to communicate this to you in a helpful way?
  3. Now develop a response with the following parts: first - state the facts, two - explain what thoughts it brings up for you. For example:
 
“I felt upset when I received your message and I do not remember us saying a time by which we would confirm whether or not we would be able to meet. As I felt upset, I am thinking that maybe you are upset that we are not able to meet”? 
 
Such a response is factual, offers a suggestion about what is going on and invites further communication. Unless you are in a friendship with someone who is abusive, in which case their response is likely to contain further judgements and criticisms, it is likely your friend will see that a misunderstanding has occurred.  Also if in the future difficult situations arise, this interaction will have helped build trust so that your friends initial response will itself be factual. They might for example say:
 
“I feel upset because I was looking forward to us meeting and I have not seen as much of you as I would have liked lately”.
 
And if you now note your reactions to receiving this kind of message, I imagine you feel upset for the other person and rather than defensive and wanting to avoid them, find yourself wanting to reach out and get something new organised?
 
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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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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.

 
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This article was published in the Chiswick Herald on the 19th Janaury, click here to read it our their website or see below:
 
In my work with couples it often comes to light, that at some point in the past, one of the couple has struggled with depression. Through therapy couples often come to realise that the way they responded at the time harmed their relationship. In this article I explain what often happens and what to do.
 
Depression often occurs after something has happened in a person's life that has been difficult to cope with. The struggle can be very tiring, resulting in low confidence and a circle of behaviour that only serves to lead to more unhappiness. 
 
It can have a terrible impact on how someone experiences their life on a day to day basis, symptoms often include a felt sense of low desire to undertake daily activities including work, socialising, exercise etc. It can have a debilitating effect and often be a very confusing experience for the sufferer and their friends and relatives. It can also have a significant impact upon partners and can often lead to the breakdown of relationships.
 
So what goes wrong? In our relationships we generally expect that partners support each other during difficult times and illness. So far so good! However the difficulty tends to come from failing to support partners in a way that recognises the needs of a healthy relationship.
 
All too often, the person struggling will most likely be experienced by their partner as withdrawing and this creates a dilemma. On the one hand the partner will be upset to see the person they care about struggling and want to help them, whilst at the same time they are also likely to be struggling themselves with negative feelings about how the relationship with their partner has changed.
 
To be upset ourselves when our partners are struggling can be difficult as judging thoughts can come to mind like indulgent, selfish, uncaring. We prefer to think that when things go wrong for someone we care about we will drop everything and put the other person first and that they will do the same for us. Whilst this expresses just how important our partners are for us it introduces a mindset that leads to thinking about “them and me” and not about “us”. So at a time when we both most need our relationship to be working well we tend to put it on hold, relegate it, not give it priority.
 
Quite simply if you are affected by the fact your partner is struggling then you need to look at it as information telling you that your relationship is struggling. If someone is unhappy in a relationship then it is an unhappy relationship and no matter how tempting it is to try and hide this fact from a partner who is struggling, ultimately that partner will not thank you for this further down the line.
 
So what is it that happens that causes the relationship harm? Usually the partner not struggling puts their needs to one side, they might miss their “old partner”, but they give them space, or their sex life but don’t want to impose, or being able to talk about their own problems. Unfortunately the denial of needs tends to have a habit of impacting upon us in ways we do not expect. 
 
Of course the struggling partner will be finding it hard to carry on as though nothing is happening but if that partner also loses the benefit to their sense of self that comes from being able to make their partner happy, then thats just another thing to add to their probably ever increasing list of failures. They might not even realise this so it is up to the supporting partner to remind them!
 
Unfortunately patterns get put in place whereby the supporting partner also withdraws and changes their behaviour with the result the way the relationship works is changed to such an extent that a time comes when neither recognise it any more. The relationship can be experienced as lifeless, dead, lonely. 
 
Couples can often avoid this for years, particularly if they have children, busy jobs, other interests etc but ultimately they become to realise that their relationship is no longer there for them.
 
Main points - 
 
  1. Think about your relationship - it is not helpful to think just about your partner and yourself separately.  
  2. Take a step back and think together about what you can do so that you can both feel as though you remain committed to each other
  3. Even if your relationship is in a good place at the moment talk about this now - if trouble comes along you will have an agreed strategy in place and this will make it much easier to have the conversations that will help.
  4. If you or your partner is depressed share this article with them and think about seeking couples / relationship / marriage counselling.