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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Loneliness affects younger people – much more than older people

Loneliness affects people at all stages of life. But young people, in their late teens and early 20s, are significantly more likely to be affected than older age groups, says a study.

Findings show one in 20 adults in England feel lonely often or all of the time – and social media may be exacerbating the problem, particularly among younger generations.

The figures were released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which was tasked with compiling data as part of a Government drive to tackle loneliness.

Five per cent of those aged 16 and over in England report feeling lonely often or all of the time, while 16% feel lonely sometimes, and 24% occasionally. (more…)

Breaking up is hard to do

You’ve decided to put an end to all the arguing, all the tension, all the indecision – and tell your partner: ‘It’s over.’

All you’ve got to do is actually do it!

It sounds straightforward enough. But it’s not always easy.

Maybe you’re worried about hurting your partner. Perhaps you know they don’t want to break up, and that doing so will leave them in a bad state. (more…)

Gone off sex?

It’s common for a relationship to go through phases where one or both partners lose interest in sex.

Sexual interest tends to ebb and flow over time – and partners may have different sex drives at different stages in a relationship.

Losing interest can also be related to specific issues in the relationship, or external pressures from outside it.

Why might you or your partner have gone off sex? (more…)

Blame can be toxic

When you’re on the receiving end of blame it can be exhausting, exasperating and painful.

It can make you feel tiny: like nothing you do is good enough or ever will be. It can break down your sense of trust in your partner and replace it with a growing sense of resentment and anger.

And, if it persists for a long time, constant blame in a relationship can be a symptom of emotional abuse.

Why do we blame each other? (more…)

‘Children learn positive lessons when parents explain how they resolve arguments’

Most parents argue. But the way these disagreements affect children varies greatly, according to research commissioned by the BBC.

It’s not only the relationship between parent and child that affects children’s long-term development.

How parents get on with each other also plays a big role in a child’s wellbeing, with the potential to affect everything from mental health to academic success and future relationships. (more…)

Are you having doubts?

Doubts about getting married are fairly common.

You may be worrying that you and your partner aren’t compatible enough.

Perhaps there are parts of your relationship that don’t work so well – and you think they could become more of a problem further down the line.

Maybe you’ve got the feeling there could be someone else out there for you.

So, what are your expectations? What does marriage mean to you?

Does it mean spending your life in eternal harmony with the one person who completes you? Or is it a commitment made while appreciating all the challenges that it might bring?

Marriage often comes with all kinds of pre-conceived ideas. Many of these may put pressure on you, both individually and as a couple. But it can be useful to think of marriage as the beginning of a journey.

Every marriage comes with its challenges. Even the most well-suited couples are likely to face difficulties. Even if the way they feel about each other doesn’t change, the circumstances around them may well do so. People get new jobs. Children may be born. You may face unexpected financial pressures…

Going into marriage expecting some hardship – ok, it’s a less idealistic and romantic way of looking at marriage – can help you be more realistic about what might happen.

That doesn’t mean feeling any less excited about getting married – but it does mean thinking about how you might adapt to change when it comes along; how you and your partner might, as a team, learn to negotiate around difficulty and work towards agreed solutions.

What do you expect of your partner?

Likewise, the same mindset may help when you think about compatibility.

Getting on well with your partner is, of course, really important. But no one is perfect for someone else. Even if this doesn’t become apparent right away, it’s quite likely there will be things about your partner you’ll find challenging or confusing.

As long as you feel you can be yourself around your partner, and there’s opportunity to negotiate around these differences, they don’t have to be a big problem. It’s about learning to work together – discussing together what you both find troublesome.

Besides, a bit of difference in a relationship can be a really good thing! It can allow you to challenge each other and to help one another see things from a different viewpoint.

Learn to deal with difference. It can be much better to develop this ability early in your relationship. Developing open and empathetic communication can be a big advantage.

So… talk together about the future. Have some idea of each other’s expectations – an understanding about each other’s thoughts on children, jobs, where you’d like to live… Explore your life goals together.

And if you still feel apprehensive about marriage…

… but you’re tempted to give it a try, cohabiting may help.

Living together enables you to get to know each other more closely. It can show you what it would be like to see your partner every day – and may allow you to build a shared space together.

However, be mindful that sometimes couples have different ideas about where such an arrangement may lead. It’s not unusual for one person to have assumed that getting married would be the automatic outcome of cohabiting. It’s important to keep communication open so you remain on the same page.

Ultimately, there are limits to how certain you can be. In the end, we can only act on what we know now. We can make preparations, but we can never fully control what will happen in the future.

Sometimes, we need to make a decision based on what we already know – not on what we wish we could know.

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

Be kind to yourself

We all have a relationship with ourselves, just as we have relationships with the other people around us.

We all tend to think of ourselves in a certain way, and might have patterns of behaviour when ‘interacting’ with ourselves.

When someone says they ‘don’t like’ themselves, what they’re often describing is having a poor relationship with themselves – that they’ve come to think of themselves in negative terms, or regard themselves as not having much worth.

However, just like our relationships with other people, it’s important to be able to look after our relationship with ourself and make sure that we’re able to deal with negative thoughts and emotions so they don’t build up over time.

What influences our relationship with ourself?

One way is by adopting a pattern of thinking similar to what we use in our relationships with others – a role we tend to cast ourselves in that can become ingrained over time.

When we’re young, we tend to learn patterns of behaviour from the people looking after us. For instance, a child who didn’t receive much support from their parents when they were little – who was never comforted when they hurt themselves, or ignored when they were upset – might learn to regard themselves as undeserving of support.

Our experiences later in life can also define these patterns. For instance, someone who always found themselves in the role of ‘peacekeeper’ in a relationship might take that forward into other relationships later on. Or someone who was cheated on might struggle to trust future partners.

Our relationship with ourselves can also be affected by how satisfied we feel with our place in the world. If we feel things aren’t going well – perhaps if we feel we haven’t enjoyed the professional success we’ve always wanted, or don’t feel respected by our friends or colleagues – we may end up blaming ourselves, deciding that there must be something wrong with us for things to be this way.

Social influences can also have a powerful part to play. Again, we ‘compare ourselves to what might be’. The media sometimes depicts an idea of the ‘perfect’ life – successful, fun, packed full of adventure – and it can be very discouraging if you feel that your own life falls short.

How does having a negative relationship with yourself affect you?

One common consequence is the development of a highly negative dialogue with yourself.

You may begin to think of yourself in negative terms, or take on an aggressive or critical tone when thinking.

We often use words to describe ourselves (‘I’m such an idiot’) that we would never use to describe other people. And when you think poorly of yourself, this can be even worse – you may find yourself habitually using this language in a way that is damaging to your self-esteem.

Over time, having a negative perception of yourself can cause you to become distant from your emotions. You may want to avoid interacting with the ‘self’ that you feel is such a let-down. You may start to feel less, to try less; to feel more and more pessimistic about your future.

This is similar to a couple not getting on who avoid talking to each other – warm feelings are replaced by resentment and negative thoughts.

How do I start liking myself?

How you communicate with yourself is key to how you think about yourself.

You might start by simply trying to listen to the voice in your head and noticing times when it’s phrasing things negatively. Many people find it useful to keep a diary of what they’ve been thinking each day. Once you become more aware of what your mind is doing, you may be more able to address these patterns.

Once you’ve started doing this, try replacing the negative language with more positive. Instead of thinking: ‘I’m an idiot’, try thinking: ‘I’m not perfect, but nobody is’. Instead of thinking: ‘I’m a failure’, try: ‘I’m doing my best’. This is easier said than done, of course – but if you stick at it, you may find it becomes a positive habit over time.

Also crucial is that you learn to forgive yourself for the imperfections that make you human. Nobody is perfect. The vast majority of people feel that they aren’t reaching their absolute full potential. We all make mistakes – including big ones. We often hear the phrase ‘treat other people as you would treat yourself’ – well, it also works the other way around. Try to be kind to yourself in the way that you would be kind to others.

Again, this is a positive habit and it may take time to form, but once you get into the swing of it, you may find it gives you the freedom to reject the preconceptions of perfection – to just be you. Be gentle on yourself.

Our final tip would be to focus on your relationships with other people.

The better you feel about other people around you, the better you’re likely to feel about yourself.

If you feel supported, loved and able to talk with other people, you’re far more likely to feel optimistic about the future.

Positive relationships are key to self-worth: they’re like a safety net against isolation. Having a support network around you often means you’ve got a better chance of talking about anything bothering you or causing you to feel less happy.

If you would like to talk with one of our counsellors about what you feel about yourself, do contact our friendly appointments team on 01234 356350.

When talking is tough

Talking things over together in a relationship can be tricky – particularly if you haven’t been talking properly for a while, or you feel hurt or angry with your partner.

However, if you do feel able to give it a go, these tips may be useful:

  • Keep things relaxed. Hearing the words ‘we need to talk’ can make even the most laid-back person feel defensive! Framing things more positively can get things off to a better start. You might like to try something like: ‘I’d really like to talk about our relationship together when you have a chance’.
  • Pick the right moment. Try to talk when things are going well, not badly. Bringing things up in the middle of an argument is only likely to create more conflict. If you introduce the topic when you’re both feeling good about the relationship, you’re more likely to move in a positive direction.
  • Say how you feel, not how you think they make you feel.If you’re both simply trading blows and blaming each other for everything, you’re not likely to get anywhere. To keep things under control, it can be useful to use ‘I’ phrases (‘I sometimes feel worried that’) rather than ‘you’ phrases (‘you always make me feel worried because’).
  • A conversation has to go both ways for it to work. If what your partner has to say is difficult to hear, try to stick with it.  Try to start by acknowledging their perspective may be different to yours.
  • You could even plan. It might sound a little clinical, but it can be useful to think beforehand about what you want to say. That doesn’t mean preparing a shopping list of grievances, but just gathering your thoughts on what you want to talk about.
  • Come back to it.These things are rarely solved in one chat. It takes time and effort to work on relationship issues, so you may need to revisit things in a month to see how you’re each getting on. After a while, this kind of conversation will seem much less scary!

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