Tag Archives: marital therapy

Singing the Same Song – Advice for Couples

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Today I want to focus on couples – married or not.

As many of you know, my practice is geared toward working with adults and adolescents, and a special passion of mine is working with couples. It’s an interesting job, really, because the more I work with others in relationship – the more I learn about my own and I often find myself imparting advice that I could actually rather use myself! In this exciting journey into couple’s therapy I am learning a very important lesson and I thought I’d share this with you all…

Friendship and Positive Sentiment….

At the very basis of a healthy relationship lies a friendship – that is, an ability to like the person you’re in love with. I have seen many people take this for granted and somewhere a long the line they have simply stopped liking one another  – They are still in love, but they can’t see why. Friendship is the part that keeps you interested in one another, that keeps you complimenting one another, watching out for one another, playing with one another and, most importantly, laughing with one another. Friendship is the part that allows for argument, but respects differing opinions, that stays involved in creating joy together and is interested in generating common goals together. In relationships, or marriage, couples somewhere lose sight of this – life becomes routine, differing interests develop, separate friends are made, partners stop complimenting one another, they stop playing and laughing together, they stop discussing common goals, and sooner or later they are on different trajectories where arguments become laden with resentment and contempt instead of an appreciation for different viewpoints. Well, at least this is the journey of isolation if the friendship isn’t maintained.

Friendship inevitably leads to fondness and admiration of one another – a sense of “we” instead of “me” and with all this comes positive sentiment. What is positive sentiment and how is this different from negative sentiment? Well, lets give an example – John gets angry with Jane after a hard day at work, effectively he is simply taking his frustration out on her. Jane, while slightly offended and hurt, quickly realizes he is stressed and thinks to herself “Oh, he is stressed. Just let this go – tomorrow he will be fine again.” If this relationship was shrouded in negative sentiment, Jane would probably have thought “He is always going off at me, when will things change?”. When John eventually apologizes and explains his stress, Jane (in negative sentiment override) will think “He is just saying this so I can make him dinner – this is how he manipulates me”. However, if Jane was coming from a positive sentiment position she would be thinking “Shame, he really needs support”. So you can see how positive sentiment keeps the relationship in a supportive, content space, whereas negative sentiment begins to cloud and overshadow judgement – making it all the more difficult to reconnect.

Many couples facing ‘stuck’ conflict, relationship difficulties, continuous arguing and communication breakdown are in various stages of negative sentiment override – They have lost their fondness and admiration for one another, they have lost the friendship. Their communications have become laced with criticism, defensiveness, contempt and isolation and they are struggling to get re-connected. So, what can you do if you are headed down this path???

 

 

 

 

 

Revisit the friendship I say! Here are some ideas to get that fondness and positive sentiment flowing again…

  • Every day make a point of it to find one thing about your partner that you admire or appreciate – COMMUNICATE this to them
  • Try to incorporate a “date night” once a week where you re-connect emotionally. This doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a restaurant, it simply has to be a break in routine. Lovely ideas include:
    • A picnic on the lounge floor
    • Playing board games instead of watching T.V.
    • A walk on the beach and an ice-cream afterwards
    • A trip to the Botanical Gardens
    • Simply have dinner around the table instead of in front of the T.V
  • Try to take 10 minutes every day after work to ask your partner about their day (and truly listen to what they have to say)
  • Think about your relationship and how you have weathered certain bad times – reminisce together about these victories
  • Take time out to discuss your goals – where do you see yourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, retirement? – plan together, create some dreams together – start singing from the same hymn sheet!
  • Find common interests and do them together – join a ballroom dancing class, take up fishing, or cycling, or hiking, or camping – basically anything that could become a common hobby
  • Plan getaways together. Get some quality ‘away’ time where you are both relaxed.
  • Once a month, go somewhere where you can dress up and be beautiful for him, or handsome for her. Make an effort to do your hair, smell nice (and maybe get some nice underwear again!)
  • Laugh together

Healthy relationships also have problems… they exist in all dynamics. The way in which these problems are handled makes all the difference and the way in which you handle a problem will always depend on the sentiment you’re in. Try not to tackle perpetual issues when in a negative sentiment override – chances are you will not hear your partner, nor will you feel heard. Build on your friendship first and you will find a shift in the way you handle difficulties…

In future posts I will visit the techniques used in gently and effectively resolving issues, but for now – remember:

To love someone is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten” – Anonymous

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The “D” Word – Dealing With Divorce

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Recently, I have found that the topic of divorce has been popping up in various conversations. It’s strange how you can go for months without hearing anyone talk about it, and then suddenly, it’s all you hear about – the “D” word. So I thought it would be relevant (and useful) to discuss some issues relating to the process of divorce and how to help children deal with it – because, lets face it, the kids are the victims here.

No one gets married with the option of divorcing – we all have stars in our eyes and huge hopes for the future when the knot is tied. Down the line, we even have kids and continue to hope and dream about their futures. However, in some cases (more these days than in the past – but that’s another topic for another day) these dreams and hopes begin to dim as the discord in the marriage increases. Today’s post is not going to deal with why and how this happens – but suffice to say that more and more marriages these days are on the rocks and headed for divorce, leaving a wake of collateral damage called children. So how can we make things easier for them?

In 8 easy points I will sum it up for you:

  1. First things first – be honest and communicate clearly! Depending on the age of the child, it is essential that you explain to them from the start what is happening and ensure they understand that it is NOT THEIR FAULT! This is something that you are more than likely going to have to repeat, because for some reason, kids always think they are to blame – so keep reassuring them that this is your mess, not theirs.
  1. Clearly explain the changes that will be taking place – everything from where they will be living, to whether or not they will still get to watch Ben10 on T.V. They need to be fully aware of the transition to make it less scary for them.
  1. Allow them to discuss their feelings with you. Create a space where it is OK for them to feel sad, scared, and even angry at you or your ex. Validate their feelings and reassure them that none of this changes how much you love them. Allow them to express wishes for you to reunite again – validate this wish, but make sure you also explain the finality of the decision.
  1. Remain civil and polite with your ex, especially in front of your children. This is a really important one, so listen up. Do not bad mouth your ex to your kids, do not blame, be angry at or lay guilt trips on your ex in front of the kids. Do not ask your kids to “report back” on your ex after visiting them and, ultimately, do not ask them to choose sides, or who they want to live with! Again, the dissolution of your marriage is your own doing and has nothing to do with the kids – they love each parent equally and should not be put in a position of having to break loyalty with either.
  1. Another really important issue – do not use your kids as emotional support. Having lost your partner and now, possibly, being on your own, makes it easy to lean on your kids for support. This often results in lasting damage and goes against the grain of parenting. Your kids need you to be the emotional support. They should not see you cry, they should not have you confide in them – let them keep the illusion that you are superhuman and can heal all hurts! They will need this especially during this time.
  1. Keep consistency in routine, rules and discipline. Make sure that homework times, meal times and bed times are adhered to. Ensure that rules that once were in the family unit still remain, as should methods of discipline. If you grounded your children before for coming home after a curfew, then continue this! Leniency and being spoilt does not make things easier for kids. Ensure that both you and your ex instil these consistent boundaries. While children often kick up against the rules, consistent boundaries and routines enable them to feel safe and secure, so you will, in fact, be doing them a service!
  1. Never ever say things like “you are so naughty – no wonder your mother left!” or “if you do that again I will send you to live with your father, he can have you”. If you are saying things like this, you might need to examine your own management of the situation and ask whether you are taking it out on your child.
  1. Lastly, seek support for yourself. This is a stressful time and a transition that is fraught with pain and guilt. If you do not seek help, or support, you are likely to let the emotional stress from the divorce spill out and over into your relationship with your kids. You might find yourself irritable, snappy and even saying hurtful things. This is a vulnerable time for you as well as your children and it is essential that you deal with it gently and sensitively.

And as a survivor of divorce has also noted:

If, despite your best efforts, you fail at some of the above, some of the time – don’t be too hard on yourself, you are only human after-all! Pick yourself up – get the support you require and try, try again…

So, if you are getting a divorce, have had a divorce, or simply know someone that is going through a divorce – keep the above in mind. They are simple guidelines that can make the world of difference and spare kids unnecessary heartache.

Till next time, remember…

“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.”
Francois De La Rochefoucauld

P.S. as usual, please feel free to post comments, or questions – or even ideas for future topics!