Communicating in Couple Relationships

Communication in Couple Relationships

‘I have grown too strong, to ever fall back in your arms..’

Stress and strain can impact not only on how a person feels about themselves but it can impact hugely on how you experience close relationships too. Feeling too strong to ever fall into the other persons arms is not necessarily a good thing if that other person is there beside you for the long haul and yet often when stresses build up, couples can feel like there is a distance between them, a distance they did not wish for or want and one therefore that can be hard to understand. And while in certain aspects of life the distance is not that obvious, in other ways it can feel like it would take a quantum leap to bridge the divide. But it is possible to find a way forward and to bring the closeness back.

Having an awareness of the importance of negative emotion can be key in figuring out how to bridge the distance. Negative emotion can have the effect of pushing a person away (psychologically) or drawing them close. Drawing them close can be an important part of what creates the context for intimacy.

No-one is happy and positive all of the time and relationships can be enhanced if we learn to deal with negative emotion in a way that brings a partner closer, rather than tending to push them away. In order to understand how this happens, it is useful to reflect on the fact that negative emotions happen on two levels; Primary and Secondary.

Primary emotions are deeper, more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, hurt, fear, shame and loneliness. They are feelings everyone feels at some point but sometimes we don’t reveal these feelings and therefore they don’t get expressed. These feelings however, are worthy of expression and expressing them to a partner has been proven to have the effect of drawing a person closer. Secondary emotions are the more reactive emotions such as anger, jealousy, resentment and frustration. These secondary emotions occur as a reaction to primary emotions and expressing them can have the effect of pushing a partner away. If anger or frustration is expressed, it can cause the other person to want to move away from you as they can then also feel angry or upset. Sometimes it is worth the risk to express vulnerability especially in a relationship that you wish to be an intimate one. No matter how strong you believe you should be, there is a value and strength in allowing vulnerability to be revealed. Vulnerability matters as do close relationships.. if you want closeness, risk being vulnerable.

How we Create Our Reality…Some Ideas from Narrative Therapy

How we Create Our Reality

‘A story emerges as certain events are privileged and selected out over other events as important or true.’

David Epston, Narrative Therapy Centre, Toronto


Imagine you know someone well from seeing them on TV, hearing them on the radio, reading about them in the newspaper. You form an impression of this person based on certain information. Perhaps the story you form about  them is one of where you view them as kind, where there kind and caring deeds lead you to perceive them a certain way or perhaps the media has vilified them and you see them through the lens of some scandal they have been involved in. The impression you develop creates a story in your mind about this person; incidents add up to bear witness to the kind of person who believe them to be. This process happens with our sense of ourselves too. We privilege certain information about our lives and develop a certain view. Sometimes it is a good story, sometimes not so good but we all develop a story or narrative about how particular aspects of life are.

Things happen a certain way and therefore, we often think things are a certain way. And why not believe this as to a certain extent it can be true. Events do shape us and impact on us but this is never the full story. In order to be reminded of the level of control we can have over our reality, it can be useful to reflect on some ideas from narrative therapy. Here are a few….

Certain aspects of what happens in our lives get brought into focus by us and this is what creates our reality. Sometimes by privileging certain information or events over others, we begin to believe that because we see something in a certain way, it is a certain way. We can believe that our story about someone is absolutely true for we know that certain events happened but we can’t always know the context, we can’t always know the reasons why and we don’t always know what meaning was intended by what someone said or did. So therefore, our version of the truth is only ever a version of it, one among many.

In coming to know the truth, narrative therapy would suggest that by talking together we create truth by privileging certain information. We determine what form the truth takes and often we have conversations in our mind that determines truth because of the strands of information that are privileged. Take, for example, a person who believes it to be true that no-one cares for them. While this may be a very real experience for someone, holding this to be true will be part of what can stop a person noticing how others are caring for them. Feeling down and telling yourself the story that this is the way it will always likely be makes it much less likely that you will notice information in the world around you that tells a different story.

Ideas matter and stories do to… stories and ideas about you, others, the world around us. They all become real by being talked into existence so dig deep for new ideas and new stories if you wish to change your world. Thinking and talking differently can open up the possibility of a new world. Start to privilege new ideas and you are making space for a new reality to emerge. A new truth is waiting in the wings if you wish to claim it…. take the chance.

Managing Stress..and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Managing Stress

‘They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.’

Andy Warhol

Whether you agree with the perspective above or not, it certainly is a perspective or view that is worthy of reflection. It is a perspective that gives people a lot more power than we sometimes believe we have.

In relation to stress, it often can be the case that it is circumstances outside of our control that seems to cause the stressful feeling to arise. But, if this is the case, does that mean that a particular method cannot be employed by a person in order to lift the weight of the stress off? Surely getting soaked in the rain doesn’t mean a person has to stay wet until enough time passes for them to eventually become dry again. We change our clothes and dry our hair and in those simple actions, we change things. So how about some action to combat stress? How about finding a way to let go of stress when circumstances land it on our plate? Stress, like so many other feelings that can overwhelm us, can be processed so that it doesn’t have a grip on us. Here is one possible route towards taking control of stress and it involves a Cognitive-Behavioural approach.


Research supports the assertion that cognitive-behavioural therapy works effectively when dealing with feelings such as fear, anxiety or stress. This model of therapy highlights the link between how we think, how we feel and how we behave. How we think influences how we feel and how we feel influences how we behave. With overwhelming stress therefore, the resulting behaviour may be lying awake at night tossing and turning instead of being able to rest and sleep. In order to have different behaviour, the feeling needs to change and in order for the feeling to change, some focus needs to go to what thoughts are in the mind, as the thoughts, according to Cognitive Behavioural Theory are influencing the feeling. Trying to change your thoughts is not that simple though, particularly thoughts that seem almost automatic. Ways of thinking can become well ingrained.

Therefore, the first step but not the only step is to begin to monitor your thoughts. Paying close attention to how closely linked our thoughts and feelings are requires effort. Then working to figure out why the thoughts are there is the next essential step in combating the stressful feeling as this process of working out what is influencing your thinking gives insight into what beliefs you hold. Beliefs influence how a person thinks, and yet sometimes beliefs that people hold are not that obvious even to person themselves. Uncovering them at least gives you a choice about whether you wish to hold on to that belief or not. Not knowing it is there means you have no choice to keep it or let it go. Sometimes when stress hits, it can feel as if there is nothing you can do to combat it but we really do quite often have more power than we realise. Taking control of your mind by managing your thoughts is a skill that takes practice and it can be done. The ultimate power is the power of mindset…that is what I believe.


The Importance of Being True to Yourself


‘ You may think you stand alone because you chose to be true to you. But, by doing so, you actually attract people to you who will truly respect who you are.’



I don’t know how many people find it hard to be true to who they are. It can be a difficult thing to do because when you stand for something and it differs from what another person may think or believe, it can become apparent that your differing stand point can create a distance between you that might not otherwise be there. So what do you do? What if what you fundamentally believe to be right is not what someone else believes? What if what the other believes is a view you just cannot hold… what if what you believe to be true is part of what is your essence and the other just doesn’t seem to appreciate or respect that. And what if you feel you want to blow the whistle on something..something you know is wrong and something that goes against what you believe to be right? Do you go forward and take a step to intervene or do you hold back? Often, by taking a stand a loss of some sort can be felt but is that enough reason not to stand by your convictions?

Often in life, people have different views. You don’t have to listen too long to the news to know that deeply held views and beliefs can lead to conflict, war and intense pain and anguish. And even regarding war and peace, differing views exist. Some see the merit of war, some the futility and brutality of it. Some dedicate their entire life’s work to  making peace, some see peace  as an impossible dream. In all of our lives, moments arise when we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Large questions like what it is we stand for and smaller ones such as what to do in relation to a matter that may come to your attention and that you believe to be wrong. I know that for some, a passionate belief in something can become lost inside and never given a voice  because to say out loud what you really feel about what might be happening or what someone might be doing can cause alienation or even threats and intimidation. Sometimes too, the idea of intervening or taking a stand can seem daunting, especially if the person or thing you wish to take a stand against is a bully or has power to wield in some way. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe is right and it can at times cause you losses but in the end, it is my belief that being true to yourself is the best way forward. People will always hold different views but if you believe something is wrong or someone is acting in an unjust or unethical way, then it is ok to say it. Be true to yourself. Even if it means you in some sense may lose…. at least you know that you had the courage of your convictions and that you stayed true to beliefs you hold dear. There is only one unique  you…. and not everyone is going to see things your way but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand and say what it is you wish to say. One voice can be all it takes sometimes to point out what’s not ok. One person can change things…..maybe it will be you…….

Making Things Happen for You


‘We cannot make time stand still, nor can we prevent the unexpected happening, but what we can do is accept what is going on in our lives and consciously take steps in the direction of where we want to go.’

Mark Pollack, Making It Happen


I meet people often who feel there are things they cannot do. It gets them down at times, sometimes very down because telling yourself you can’t and believing that you really can’t do stuff means your choices and options are limited and everyone likes to feel they have choice. We do have choices about most things, more than we often realise, and we make lots of choices, sometimes choices that we are not even conscious of making. One of the choices we make is in relation to what we choose to believe we can and cannot do and here is (one of) the reasons why I believe we sometimes choose to believe ‘I can’t’….

Imagine being in a cage and beginning to realise that you are in one. This could be a cage of your own creation, one that exists in a very real way in your mind, a cage where despite your needs being met, you having food and shelter, you being in charge and you having things to occupy your time,it’s a cage all the same and it makes you feel ‘caged in’. It can feel like the things you wish to do are being done outside of the cage are therefore for you, these things are not possible. You believe there are things you absolutely cannot do, decisions you cannot make. You tell yourself ‘I want to but I can’t’.

An experiment was done on the process known as institutionalisation and the research subject was a lion. After years of living in a cage, this cage (which was real) was opened and the lion was presented with the opportunity to leave and be free. You can guess what happened next…. The lion stayed in the cage with the door wide open. And while I have no idea why, I would imagine that the researchers  were right in their conclusion that the lion had become institutionalised. Existing so long in the cage, the lion found it impossible to even imagine living anywhere else, even a place he may possibly have longed to go. He stayed in the cage,  a place where he felt safe, where he continued to exist never knowing what it was like to live free.

Imagine that cage has been created in your mind. And while there are things you may wish you could do, choosing to believe that you can’t keeps you psychologically ‘safe’ but also stuck. Choosing not to imagine that it’s possible to walk away from the place where the bars surround you means you don’t have to take the risk as to what might happen if you choose to be bold and do the things you really want to do. Staying safe and stuck means no-one can threaten you with judgement or opinion and that prospect can give people  a sense of security which can be hard to give up. All of the things that have made us feel ‘safe’ are put at risk if we start to rattle the bars but this in no way means that it can’t be done. If the cage for us is only real in our minds then it is within our power to dismantle it. If you really, really want to do it, it can be done, no matter what ‘it’ is. It, anything can be done. There is no shame in becoming institutionalised or in feeling stuck but recognising that it is possible for this institutionalisation or stuckness to happen to any one of us can shed light on the question of why we may say and believe ‘I can’t’. Uncovering some of what might be going on for us at an unconscious level is often the first step in moving from a position of ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’t just yet’…. it is often the choices we make at an unconscious level that have the most bearing on how we live out our lives and as these choices are unconscious, it can feel like we didn’t make a choice at all. But we do choose, a lot of what happens, a lot of the time. Someone once said that life is either a daring adventure or nothing…. make your choice….. What do you believe?