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|Posted on 5 April, 2020 at 0:39||comments (183)|
Never before have I received so many texts, messages, emails requesting "urgent couple counselling" than in the last few weeks. So why is this the case?The one thing I'm learning through these uncertain times is that the lockdown has provided an opportunity, albeit through necessity, to really re-evaluate relationships.Let's face it, counselling isn't something that people look forward to, but often, it's the last resort or a crisis situation that brings couples into therapy. Sadly, making it difficult to fix what's broken. All a bit too little too late.
The one strategy some individuals do tend to do in unhappy relationships, often in order to stay together for the kids' scenario, is AVOIDANCE. This can appear in many overt forms such as always working late, drinks with colleagues after work, travel for work, attending events, girls/boys weekend away, etc But the most covert strategy is what I call "buffering".
Buffering is often using others, events or situations to create a barrier between couples in order to avoid spending time with your significant other. You may recognize this behaviour in the following examples:
Social buffering - only wanting to go out or away with your partner so long as friends can tag along.
Children buffering - only wanting to spend time with family whereby the kids are always the focus. Specifically and deliberating attending to them in order to be distracting from time with the partner.F
unctional buffering - needing to continually get things done around the house. Gardening, building, cleaning, etc. Really, the "I don't have time to..." lecture. Almost as though, your partner is ungrateful for your efforts.
Work buffering - the priority for your attention and time is your work. But really it extends beyond to drinks, dinners, events, travel, where the other option is to spend time with your partner and/or family. Taking work calls, responding to emails, working from home on weekends and evenings, etc becomes a normal activity and expectation for your partner to accept.
Opportunity buffering - you may say to your partner that you don't feel like going to the movies, but jump at the chance if offered by another party.Quite simply put, not wanting to spend one on one time together. Leaving many people wondering whether their partner wants to spend time with me let alone like me anymore. In the list of your priorities - "I just don't make the cut".
This lockdown has highlighted this behaviour tenfold. People have reported feeling like they are living with a caged lion - pacing and eager to get out and when they have the opportunity to go for a walk, they do so on their own. Solo time is their only escape from their partner as they no longer have an excuse or accomplice/s to their relational "crime". Therefore, leaving their partner reeling with the thought "he/she doesn't like spending time with me".With nowhere to go and no-one to go there with, this discomfort causes frustration for both parties.
So how do you address it:-
Firstly acknowledge this is what's happening. State calmly to your partner that you have noticed this behaviour. At first, they may be defensive, but discuss times where you have started to notice this pattern of behaviour. Not in an accusatory way, but in a way to open up the dialogue.
Secondly suggest talking through the issues to try to understand the when, what, where, who, why and how of the behaviour. Was it when you first met, after you were married, first child, job promotion, etc. This discussion often leads to the causation of the behaviour.
Thirdly seek help. Often counselling can help couples identify, address and work through these issues but ultimately, assist couples getting back to where they were happy to be together.So why do I say, hanging by a thread, this strategy may be the only thing keeping the relationship going or from breaking.
I've written this article to raise the awareness of the behaviour of avoidance through buffering, It terms of the underlying cause and the eventual repair or sadly in some instances, demise, really is incumbent upon the individuals' ability to acknowledge, accept and seek help. So really seize this time, and seek the help necessary to repair your relationship before it becomes a crisis or last resort.
Copyright, Narelle Brigden Counselling 2020
|Posted on 10 April, 2018 at 22:44||comments (77)|
The 6 Strands of Connection
Measuring the Health of Relationships
As a relationship expert and couples counsellor, I’m often asked what attributes to look for when trying to determine how good or bad a relationship is and whether or not the differences or gap between them are too large to overcome. Simply put, do we stay and try and work it out or cut our losses.
What I look for in determining the state of a relationship are 6 key elements that I call the “strands” which are essential to connect people together in order to thrive. Like rope, when new and freshly formed, is at its strongest, but when pressure, tension and strain are added, over time, the strands begin to fray, unravel and ultimately weaken the overall integrity.
These strands are the markers or litmus to measure the health of a relationship. In broad terms, they fit into 6 categories, although there are some cross over and interplay. They are physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual strands of a relationship. In addition, I have two (2) caveats they are Historical Significance and Important Life Events.
What differentiates, divides or joins us from each other as humans is our ability and willingness to connect in relationship to another. It’s the how and why we gravitate towards or away from one another and how our relationship develops over time. Often too much or too little or difference can topple the relationship into free fall. When assessing the strength of a relationship, we need to undertake an honest inventory and dissection of the individual strands to determine how healthy or sick each element is and the impact overall to a relationship.
These strands will have a hierarchy of importance to every individual which may not align with a partner. That, in itself, can be the cause of conflict and confusion in a relationship.
The physical strand refers to how comfortable we are with one another or how you feel in their physical presence. Can you sit in comfortable silence of does the mere presence of the other get under our skin? Do you really enjoy their company or do you feel the other has just stop trying to engage or spending time with you?
A relationship begins to falter when one party starts to feel less or more for the other. The emotional and sexual strands have started to unwind. Often feeling like a “flat mate” or only operating on a functional level and feeling a sense of loss or relegation of priority in their partner’s life. Perhaps moved into the “friend zone”, meaning you don’t feel the same way about me as I do about you.
Conversely, often issues around control enter the relationship over fear of losing their partner when one expects the other to spend every minute of every day doing everything together. Or alternatively, becoming obsessive about how the other spends time external to the relationship, where feelings of jealousy or mistrust begin to seep in.
A healthy relationship is one where you can enjoy each other’s company, undertaking shared interests or activities, but respect the other’s individual need to spend time with others or alone without feeling threatened or rejected.
It can be as a simple as working with your yin and yang around household chores by organically doing what the other hates and vice versa. Working as a team or in partnership adapting to changing circumstances such as an increase/decrease in work hours, children being ill, etc. Or simply ensuring you carve out time personally to pursue individual interests, self-indulgence or spending time with friends.
IQ – you’re born with it. Can’t change it. But you can try harder or spend more time mastering a task that doesn’t come naturally. Yes, it is unfair, but it is, what it is. However, don’t ever equate academic intelligence to being smart or wise. In relationships, this strand refers to value placed in what individuals bring to the relationship from their worldly knowledge and lived experience.
Cognitive function is only one way of the brain processing data. Remember Charles Darwin once said that it’s not the strongest or smartest that survive, but those that are most adaptable to change. Can people with very different IQ’s make a relationship work – absolutely but pointing out the deficits in the other’s thinking or belittling their capacity for knowledge is just another form of bullying. Usually the higher IQ’s excel in facts, details, areas of black and white, however, it’s the other who is more emotionally attuned and understands grey areas, the humanistic element in problem solving.
Although, she was once perfect for him or he was her “Mr Right”– neither dreamed they’d marry Mr Always Right or Little Miss Perfect. Once in session, a client, who after hearing their partner say “I’m not always right” quipped, “well you’re never wrong”.
A healthy mental connection can be as simple as shared humour, similar understanding of certain events, devising strategies to obtain shared goals, consulting, inclusion of decision making and prioritising areas of your life and valuing each other’s input.
I fundamentally disagree with the term emotional intelligence as it assumes it is a non-linear measurement of someone’s emotional health. My definition is in relation to “emotional maturity”, regardless of age or length or relationship. When life goes awry for whatever reason, how do you manage your emotional response. Do your behaviours reflect maturity? When life doesn’t give you what you want or expect, how do you emotionally manage the situation, event or relationship.
When times are good in a relationship, both parties believe that they are on the same page, it’s when difficulties arise, they can appear to be poles apart in their strategies with dealing with the challenges. I’ve heard “I don’t even know this person”, “I couldn’t believe it when…” etc., it’s like they have met their “real” partner for the very first time. Strong people have been seen scampering in corners, curling up in the foetal position choosing to hide away for days on end. Others become the “hulk”, “a bull in a china shop” a “madwoman” or “princess bitch-face”- all of which affects their partner.
How emotionally compatible are you as a couple when dealing with life challenges, difficulties or differences? In other words, how well to you manage conflict in your life. When the relationship is in trouble holding on or trying to let go can feel like a game of tug-o-war with your partner, using the strands as weapons.
A healthy relationship recognises and acknowledges the emotional content of the challenge and plays a supporting role if their partner has been affected without absorbing their partner’s emotions. Or have the capacity to sit together to discuss an agreed strategy or resolving conflict, whilst understanding and responding to the difficulties faced in a measured way.
Money doesn’t buy happiness but it does create options and opportunities. Sadly, in today’s society it can be a duel edge sword. Some relationships are so financially interwoven that they appear unravel-able to the point that it’s the only thing keeping the relationship together. There are families that cannot afford to stay together emotionally yet can’t afford to separate financially so they operate from a purely functional space. Using, withholding or misusing funds in relationships can cause fractures. Financial control is just another form of relational abuse.
Having financial compatibility in the relationship DOES NOT mean that both parties earn and/or financially contribute equally. It’s the VALUE you place on each other’s financial and non-financial contribution. It’s about the joint understanding and responsibility pertaining to finances, whether it be priorities, savings, spending, frugality, or frivolously spending whether it be for celebratory or fun determines the health of the relationship in this area.
Sexual attraction lust, sexual chemistry, sexual compatibility, playfulness and flirting – oh the excitement. The measurement of how sexually and physically attractive you are to your partner. Sexual compatible includes how sexually adventuristic you are, and whether libido levels on par both contribute to forming a strong sexual connection. Healthy relationships have shared understandings, equal interest, compatibility and initiation in a relationship.
Often when the sexual thread is out of whack – it tends to have a ripple effect on all the other strands of the relationship. One party may feel rejected, or one feels the other may be withholding sex when angry, etc all play into an unhealthy relationship. When the relationship is out of kilter, sex can be the first strand to fray for some whereas for others, depending on the level of importance sex holds in their life, it’s the last – fearing once they lose interest in that area of the relationship, it’ll be hard for them to get back on track.
This strand refers to the way in which you view the world, what is your perspective, your lens on life and of others. It’s the mental plus emotional fusion that develops your opinions, your fundamental belief systems, your judgements and values. Mostly, drawn from lived experiences that have shaped the way in which your views are formed. How do you feel about social issues, political views, religious pursuits, environment concerns, etc. This is an incredibly important strand – most wars are caused and continue to be fought over having differing views or beliefs.
For many, these are the deal breakers, the non-negotiable elements of the relationship, particularly around dysfunctional behaviours such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, etc. Especially when addictive behaviours are at play, generally accompanied with unbecoming character traits such as dishonesty, deceit, cheating, betrayal, etc. It is the latter that partner’s find the hardest to understand, reconcile, overcome or forgive.
Remember, we are all as unique as fingerprints, there is no two of us alike anywhere on the planet. Therefore, we will not view the world exactly the same as anyone else. We all have different tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes, but it’s how we respect each other’s beliefs, discuss differences and engage in discussion without being abrasive to people we love, sets the tone for a healthy relationship.
The Two Caveats
Historical Significance (more aligned to friendships)
This one falls into the outer basket of categorisation as it is often only history that has kept a connection alive. This is highlighted when reunions and occasional catch up with old friends whereby the only thing they have in common is their shared past. They are grappling around in shared experiences to keep the conversation alive. The only highlights are shown in conversation starters with “remember when” or “whatever happen to” or “what about the time when” or “who’s heard from” seem to be the only entrée to group conversation and perhaps reliving old times again and again.
However, this becomes particularly troublesome in a romantic relationship when there is a sense it has become stale for no particular reason or an underlying feeling of “owing” the other person for a past loyalty or life decision. The only strand keeping it going has been the history i.e. too much time has been invested, or too much time has passed, or we’ve been through too much or its all too late. Regardless of the of health or condition of the strands, it is now just going through the motions of a life with another. It’s reached acceptance of till death us do part.
Traumatic Life Events (One off or Unexpected Events)
Having children, a death of a love one, loss of a job, extended family dramas and many other major life events external to the relationship or out of your control, but nonetheless, have an impact on the strength of the strands. Getting external help through avenues such as counselling or support groups is the best way to assist and navigate your way through these uncertain times and events.
Relationships are ever changing and evolving – the longer you are together the greater the chance of having to ride the ebbs and flows, face difficult challenges and endure external forces.
If your relationship starts to breakdown and the strands begin to fray – hopefully this information will help you to organise your thoughts, gain clarity around where attention and love is needed and help pinpoint the fracture in the individual strand.
Remember, all relationships will endure pressure and change so the strength of a relationship will be continually tested. Seeking expert advice and help can mend bridges, improve communication, resolve conflict and repair frayed strands to get the relationship back on track.
Narelle Brigden Counselling, 2018
WARNING - Are you on a quest for authenticity or finding your bliss? STOP!! You could be making a HUGE mistake
|Posted on 20 May, 2014 at 21:25||comments (41)|
Recently, there has been a new age wave in the helping profession that I am finding both concerning and disturbing - I like to call them “insighters”. Those wanting to ‘spread their word’ on their meaning of life - or worse, tell you how you should live yours (for a small fee - of course). They come under many guises such as Action Coach, Life Expert, Life Specialist, Life Mentor, Motivator, Passion Driver, Positive Energy Consultant, just to name but a few. Sadly, all of who are unqualified, unregistered and certainly have no experience in mental health or well-being.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe there are roles for specific coaches and mentors in relevant fields. If you are looking for a Coach or Business Mentor there are many talented and reputable ones that have specialised industry knowledge or executive coaches who have had a successful career with a minimum of 5-10 years in a mid/large corporate in a senior position. There are also personal trainers or coaches, who hold the appropriate qualifications, targeting a specific need in your life ie to get into shape or be physically healthier. Fortunately, these professionals know where to draw the line in what they are trained in and what they are not.
I’m talking about the ones who fabricate their business upon attending a few “rah rah” events, a couple of marketing and networking functions, and reading the complete series of “self-help”books and articles, lifting the insights of accomplished others, such as the swelling trend for Dr Brene Brown, Deepak Chopra, Adrianna Huffington, Anthony Robbins, Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, Gary Zukov, Dr Phil, Rev TD Jakes and many other TED talkers. Their website and Facebook feeds are usually filled with platitudes – you know the ones that only belong on fridge magnets ie find your bliss, the world is yours for the taking, dare to suck, etc. They are clearly montaging others’ slogans, wise words, famous quotes, findings and insights. Academics call this plagiarism and this does not make them qualified professionals. WARNING - Don’t be sucked into the hype….
I’m seeing far too many people, particularly women, fallen victim to this hype and have, through their PAID “reach your full potential” process, made regrettable life decisions, broken valued relationships, lost family, friends and jobs. Here as just a few examples:-
“your spouse has been holding you back from reaching your full potential”
“Ignore your partners needs, you deserve to put “YOU” first”
“your friend was being 'negative' and they are 'toxic' and you must rid them from your life”.
“your family has to understand that you need to be more selfish and pursue your dream”.
“your children just have to come to terms that your ‘you’ time is essential for everyone to be happy’ – their needs are secondary”
I can’t begin to tell you how damaging these statements have been. Sadly, many of these NOW broken relationships, were loved ones being honest enough to tell them the truth, for which the client has come to recognise all too late. So, who ultimately pays the price and whose pockets are being lined…
A professional would help you to establish clear and healthy boundaries around ALL relationships – they would never suggest to “rid” people from your life. They work together with your partner to address the importance of your needs being met. A therapist would work closely with your family to establish priorities and schedules so that everyone has shared responsibility and time. As humans, we thrive on connectivity with others – not walking solo to your dreams where your personal successes will feel hollow.
Unbelievably, people are being hooked by the marketing of these sites, completely smothered in platitudes, stunning photography and promises of a whole new life. I was gobsmacked to learn that very few people look for professional qualifications when seeking help or guidance on such important issues. This concerns me on so many levels, but here is just a few: -
· Those that go looking for help or searching for answers, are at their most vulnerable hoping to find a magic bullet for their problems.
· Unfortunately, those without appropriate training and qualifications only see the potential dollars signs not the social, legal and ethical responsibility to act in the best interests of the client. Trained professionals are held accountable by their registered organisation.
· Clients that have experienced a traumatic event or loss such as a relationship breakdown, redundancy, loss of a family member, etc are left wide open for re-traumatisation from the approach of a non-experienced and untrained professional.
· Some people are feeling pressured to make a decision that they are uncomfortable with in search for “their true bliss” or under the auspices of being “authentic”.
· Not being emotionally prepared for such a directive approach may lead some clients into depression and/or anxiety.
· The feeling of being overwhelmed may have a negative impact on self-esteem or self-worth.
It’s never easy finding the right source or approach for help and unfortunately; no legislation prohibits these people from working from this platform. But here are four (4) hard and fast rules to follow to avoid falling victim:-
1. Look for their professional qualifications – not their marketing prowess. A minimum degree in psychology, counselling, social work or mental health should be a starting point. People work hard to obtain their educational qualifications, those that have it will display it proudly front and centre. If you’re struggling to find a clear recognised qualification – YOU’RE ON THE WRONG WEBSITE.
2. Look for their registration, for the counselling profession in Australia, look for memberships to either the Australian Counselling Association or members of PACFA. Each member has to obtain a minimum level of qualifications to be accredited with further ongoing professional development and supervision to maintain their registration. Those requiring a mental health plan via a psychologist can be referred by their family doctor.
3. Look for their expert experience usually the ‘about me’ section of their website should contain their resume of the what, when, where and how of their professional career. This should not be “how I was a drop down drunk and turned myself around”, or “I went all eat, pray, love and found myself”. Successful people are proud of their work achievements and will always highlight and showcase the details.
4. Look for their office address or professional offices. Unless YOUR special circumstances require it, most professionals will want to work with you in person. A big part of effective counselling is the working relationship between the client and the therapist.
Once the above is established, you have at least completed a filter that personally and professionally protects your mental and psychological well-being. If you’re looking for some inspiration and motivation in your life, save your money and do what the “insighters” do - make Google your best friend.
Warning – no plagiarism! But please – feel free to share (a lot).
Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Executive Coach
Grad. Dip, Counselling
© Narelle Brigden Counselling, 2014
|Posted on 3 March, 2013 at 18:56||comments (180)|
How to Fight Fair
I've always believed that when parents adopt the "stop fighting" stance when their children are roughhousing or arguing, prevents teaching the "how to be in relationship with others" lesson.
Parents are often overwhelmed with the noise, frequency, inequality, velocity and viciousness of the fighting. By instructing children to "stop fighting" may feel like an appropriate response to unacceptable behaviour that receives an immediate response. It may work initially, however, the behaviour continues, the response becomes less and less effective and parents become exasperated with repeating themselves without success or progress.
By continuing this spiral, parents are missing the valuable opportunity to teach children to understand, empathise, listen, forgive and say those two hardest words, "I'm sorry". Even more importantly, the lesson of demonstrating and learning how to patch relationships effectively after an argument when you are right and when you are wrong. In other words, teaching your child to "fight fair".
We all develop our communication style at these tender ages based on their relationships, modelling and experiences. As we grow older, socially more acceptable ways are learnt in different environments such as school, work and their social groups, again using modelling and socially acceptable behaviour. And in the same way and during this time, our life opinions are being formed, we are learning some valuable social lessons and we are discovered how we "fit in". In other words, we are learning to navigate the relationship labyrinth of our external and internal worlds.
Many events along the way, jolt us, pull the rug out from under us, knock us of 6, etc and we find ourselves floundering and not knowing how to handle things, approach issues or confront difficult circumstances and people. Why?? Because we were never learnt to "fight fair" and therefore, could never have learnt how to.
When these occur, we revert to our earliest style as a default position which could be name calling, isolation and exclusion of people, not talk/ignore, gossip about people, sabotage, ridiculing, etc. We believe we are punishing the other person, when in actual fact - we just don't know what else to do.
In the process our behaviour is being witnessed and judge by others ie "would she treat me like that if we had a falling out", "I didn't think he was capable of that", "she has some real issues - I think I'll start distancing myself from her", etc.
Does these comments sound familiar? You may even have had these type of thoughts with some of your own friends behaviours. You may have sense these comments and judgements from your friends and family.
Here below are some examples - see which one most describes you:
Do you feel as though some people are avoiding you, sense people are gossiping about you and feel unwanted in social situations? You may be feeling like there is something wrong with you, or people don't like you or you're being tolerated.
Have you found yourself in sticky situations, awkward relationships or difficult partnerships which continues because you don't know what else to do? Have you found yourself gossiping, negative people consuming way too much of your time and thoughts? are you continuing friendships that should have ended long ago? Are you avoiding people or ignoring people?
The first example is generally the result of someone who is OVERT in their conflict style and second is the example of someone who is COVERT in their conflict style. Both have the same affect - neither have their needs met. On the surface, Example 1 may seem to be honest, pushy or direct and Example 2 may seem to be polite, respectful and honest, but really neither want to be this way in their relationships.
Because the relationships in your life are important, learn how to get your voice heard and establish healthy boundaries without being abrasive to another person. Become the person that you admire.
As humans, inevitably, we will disagree, have a differing opinion, come from another perspective, have opposing beliefs, like differing things, etc. and we will argue our point. The way in which we address these determines how we carry ourselves into the future and learn behaviours that you can be personally and honestly proud of.
Learn how to access, process and address these issues and turn your relationships around.
As everyone has different styles and issues, I develop and tailor a detailed plan to address specific areas of improvement and development, call 0419 264 852 for a personal consultation.
|Posted on 15 February, 2012 at 18:53||comments (143)|
The latest research suggests that 67% of recently married couples end in divorce. Expectantly, second marriages, third and so on, the percentages increase exponentially. This is a worrying statistic and appears to be on the rise including a gender shift in infidelity with an increase of more than 45% of married women now claiming to have had an affair/s in the last 10 years.
Although many factors contribute to a marriage breakdown, people citing "excess baggage" being brought from one relationship into another, in reference to their partner, ie THEIR children, THEIR past relationships, THEIR family as a key feature in the demise of the marriage. However, the hangover from a previous marriage is not about the people but rather the relationship that they had with those significant others.
I know that it may seem like I'm splitting hairs here, but what I'm really talking about here is YOU ie how you relate to another person, your traits, your behaviours, your emotional responses. In other words, how you communicate "in relationship" with another person.
All too often, couples go to counselling to "fix" their spouse. My general response is "I can't fix them, but I can help you". Wherein, the one question that should be asked by couples in counselling is, "what can I do to repair this relationship?" This question shifts the focus towards having you think about the way you interact in relation to this other person, and how this may impact your marriage. This provides a positive platform to undertake discussion around working together on specific areas for improvement, rather than the defensive position that most couples adopt, not dissimilar to those preparing for battle.
I realise that this is a monumental step and often very difficult for anyone to take, particularly amidst the heated emotion of marital disputes, but a necessary one as you move forward in life, whether that is with or, unfortunately, without your partner.
A Successful Divorce or a Destructive Divorce.
You have to work as hard to get out of the marriage as you did to get into it and it is only complete when you have no unfinished emotional business with the other person.
Counselling provides the necessary skills and tools for couples to better relate to each other, in particular, resolving conflict. In other words, how to "fight fair". You see, airing grievances is considered healthy, yes, that's right very healthy. What most people tend to lack is the ammunition to fight in a way that does not have a negative impact on their significant other.
"It's not what you say, its the way you say it". I know this sounds cliche but truly think about this, how did you learn to fight?? Are you an overt fighter - do you end up screaming and yelling, throwing things, name calling.. Or are you a covert/passive fighter - do you "stonewall" that is not talk (the dreaded silent treatment), not engage in the fight or give any response or if you're lucky a shrug or mumble - - it sounds like I'm describing a 4yo in the midst of a tantrum and a belligerent teenager.
Well, would it surprise you to learn that this may be your natural default response position? Often these default positions may have served us well in the past, particularly through childhood and adolescence, but now are no longer effective. Through counselling, together, we deconstruct your default position and develop a new way of working though relationship issues that benefit not just this relationship but all people you are "in relationship" with and all future relationships including work, family, friends, etc.
Why is this so important? Because if the marriage is irreconcilable, and if we are to believe the statistics - many are, what have you learnt from that marital experience that you take into the next relationship:-
a. more excess emotional baggage or
b. better communication and relationships skills.
Post Grad. Dip., Counselling
Manly, NSW 2095
Mobile: 0419 264 852
*Names change for privacy.