Why do my children argue so much?

Arguments between children can be upsetting for a parent. You may worry about your relationship with your children – especially if the arguments have been going on regularly for a while. You may feel a responsibility to stop the arguing, or may be upset that the arguments are causing disharmony in your family.

While some arguing between children is common – and indeed, might be expected – what can make a difference is the regularity and intensity of arguments. If your children are constantly at odds, or arguments are becoming really aggressive, or even physical, this can create real problems.

Why and how children argue
We need to try and understand where the arguments are coming from.

Is it about the same thing each time or something different? If it’s something different, are certain dynamics being played out each time – for example, one child feeling that the other always gets favourable treatment, or feeling they don’t get enough attention?

While arguments in children might often be about seemingly trivial things, there is often an emotional root – something that’s upsetting one or both of the children, and making them want to argue.

Likewise, how are the arguments playing out? Do certain patterns repeat? Is one child being aggressive or bullying the other? This is quite common and it’s important to recognise bullying when it does occur, as it can have damaging effects on the recipient’s self-esteem. Or perhaps both are showing aggression – and little spats are spiralling out of control quickly.

Talking about it
The temptation when children are arguing is to be either dismissive or aggressive. It’s easy to not take children particularly seriously when they fight – particularly if the cause of the fight is over something apparently petty or trivial – or just to tell them to be quiet.

But this is rarely the most productive route. It can be much more effective to address directly what’s happening and to help your children talk about what they’re feeling and understand why they’re arguing.

This can simply mean taking the time to sit down and talk with your children when they have a fight. Start a conversation about what’s happening: ask them why they’re angry, upset or sad and be sure to give each child a chance to tell their side of the story.

By talking things through, you’ll help both children feel ‘heard’ and give them a chance to express their emotions in a more constructive way.

By listening to them and encouraging them to express themselves, you’re teaching them that negative feelings can be addressed by talking – not just by shouting.

And it’ll help you to understand your children better – to understand the emotions behind the arguments and whether there are things that you all need to talk through together.

It’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to take the time to talk to your children about their feelings when you have a spare hour – quite another when they’re screaming at each other as you pile them in the car to go to school.

But just because it’s not always possible to pull this off perfectly, it doesn’t mean it can’t have a positive effect overall. And if you feel that a big discussion isn’t possible at that moment, you can always have one later – park the issue till it’s possible to go over things properly.

Modelling good behaviour
It’s also about leading by example. Often, children learn how to communicate by watching their parents. And that includes how you argue.

If they see that you and your partner are behaving in certain ways when you disagree – getting really angry with one another, or refusing to engage – there’s a risk that they may begin to do the same.

So, we need to look after our own relationship and ensure we’re modelling the behaviour we would like our children to follow.

If you’d like to talk about any of this with one our counsellors why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

That’s not cheating – or is it?

‘Micro-cheating’ – said to be a new buzzword – is all about little things you might think aren’t that naughty, but could turn out to be.

Is there such a thing – ‘cheating but only a bit’?

Yes, says Dr Martin Graff, professor of psychology at the University of South Wales, who wrote about this modern dating dilemma in an article for a psychology journal.

He talks about how infidelity has evolved as we live more of our lives online. He defines micro-cheating as any act or behaviour by someone in a relationship which might suggest to a third party that they are emotionally or physically available.

In our digital age, it’s easier than ever to signal to someone that you’re available – anything from ‘deep liking’ (when you go way back into someone’s Instagram feed to like old posts) to sending direct messages.

While ‘micro-cheating’ may not be actually cheating on your partner, says the professor, it is behaviour that could spark infidelity. “Think of it as a warm up,” he says.

So, here’s your chance to judge for yourself. Rate these scenarios out of five for infidelity.

Messaging an ex
You’re at a gig on a date with your partner. The support act turns out to be a favourite of your ex. You take a picture and text it to him or her. Fast forward 24 hours: they’ve replied and put a kiss at the end of their message. If you continue the conversation, are you micro-cheating?

There’s nothing wrong with being in touch with exes, is there? But should you always run it by your current partner? It’s fine if you aren’t secretly angling for a reconciliation, or bored and in need of attention, surely. Yet, a lot of people message their exes for a quick ego boost if they know that the ex might still harbour feelings for them.

How would you rate it on the micro-cheating scale – 3 out of 5, maybe?

Liking someone else’s posts on social media
You’re in bed. You’ve turned the lights out, but you can’t sleep. You start scrolling through Instagram and liking the posts of someone who, if you weren’t in a relationship, would be very much your type. Then you do the same thing on your lunch break, and on the bus home you leave a few emojis on their latest post, including a heart.

Perhaps that’s a sign there’s a bigger problem in your current relationship. Liking people’s posts isn’t necessarily something to feel bad about, but if you were regularly liking the same person’s posts, that might be more of a concern.

What do you reckon? 2/5 if before dark; 5/5 after dark?

Building a ‘platonic’ friendship online
You went on a holiday with a group of mates from college and had a big night out where you bonded with one of them who is on your course. Becoming Facebook friends when you got back was a logical next step. From there things have progressed to following each other on Instagram. Suddenly, on the bus home, you get a message asking for your number: they want to talk to you about coursework.

If you’re in a stable relationship and you do things, such as building a relationship with someone else or texting other people, is it out of order?

We often meet people who share our interests – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Agreed? But maybe you have to be clear about ‘where you’re at’ because the other person might misinterpret the friendship.

How would you rate it on the scale? Risk of it reaching 4 out of 5?

Not deleting your profile on dating apps
After months of trawling dating apps, you’re now several months into what seems to be a real-life relationship. But you can’t quite bring yourself to delete your dating apps – not quite yet. You even find yourself occasionally swiping when you’re bored.

Not on? Completely inexcusable? It could also be seen as a ‘power move’, leaving your partner anxious about the fact that you haven’t deleted those apps.

Infidelity rating 10 out of 5?

Fantasising about someone else while having sex
You can’t look your new boss in the eye because, last night, while getting intimate with your partner, their face popped into your head. It was completely unexpected, although you had been answering work emails late that night in bed, and it startled you.

Fantasising about someone isn’t micro-cheating, is it? Fantasy is a private matter, and as you don’t act on it, that’s fair enough. It’s your own business. Some might argue that fantasies are safeguards against cheating.

It’s common; lots of us do it. But when you’re ‘not present’ for your partner, you’d be surprised how many people can sense it, even if you’re quite certain they can’t read your mind, or at least you hope not.

But, as for the infidelity scale, well… I’ll leave that one for you.

If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about any of this, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350?

Alternatives to ‘ghosting’

Social media has brought a whole new range of opportunities and insecurities to relationships.

On the ‘down side’, those who date and have grown up with social media face the likes of ‘ghosting’.

For those lucky enough to not have experienced it, ‘ghosting’ is when someone you’ve been seeing suddenly cuts off all contact, seemingly vanishing off the face of the earth without explanation.

Has the other person stopped replying because you just said something weird? Have they met someone new? Do they not actually like you?

It’s enough to make you feel paranoid.

But as if that’s not enough, ‘orbiting’ is the latest trend. Said to be the next iteration to ‘ghosting’, orbiting takes it a step further. 

That same person who ‘ghosted’ you keeps watching all of your Instagram and Snapchat stories, retweeting your tweets, and even leaving the odd comment on your photos – all while ignoring your direct texts or messages. And they may carry on doing it for months, or even years.

Anna Iovine, who coined the phrase, says ‘orbiting’ is so-called because the person doing the ‘orbiting’ is keeping you “close enough to see each other; far enough to never talk”.

Which, if you’re hoping the relationship may be rekindled, or you’re looking to make a clean break, can be really frustrating.

So why do people do it?

People may do it to keep their options open. It’s a way of them showing you: ‘Hey, I’m still here’, but not getting into a relationship again. They keep lines of communication ever so slightly open, just in case they decide they want to start things up again.

Or they may have FOMO. What? Fear of missing out. They feel like maybe they’re missing out on you and your amazing life by not pursuing a relationship. 

While it’s easy to dismiss ‘orbiters’ as game-players, this kind of behaviour can be really debilitating for the person being ‘orbited’. It’s the worst kind of mixed signal, because the ‘orbiter’ ignores all attempts at getting in touch in a meaningful way. 

And some people get badly affected by it and obsess over ‘orbiters’, analysing their own Instagram stories to figure out why that person has been watching them.

Of course, one way out is to hit the block button – and not look back.

But sometimes we’re flattered by attention, even sometimes from those we’d rather keep at arm’s length.

Options to ‘ghosting’

We often don’t explain our reasons for ending a relationship because it can feel impossible to know what to say. How do you reject someone kindly? What if they reply? And is there a non-awkward way to do it?

Assuming face-to-face is out of the question, what’s the best message to send someone?

Jean Twenge, professor of social psychology at San Diego State University, suggests: It’s been fun hanging out lately but I don’t think we’re meant to be a couple.

‘To be honest’ is a good way to deliver unwelcome news, she says, while: ‘I don’t think we’re meant to be a couple’ is more gentle than some alternatives.

Today’s younger generations are very interested in emotional safety and don’t want to upset others – that’s one of the reasons they ‘ghost’ in the first place, says the professor.

“If they do send a break-up text, they’ll want it to be as gentle as possible. One thing I would add is, if this relationship has gone beyond, say, three dates, a text isn’t enough – it deserves at least a phone call.”

Relate counsellor Peter Saddington, suggests: Hi, hope you’re good. I really enjoyed getting to know you but if I’m honest, I’m not feeling a real connection between us. It was lovely meeting you.

“If you’re ending a long-term relationship, we’d suggest talking face-to-face,” he says. “But if you’ve just been on a few dates, then it’s probably acceptable to do it by text.

“Sending a kindly worded but clear text is likely to make you both feel better.

“Most people don’t find it easy to end a relationship or to take responsibility for the decision, which is why they end up ‘ghosting’. We tend to avoid difficult situations because we don’t want other people to think badly of us.

“If you want to end things in a good way, it’s better to talk about yourself. Say: ‘I’m not feeling a connection,’ rather than blaming the other person and picking out faults in them.

“This example is honest and takes ownership, but also emphasises that it was good getting to know the person. It doesn’t suggest staying friends – and I’d avoid saying this unless you’re genuinely interested in a friendship with that person.”

Celebrity dating expert Lady Nadia Essex suggests: I wanted to say that I really enjoyed us chatting and I would love to see you again, but for me it would be as friends. Not sure if you would be keen for that?

“I actually received this text from a guy recently, and it was the best rejection I’ve ever had! I wasn’t angry or upset,” she says. “I respected him for having the balls to say it – rather than just ghost me – and it was so eloquent I was fine with it.”

Scientist Sameer Chaudhry, University of North Texas, suggests: I feel we aren’t compatible and this relationship isn’t working for me. So I’d like to end all further communication and wish you the best in the future.

“A short, matter of fact note is best,” he says, “leaving no suggestion you’re open to changing your mind and making it perfectly clear these are your choices and you’re happy to own them without further debate.

“While nobody likes rejection, knowing where you stand is better in the long run.

“Saying things like, ‘I enjoyed the date and thought you were a nice person’ might suit some people, but it can create uncertainty and leave them with unanswered questions: ‘If I’m so great, why isn’t she into me?’ or ‘Maybe he’ll change his mind.’

“Make sure you do it privately, never on public social media, and remember they can always share whatever you write to them, so be careful what you say.”

Dating coach Hayley Quinn suggests: Hey [name] thanks for meeting me yesterday. I’m pretty sure you feel the same, but I didn’t feel a romantic connection. Always awkward to be the first to say, but didn’t want to be one of those ghosts.

“This message takes full responsibility and makes it clear you don’t want to see them again, rather than something like: ‘Maybe we can meet again at some point.’

“It suggests the other person feels the same, which helps save their pride (and most of the time they will feel the same). But it’s also playful and fun, which is important, especially if you’re sending it after a first date.”

If you’d like to talk about any of this with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

Effects of your arguments on children

Many of us will remember what it was like to listen to our parents arguing. The feelings of helplessness, panic and sadness. A desire to block it out or run away.

Yet it can be easy to forget this as a parent later in life. We can get so mixed up in arguments with our partner that we don’t see things from the perspective of our children – who may be going through something very similar to what we once felt.

It’s no secret that parental arguments can have a negative effect on children. The different ways in which this can occur, though, aren’t always as obvious. And it can be easy to fail to appreciate how long-lasting these effects can be – sometimes carrying on for years as children become adults themselves.

Managing conflict
We learn much of what we come to know about relationships from our parents. As children, we mimic their behaviour – both consciously and subconsciously.
As a result, when a child sees their parents arguing constantly, one thing they may learn is that conflict is the natural response to difference. If they see their parents turn to conflict frequently, they may come to believe that this is how disagreements should be resolved.

The consequences of this can go in a couple of directions. They may copy this behaviour directly and learn to become fairly argumentative themselves – being quick to anger and defensiveness, or refusing to listen to opinions contrary to their own.

They may raise their voice a lot and come to see working out differences as a case of ‘who wins’ – always trying to hold the upper hand in adult relationships, rather than approach disagreements as a conversation or truly appreciate their partner’s point of view.

Alternatively, they may become very avoidant of conflict – so tired or even traumatised by their parents’ constant arguing that disagreements with other people may create a sense of panic in them. They may shut off when they sense that an argument could be coming – as an adult, freezing their partner out or just refusing to engage point blank.

Arguing a lot of the time tends to take up a lot of emotional energy. Parents who do this may have little to spare in terms of attending to their children’s needs.

As a result, the child may come to learn, over time, not to express these needs. If their parents never seem to want to hear what they have to say, or that they’re so wrapped up in their own conflict that the child’s emotions don’t even factor, the child may eventually come to internalise this as a belief. They may also come to believe that the consequences of expressing emotional needs can be negative, having been rebuffed by an already frazzled or angry parent after doing so.

This can have negative consequences later in life. An ability to express our emotions is intrinsic to having healthy adult relationships. We need to be able to tell our partners what’s wrong when something is – or risk conflicts going unresolved. If we don’t feel able to express ourselves, or associate the act of doing so with negative consequences, this can mean difficulties get swept under the carpet, leading to a build-up of resentment and frustration.

Part of the terror of parental arguments is anticipating when the next one will arrive. If arguments are happening so regularly that it’s more a question of when than if, this can begin to affect the child’s feelings and ideas when it comes to stability and trust.

It can teach them to view resolution as a temporary thing – a momentary break before conflict inevitably erupts again. Over time, this can begin to engender a real sense of cynicism when it comes to relationships – a belief that, even if things are going well, it’s only a matter of time before they won’t be again. As an adult, this belief might play out as a tendency to self-sabotage: to make them things wrong before they go wrong anyway – to hurt, rather than be hurt.

A further consequence of this breakdown of trust can be the development of avoidant behaviours around home life in general. The child may come to view the home as a place of conflict and may want to avoid coming back as much as possible.

They may start to spend more and more time outside of the house, or begin to seek a sense of community and stability from other sources. In more extreme cases, this can be one of the reasons that young people join gangs – to gain, however problematically, a sense of family that they aren’t getting at home.

In counselling, we sometimes talk about conflict as taking place on a triangle – with perpetrator, victim and rescuer on the three points. When conflict takes the shape of a perpetrator attacking a victim – which it often does when parents argue – the witness to this conflict may wish to help the victim, and so become the rescuer. If this person is a child, however, it puts them in a desperate position: wanting to solve their parents’ argument, but having little ability to do so.

This can make the child feel guilty. It puts them in the position of having to do something very grown up – and something they have little likelihood of being able to do. People whose parents argued a lot often talk later about feeling that some aspect of their childhood was denied them – that they had to learn to be an adult very fast. This can create feelings of resentment towards their parents – and it can further contribute towards avoidant patterns around conflict in adult relationships, which may come to remind them of the parental relationship that made them feel so inadequate.

Mitigating effects of parental conflict
What makes parental conflict so potentially damaging is also the thing that can make parental influence so positive.

Just as children learn to copy their parents and can inherit any negative behaviours, so they can also learn to emulate the positive things their parents do. Just as they may find themselves become argumentative and untrusting later in life as a result of parental influence, so they may also learn to be mature, respectful and communicative if they see their parents doing these things.

The answer to mitigating the effects of parental conflict is the obvious one: trying to be good role models. Simply put: learn to deal with differences productively and your children are more likely to do the same.

In a sense, being a good parent is a case of putting your children’s self-esteem above your own – being willing and able to see beyond the way any arguments with your partner may make you feel to see how your responses will shape your child’s sense of self.

How to argue less

Arguments are common in all kinds of relationships. Some degree of conflict can even be healthy, as it means both people are expressing themselves, rather than keeping everything inside and letting emotions fester.

But if you’re arguing all the time, or simple disagreements end up in a hostile silence or screaming match, it can really start to take its toll – or even leave you wondering whether you’re all that compatible.

Learning ways to handle disagreements constructively is crucial in any relationship.

Find out why you’re arguing
Think of an argument like an onion. The outer layer is what you’re speaking about, while the deeper layers represent the issues beneath.

In other words, sometimes what we argue about is only a symptom of what’s going wrong, not the cause.

If you find you and your partner argue frequently, or about the same kinds of things a lot, think about what’s really causing the conflict. Are you arguing about what you think you’re arguing about? Or, are there other things going on the relationship that are frustrating or worrying you?  

Consider other influences too: have there been any recent changes in your lives that may have put extra pressure on either of you, like a bereavement, starting a new family, moving house, financial problems, work pressures or just a reaching a relationship milestone such as a big birthday.

Maybe you’ve been spending less quality time together than before? Has there been an incident that one or both of you is struggling to get over? Did you used to argue less? And, if so, why do you think that is?

Seeing past your emotions and trying to look at the wider context of the situation may help get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Talking it over
From there, it’s a case of talking things over in a calm and constructive manner.

♣ Choose an appropriate time to talk. If you think you’re going to struggle with your emotions, it may be worth coming back to the topic when you’ve both calmed down. Likewise, it’s a good idea to have the conversation at a time when you’re both able to focus on it – not immediately before someone has to go to work or with the TV on in the background.

♣ Try to start the discussion amicably. Don’t go in with all guns firing, or with a sarcastic or critical comment. It can be useful to start by saying something positive, such as: ‘I feel like we were getting on really well a few months ago. I was hoping we could talk about how much we’ve been arguing recently.’

♣ Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements. This will mean your partner is less likely to feel under attack, and you’ll be taking responsibility for your own emotions. For instance, instead of saying: ‘You never listen to me’, try saying: ‘I feel like I’m not being heard when I talk to you’.

♣ Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. A conversation is unlikely to go anywhere productive unless both participants feel listened to. It can be tempting to just try to get your point across, but if you want to resolve things, it’s really important you take the time to hear what your partner has to say too. They may have an entirely different perspective – one you’ll need to understand if you want to get to the root of what’s going wrong. Try to validate each other’s feeling by saying things like: ‘It makes sense to me that you feel like that.’ Making your partner feel heard can be hugely powerful.

♣ And remember: you may not just be arguing the surface problem. As much as we like to believe our partners will – or rather, should – always understand where we’re coming from, the truth is they’ve grown up with their own ideas and with different influences. For instance, if you think they’re controlling with money, it may be that their role model when they were younger was in charge of all financial affairs – so they’ve always assumed that’s how things work.

♣ Keep tabs on physical feelings. If things are getting too heated, take time out and come back once you’re both feeling calmer. Saying something you later regret because you were really worked up is only going to make the fight worse and can leave feelings seriously hurt.

♣ Be prepared to compromise. Often, the only way to reach a solution is for both partners to give some ground. If both of you stick rigidly to your desired outcome, the fight will probably just continue. It might be that one or both of you needs to compromise a little so that you’re able to move past things. Sometimes, an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all.

If you’d like to talk about any of these issues with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350. 

Dating: the pleasures and pitfalls

Dating can be a great way of meeting and getting to know a potential partner.

Online dating has made it possible to meet more new people than ever – and more easily too.

And while that’s allowed us to have more control over the types of people we meet, and to think in more detail about the sort of partner who might work for us, it has also come with a few challenges and pitfalls.

Feeling the pressure
In some ways, dating is a somewhat artificial way of getting to know someone. Going on a date can sometimes feel like a fairly formal interaction: you meet up, you spend time together and, hopefully, you figure out whether you want to meet up again. Dating can sometimes feel like a means to an end: figuring out if you could work as a couple.

For this reason, it can sometimes feel quite pressurised. It can be fairly anxiety-inducing, and, somewhat inconveniently, it can also make it difficult to actually settle into the experience of getting to know the other person.
Most of us don’t like the feeling of being judged. And many of us may feel uncomfortable judging someone else! But dating can so often feel that this is what you’re supposed to be doing: that you’re supposed to be figuring out, ideally in as short a time as possible, whether you and someone else could ‘work’.
The dating format doesn’t do much to help. As a social interaction, dating can be fairly intense. Often, you meet and talk for a few hours. The classic scenario is going to a pub or restaurant, where you sit opposite each other, looking directly at each other. It’s something you might not do that often with close friends, let alone complete strangers. For people who might usually struggle to engage in long conversations like this, going on a date can be stressful. And even the most confident person can find themselves sweating over the prospect of an ‘awkward pause’ in the conversation.

Our online experience

Online dating has, in some ways, further complicated things. It can put emphasis on presenting yourself in quite a specific and somewhat artificial way. When we put together an online dating profile, we often choose to create a precise image of ourselves. We include the information that we’d like people to know, and leave out the information we don’t. We select pictures of ourselves to support this impression.

It’s quite different from meeting someone in ‘real life’, where it’s not as easy to manage other people’s impressions of us. When we meet someone in, say, a pub or at a party, we see what they actually look like, we hear what they actually sound like, and we pick up on their body language. We get a more distinct picture, more quickly. Of course, real life interactions contain a lot of artificiality too – we all try to present ourselves in a certain way when out and about – but the details can be quite different.

As a result, when we come to meet someone who we’ve met online, it can take a while for that sense of artificiality to wear off. Many have been through the experience of meeting someone to find out that they aren’t what they thought they would be like at all. It can be quite jarring or even disappointing. The temptation can be to reject this unexpected person out of hand and go back to our search. But this may not be a fair response – someone being different doesn’t mean they’re not interesting or appealing in other ways – but it’s also not a surprising one in the circumstances.

That leads us to the other big pitfall of online dating: being too prescriptive. Many of us enter the world of dating with some idea of the kind of person we’d like to meet. Being able to scroll through hundreds upon hundreds of profiles online can reinforce the sense that we may, if we look hard enough, meet that exact person. We might find ourselves going from date to date, waiting until we stumble across that person who is just ‘perfect’.

In some ways, this sense of prescriptiveness has dovetailed in the modern day with old-fashioned ideas around ‘the one’. A while ago, we might have come to believe someone was ‘the one’ because we spent enough time with them to really get to know them – and then might ask them out. Now, we might risk feeling that ‘the one’ is out there, but only if we trawl for long enough.

Manage your expectations
So, how do we mitigate these potential problems? While it might sound like these pitfalls make dating a minefield, in some ways it’s just a case of sorting out how we think about dating, and what we hope to get out of it.

We feel anxiety and pressure around dating because we think we’re working towards a definite ‘purpose’. But if we take that big objective out of the equation, things can suddenly get much easier. When we don’t worry quite so much about where dating is ‘going’, what we’re left with instead can actually be a fun, useful and exciting experience. When you put yourself under less pressure to figure out what you think about this person, you may find you can just be yourself and have a good conversation. Counter-intuitively, this can then make it easier to get to this point anyway – as both of you may then be able to relax a little and begin to properly connect as people.

It can, in fact, be useful to verbalise this attitude at one point early on when dating – not as a way of pushing the other person back or directing how they should approach things, but simply as a way of saying what works for you.

Be open
The second, and equally simple, principle you might like to apply is to try to know the other person, and allow them to know you. As we’ve already said, dating – and online dating in particular – can create an artificial environment. But – at the risk of stating the obvious – dating isn’t shopping, and people aren’t products.

Put simply, it can take a while to get to know someone. Try to open to the possibility of letting this happen, even – or rather, especially – when you aren’t yet sure how you feel about them. You may find that someone who, on first impression, wasn’t totally grabbing your attention, begins to reveal hidden depths after you meet a second or third time. Someone who seemed nervous and hard to understand on a first date might then settle into things on a second.

We know this can take a bit of a leap of faith, but it can also give you the chance to properly figure out how you feel about someone so you can make an informed decision about whether you’d like to keep seeing them. Sometimes, it can be as simple as going on two or three dates with a person, instead of just one.

And a big part of this can mean being willing to let go of – or at least be flexible on – the idea of your ‘perfect person’. It can be really easy to get caught up in this idea. But it can also be really limiting. Responding to a new person with a knee-jerk reaction – noticing something you don’t quite like and deciding immediately to move on and resume your search – can mean you end up writing people off without giving them a chance to show who they really are. Given a little time to be themselves, it could be that the people you’re meeting are closer to what you were after than you realised. Or – and just as importantly – they could offer you something you didn’t even know you wanted.

Mix things up
If you find you’re struggling to relax during a date, consider changing the sorts of dates you go on. Sometimes, carrying out an activity at the same time can help, as it means you’re not having to make conversation the whole time, and, conversely, it can also give you something to talk about.

It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or even particularly adventurous: going on a bike ride, or for a walk, or visiting an art gallery together can be great ways of making things feel fun, interesting and casual – all the while allowing you to get to know each other.

Moreover, although it may not always seem so these days, it’s still perfectly normal to prefer meeting in a more natural environment. Often, this can mean just being social by doing things you like: joining a club or making an effort to join in with group social occasions. This can give you the chance to get to know someone a little without having to enter into that more formal ‘dating dynamic’.

When your ex is badmouthing you to your children

Your ex badmouthing you to your children is a situation faced by lots of ex-partners.

It may make you angry and rekindle all sorts of emotions left over from your relationship. The fact that the badmouthing is being directed at you via your children may make you fear they’ll be turned against you. You may well be worried too about the effects it may be having on your children.

Torn loyalties
Hearing negative things said about one parent by the other is likely to make your children feel upset, hurt and conflicted. They’re likely to feel deeply uncomfortable about the position they’re being put in – into the middle of a conflict they don’t fully understand and in which they’re unlikely to want to take part.

They may feel that their loyalties are torn. While they may want to defend you against your ex, they’ll also feel uncomfortable about taking sides.
In counselling, we often think of conflict as taking place on a triangle, with the roles of ‘aggressor’, ‘victim’ and ‘rescuer’ on the three points. Where one parent badmouths another to their children the child is put in the position of ‘rescuer’. They’re being asked to take on a role that exceeds their responsibilities – one in which they’re forced to look after the people who are supposed to look after them. This can be overwhelming and upsetting, particularly if the child is younger.

What not to do
There’s a big temptation – to badmouth back. But adding to the storm of insults only serves to amplify the negative feelings your children are experiencing – forcing them to feel resentful towards and conflicted about not just one parent, but both.

What to do
Instead, focus on your children’s well-being above anything else. It’s important they feel supported; that they have the mean to find a way through what’s going on.

Start by talking with them. Ask them how they’re feeling. Let them know that you don’t want to put them in the middle of any conflict and that how they’re doing is your priority. Just saying this can be an important step, especially if it’s not something they’ve heard before.

Beyond this, do your best to talk them through what they might like to do in should your ex badmouth you to them again.

This isn’t about you scheming with your children to fight back, but so your children feel they can respond in a way that doesn’t make them feel they’re part of the argument.

The best outcome is that they feel able to express themselves when it happens again. They should feel able to say to your ex how the badmouthing is making them feel and state, without it turning into an argument, that they don’t want to be put in this position.

Try to help them use ‘I’ phrases – putting the emphasis on their feelings, rather than blaming your ex. Help them to use less polarised language – instead of saying ‘always’, say ‘sometimes’, for instance.

Help your children find the right time to bring up their concerns. Usually, the best time isn’t when an argument is already starting, as this is when we are least likely to express ourselves constructively. Sometimes, it can be better to talk things over when we’re feeling calm – when out on a walk or going for a drive, for instance.

The fact that the conversation pertains to you is academic. You’re helping your child communicate something that’s important to them, and that they’re finding difficult to express.

Talking to your ex yourself
And, of course, you may also want to consider whether it’s possible to bring up this conversation with your ex yourself. You’ll know how this is likely to go. It may create more conflict. But, if there’s still room for you to talk constructively, just trying may make a big difference.

Virtual reality app puts you in the shoes of someone living with dementia

If you’re caring for someone with dementia in your relationship – or you just want to understand more about what it’s like to live with dementia – an innovative virtual reality app is about to be launched.

A Walk Through Dementia will be premiered at a three-day public installation at Lonson’s St Pancras International Station from June 2.

The free app, available from the Google Play Store, has been developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK and virtual reality specialists VISYON. It uses a widely-available Google Cardboard headset to put you in the shoes of someone with dementia. The experience will also be viewable headset-free on the app, or online at: www.awalkthroughdementia.org

Voiced by Olivier Award-winning actress Dame Harriet Walter, and with an introduction from broadcaster Jon Snow, A Walk Through Dementia is designed to help us think beyond memory loss to gain a fully immersive insight into the varied symptoms people with dementia can experience in everyday life.

The app uses computer-generated environments and 360-degree video sequences to illustrate in powerful detail how even the most everyday task of making a cup of tea can become a challenge for someone living with dementia.

Unfolding over three scenarios, the app user is tasked with buying ingredients, taking them home, and making a cup of tea for their family.

In the first scenario, a busy supermarket environment shows challenges people with dementia have at the check-out, counting money, reading their shopping list, and finding items.

A street sequence illustrates problems people face with navigation, visual-spatial issues, and disorientation.

Back home, making tea for visiting family presents challenges around memorising instructions, visual symptoms, and coordination.

The app features a compelling voiceover from Dame Harriet Walter, who lost both her parents to dementia, and an introduction from Jon Snow, whose mother died of Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia.

Developed with the help of people living with dementia, and with support from Professor Sebastian Crutch at UCL’s Dementia Research Centre, A Walk Through Dementia is a compelling perspective on a condition that affects 850,000 people in the UK.

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, says: “Dementia is commonly misunderstood, so A Walk Through Dementia is designed to offer the public a clearer picture of the challenges that people living with the condition face in everyday life.

“The app also gives a poignant insight into the emotional impact of symptoms, an element that people with dementia told us was important to achieve.

“Although each person with dementia experiences the condition differently, and it would be hard to re-create the full range of complex symptoms, harnessing new technology like virtual reality helps us engage people with the impact of dementia on a new level.”

Trina Armstrong, who lives with posterior cortical atrophy, a form of Alzheimer’s disease, advised on the project. She says: “Anyone living with dementia will experience it uniquely, but I hope A Walk Through Dementia will provide people with an idea of what the world is like for me.

“Everyday things like popping to the supermarket, or making a cup of tea, are things I used to take for granted, but dementia presents a real barrier to my everyday life in ways that people often don’t realise.

“It’s been empowering for me to feed some of my symptoms and experiences into the app and see them re-created. I hope it will encourage the public to think differently about dementia and the people living with the condition they might meet.”

A Walk Through Dementia is designed for use on Android phones. For more on the project, including films and to purchase one of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s cardboard headsets, visit www.awalkthroughdementia.org

After the St Pancras International Station launch, the app will be showcased at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival from June 7-12.

If you care for someone with dementia, and you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about the effect your caring role has on your relationship, we may be able to offer you free sessions. Have a chat with our friendly appointments team on 01234 356350.



Coping with the ‘snowball of stress’

Stress can have a distorting effect on our relationships. It can make us feel low and not wanting to talk to people. We tend to shut ourselves away and keep our emotions on the inside.

It can make us argumentative and prone to lashing out – ready to lose our temper in an instant. Or, it can cause us to oscillate between different moods at different times.

It’s hard to ‘plan’ for the effects of stress. Often, we don’t anticipate being stressed – stressful experiences often take us by surprise, and can come out of nowhere. A sudden increase in workload. An unwelcome call from your mum. An unexpected bill. One moment you’re feeling calm and happy; the next, hot, panicky and irritated.

Often, you feel that your response to stress is slightly beyond your control: you become withdrawn without quite realising you’re doing it. Or, you surprise yourself by becoming suddenly snappy, irritable and unreasonable.

How stress affects relationships

If you’re becoming withdrawn, your partner is likely to feel pushed away. And if you get snappy, they may feel hurt or become defensive. What can be really problematic, though, is that they may want to help, and feel that their efforts are being rebuffed. This can feel like a rejection and result in them becoming withdrawn or snappy themselves. The problems of stress can snowball: as one partner begins to act in a negative or unconstructive way, so might the other.

Moreover, your partner may not realise why you’re acting as you are. It may not be immediately apparent that it’s stress that’s causing you to say unkind things, or be unresponsive when spoken to. They may feel it’s something they’ve done. This can obviously be very upsetting and frustrating – both for the hurt caused and confusion about why it’s happening.

Without intervention, the gap from this situation can get wider and wider. And the more you feel your partner is a source of stress, the less likely you’ll be willing to try to close that gap.

How to communicate stress

Stress may put you in survival mode. You may feel that if you can just ride it out and deal with it by yourself, you can get back to normality. Stopping to explain yourself – letting someone else into the picture at that moment – can feel like losing control. It can feel as if you’re making yourself vulnerable at a time when you can’t be.

But, while being open can indeed make you vulnerable, it can also be empowering. It can allow you to take ownership of how you’re feeling, to recognise your emotions and to understand them in perspective. Saying how you’re doing out loud doesn’t make your problems any bigger – in fact, it can sometimes allow you to see they’re not as big as you thought.

And, of course, for all these reasons, it’s important to let your partner in so they don’t feel shut out, and so the situation doesn’t spiral into something deeper.

If you’re on the receiving end of this communication – or trying to be – it can be a bit of a tightrope. The temptation often is to try and convince your partner to say what’s on their mind – sometimes through criticism or badgering. But, as many of us will have experienced, this is just as likely to get them to clam up further.

Often, the best way is to use an approach that allows the person experiencing stress to stay in charge of how much they say. Often, the best first step is to simply say: ‘How can I help?’ This puts agency firmly with the person experiencing difficulties and is less likely to make them feel under pressure to talk.

If they still don’t want to go into it, then maybe letting them know you’re there to talk if they need you, and then giving them some space, is all you can do for the time being. No matter how much you would like to, you can’t force someone to let you in – particularly someone who is already feeling withdrawn or irritable – but you can make sure they know you’re on their side.

If your partner is open to talking, much the same applies. Again, it’s tempting to immediately begin to offer solutions, or to get them to ‘try to see the bright side’ – but, these can be stressful responses in themselves. They can feel like judgements, or as if you’re dismissing their experience as one that’s easily fixable. In some cases, this is exactly the response that the cagey person was fearing: one that demands they accede to it, rather than one that takes in how they’re feeling, and what they’re thinking.

Instead, it can be much more productive to just empathise and ask questions. Often, when we’re finding something difficult, what we want isn’t a solution, but just someone to be there with us and give emotional support. Supplying this – even if it means sitting quietly together or just hugging – may be all they need to begin to feel like the situation is under control.

We know that can sound vague, but all you’re doing is being curious and showing support. Don’t feel you have to always jump in and fill the silences. And it’s okay to admit you don’t know how to help! The main thing that matters is that your partner feels understood and cared for. The rest can follow.


When a new baby isn’t entirely that bundle of joy you’d expected

We’re sometimes reluctant to talk about what it’s really like to bring a new baby into a family – apart from the acceptance that we’re likely to get a lot less sleep.

Expectations run high and anything that contradicts them can be difficult to process.

As a new parent, you’re letting go of one life and discovering another. This process can take time.

It’s a period of intense change for you, your partner, and your new baby. You learn together what that new ‘normal’ looks like but, meanwhile, it’s important not to judge yourself, nor your partner, if things feel uncomfortable. Be gentle with each other.

One of the biggest changes will be how little time you now have to be a couple. It’s important that you make extra effort to find that time, even if it feels unnecessary or artificial.

The biggest challenge for couples is knowing that what they’re feeling is normal and incredibly common. Try to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – they’re not helpful. There is no how you should feel, only how you do feel.

For example:

  • A new mum might find herself feeling resentful at her partner’s comparative freedom, especially in those early days and especially if she’s breastfeeding
  • You might resent the attention the new baby is getting and, in turn, feel guilty
  • You might feel confused or fearful that you’re not taking to parenthood as well as you’d expect
  • Instead of feeling supported, you might feel judged by grandparents, other family members or friends
  • Sometimes you might feel incompetent and overwhelmed by all the things you’re expected to know.

What you’re feeling is valid and you should tell your partner. You will probably find that they understand and may even feel the same as you.

What if I think it’s more serious?

Research shows that women in particular experience some form of mental illness post childbirth – 50% of those women have no previous history of mental illness.

You may be tempted to blame yourself and feel guilty for not experiencing the euphoria everyone told you to expect. It isn’t your fault and, with support, you can process your feelings and move forward.

What are the signs we should look out for?

If you’re suffering from postnatal depression, you might relate to the following:

  • Feeling indifferent to your partner and your new baby
  • Feeling irritable or angry for no obvious reason
  • Unable to sleep, even when you have the opportunity
  • Sleeping too much and unable to leave your bed
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or unable to cope
  • Lack of interest in your partner and/or in having sex.

Some of these symptoms, like tiredness, are natural after childbirth. However, if you’re feeling a number of these things, do seek advice from your health visitor or GP.

It’s also important to recognise that if you’re feeling low, you might downplay these feelings or think you aren’t worthy of help. Try to counter this by talking about your concerns with a health professional, even if you think it’s not serious. This way you can be reassured or get the support you need. Remember, too, that people who love you may notice things that you can’t see, so do take notice of friends and family who express their worries.

Keeping a mood diary is a helpful way to track how you feel. Noting things like how much sleep you’ve had, or particular challenges you’re facing, and matching them to your own moods will help you to make sense of your emotions instead of feeling like they’re coming out of nowhere.

Being a new parent can be a wonderful experience. Part of that experience is living through challenges and learning about yourself and your partner – as well as the new life you’ve brought into the world!

If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about the effects on your relationship from having a new baby, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.