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.

 

Should we break up now? Or risk further heartache down the line?

Relate frequently responds to letters from people about their relationships – and a few are published on our national website to help others who may be going through similar experiences. We ensure letter-writers cannot be identified. Here’s one such letter from someone whose partner has asked him: ‘Should we remain in our relationship?’ He writes:

My partner and I have been together for over two years. We love and respect each other hugely. We have shared values, enjoy each other’s company, look forward to spending time together, listen to and support each other, and feel completely comfortable being ourselves around one another. Despite a 16-year age gap, and the occasional disagreement, which we usually resolve with laughter, we feel like a good fit. Our friends and family are happy we’ve found each other, and we’re often told we look great together.

Yet the fear of the future, and of potentially wanting different things in a relationship, is causing so much anxiety for both of us that we’re wondering whether it’s healthier to break up now, rather than risk further heartache down the line. Are we being sensible or over-thinking things?

My partner is 23, whilst I’m 39. We’ve always been open about our age gap and the implications around parenthood. I’ve always hoped to have children one day, although I feel the pressure of having them sooner rather than later, mainly for external reasons. Many of my friends are already on their second child, and my father, who would love grandchildren, is slowly deteriorating from Parkinson’s disease. So, we’ve previously discussed having children by my mid-forties.

However, my partner is now no longer sure she wants to have children at all, at least not for the foreseeable future. Consequently, we’re worried that if we manage to stay together for the long-term, without having children, then the loss I might feel and the guilt my partner might feel, would overwhelm our relationship. We’re also worried that if we stay together, and my partner does eventually become ready for children, then I may feel too old, or my partner will feel I’m too old. The alternative seems to be to break up now, whilst still in love, to see if we’re able to meet someone else equally as wonderful, who better fits our life stages. 

We find this terrifying. We feel so lucky to have met. Although we’ve dated many people before, we found it very difficult to find someone we clicked with and related to so well – despite our age gap. This is probably due in part to our backgrounds. We both grew up in dysfunctional families with absent and unwell parents, and experienced some emotional trauma and neglect as a consequence. We’re also both from mixed-ethnic families, which has given us a shared sense of ‘otherness’. We feel a huge pressure on making sure we’re each doing the right thing for the other. 

My partner has been torturing herself about why she no longer wants to have children, and whether it’s a permanent or temporary feeling. She wonders if it’s linked to her current emotional state in relation to her father. Three months ago, he was diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer. He’s in his mid-fifties, with two much younger children, and only recently reconnected with my partner after years of not speaking. This has made my partner (and to some extent myself) feel very depressed and emotionally flat in general. My partner has experienced clinical depression in the past, and her current mental state is reinforcing her suspicion that she’s not strong enough a person, and too much in need of attention, to have children. The situation has also highlighted the risk to her of having a family with someone, who, due to ill health or old age, might not be there for the children as they grow up.

At the same time, I wonder whether it’s my emotional response to all this that’s affecting my partner. Although I love her deeply, the more anxious and stressed I become, the less physical attraction I feel toward her, which in turn, makes me feel guilty and grumpy. My partner says this doesn’t change how much she loves me, but even so, I wonder whether it’s having an unconscious effect, and whether I’m unintentionally trying to push her away as a defence mechanism. I also wonder whether my partner was only interested in having children initially, out of excitement for our fledgling relationship.

My partner has asked me to reflect on our current situation, and decide whether I want to remain in a relationship where the future is so uncertain. She says she loves me and wants us to stay together, but at the same time is afraid she won’t be able to make me happy. So, she wants me to choose what will work for me, regardless of how it might affect her.

Our response:

Here you are, at a stage of your life when you may have thought that true love had eluded you and then all of a sudden, there she is. Right there, loving you back with dreams and wishes, that are similar to yours. But then, just when everything seemed perfect, so many worries have come crowding in that now, breaking away from someone who’s brought so much joy into your life seems like the only option to keep everyone from heartache and regrets. So, what’s happened?

The bottom line here is that actually, you’re only asking perfectly reasonable questions of each other and doing your best to make sure that come what may, you could look back and say we didn’t rush headlong into who we are as a couple. We thought about the things that are likely to arise. For example, your partner is 23. She’s questioning if she wants children, her father is dying and she has some mental health issues. Is it any wonder that things seem confusing and painful? What’s more, your dad is ill and your own anxieties are causing you to question if you find her attractive. Now, to be honest with you, I would say that none of this is out the ordinary. Getting together with someone whom you feel could be a ‘life’ partner requires a certain amount of speculation and reflection. In addition, to varying degrees, most of us worry about the future. What will happen and what will become of the people we love. Yet I sense from what you tell me that this runs a lot deeper for the two of you.

As I read your letter, I started wondering whether you might both have a sneaking suspicion that neither of you deserves to be happy. There can be lots of reasons for this; earlier disappointing adult relationships, and occasionally specific events. Sometimes, feelings like this start in childhood. Maybe, even though your parents might have done their very best, within the circumstances to which you allude, they still couldn’t give you that essential reassurance that all kids need, which is that you’re OK and a worthwhile human being. Taking doubts and sometimes shame like this into adult relationships often makes it very tricky to believe that someone actually loves us for who we really are, even though a partner might keep telling us we’re loved and cherished.

What we sometimes do, when we really can’t quite get our heads round it, is to find as many reasons as possible to make sure it can’t work. Of course, the decision to have children or not is a huge one but just taking this issue alone, even if you were both in full agreement on the way forward on this, one of you could change your mind. The point I’m trying to make here is that I think you’re looking for safe certainty that everything is done and dusted – but if you think about it, relationships are living things. They evolve, have ups and downs and hopefully mature, but at any of these stages, someone might start to feel differently about something that was previously agreed as a consequence of an issue that wasn’t even on the horizon at the outset. That’s life and in a way, one of the things that makes us most human. So even if you and she had got all this sorted – it could still evolve and change.

But let me be clear – it’s a real positive that the two of you are looking at your relationship in quite a bit of detail. There’s a lot going on and the questions you’ve been posing are both important and normal. But here’s the tricky bit. You have to learn when to stop asking the questions and take the risk that what you have is what you most want to cherish.

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes and with all sorts of problems. At the moment, it sounds like each of you is trying to figure out whether this particular relationship is going to be the guaranteed success that, perhaps, you both feel may have been missing as you were growing up. None of us knows this. Not me, not you nor anyone else. But by way of encouragement, I strongly suggest that you and your partner read and digest the first paragraph of your letter to me, because I think the answer you’re looking may well be staring you in the face.

The response is from Ammanda Major, a relationship counsellor and sex therapist, who is head of clinical practice at Relate. If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with, and prefer to write, please send your letter to askammanda@relate.org.uk If you’d prefer to talk with one of our counsellors in confidence face-to-face, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.