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An ongoing series of informative entries

Start Fighting Smarter 

17th January 2020

Start fighting smarter…

Arguments are common in all kinds of relationships. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to fight - it is after all a form of expression. Research has found that couples who argue are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than couples that don’t fight and they are more likely to stay together.

The problems occur when couples say things in an argument as if it is an absolute truth rather than a reflection of how they are feeling.

‘I feel this way so it must be true…’

‘He comes home from work and doesn’t help with the kids, he doesn’t care about me.’

‘She is always upstairs on her computer in the evenings, she doesn’t want to talk or spend time with me’

‘He goes to see his mother every weekend, she’s more important than us’

‘She’s with the kids all the time, since having children she has no interest in me.’

Couples usually come in and want to talk about the content of their arguments and we are looking underneath the detail because ultimately they are arguing about much bigger things such as power, affection and respect.

There is almost always a pattern to these arguments and when multiple arguments are drawn out the pattern becomes clear to the couple. These arguments are not too much of a problem initially but over time they can be destructive and damaging for the relationship.

Generally these patterns take three different forms, the first is to blame each other, they are both trying to find the bad person, ‘it’s not me it’s you!’ The second is for one partner to pursue and the other to withdraw, this is a common one where couples feel they have lost their secure attachment and finally we have the withdraw-withdraw, this third one is arguably the most distressing, as the couple feel so hopeless they give up on their own feelings and pull away all together.

These patterns of interacting are often a reflection of childhood attachment styles, there can also be other influences such as parent’s relationship and conflict style, an incident that the couple are struggling to get over, work pressures, which are being projected or life stages such as a big birthday or a family bereavement.

As you can see there are many layers and understanding them is essential to change. We know this is not an easy process. We fight because we want to know we matter, listened to and understood. We don’t have to agree but we can acknowledge that our partner has a different point of view. We invest so much time in learning but why when it comes to our relationships are we so reluctant to learn, we know we are having the same old arguments but we don’t do anything about it.

When couples say ‘we never argue’, I know I have a tough case on my hands. The problems don’t disappear because you ignore your frustrations, they get buried and often come out in sarcastic comments or they build up to a point where there’s a blow up with a full list of complaints. It’s really important that things are dealt with as they happen, explored, understood and action is taken to resolve the issue. If this doesn’t happen and feelings are ignored it can lead to all feelings being ignored including the positive, which can be devastating.

It’s important when you are exploring the argument that your partner feels listened to and understood, saying things such as ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘you have a good point’ really help, you might not necessarily agree on everything but acknowledging your partners point of view will make a difference. When you’re acknowledged you feel sane. Remember you don’t have to agree, you have ‘your truth’ but there’s someone else who has a different interpretation of the event to you and that’s ok. Being vulnerable with each other is also important, to be open and to express how something makes you feel, instead of just criticising the other person, this is likely to make them defensive. If you focus on your own feelings ‘I feel unsupported when’ instead of accusing them ‘you don’t help me’ they will feel less attacked and less likely to attack back.

Couples often say things like ‘he always’ and ‘she never’ again this is an unhelpful way to communicate, by using this polarised language it often makes the situation seem worse than it is and the person often feels attacked. Just by using less provocative language such as ‘he sometimes’ or ‘she doesn’t always’ will de-escalate the argument and provide a better way of communicating.

True love takes work. There are many ways to fight smarter and at Relate we have tools to help couples communicate better, express their feelings and reconnect.

Pippa

Relate counsellor

Polyamory and Open Relationships

20th February 2020

If we were able to control our feelings and emotions it would be easier to differentiate between Polyamory and an Open Relationship. The former being described as not entirely based around sex, having love and emotional connections as its driving force, whilst the latter is seen as focusing almost exclusively on the sexual side. They are both carried out with the knowledge and consent of all parties and for the purposes of this article we will describe the whys, the pitfalls and the rules to follow along similar lines.

The reasons why couples choose to venture down this area of relationships are varied and complex, often they find it difficult to explain it for themselves. For example it could be a reaction against what they see as a restrictive family background, where at a young age they were not permitted to do what their friends were doing and wanting to catch up on lost experiences.

Some people can feel more comfortable in such relationships when it can be seen less is expected of them commitment wise and consequently find there is less pressure to conform to the wishes of a single partner. Perhaps they feel their present relationship is stagnating and thirst for change and new dramas to avoid becoming restless.

The concept of being completely honest to your partner about what you want can be looked on as an appealing prospect, as would be the greater variety of sex, the sense of freedom and the opportunity for new experiences that improve your social knowledge. Also factor in the addiction around the excitement of meeting new people without the attached guilt surrounding infidelity while logically thinking that having new friends doesn’t diminish your relationship with your best friend why should an additional sexual element affect your relationship with your partner? It’s a good question for the thought of breaking out of constraints can seem like an appealing proposition, so what is stopping us?

At some stage in many relationships it is possible, if not probable, that the idea of Polyamory or an Open Relationship is brought up in a conversation. The concept is not likely to be introduced by both partners at the same moment, for one is going to be the instigator while the other acquiesces. It can be seen, therefore, that right from the outset there is a power differential between the couple with one being the driving force while the other is less heavily invested in the process. This may not be considered a good starting point for with its inherent inequality in commitment a fertile ground for anger and resentment can be quickly created.

What other concerns need to be looked at regarding the downsides of these arrangements? Well, if you are commencing from a position in which there is low self-esteem be prepared to have this heavily tested in the course of events in which you are effectively creating a platform to be compared to other people. When this happens it will be inevitable that as well as apprehension, jealousy will be experienced at some point.

There also the unplanned circumstances which have to be considered including the significant long term effects of the increased risks of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Less controllable however are our emotions. The couple can begin the project by assuring each other that they can keep their feelings in check while they explore but this guise of being in control of their future feelings is unlikely in reality to be possible. Can our emotions ever be under control or consistent? It is the case that they will not be predictable for either partner or their paramours.

It is difficult to shepherd our feelings when there are just two people involved in a Relationship when you double, treble, quadruple that number then it can be akin to attempting to herd cats.

Even the honesty seen as an advantage of such arrangements can be very much a double edged sword. It would be likely that neither partner, but especially the acquiescing one, will be wanting too many details to be divulged when their partner meets up with third parties. Once omissions happen, however, secrecy begins to appear and matters can quickly deteriorate with trust soon being lost. Trust is a very slippery emotion, once that goes from a Relationship it is difficult to get it back.

So, if despite all these pitfalls the idea still appeals to you, what are the best ways to go about it? Establishing some ground rules always seems like a good way to start any project, with both parties needing to discuss all aspects of the area first. You both need to feel able to talk about your wants and needs, your fears and hopes while at the same time realising where this is all heading. Do you have an end goal and if so what does it look like? Having everything out in the open right from the outset may help to avoid anybody getting hurt.

Wishing for physical and/or emotional relationships with third parties may be talked of in theory but the reality is that nobody can know what will happen and each partner must be fully aware of this. It will be necessary to admit what, if anything, is missing in the current relationship while it is important to also respect each other’s wishes.

Once you have begun to meet up with other people talk about your initial feelings, what you liked and didn’t but remember to have boundaries only discuss what your partner wants to hear. From a more practical position boundaries should also be in place regarding who will be involved, matters would be easier and less complicated if mutual friends, colleagues and exes were avoided.

Keeping this separate from your normal life would also be seen as necessary. Discretion will be seen as the better option than the raised eyebrows if you were to take your new lover to the family barbecue..

Realise that jealousy will be inevitable so it is important to discuss your concerns with each other as soon as possible before it gets worse but above all remember to prioritise each other, keeping each other’s needs and desires at the top for when someone else starts to become the leading item in your thoughts then things can quickly fade between you.

As can be seen there is a lot to consider here, an area that should not be rushed into so talking to other people about this gathering some thoughts and opinions could help to see the bigger picture and focusing on the most important aspects of our lives together.

Wayne

Relate counsellor

We Lead Very Complex Lives

27th August 2019

We all lead very complex lives.

There are many different influences affecting us all day, every day. Do we often have the time to stop and evaluate what is going on around us? Are we even designed for the lives we have?

Our brains have been inherited from our Palaeolithic ancestors with little having evolved since a probable dalliance with our Neanderthal cousins around 70,000 years ago. In those days our main concerns centred on those of being a hunter gatherer - unfortunately for us our society has become a lot more complicated since. We have seen significantly more change in the way we live our lives over the last few years and consequently for many of us our emotional issues have increased.

We see that the concept of the nuclear family, three generations of family living under the same roof, has for many reasons largely fallen away in our society. Children leave home, moving away from friends and family, travelling further for education and work so they also lose their support network. We need to feel able to talk to people, to trust them and feel warm towards them, to share what we want to say in order to be able to put issues into their proper perspective. If we don’t, our brain can sometimes not be a friend and left to itself our cognition can start interpreting events in a way that can do us harm.

It can be difficult, very difficult, for many people to feel able to talk about their feelings and emotions, perhaps especially in Jersey where an increasingly competitive society could make some reticent about who they can discuss their vulnerabilities with. Sometimes it is felt that any admission of a perceived ‘weakness’ could be quickly ‘all around the island’. Attitudes like this are hopefully changing fast however as people realise the importance of being able to communicate honestly and openly with each other and how a flexible approach can help to alleviate the stresses of how we live our lives these days.

Even in the closest of couple relationships barriers can go up preventing communication. The old cliché of brushing things under the carpet until the pile gets so big that it eventually overwhelms the couple is, unfortunately like most old chestnuts, all too prevalent. Why do these obstacles get erected in the first place? Is it simply a fear of the reaction that could be faced if something you have wanted to talk about for so long was spoken about? The longer it goes on for the longer the brain has to imagine all sorts of graver scenarios and the more daunting it can become to tackle it.

Perhaps what is required is to feel safe in a warm non partial environment, to be able to talk about what you want to while knowing that there are boundaries and the conversation can be contained with the associated fears allayed. It takes a great deal of courage to be able to admit to each other that you have become stuck in a situation that is progressively more difficult to get out of, the same conversation becoming an ever decreasing circle.

It has been said that to keep a long term relationship alive can be the most daunting task a person can handle in their life. A partnership can bring stability and with this a predictable routine which may well not always be the environment for establishing a vibrant long lasting life together. It is necessary to have negotiation and compromise while putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, to discover each other’s needs and wants from an early stage, with the security that a relationship brings being balanced with a level of independence for each partner. This can help to bring constant elements of freshness into the equation without the couple losing their sense of personal identity.

We will be looking, through a series of monthly articles, at what we feel may be some significant areas around relationships while also looking at some relevant psycho-therapeutic approaches, such as Attachment theory.

It is always best to realise that though we often face similar situations and the same theories can be applied to us, we are all individuals and products of our own special set of circumstances. We are all unique, have our own stories to tell about how we got to where we are.

Wayne

Relate counsellor

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