Monthly Archives: May 2020

The 5 Ps of a Relationship

There is an abundance of relationship advice to be found in books and all over the internet. The truth is that each relationship will have its differences that can’t necessarily be captured in a few lines or chapters. That said, I would like to add some observations of what seems to be consistently brought into the counselling room – five areas that, when worked at, seem to bring the best ‘return on investment’. Although there is no particular order, I find that starting with the first one helps with the others:

  • Pause. We all have a tendency to be reactive. Whether that reaction is to argue, become defensive or retreat into ourselves it is an almost instant reaction that we have unknowingly developed and held onto for years. An often deceivingly difficult task is to pause before we react, to think before we speak, to reflect before we do anything. With enough practice, and the right guidance, we can choose how we would like to respond. A response is far more helpful than a reaction, which tends to be instant and comes from a place of insecurity or defensiveness. Pausing before we give a reply allows us to respond truly to what has been said – to see it for what it really is – rather than how we interpret it.
  • Perspective. Not only are we all different, but those differences are not always acknowledged or appreciated. If we are reacting rather than responding, we will interpret things how we see them rather than for what they are. Acknowledging our differences and our interpretations allows us to be more understanding of the other person’s experience and communication. It is also helpful if we can understand the context in which they are communicating – are they stressed? Did they not have a good night’s sleep? Are they hungry? Do they generally feel unheard by us? Knowing each other’s differences is key, and so is knowing their current state of mind and where they are coming from.
  • Positives. I sometimes hear relationships described in terms of a bank account. That every argument makes a withdrawal from the ‘funds’. The more arguments and fall-outs that occur, the closer you are to zero. Or, in other instances, the further into debt you go. What allows an argument to be just an argument is not only putting it into context (and perhaps being forgiving – we’re both stressed right now…) but to also have a reserve of positive experiences to fall back onto. Or, to use the bank analogy, to be in credit so that when you make a withdrawal you’re not close to, or passed, zero. It seems straightforward in that sense – if we have five or ten positive experiences (however small) for every hurtful or ‘negative’ experience, we’re doing alright.
  • Prevention. The military definition of a preemptive strike does not lend itself well to a relationship but there is much to be said for preemptive conversations as a way of laying the groundwork for future arguments or disagreements. If we can clearly and honestly share what works for us (needing space after an argument or needing to vent to a close friend) it prevents misinterpretations (avoidance, sharing private experiences). If practiced enough times we will be allowed that space to experience what helps us without judgement or feeling that we have to appease. It is then important to acknowledge what works for both parties, and to compromise a sort of ‘game plan’ for repairing and getting back on track.
  • Presence. It is great to see the upward trend of mindfulness and meditation (apps, blogs, entire websites), and I would argue that such practices have a place in most aspects of our well-being. Specifically in a relationship it allows us to draw our attention to the other person, to put aside other stresses (as much as possible) and commit to the moment. Modern life is rife with distractions, and it is so easy to put a box-set on when the day has been stressful and tiring. Sometimes what we need is to switch off and unwind. But try to keep the ratio of quality one-to-one time in your favour, and be present for each other. Listen, take your time, focus on what they are saying. Give the relationship the time it needs during periods of stress or inadvertent distance.

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Forgiveness as a conscious effort

Why is it important to forgive? Should we forgive? Can we forgive but not forget? I often speak with people about the wrongs that have happened in their lives, and more specifically how other people have wronged them, upset them, caused them to feel unwanted or unimportant. There are many things to explore in this sort of dynamic and experience.

For one, it is useful to explore the feelings, of course, as it always is. Another thing is exploring the other person’s perspective – to look at what might have caused them to behave in that way. Shifting the perspective to another’s perspective often gives a sense of compassion and understanding. But still there is sometimes a lingering feeling that does not go away, even once the feelings have been explored and they have put themselves in another’s shoes.

What seems to remain is a conscious effort to forgive. We are not taught how to forgive. We are told, often, that we should forgive. Or, in some instances to forget. But forgiveness is not easy or straightforward. And interestingly, it is not for the other person’s sake that we should forgive. Of course, that’s an honourable thing to do.

But I advocate for forgiveness as a means of self-care, and a way of allowing yourself to move forward into the next chapter. It is through forgiveness that we can allow the chains of the past to fall away, to let the emotions that tie us to the past to dissipate.

It is a lovely thought if we all forgave each other, but it is more important, for our own sake, to forgive those that have hurt us. To hold on to the past, and the experience of trauma or distress, is to prevent a new beginning from happening. There is something so primal about wanting to hold on to the anger, but it is not rational, nor is it helpful. What is better, for all, is the practice of forgiving.

What counselling can offer is a space to process the feelings of hurt, disappointment, rejection, betrayal… to explore reasons that the other person did what they did… and most importantly counselling is a space to practice the sometimes difficult task of forgiving others, of letting go of those feelings that weigh so heavily on our journey.

We need to consciously move in to the next phase, and let go of all the things that keep us living in the past, of re-experiencing the hurt. It is always a good time to learn the art of forgiveness.

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Mental Health Awareness Week

I’ve been procrastinating for a while now about writing a blog and this week has motivated me to get started. Mainly because it is Mental Health Awareness Week, and sometimes procrastination can actually be part of a broader issue with mental and emotional health. One way of improving our collective mental health is through removing the stigma and mystery around it.

It seems that the stigma is being challenged with a week such as this. There are also TV shows like After Life and My Mad Fat Diary. What remains, however, is the mystery behind mental health. I think most people know on some level that ‘good mental health’ is what we all would like to be aiming for, but I think it is less clear what that actually means.

‘To be happy’ is too vague; dependant on each person; and often sets our expectations too high. We have to find something more honest, more achievable if we are to feel better.

What is it, then, that defines ‘good mental health’? There’s a lyric from Asher Roth that says, “Happiness isn’t about getting what you want all the time; it’s, it’s about loving what you have”. This may seem impossible for some and difficult for others but the basic premise of it is something that is worked through in counselling – that we all have the power to shift our focus, to change our perception slightly so that we can look at the same thing but experience a different response. Or put another way – we can empower ourselves by changing where our attention is and this can have a powerful, positive impact on our mental health. If we are conditioned to look at what we don’t have, we are inevitably going to feel that we are failing or that other people have it better. We need to be kinder to ourselves and notice what we have achieved – in doing so we can mitigate the impact of depression, isolation, anger, stress or fear.

We forget that we are in control of things, and in losing sight of this fact we also give rise to other issues like anxiety, phobias or obsessions. Counselling can be a way of reminding ourselves that we are more in control than we think. And counselling can then be a place to work out how to regain that control. Shifting our focus is one way but there are many ways to do so. Feeling more in control of things brings a sense of calm, contentment and satisfaction. It is then, hopefully, that our mental health is more in line with where it needs to be.

Photo by Mateusz Dach from Pexels