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Communication Between Couples.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 6:12 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about talking. Or to be more exact we have given some time to a discussion around communication between the sexes. It seems that at times men and women are speaking different languages. And maybe they are. It is often expressed in couple therapy as a feeling of not being listened to or understood by the other. It can be a frustrating experience and if you can’t find a way to improve communication a couple can find themselves drifting apart. One can switch off from the other and effectively end up leading a separate life. Working on ways of communicating will help to keep a relationship healthy.

One of the surprising things that can come up when a couple come to counselling is just how little they are in the habit of checking in with each other. It might seem obvious but it is a good first step to ask your partner how they feel about what you do in the relationship. When we work with couples one partner might begin by outlining all the things they do. In this view of the relationship various tasks are done for the other. A person can come to believe that they are putting a huge amount of work into the relationship but find that their energies are misdirected. It is important to check in with each other and develop an understanding as to what each of you wants from and values in the other. We can neglect emotional needs in favour of busying ourselves with running a house.

One point of discord that comes up in relation to communication is a difference in what men and women might be looking for when they sit down to talk. Again and again women tell us that they just want to be heard; that they just want to talk something through. A woman can become frustrated if her partner just looks for solutions. A man might be paying close attention to his partner and attentively listening for cues as to what the nub of the problem might be so that he can set about fixing it. He might feel pleased when he identifies what needs to be done. And he might reassure his partner that a solution is at hand. A woman might come away from this encounter feeling that she wasn’t heard at all. She just wanted to talk and to be heard. If each of them can learn to understand this process it ought to lead to fuller communication.

Sometimes we can find that conflict in a relationship feels intolerable. This can lead to avoidance and denial. If we go about avoiding an obvious source of disagreement we are not really communicating well at all. It is important to understand that there will be disagreement some of the time. This may mean that we have to learn to live with a little tension. It is a healthy thing in a relationship when we can continue to be close with our partner in spite of our differing on some issue that seems important at the time. We cannot write that without pointing out that a good deal of the time a couple cannot recall exactly what it was that started a big row. If you can’t remember what you started to argue about it might be a good idea just to cool down and have a think about it. This usually means that you are really arguing about something else and that maybe you need to take a deeper look at your relationship.

Communication between couples means continuing to work at the connection you have between you. It involves making sure to devote some time to each other on an ongoing basis. This can prove difficult when the demands of daily life are taken into account. It is a sad fact that some couples emerge from years of mutual child rearing to find that they have drifted apart and grown into separate people. To continue to grow together involves consciously working on communicating with each other. It is also important to bring some good humour to these things. A little kindness and understanding is a wonderful thing to give and receive. If you can find it in your heart and, among the pressures of daily life share it with the one you love you will be going a long way towards maintaining a healthy relationship.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk, 15th March 2012.

Dependency in relationships.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 7:12 pm

This week at counselling connections we thought we might take a look at dependency in relationships. For the purpose of this journal piece we will look at how this manifests in adult romantic relationships. Dependency, although often described as love, is not love in the true sense. It is based on one having one’s needs met as a primary concern, with little regard for the other as a person in their own right. A relationship based on dependency will eventually choke itself to death. If there is a co-dependency where each depends on the other, the relationship may last but there is little room for growth individually or as a couple.

Inherent in us all is a desire to be cared for and nurtured. We like it and it is an indulgence from time to time. For the passive dependent person, however, being cared for is a necessity. It rules his life. He cannot survive without it. He all the time is seeking to be loved and therefore has little energy left to love. Dependency in adult relationships usually results from failure of parents to provide the love the child needs. This failure leaves a child feeling insecure and unloved. Naturally then, he goes about his daily life looking to fill the void, the emptiness within. He elicits the care and attention he didn’t get as a child. Once he finds this love, he clings to it desperately and will often stay in relationships that aren’t good for him in order to have his emotional needs met. This type of person also lacks self-discipline because he was not taught it. As a consequence, it is difficult for dependent people to wait for attention and care as they are desperate for it. Waiting for a text or a call can be excruciatingly painful.

Dependency causes people to form overwhelming, unhealthy attachments to lovers. This is why it is often mistaken for love. To hear someone utter the words, “I can’t live without him”, signals dependency rather than love. To be dependent on the other for survival leaves the relationship void of real choice and freedom and these are necessary for a healthy relationship. The dependent person gives their partner little or no space to be themselves. They relate everything to themselves and can only live their lives through the other.  In the face of rejection or perceived abandonment, the dependent partner may turn to suicide because the pain they feel is intolerable. Loneliness is unbearable and so they will go to great lengths to avoid it.

In marriage and long term relationships we see examples of co-dependency in everyday lives. He deals with finances, while she sees to the housework and the children, for example. Stereotypical roles like this should be interchangeable so that respective partners know they are capable of success in either role. Too often in these types of relationships, both partners are happy with leaving it up to the other. It assures the other that their partner will never leave them and so they have their needs met. This is a classic co-dependent relationship in which both partners will never have the opportunity for spiritual growth. Often these couples will die in quick succession of each other, literally being unable to live without their partner.

We also see examples of this with some parents towards their adult children. Parents who live their lives through their children refusing to let them separate out and become independent individuals are sucking the life out of their children in relying on them to have their own emotional needs met.

In therapy we can work through the dependent feelings and teach people skills in order to be able to deal with the intense emotion they feel. This can lead to healthier, more fulfilling relationships where both partners can live without each other but they are choosing to live as a couple. It is not restrictive and encourages the other to grow as an individual. Of course this is the ideal we are striving towards and perhaps the place to start is with an awareness of how your relationship works and how you are in it.

Counselling Connections, 10th Nov 2011

The Myth of Romantic Love.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 12:13 am

Here at Counselling Connections we have been considering the problems couples and individuals face in their relationships.  Amidst other issues one’s perception of love seems to play a big part in relationship difficulties. We often hear “I just don’t seem to love him anymore” or “he doesn’t love me the way he used to”. Through exploration of comments like these we arrive at an individual’s perception of love. So….what is love and what does it mean to truly love someone? To understand this, we must differentiate between ‘Falling in Love’ and ‘Real Love’.

Most of us will recognise the ‘Falling in Love’ phase of a relationship where the other is ‘everything’ to us. We feel like we have surely met ‘the one’ and that life will be wonderful as long as we have that other person in our lives. The concept of two becoming one seems very attractive and we will never have to face being alone again. The problem with this phase is that it is temporary and so, will always come to an end. It is inevitably linked to sexual attraction, whether conscious or unconscious, which is why many psychologists have described it as nature’s way of continuation of the species. We don’t seem to have control over who we fall in love with or when. It often happens when we least expect it, something that seems to happen to us, rather than requiring real effort. Romantic love is everywhere…. It begins in the childhood fairy tales we once read (and continue to pass on to our children), where the Prince and Princess live happily ever after (overcoming all the odds). Throughout our lives there is a continuation of the myth of romantic love seen in the movies, in the theatre, in music and poetry. Subtly, it is set out as something to aspire to, a measure for how our real relationships ‘should’ be…..So deeply is it set in our unconscious, that we forget to remind ourselves that it is fantasy.

However, just as we fall in love, so too will we eventually fall out of love. It is at this point the opportunity for real love presents itself. One of the differences with real love is that it is conscious and requires effort. Real love requires us to act in loving ways even when we don’t feel like it, to listen to the other even when we are tired. It requests that we appreciate the other and ourselves as individuals and looks to nurture the growth and separateness of the other. This is the basis of true love. In true love there is freedom and choice and we make a decision to love. It is not a feeling but rather that this person is important to us and so we choose to love them. The cornerstone of real love has to be commitment. Without commitment the normal issues that present in every relationship cannot be worked through, for fear the relationship would not survive it. Genuine love requires hard work and attention but the benefits in terms of personal and spiritual growth make it lasting and worthwhile.

It may interest you to take note the next time you watch a romantic movie at the cinema. Note how caught up in it you get and how good it makes you feel. Contrast that feeling to when the music ends and the movie’s over and the lights go on. Romance quickly dies away when reality encroaches. In contrast real love begins when the lights go on.

Relationship Counselling informed by fairy tales.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 5:38 pm

What a historic few weeks we have had with the Royal wedding, the visits of Queen Elizabeth the second and President Obama with his First Lady, Michelle to Ireland. It has been interesting to watch and hear the reaction of ordinary people to each of these events and it poses the question of what these occasions mean for us who happen not to be influential world leaders or royalty. It appears a large majority of us were attracted to watching the royal wedding and the royal visit. So what is in it for us that holds our attention?

Domhnall Casey, Dublin Psychoanalyst, writes in the Sunday independent (22nd May 2011) of how our childhood fantasies are played out in our fascination with royalty. He says “it has nothing to do with a desire to be ruled by a king or queen but everything to do with childhood fantasies . . . representing an enchanting make-believe world that we all grew up in”. We are all familiar with the hero in the prince who rescues Snow White. Of course he was not a commoner but happens to be a wealthy prince. We also see examples of how the rescue role is reversed, where the princess frees the prince from a witch’s spell. Fairytales like ‘The princess and the Frog’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’…of course the frog and the beast both turn out to be (wealthy) princes as well. We all love a happy ever after and almost expect it in fairytales, films and books. This can leave us expecting the same from life and relationships and sometimes leaving us reeling in disappointment when it doesn’t materialise.

And so we turn out attention to modern day royalty where Kate Middleton, essentially a commoner, (albeit a wealthy one), gets to marry her prince. Of course we expected that she would be pleasing to the eye: it wouldn’t satisfy the fantasy if she wasn’t pretty. Most little girls love to dress up in princess clothes and tiaras and plastic jewels. In the unconscious mind of the girl is a desire to be a princess in her own right and to look for a guy who will treat her like one! How fabulous it is to actually see it for real, with a real princess dress and a real diamond tiara. It is like a fairy tale come true and we seem to have a need to believe that that’s possible amidst the drudgery. Pictures of Kate Middleton doing her shopping in the local supermarket a few days after her wedding evoked an interesting reaction among the public. It didn’t ‘look’ right. She challenged our fantasy and our idea of what a real princess is….someone that doesn’t do her own shopping for a start!

This idea of prince and princess, hero and heroine can be extended to include the Obamas who appear to have a perfect marriage and also retain such a powerful position in the world. Is it any wonder then that we want to claim them as our own? For the people of Moneygall and indeed Ireland, it seems to suggest that we all have the potential to assume positions of power in the world and happy ever after in our partner relationships. Modern day ‘fairy tales’ too seem to bring us nearer to having royalty within our personal grasp, even if it’s by marriage. In ‘Shrek’, an ogre finally gets to marry Princess Fiona who behind her aesthetic beauty has a lot in common with Shrek in that she is part ogre too.

For those of us in relationships it is probable that we can identify with the likes of Shrek and Fiona. Maybe this is a more realistic union, owing to the fact that neither party are perfect but together their union works. For us ordinary people struggling in relationships, it is important to be aware of what our expectation of our partner is. We are unlikely to be aware of it but deep in our psyche we have fantasies of being princes and princesses and of achieving the perfect union. No relationship is ideal by virtue of our being human. It is only with knowing and accepting the darker side of our self and of our partner that relationships become real and loving. A new kind of fairy tale perhaps with a different kind of grown up happy ending.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk, Co Louth.

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