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 Treatment for alcohol and drug problems is far more accessible these days.  Most GPs and healthcare providers have both the training and resources to spot problem drinking and drug abuse, and to offer helpful interventions.  The NHS provides counselling, support services, even detox programmes and rehab services. 

Addiction of all sorts – alcohol, prescription drugs, food, gambling, on-line addictions, is thought to affect one-in-three of the UK population.  Thanks to a destigmatisation of addiction, many of us have a friend or family member “in recovery”.

 What happens, though, when a partner is affected by addiction?  What happens to a relationship when one partner is using drugs, alcohol or other behaviours addictively?  At LoveRelations, the specialist relationship psychotherapy practice, we see a large number of couples whose relationship is adversely affected by alcohol or drugs.

It can be hard to approach, in the therapeutic process, when the drinking or using partner maintains that “they are fine”, that the only harm done is to themselves.  In many cases, the alcoholic or addict seems to function well on the outside.  Often he or she holds down a job, pays the household bills, is sociable up to a point. 

Dr David Perl, founder of LoveRelations, and specialist relationship psychotherapist, maintains that “functioning well at work” is a dangerous smokescreen when it comes to relationships and prevents many partners looking at their drinking or other addictions and the damage it causes to their personal lives.

Recent figures from NHS England and the Office of National Statistics (ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, 2018) show that drinking rises steadily with socioeconomic status.  High earners in professional jobs such as doctors, lawyers and teachers are much more likely to be regular and heavier alcohol users than those on average incomes.

There is less statistical information on drug abuse – whether recreational drugs or prescription drugs – among professional people, but the British Medical Association estimates that one in fifteen medical professionals has a “substance abuse” problem.

In 2017, the Westminster Drug Project set up Square Mile Health, a charitable initiative to provide alcohol and drugs support services to the estimated 200,000 City of London workers thought to be affected by addiction.

 “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr Perl.  “We see more and more couples at LoveRelations, who are seriously affected by one partner’s alcohol or substance abuse .”  He goes on: “And it’s not unusual for this partner to still be functioning apparently well at work, often earning a high salary.”

 What are the consequences of untreated alcoholism or addiction on a relationship?  Ruth Perl, a relationship psychotherapist says: “The effects of addiction can be subtle as well as obvious, but they are always extremely damaging.”

 “Often the using partner tells a string of lies to cover his or her addiction.  Trust within the relationship breaks down and partners – quite understandably – maintain they can’t believe anything anymore.”

 “There are  also the pernicious effects of unpredictable behaviour,” says Ruth.  “We often hear partners at LoveRelations, talking about “walking on eggshells.”  One partner is constantly defending against the possibility of an outburst.  All real communication and intimacy is sacrificed to keep the fragile peace.”

 She continues: “Of course, there are also the overt and very damaging behaviours that go hand-in-hand with alcohol abuse and substance addiction – domestic violence, infidelity, financial mis-management.  Whatever the behaviour, the effects on the relationship are devastating.”

 Is it possible to heal a relationship damaged by addiction?  At LoveRelations, we see couples committed to making a real change to their relationship.  The process is a tough one, and often it requires the using partner to make some sort of commitment to sobriety and abstinence.

 David Perl says: “If alcohol or drugs are damaging a relationship, then removing the alcohol or drugs might need to be the first step to repair.  At LoveRelations, we work with individuals to help them achieve sobriety, whether through one-to-one psychotherapy, a 12-step support group or combination of these things.”

 David also encourages the other partner to find a support group:  “the family support groups such as Al-Anon or Adfam can be an invaluable resource for partners struggling with the effects of addiction in their relationship.”

 “In the relationship therapy, we work with couples in active addiction, with those struggling with sobriety or abstinence, and with those now free from the substance itself, trying to heal from the consequences of addiction.  It’s a tough process.”

 Couples therapy with addiction requires specialist psychotherapy.  David and Ruth, who have been married for over thirty years, both agree that a relationship in recovery can be a fragile one.

 Ruth says: “Trust has been broken time and time again.  The newly recovering alcoholic or addict must prove to his or her partner that they are working hard on their addiction and that they understand the damage done to the relationship.

 She says: “At LoveRelations, we encourage couples who are newly sober or abstinent to not just look at the damage addictions has done, but how they would like their relationship to look from now on.”

 “Destructive though addiction can be, recovery and entering relationship therapy can mark the start of a new beginning.  If all the resentment, mis-trust and anger can be worked through, a relationship in recovery can become stronger and far happier than one clouded by alcohol or substance abuse.

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Affair recovery forms a large part of our work at LoveRelations.  About half the couples we work with are seeking help after the disclosure or discovery of some sort of infidelity.  There is always a lot of pain and anger from both parties, when an infidelity happens.  Many partners believe their relationship will never recover. 

At LoveRelations we do believe that a relationship can recover after an affair and, in many cases, emerge as a stronger and more truthful one.  There is a lot of hard work by both partners that needs to be done if healing is to happen.  Trust is not re-built over night. 

 However, it seems that some partners experience greater difficulty in this process than others.  I have been struck by two often co-occuring states of being in my work with couples after an affair.  The first is the lack of comprehension by the betrayer of the true effect of what he or she has done.  Secondly, and this tragically seems to go hand in hand with the non-comprehending partner’s state, is a highly traumatised response to the discovery of an infidelity.

 The partner who has been betrayed is emotionally tortured and humiliated when knowledge of the infidelity emerges.  They are clearly in trauma and experience the same array of symptoms that professionals describe as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Similar to any others who have suffered threats to their emotional well-being and security, they are disoriented and confused by what has happened. 

Relationship partners of both genders experience similar of the classical symptoms of PTSD:

  • Repeated intrusive thoughts
  • Unstable emotional regulation
  • Out of body experiences
  • Alternating between feeling numb and striking out in retaliation
  • Inability to stop scanning for any new data that might cause more distress
  • Feeling overwhelmingly powerless and broken
  • Needing to regain self-worth by assigning blame
  • Confusion and disorientation.

 One female partner told me recently: “Every time I shut my eyes, all I can see are images of him having sex with her.  It’s so graphic.  Even when I’m awake, it runs in front of my eyes like a film.” 

This particular client discovered that her husband had visited an old girlfriend, several times in the past 18 months.  For him, it meant very little.  “I shouldn’t have done it.  It was like drinking too much on a night out – stupid and irresponsible but not the end of the world.”

 For his partner, however, a series of trauma responses have been unleashed, which add to the pain of the original discovery.  She describes very physical responses: “Everytime his phone bleeps, I feel sick.  I walk into a supermarket and suddenly am in floods of tears and panic.  I can barely remember what I walked in to the shop for.”

 Just as distressing, this partner seems unable to stop scanning her environment for signs of threat.  “If he’s late for work, I believe it’s because he’s visiting her.  If he comes home early, I think it’s so he can call her while I’m still at work.  If he puts a new shirt on, it’s because he’s going to meet her. I’m exhausted with the speed at which my brain works.”

 Her partner can be quite dismissive about her responses.  “I can’t win,” he said angrily, in one session.  “I can’t look at my phone without provoking a hysterical response or an angry accusation.”

 Is it possible to heal from all this mis-trust and distress?  At LoveRelations, we believe that if both partners are committed to specific roles in the healing of the distress, then recovery can happen.  When there is a trauma type response to the discovery of a betrayal, then the quality of the therapeutic work is doubly important.

 The traumatised partner needs to see that his or her response is exactly that.  This needs to be a skilful piece of work between therapist and client.  The therapist should never minimise or condone the hurt, but instead help the traumatised client understand some of their responses.  Some psycho-education around PTSD can be helpful for both parties.

 Many partners who develop PTSD type symptoms in response to the discovery of a betrayal, will have experienced threats of loss or harm in the past.  This might be in the current relationship, in a previous and, confusingly for some clients, be meshed with attachment trauma in early childhood.  Sadly, often all three are caught up in the trauma response.

 In the one-to-one therapy, which we offer at LoveRelations, we encourage the betrayed partner to look at previous threats or abandonments and gain a better understanding of why they may be experiencing such strong trauma responses.  Separating  the past from the present is an important part of healing.

  We also urge the so-called betraying partner to enter more empathically into his or her partner’s world.  Once both partners understand how likely it is that a betrayed partner will show the symptoms of PTSD, they realise that the healing process is the same for all traumas.  The betraying partner must simultaneously play the dual roles as an ally to his or her partner’s healing and a seeker of absolution from the very person they have wounded.  They are legitimately on trial for invalidating the worth of their primary relationship.  The more committed the betrayer is to the process, the sooner his or her partner will be able to heal.

 The partner experiencing PTSD will most likely have wildly swinging mood changes, emerging experiences of underlying unresolved issues, and agonising waves of grief.  While simultaneously feeling the need to strike back, run away or feel immobilised, they must learn to self-soothe, create resilience, seek outside support, and commit to a renewed faith in a better future indeed.

This is delicate work and not for the faint hearted.  We at LoveRelations have real evidence that recovery is possible but it requires commitment and skilled support.

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 Money, despite what any of us want to believe about “love conquering all”, matters more than almost other issue in relationships.  According to one US survey, money is the number one issue married couples fight about.  In the UK, money disagreements are the second biggest cause of divorce, only a small way behind infidelity, according to a 2017 survey by Relate (www.relate.org.uk).

And yet, the same Relate survey, only one in ten couples has a discussion about money, before they commit to sharing a house, getting married or having children – indeed any step which signifies to them a committed relationship.

At LoveRelations, we see many couples in crisis point in their relationship, where money is the major cause of disagreement.  As a relationship psychotherapist, I find myself asking all too frequently: “Did you and your partner ever have a conversation about money?”, knowing that for many, this topic was easier to ignore in the early, exciting stages of a relationship.

Many relationships today begin when each partner has some financial “history”, both good and bad.  By this, we mean a salary, perhaps a property, savings and a pension, but also some debt, credit card bills, mortgage, child support from a previous relationship.  Furthermore, it’s rate that both partners earn the same or are even in a similar income rage.

 At LoveRelations, we encourage each partner to be completely open with the other about income and about debt or fixed costs.  We notice how difficult this can be for couples to be completely frank about their individual finances.  One couple we have been working with recently each disclosed a large credit card debt which they had been hiding from the other.  For many partners, there is an enormous amount of shame attached to what they earn and what they might owe.

The second step we encourage at LoveRelations, is a frank discussion about attitudes towards money.  Many partners blithely assume that their over half shares their “save at least 10%” belief or their “what’s left over each month, is ours to enjoy” attitude.  And when these two different attitudes towards spending and saving occur, the scope for resentment is huge. 

Money is so much more than currency.  It is an energetic form which we as human beings project love, security, esteem and worth on to.  Finding out what money means to our partner is a fundamental step in establishing the sort of relationship we want and need.

Establishing each of our attitudes towards money, allows couples to then set some joint boundaries around money.  What is a prudent amount to save?  What is reasonable to spend on going out or on holidays?  Does that sit well with our partner? 

An integral part of this discussion should be about financial goals.  Again, many couples assume their partner knows and concurs with their plan to pay off the mortgage in five years, or to put two children through university education.  At LoveRelations, we encourage partners to set out where they want to be in five years’ time, or ten years’ time?  What are steps the couple needs to take to get there?

Perhaps the biggest financial hurdle a couple faces is when there is a difference in income.  When one partner earns a considerable amount and the other less so, it is not uncommon for shame and resentment to build up.  One couple we work with at LoveRelations had enjoyed a blissful early part of their relationship, eating out regularly, enjoying long weekends abroad, regularly taking taxis.  In her shame and fear, the lesser earning (female) partner had neither said that she couldn’t financial match this lifestyle, nor set out what she could afford to contribute to the couple’s social activities.  Her higher earning partner, who was equally reluctant to talk about finances, held no expectation that she should match him, yet he was full of resentment that she seemed reluctant to offer to pick up some of the smaller bills.

When the couple began to talk, to really look at their assumptions and expectations, it became obvious that the lack of communication had been the cause of all their resentments.  In their LoveRelations therapy, this couple was able to draw up some guidelines around who paid for what, with the higher earner picking up  some of the larger bills and the lower earning, contributing in a smaller but nevertheless significant way.

Some couples and indeed some relationship therapists have very fixed ideas on the rights and wrongs of joint or separate accounts.  “Marriage is a partnership”, writes one well-known relationship therapist in his regular blogs, “to maintain separate accounts is to undermine the fundamental principles of a shared venture.”

At LoveRelations, we help each couple find out what might work for them.  With some couples, we notice that one partner may be very keen on keeping a separate account. While there may be nothing wrong in principle in separate accounts be it may that a partner is holding on to something in secret.  “Financial infidelity” is the term used to describe a bank or savings account of stash of money, keep secret from a partner.  Just as romantic infidelity erodes trust, financial infidelity undermines all the principles of honesty and transparency so vital for a healthy relationship.

If a couple is to have separate accounts, it is often wise to have a joint account too.  We would encourage both parties to be frank around the individual and joint accounts.  What goes into each “pot”?  What are the rules for the joint account and what bills should come out of it.  One couple we are working with has an agreement that any purchase over £100 cannot be made without the other’s consent.

For some partners, all the boundary setting and agreement making around money and spending can feel daunting.  “It’s so unromantic,” said one partner in a LoveRelations therapy session.  “I find it really embarrassing to talk about,” admitted another.

As a relationship psychotherapist, what I notice is that every couple feels great relief when they begin to communicate around money. Relationships are ultimately about partnership and each party will bring a different dynamic to the partnership.  It is only through honest communication that each of us can set out our needs and our goals.  Money might not be the “root of all evil”, but not talking is the catalyst of so many relationship miseries.

 

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Secrets and shame can seem like the vert landscape of couples psychotherapy.  At LoveRelations, we work with couples from all walks of life – married, co-habiting, same-sex, mixed race, none of the above.  Many come and talk about “lack of intimacy” or “loss of connection.  Our job, as relationship psychotherapists, is to allow partners to feel safe enough to scratch the surface of his or her relationship.

Here the secrets often lie. “I’m still seeing an ex-girlfriend,” says one client.  “I watch pornography all the time at work and at home.  I don’t get aroused by ordinary sex any more,” says another.  The secret is made and kept to preserve the relationship it is now undermining.

But what if the secret is about more than what we do?  What if the secret is about who we are, and this is deemed too shameful and too damaging to bring to a relationship?  I have been struck by working with many clients who struggle with an aspect of themselves filled with shame and secrecy.

Robert and Sarah are in their mid-forties.  They both have successful careers in broadcast media and have lived together for nine years.  Sarah wants to have children and for their relationship to be formalised in some way.   Robert says he is confused as to whether “Sarah is the one”.  Hurt and confusion have ensued. 

Robert has affairs with men.  “Not always,” he says in his one-to-one therapy.  “But I need sex with men to give me that intimacy and connectedness I can’t feel with a female partner, no matter how much I love her.”

Robert doesn’t want to lose his relationship.  Nor can he imagine life without having relationships with men. “How can I commit to one person if I have to give up 50 per cent of who I am” he asks.  Yet he is not comfortable with the term bisexual, nor does he identify as heterosexual or as a gay man.  Robert is full of shame around his secret acting out. 

Whilst labels might not be important, according to the American writer and LGBT activist, Dan Savage, he maintains:  “Most adult bi-sexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite sex relationships.  Statistics support his assertion.  The massive 2013 PEW Research LGBT survey found 84 per cent of self-identified bisexuals in a committed relationship have a partner of the opposite sex, while only 9 per cent are in same sex relations.

The reasons for this are varied. Although there’s a dearth of research into whether bisexuals are choosing relationships which appear “straight” to the outside world, there’s no shortage of research revealing that bisexuals live under uniquely intense pressure in both the LGBT community and the hetero-normative ones.

While statistics might offer some comfort to Robert, in normalising his sexual fluidity, he remained bound up with shame.  In his one-to-one therapy sessions, Robert berated himself for not being neither a gay man nor a straight man.  Furthermore, he called himself a coward for fearing what his colleagues and friends might say, if they discovered his attraction to men. 

Many therapists urge full disclosure.  I know of some relationship therapists who work with a “behaviour contract” – it’s OK to have same sex attraction, to have a fetish, to cross dress – whatever the so-called behavioural aberration, but clients must make a contract with their partner not to act out.

Perhaps this helps some couples.  In our work at LoveRelations, we often encourage couples to discuss and formally set out what constitutes cheating or breaking the boundary in their own relationship.

My work with Robert and Sarah has challenged me to look more compassionately at secrets within a relationship.  Secrets are a maladaptive way of coping with shame and shame is corrosive to self-esteem, to relationship with others and above all, relationship to self. 

Most human beings seek connectedness but to be connected, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to be seen, really seen, by another.  Life is often lonely for the bisexual man or woman.  They believe they are just one piece of information away from being abandoned by the closest people in their lives.  Being “gay” is not an identity they are prepared to assume.  They don’t feel wholly comfortable in the heterosexual community where they must continue to edit their thoughts and behaviours so as not be discovered. 

 How does psychotherapy help a couple like Robert and Sarah?  My belief – based on the many years’ experience we have working with couples – is that we start by gently exploring the shame and the secrecy.  What is it that one partner might be concealing from the other?  Where is the shame which is inextricably caught up in all of this?  Is it about a behaviour or interaction which is at odds with the relationship itself?  Or is it an aspect of the client’s very identity which is wrapped up with secrecy and denial?

For Robert, he needed some psychoeducation.  He needed to see that many men in partnerships with women experience same sex attraction.  Robert started to recognise that there are a vast number of UK citizens, not identifying as purely heterosexual. Data released by the Office of National Statistics (“ONS”) in 2017, shows that over 1,026,000 people in the UK identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual – an increase of almost 12% from the year before. 

There is still little concrete information on numbers of bisexual men and women who live in heterosexual relationships or marriages.  In Robert’s one-to-one psychotherapy at LoveRelations, he began to make sense of his attraction to men, alongside his desire to be with Sarah.  Robert began to understand that the non-binary states he occupied, were far from unusual.  During this process, he reported that some of the shame was beginning to drop away.

Shame and secrecy destroy relationships, and render intimacy and acceptance impossible.  While Robert and Sarah still have a long way to go as a couple, Robert is preparing to talk to Sarah and to share something of who he really is.  And as for me, I have learned ever more about the complexity of human beings and their relationships.

 

All names have bene changed

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There is no area of behaviour that human beings feel more shame around than sex. We can perhaps understand some of the origins of this culture of shame when we look at the historical values of religion or even modern sex education, with its emphasis on physical functions and pregnancy prevention.

As  relationship coaches and psychotherapists, we sit with couples from all walks of life, where at least one of the partners is affected by sexual shame. By sexual shame, we mean all the ways we come to feel that who we are as sexual beings - including how we think about sex, our sexual beliefs and values, our sexual desires and our sexual behaviours are wrong, fundamentally bad or evil, or more corrosive still, embarrassing.

Some families instil a sense of shame in children for having sexual feelings in the first place. Where parents talk about sex and sexual relationships with judgement or condemnation, children internalise the notion that “sex is wrong”. If there is an absence of appropriate touch between the parents, children grow up with no modelling of affection, tenderness or playfulness.

As children, we were sexually innocent, touching our genitals with no sense of shame or embarrassment. But soon, we were told to stop doing it, without any explanation as to why. We were often given silly names to refer to our penis or vagina, as if to use the correct name was somehow offensive. And if we were caught exploring our bodies while playing childhood games, we were told off and made to feel ashamed and guilty. There are probably very few parents around who would explain to their children that masturbation is a normal and healthy activity and would encourage them just to enjoy it,

Since social media has become so powerful, it has become a common area for harassment. For example, the expression “slut shaming” is often used online when teenage girls are being criticised (shamed) for their sexual expression or assumed sexual experiences. Boys are not immune either - taunts about penis size, sexual impotence or effeminacy are all too common and cause lasting damage.

Being shamed can affect anyone, but it especially affects those who don’t fit the so-called norm. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer / questioning (LGBTQ) are easy targets. They are recognised as being a high risk group for suicide and they often feel marginalised because of their sexuality. This is how shame hurts and destroys.

So what does sexual shame look like in couples psychotherapy. Sometimes at LoveRelations, clients are very clear - they are ashamed of their bisexuality, their cross-dressing, their on-line porn habit. More often, couples arrive in therapy and allude to “lack of intimacy”, or a “sexless marriage”.

Why aren’t these couples having sex? Once we’ve ruled out health problems, or a hidden affair - someone else in the picture is a very common cause and catalyst of a sexless marriage - then it’s worth exploring sexual shame. If one or both partners in the relationship has shame around their sexuality, or an aspect of their sexuality, or sexual functioning, it’s most likely they will keep it a secret. That’s how shame works.

The author and leading shame researcher, Brene Brown talks about guilt and shame in this way: “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful - it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

“Is shame is about the fear of losing your worthiness and social connections, sexual shame is all about feeling unloveable, unworthy of partnership and being branded abnormal”

Much of our work at LoveRelations is about helping couples detoxify some of their shame. It’s often in the one-to-one therapy sessions that a man may talk about erectile dysfunction. Sometimes clients will begin to talk about their discomfort in being sexual in the first place. Whilst they might know it’s a set of negative messages from childhood or from popular culture, still the shame persists. And because it’s so inextricably bound up with feeling “wrong” or “bad” then to talk about it feels nearly impossible. Hence the stalemate. No sex, no discussions.

There are many forms of sexual shame, just as there are all sorts of couples. What is similar, sadly, is the pain and silence which accompanied the suffering. At LoveRelations, we encourage couples to take the lid offs one of this shame. We look at what messages might have been acquired along the way to do with “good” and “bad” or “normal”. We create a safe space where couples can begin. To communicate, free from shame, judgement or even expectation.

Where there is sexual shame, there is always secrecy and silence. No relationship can flourish under these conditions. And every individual deserves to be free of their toxic shame.

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Introduction

“The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated people live their lives without even knowing of the possibility of such transformations. Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true will at the evening have become a lie”.  (Jung 1970)  A mid-life crisis, transition or transformation is usually experienced around the age of 40 plus or minus 20 years.  One of the first to write on the subject was the psychologist Carl Jung (O’Connor 1981) who struggled in his own mid-life and came up with the term individuation - the path towards wholeness, the journey to the Self at the core of one's being and is felt to be a normal part of the maturing process.   Not all people experience this transition but for some, a midlife crisis is very apparent and can be an uncomfortable time emotionally which may lead to significant psychological upheaval.  Those who struggle with this transitional stage might experience a range of feelings such as:

  • Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided them with happiness for many years.
  • Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to them before.
  • Feeling a need for adventure and change.
  • Questioning the choices, they have made in their lives and the validity of decisions they made years before.
  • Confusion about who they are and where they are going.
  • Anger at their spouse and blaming them for feeling tied down.
  • Unable to make decisions about where they want to go with their life.
  • Doubt that they ever loved their spouse and resentment over the marriage.
  • A desire for a new and passionate, intimate relationship.

It is common to see external factors acting as a catalyst and driver for change. Such events might include debt, loss of a loved one, breakup of a relationship, loss of a job or children leaving home with loss of role for the child carer.  Woman also endure a midlife transition – perhaps even more so because of hormonal changes. Some differences between the male and female mid-life transition include:

  • Men are afraid of the changes that come with ageing, their loss of virility and masculinity.
  • Men are afraid of becoming less attractive to the opposite sex.
  • Men are afraid of not attaining goals they have set for themselves.
  • Men have many fixed stereotypes
  • Men are less able to express themselves emotionally
  • Women reach a certain age and find they finally have the opportunity to do all the things in life they have put off doing while caring for a family.
  • Mid-life financial security provides woman the opportunity to explore all those things she has delayed.
  • Women go through menopause, which means both biological and psychological changes.

So, while many midlife women are yearning to be free whilst their male counterparts are lamenting "I just want to find me".  The term “Midlife crisis” is still much maligned and derided in mainstream culture.  The less compassionate feel it is used as an excuse for middle aged men to purchase a fast red sports car, ditch their careers and elope with a woman young enough to be their daughter. My own experience of transitioning the middle passage has been one of intense soul searching, enduring deep grief with my own Dark Night of the Soul, disintegration of my false-self, infatuation with my anima/soul mate and finally the beginning of integration into a more conscious and integrated true-self (Winnicottt 1965). “The middle passage is an occasion for redefining and reorientating the personality, a rite of passage between the extended adolescence and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality. Those who travel the passage consciously render their lives more meaningfully. Those who do not, remain prisoners of childhood, however successful they may appear in outer life.”  Hollis (1993) Many authors have also written about contemporary men’s issues (Biddolph 2004, Bly 1991, Conway 1997, Keen 1992, Lee 1998, Vilar 2008).  A common theme is the role or lack of, absent fathers in early life and the vanishing of men’s rites of passages since industrialisation in the West all leads to men struggling with feelings and not having the capacity to talk about their emotions.  Further confusion has emanated with the rise of feminism. It is no longer considered politically correct for men to talk about their masculinity and the more dynamic active qualities that is the contra to the passive receptive feminine qualities (Hill 1992). When the opportunity to awaken is presented in mid-life, the response is more often met with distractions (work, hobbies, fast cars) and/or acting out though addictions (substance abuse, sex, gambling).  Roberts (1998) claims that men who have the rare opportunity in finding themselves in a caring group of brothers and who share myths and rituals that dramatise the classic issues of mid-life can benefit deeply.  They learn and appreciate the answers do not lie externally in distractions. The answers have to be sought from within. It requires soul work. Soul work is slow, painful and takes courage. Not all men are up for the task.

The dawn of the middle passage

The middle passage is a modern concept.  Until a few generations ago, life expectancy was little beyond what we now consider to be the commencement of mid-life, around 40-50 years old.  But its not just increasing life spans that allows for contemplation in this part of life – increased living standards and accumulated wealth means that for an increasing number, the lower levels of the personal hierarchy of needs (Maslow 1943) are satiated, allowing progress towards what appears to be an innate human drive for self-actualisation. Given the average male in the West now lives into their late 70’s, we can see how the ego goes through various phases of maturation that extend far beyond the early stages of life and into adolescence.   Ancient cultures had their myths, rituals and wise elders to guide others through not only the initiation from boyhood into manhood but also other phases of difficulty. In our Western egoic patriarchal culture, we have lost these Rites of Passage or they have become diluted to fit in with modern standards and norms. With the dawning of the middle years we have the realisation that we have less years ahead of us than are behind us. Our physical vitality starts declining and our biological drives of procreation, family raising and providing has by and large completed. We have a dawning of what next? Existential questions such as meaning and purpose (Yallom 1980) may start to invade our minds, we develop a restlessness for change, to find something more than just being on the hamster wheel of working until we are 65 and then retiring to an uncertain future with a finite lifespan. And yet, within this tumultuous transition, our egos are defending against these life changes and it compensates by grandiosity. This delusion of greatness keeps at bay our darkness, we resist looking into our shadow. The ego also yearns for the perfect relationship. It hangs onto the early fairy tales and archetypes of “if only I could find the ideal partner, my life would be perfect”. As we enter midlife, we start appreciating relationships are difficult and few if any couples have the perfect relationship and yet we delude ourselves into thinking we are different and we can find our “magical other”.  And so comes along another realisation of the middle passage: that intimate relationships have their limitations, that no one other person can meet all our needs.  We project all our wants and desires onto our partners and with time we appreciate they do likewise and they too are full of vulnerabilities and fears. And so midlife is a time when inordinate pressures are placed on marriages and many do not last the course. We are projecting our unconscious childhood needs on the other and these grandiose desires rarely can be met, leaving us feeling abandoned, rejected and betrayed.  We project what is unclaimed or unknown within us. Life erodes these projections and we start appreciating we have to be accountable for this and we are the only ones that are responsible for our own contentment.

About Jungian Archetypes 

Jung believed that archetypes are models of people, behaviours or personalities. He suggested that the psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind while the personal unconscious contains memories, including those that have been suppressed. The collective unconscious is a unique component in that Jung believed that this part of the psyche served as a form of psychological inheritance. It contains all of the knowledge and experiences we share as a species. The collective unconscious, Jung believed, was where these archetypes exist. He suggested that these models are innate, universal and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned innate experiences that function to organize how we experience certain things and to help translate sensations into a visible reality from the external world to within us. Jung identified four major archetypes, but also believed that there was no limit to the number that may exist. These four are the self, the shadow, the anima or animus and the persona. The self is an archetype that represents the unification of the unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. The creation of the self occurs through a process known as individuation, in which the various aspects of personality are integrated. Transitioning the middle passage is one way of undergoing this process of individuation. The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although many people remain unconscious of this aspect of their own psyche and instead project it onto others. The anima is a feminine image in the male psyche and the animus is a male image in the female psyche. The anima/animus represents the "true self" rather than the image we present to others and serves as the primary source of communication with the collective unconscious. The persona is how we present ourselves to the world. The word "persona" is derived from a Latin word that means "mask." It is not a literal mask, however. The persona represents all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups and situations. It acts to shield the ego from negative images.

The middle passage and awakening the soul

Roberts (1998) describes the transition to greater consciousness in the middle passage as only being obtainable by addressing what he calls the four soul tasks:

  1. Breakdown of the persona – the superficial identity we develop in the first half of our lives
  2. The encounter with the shadow – the dangerous side of our personality we have learned to avoid
  3. The encounter with the soul-mate / anima – the contra-sexual aspects of our personality
  4. The dialogue with the self.

Stein (1983) formulated three main features of the midlife crisis in order to transform and for a passage to deepen self-awareness.

  1. A crisis that cuts the person off from the known ways in which they controls their thinking, feeling and acting. He calls this first transition separation. What needs to be separated from in the first phase of the midlife transition is an earlier identity, the persona. We want freedom. We cry for depth and meaning. The ego needs to let go of this attachment before it can be encouraged into the second transition.
  2. Entering liminal space. ‘Liminality’ means what is “at the threshold”. To go through liminality, the person needs to ‘find the corpse’ and then to bury it – to identify the source of pain and then to put the past to rest by grieving, mourning and burying it. But the nature of the loss needs to be understood and worked through before a person can move on.
  3. The third transition according to Stein, called reinstatement, is the return to life with changed consciousness. This may be the most difficult part of the task because in the face of denial, it is difficult to stay true to what is known inside. As Au (1990) so eloquently puts it, “healthy self-acceptance cannot be based on denial or projection. Maturity will elude us as long as we try to disown unattractive parts of ourselves and project them onto others. Maturity comes when we stop blaming God for making us the way we are.”

Are male rites of passage experiences needed as part of transitioning the middle passage?

Roberts (1998) argues that the mid life has such potential for major transformation is that anything less than a Rite of Passage can’t realise that potential.  That shift is so great that we need help to accomplish it. And the best type of help is a Rite of Passage. All old and traditional cultures that are still in touch with deep human wisdom, have Rites of Passage to assist in moving from one stage of life to another – birth, marriage, death – plus the passage from childhood to adulthood.  Some cultures also have a Rite of Passage, generally just for men, to assist them to become elders – the wise, accomplished leaders of the tribe. A Rite of Passage classic purpose is "to impart entry level knowledge of the techniques and mysteries" of the next stage of life. It does that by having a set structure. Rites of Passage generally have three elements – they begin with a Rite of Separation; then there is the transitional time when important information and wisdom are imparted; they then conclude with a dramatic Rite of Incorporation.  Modern men’s rites of passages emulate this journey; an example being the ManKind Project’s Warrior Adventure training that is based around Robert Bly’s Iron John. “The great disappointment of modern masculinity is that there are so few mature, wise men to show us the way. Most men can admit they did not get enough fathering; many feel that they grew from boy to man without much guidance. The ManKind Project cannot replace these missing elders but it can empower men to father themselves and, in time, become themselves the elders and fathers of the future. Together, we can positively change the future for other boys and young men. Together, we can positively change the way girls and women are impacted by boys and men. Together, we can play our part in creating a future that we can feel proud of. The Adventure is a modern male initiation and self-examination. We believe that this is crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self, no matter how old a man is. It is the “hero’s journey” of classical literature and myth that has nearly disappeared in modern culture. We ask men to stop living vicariously through movies, television, addictions and distractions and step up into their own adventure – in real time and surrounded by other men.”  In addition to the structure, the content is punctuated with rituals. Men can’t just talk their way through these transitions.  They must do something. This is particularly important for men. Women have something that helps them with their major transitions – they have first menstruation to mark the passage to womanhood and they have menopause to mark the passage to the second half of adulthood. Women learn naturally about the seasons of life. Men don’t have that advantage. There has to be some way for men to experience the changes of life, to embody the changes of life.

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It is estimated that one in five couples in the UK (British Association of Sex and Marriage Therapists www.basmt.org.uk) experience difficulty with “loss of desire” or “decrease in libido”.  At LoveRelations, we notice couples saying things like “she’s gone off sex and I try to be understanding but…” or “he barely touches me anymore.  I’ve started to feel unattractive and worthless….”

Blame and self blame compounds a problem which many of us find hard to address.  Dr David & Ruth Perl, founders of LoveRelations claims: “Many of us prefer to bury our heads in the sand a bit, when it comes to sexual problems.  We hope things will sort themselves out or things will improve after a holiday or a new job”

But they rarely do, and unless the problem is tackled with some honest and compassionate communication, blame and shame continues to build.  At LoveRelations, we encourage partners to talk honestly, without blame or accusation, about changes in desire and changes in frequency of sex, and how this affects each partner’s view of the relationship.

A session with a LoveRelations trained couples therapist offers a safe space where these difficult conversations can occur.  According to David and Ruth, sometimes the very act of one partner saying what is bothering them about the levels of sexual contact, and how it affects them, can cause great shifts in a relationship.

“For one female partner, just hearing how her partner felt unloved and emasculated as she gave her time and attention to colleagues, family members and to her job, and often rejected his sexual advances, came as a shock” says David Perl.   “Sometimes, these realisations – uncomfortable though they may be – are enough to get a couple talking, and beginning to look at how greater intimacy can be achieved.

Couples may need to pay more attention to the sexual side of their relationship.  Often as couples establish a life together , with a shared home, and children, they focus more on the domestic part of the relationship.  Sex becomes neglected.  It is not unusual for one partner to allow this new status quo to become normal.  “Sex is less important when we’ve been together as long as we have” is a phrase often heard at LoveRelations.

Ruth Perl disagrees.  “Sex is different when a couple has been together for some time,” he says.  “Frequency, perhaps intensity of desire dwindles, but the sexual side of a relationship should still be nurtured.  At LoveRelations, we create a safe and confidential space where each partner can talk openly about what they think is happening in the sexual dimension of the relationship.”

A therapy session at LoveRelations might involve partners making a personal inventory of what it is that blocks his or her desire for or commitment to the sexual relationship.  “We encourage everyone to be as honest as they can without blame or recrimination,” says David Perl.  “It can be a very healing part of the therapy.  Partners begin to take responsibility for what they allow to get in the way of greater intimacy.”

There are some common blocks for most people.  At LoveRelations, we often hear about stress at work as a major factor, or the demands of children and running a house is another. Not feeling good about one’s body or feeling unattractive or not sexy are common sentiments shared by both men and women.

At LoveRelations, we take a multi-layered approach to helping couples with their blocks to intimacy.  Level one is the things we do or don’t do to nourish the sexual side of our relationship.  “Allowing work stress or demands of the home and children to deplete our sex lives, is the first layer of level of the problem” says Dr Perl.  “In acknowledging this is what we do, we then make a commitment in the therapy to change this.

Dr Perl says: “Often it’s a small but powerful step which is needed.   One couple committed not to turn on the television when they had put the children to bed and to spend that hour or so talking or just being physically close.”

Another couple recognised that being in the house itself, with all its associations of cleaning cooking, repairing, was blocking sexual feelings.  They decided they needed to go out more and to commit to make that happen.

The second level in working with blocks to sexual desire, is looking at the more nebulous areas.   These are often expressed with statements like: “I just don’t feel attractive any more.  I’ve put on weight.” Or “I feel less of a man.  I’m over fifty and my body just doesn’t respond in the same way”.

“These are areas of personal self-esteem which may not be linked to the relationship itself but are certainly interfering with it,” says Ruth Perl.  At LoveRelations, we offer one-to-one therapy as well as the  couples work and this is a very powerful resource for healing these difficulties with personal self-esteem.  “We encourage couples to do as much work on themselves, individually, with their LoveRelations therapist,” says David Perl.  “The more we can improve our sense of self, the more we can improve the quality of our relationships.”

Sometimes, couples struggle with major events which affect the couple’s relationship.  Serious illness, bereavement, redundancy, are sadly not uncommon events and they can have a profound affect on a relationship.  “Everyone reacts to these sorts of life events differently,” says David Perl.  “At LoveRelations, we call this the third level of blocks to intimacy: major life events which alter how we feel about ourselves, about the life we have construced to date.”

“Working with these level three blocks is mostly about communication,” says David.  “At LoveRelations, we encourage each partner to say what is really happening to them, how it is affecting them, what changes in thinking and feeling they are noticing.  As with all aspects of couples work, just the communication itself can be very healing.”

“Whatever is affecting one or both partner’s levels of desire, it’s worth looking at” says Dr Perl.  “So many couples come to LoveRelations full of hopeless or resentment around the physical side of their relationship but they are clinging to the belief that things will improve.”

“Pick up a magazine or read any article on recovering intimacy in the relationship, and you are bombarded with tips for setting up a date night, for setting aside time alone or time away,” he says.  “This is all well and good, but we have found at LoveRelations, that the biggest changes occur when a couple can be helped to talk.  That’s true intimacy for you.”

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A blog penned for our LoveRelations couples counselling website - equally applicable here.

 

“Every time he checks his phone, I’m convinced it’s another woman”. 

“When she says she’s going for a drink after work, I start to feel sick with dread…”

“I used to be quite independent. Now I can barely concentrate for wondering what my partner’s up to….”

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Emotional / Limerence affairs

When dealing with emotional affairs, without fail when we are working with the betrayed and or the betrayer in our affair recovery practice, when we mention limerence and  its symptoms, there is invariably a light bulb moment. The erratic and bizarre behaviour of the betrayer suddenly makes sense to the betrayed. The betrayer themselves may or may not depending upon what phase of limerence they are in, also realise they have been caught up in feelings and behaviours that has many parallels to an addiction.

So what is limerence? 

The original definition of limerence, a term coined by Dorothy Tenov, a psychologist in the 1970’s is an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated. It is characterised by:

  • Intrusive and obsessive thinking about the object of infatuation – referred to as the Limerent Object (LO)
  • Replaying and rehearsal of interactions with the LO
  • Anxiety and self-consciousness around the LO
  • Emotional dependence on the LO
  • Impaired functioning around the LO

Reading this list, many will recognise the early stages of the infatuated addictive energy of love (or perhaps what would be better called lust) that we feel in early relationships – so called New Relationship Energy (NRE).   When there are no barriers for the relationship to be consummated and with time and reciprocation, this may transform into a more secure and enduring love. 

Where the progression of a romantic relationship is hindered often by marriage or other long term relationship enduring limerence often ensues. Why do emotional / limerence affairs develop? For a fire to develop it takes 3 essential ingredients: fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. Our belief is that affairs follow a similar pattern. The fuel is the betrayer’s past history that is played out, unconsciously in the current relationship, the oxygen is the past history that is played out, again unconsciously by the partner and the ignition source is the affair partner. Let’s look at these elements and how they play out.  In some ways our brains can be compared to computers.

When born, we have a blank hard drive that has a basic operating system ready to download aps and programmes. This core operating system is determined to some extent by our genes and also the conditions we experience whilst in our mother’s womb. The first few years of life are where we are absorbing more information than we will at any other time in our lives. And part of the challenge is whilst we are sensing so many new experiences, we have yet to develop a vocabulary to make sense of things. 

If we grow up in a family with a mother and other significant others that makes us feel safe by being calm and loving, consistent, nurturing, gentle and encouraging, we learn to trust. We appreciate that its healthy to communicate how we are feeling and how to ask for our needs to be met. We take these experiences into all our other relationships, with friends, family, work colleagues and most significantly our romantic relationships.  This is what we call secure attachment style.

When we don’t get these needs met in early life, and sadly too few of us do, then we are left too clingy, too needy, too controlling, too avoidant or one of many other maladapted ways of coping with a fear of intimacy and rejection in our relationships. These may exhibit as what we call anxious or avoidant attachment styles. In many long terms relationships, couples drift apart with the passage of time. 

Boredom, routine, the stress of raising children, interfering parents and siblings, work and financial pressures plus a multitude of other life stressors add to the mix. We each retreat into our shells building up more and more resentments. This is where sex then often becomes a battleground, where often the woman who feels the emotional disconnect, feels little desire to be physically intimate with her partner.  These resentments build and don’t get discussed and worked through. Because so much of our behaviour is unconscious, we fear being rejected and being vulnerable, so these becomes major blocks to us communicating cleanly, concisely and clearly. With time, the oxygen and fuel start building up and the conditions for an affair become ripe.

This is what we call the perfect storm.  All it takes is an ignition source. And we often see the person that is the betrayer comes from a from a family where they experienced infidelity from a parent whilst growing up. It’s as if they are trying to heal the wounds of this parent’s own assignations, all at an unconscious level. The phases of limerence Like other addictions, we see limerence originating from early life psychological wounding. We use it to fill a hole in our soul.  We  describe  limerence as the mother of all distractions and when working with clients in limerence we are  curious to uncover what is it the person avoiding dealing with?  So often there is deep unresolved emotional pain. The client has protected themselves by covering their hearts over the years and decades with layers and layers of reinforced concrete.  This was a survival mechanism necessary from growing up in a dysfunctional and often narcissistic family system.  

However as adults, these behaviours no longer serve their need – but old patterns die hard. And then comes along comes limerence and its associated romantic heartbreak.  A window of opportunity for some much needed emotional growth is presented.  We are not sure why some of us become aware that limerence is not about the magical other and is all about us, whilst others jump from one failed marriage to another, taking themselves and all their own unresolved emotional baggage with them, playing out the same dramas.  As they say in 12 steps. wherever you go, there you are.

The reality is limerence never lasts – typically it spans from 6-36 months. Just long enough for us to pair-bond and continue the survival of the species. Recent advances in neuroimaging and neurochemistry are now mapping out these pathways for romantic love. We also feel limerence is a gateway to grief. It marks a transitional phase where we enter a liminal space. Whilst the initial grieving maybe for the ending of the affair or perhaps the failed marriage, it can open access to much needed grieving from so many other losses from our own childhood and other traumas and who knows, perhaps the loses of our generations that went before us. And this explains why so many opt for the easier path, choosing never to take responsibility for our own behaviours, continuing to blame others and continuing to behave at an emotional level as children and adolescents trapped in adult bodies.  Doing this growth work takes courage and determination. Its what we call the heavy lifting.

Advice for the Betrayer

Depending upon where we are at within the lifecycle of limerence will depend upon how receptive we are to appreciate that this condition is all about us, our early life attachment wounds and that there is no magical other that’s going to make us feel better about ourselves. Seeking other esteem is never the solution to building our own self esteem.  In the early phase which we mentioned lasts from 6-36 months, it’s hard to break through the defences.  Sadly, the neurochemicals really do distort one’s perceptions, they literally rewrite history, obliterating all the good that existed in the past relationship. The betrayer really believes they have met their soulmate. We don’t like this term and don’t believe in this myth.  

We prefer the term woundmate where unconscious early life wounds are what is being activated in the person that is in limerence. They see the LO as an Adonis, as someone that is perfect in every sense and the answer to all their problems. They feel seen and validated and understood at a deep level. Their LO just gets them. And they feel like they love their long-term partner but are no longer in love with them. Limerence plays cruel tricks on the mind.  They see their long-term partner as a barrier to having a life with their LO. Their unresolved anger issues are put onto their partner either by passive withdrawal or active attacking.

With time and with the diminishing of the neurochemicals, chinks begin to appear. It is here where an opportunity exists for the person to realise this is a relationship based on a fantasy. Perhaps the betrayer can start extracting themselves from the real or perceived relationship with the LO and to start doing their own self-development work. It may be possible in the very early stage of limerence where there has not been consummation of the relationship, that the addictive spiral can be broken.

This will require self-will and discipline to break all contact with the LO and to enter some form of talk therapy program to explore what led the person to develop limerence.  It is rare for us to see clients at this stage. All too often, this opportunity is missed and full blown emotional and or physical affair ensues. Then it’s a case of waiting until the person comes out of what we call the fog. Where they can start seeing more clearly as to the reality of their situation. And so the journey of self-discovery may begin.

For a detailed article on how to heal from limerence see http://loverelations.co.uk/healing-from-limerence/

How the betrayed behaves during this phase can make a significant difference as to the chances of the pre-existing relationship being rebuilt.

Advice for the Betrayed

The discovery of an affair is traumatic and will be accompanied by many overwhelming emotions – denial, rejection, betrayal, anger, rage, sadness, bargaining and many others. These are the classic symptoms we go through when confronted with a significant loss. It’s often described as the cycle of grief, a process first described by the physician Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Ironically, your partner will be going through their own grief as well. There is a natural temptation to act out these feelings onto the person that is betraying you. To vent your anger and rage onto your partner.

Unfortunately, this will have the effect of pushing your partner further away from you and just reinforces that you are the one that is controlling, needy, demanding or any other number of negative traits that your partner will latch onto. The person in limerence is confused and not acting with any real rational thought. They are being controlled by their emotions and are acting from a young impulsive part of themselves. There are several strategies that may help you and with time, perhaps help your partner to see you are a better option to rebuild a relationship with. This list may sound counter-intuitive. It’s based on solid research and has worked for the many people we have worked with in our affair recovery practice.

Become a non-judging, non-shaming place of unconditional love for your partner. Anything that drives a wedge between you and your partner will push them further away. As difficult as it may be, the more you can be there for your other half in a non-judging non-shaming way, the less they can use you as the excuse for things not working out.  We ask clients how would they react if they discovered their partner was addicted to cocaine or alcohol? Would they be more supportive, more compassionate? We appreciate this is difficult because of the lying and breaking of trust that goes hand in hand with limerence and all other addictions. 

Limerence is so much tougher to endure though because the addiction is to another person. The sense of betrayal is huge and engulfing. Addicts already feel significant shame and by you being judgemental to their behaviour makes them feel more shame. Shame is one of the most toxic and soul crushing of feelings and rarely helps a situation.   That does not mean there are not to be consequences for their behaviour and that is where strong healthy boundaries come into play.

Develop healthy boundaries

We all need to protect ourselves from emotional harm. Psychological defences are created in childhood to serve that purpose unconsciously, but they also lead us into unhealthy and unproductive behaviour. Boundaries are conscious and healthy ways to protect ourselves from emotional harm. Some of us have difficulty setting and enforcing boundaries, a difficulty that invariably stems from inadequate and often abusive parenting whilst a child.

This abuse can range from subtle emotional manipulation to severe sexual and physical abuse. We can’t enforce enough how important it is that boundaries with consequences that are enforced for violation are set up. If the consequences are not enacted, the boundary becomes an empty threat and loses its potency.  Each person has to decide how much they are willing to tolerate from their partner’s behaviour and where the boundary lies. Much has been written on boundary setting and the length of this article precludes going into further detail. If boundaries are hard for you to keep to, it may be worth getting some help to explore why you find this so difficult.

Work on yourself. 

People either move towards pleasure or away from pain. Being attracted to another is a pleasurable experience. Attraction is based around 4 key areas. Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual (PIES). If you work on yourself on all 4 of these areas to make yourself more attractive, you have a better chance of your partner being drawn back towards you. That said, we recommend you work on yourself for yourself, whatever happens to your relationship.

If your partner sees you as becoming more desirable, than that’s great. Its not a guarantee things will work out though. Likewise, if you become critical, negative, judging, clingy, aggressive, vengeful or display other less than desirable behaviours, your partner is more likely to move away from you and more towards their LO.

We would recommend you also look at yourself in a fierce and honest way to see what behaviours you may have shown in the relationship that were less than loving. Relationships always take two people and as we say, it takes two to tango. That doesn’t mean we condone anyone going off and embarking on an affair.

Be careful who you tell

Each person will have their own view and opinions based on their own history and experiences. Whilst advice may be given with good intention, its often misguided and unhealthy. Better you seek advice from a pro-marriage professional.

As we say what defines us as people is not what we feel, but how we act on our feelings. We are only humans and its not unnatural to develop strong feelings for other people whether we are in a committed relationship or not.  – it’s what we do with these feelings that matters. The stronger you make your marriage, the more you affair-proof it, the less likely these feeling will trip either of you up.

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Today I spent a pleasant hour being interviewed by my friend Diarmaid Fitzpatrick who I’ve got to know through the ManKind Project.

Diarmaid presents mid morning matters on Radio Marlow, a UK based community radio service. I am actively involved with The ManKind project – a charity that helps men become more emotional intelligent and to live with honesty, integrity and by taking personal responsibility.

In this interview I talk about how I became interested in relationships, why we go into relationships and why we need to work on ourselves as well as the relationship.

 

http://loverelations.co.uk/radio-marlow-interview-relationships/

Click here to listen to the interview. 

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I have often thought over the years that if I had just one wish what would that be? What would I change, do different or ask for?

 

Many times I've daydreamed about one thing or another and thought my life would be better, more complete, happier, healthier, thinner and I could go on and on. What I never thought about was, if that wish was granted how would it change the outcome and course of my life as I know it today?

 

You see, if I was able to make adjustments to my past, no matter how small, that change will inevitably disrupts the trajectory and path I am on and if a change is made in the past then the present as I know it no longer exists. It will be new, different.

 

This then started me thinking about why I wanted one wish in the first place, what was so wrong with my life? Did I feel out of control? Unloved? Dissatisfied with my choice of work or partner? Or maybe I was young, inexperienced and unsure of the world? Now I believe that feeling came from a felt sense of being out of alinement with life in general.

But what caused this I wondered?

 

Daydreaming about life is a normal and healthy pastime, thinking about having this or that or doing something different is nice and wishful thinking. However when it starts to affect your emotional state which then spills out on to those around you, it becomes something more serious.

 

Taking ourselves off into another dimension removes us from the present, it's a distraction and sometimes a very needed one in times of extreme pain and trauma. Humans a have the amazing ability to take their mind off to other places even though the physical body is still. A healthy way to do this is through deep meditation and relaxation. The unhealthy way is by turning to substance or drug misuse, addictive and compulsive behaviours as a means and way to distract oneself from the present.

 

Again this had me thinking that if what I was feeling was from a sense of being out of alinement with life in general was this then another term for an existential crisis? Irvin Yallom writes about this subject so well in his book Existentialism, where he refers to four aspects, abandonment, loneliness, isolation and death as being the main causes of this crisis and for me that struck a cord. When I think about Society as we know it today, life can be difficult, times have changed. We no longer have the communities or family support that our parents had. Talking to each other has been replaced by email, text, Twitter and so on. Communicating with humans has in many ways been taken over by the fast pace of technology. The speed of this running ahead of our human ability psychologically to keep up. 

 

Humans are relational beings and need each other to exist and thrive, isolation and loneliness are unfortunately all to common an issue with many people today. The break down of family units and systems fuel the feelings of abandonment and the lack of discussion on our mortality and death further play into human existential crisis. Maybe this was what I was going through and certainly reading up on the topic written by Yallom made a lot of sense to me.

 

When the human being feels trapped, cornered and powerless the psyche looks for a distraction to sooth itself. I now know this was what was happening to me, overcoming these feelings also brought me to a realisation. If focusing on what can be better or different places the mind into a state of false bliss what happens to our reality?

 

When our psyche or mind is left unchecked there is a real risk that it may go into overdrive where the fantasy starts to takeover the reality, again in times of severe trauma this is an essential coping mechanism.

 

When a fantasy takes us away from the present this has consequences on those around us. If an average everyday person going about their business was given one wish this would change something without them realising the domino effect that has on their life. Removing ourselves from the present and not allowing our mind, body and feelings to see our true reality can take away our choice to live in the here and now.

 

Learning to understand my own feelings around what was going on in my psyche led me to thinking about how many of us do not live in the present, always looking ahead or in the past, stuck in memories and daydreams which have no real purpose other than to prevent us from living. That’s not saying that fantasy’s are “bad”, we all need a little light relief at times, but when the fantasy takes us out of relation with ourselves and others is where a problem may occur.

 

Wishing part of my life to be different, and daydreaming about what I would change took me out of the here and now and stopped me from seeing all that I had in front of me. Even though I was sometimes unhappy or sad, that was only a feeling which eventually goes away. If a change had happened with a wish then all I know now may not be as it is, and who's to say any better?

 

What I have come to realise is that only me as an individual can make my own wishes and put in place changes that will affect my future. Looking back I feel I was going through some sort of existential crisis which lead to me looking for a distraction to smooth the uncomfortable feelings I had. This lead to me not being present by reliving the past and fantasising about what if’s. I understand now that this has no logic or place, the past has gone, and no one can change that.

Now, if I was able to have one wish and change and alter the past I choose not to as I would loose so much of what I have learnt, that has made me who I am today.

 

I can make small changes in the here and now that will affect my future, I can live in the present and not distract myself with the past and what if’s. To be compassionate to my being, to make decisions and choices based on who I am as an adult and not on my insecurities of my inner child and past.

 

One wish is wishful thinking and I've learnt to keep it just that, I can smile and move forward keeping my myself grounded and very much in the here and now.

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This article was written by my SO for our couples counselling (www.loverelations.co.uk) blog. I felt it may be of benefit to those in a  committed relationship and questioning to stay or leave.

Separating with Sense  

We use this term because for many relationships where one or both partners wish to go their separate ways, all rational thinking and sense goes out of the window!! The reality is that understanding the dynamics involved between two people that then leads to a separation are complex and deep. Too often what brings a couple to this decision is a catalogue of wrongs and resentments on both sides, which have built up over many years.

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From my own observations of supporting people through crises over the past 20 years, I’ve experienced first hand how a high level of self-awareness of that person directly impacts how they weather the storm.

We are all in relationship with others. We are social animals. Self awareness requires an understanding others, their emotional needs and wants. We can’t know the truth about another without knowing it about ourselves.

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I woke at 1 am last night after yet another nightmare. I’ve had recurrent nightmares for as long as I can remember. I had night terrors as a young boy. They always involve dark negative entities, witches, monsters, ghosts that are trying to get me. Last night’s was one of the worst. I woke up screaming feeling such visceral fear that words don’t encapsulate my feelings. Every fibre of my being felt invaded by terror. The fear of being annihilated. Sleep did not return to me easily last night. I lay in bed and raged that once again my father’s inability to deal with his own feelings bears its burden in the trans-generational trauma that I carry.

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My father has been away for a few weeks and I’ve been feeling good. When he is away my joints don’t ache. Last night he called and our conversation was pleasant as they often are. We have rebuilt bridges over the past two years, including a bonding trip back to Auschwitz. I wondered how long it would take for his return to impact me. 5 hours to be precise. I woke at 2 am after a vivid dream related to a rigid inflexible teacher. As I lay in bed I was aware of a hot burning sensation in my chest. This was unlike the all too familiar anxiety I used to live with, this felt more like a consuming rage.

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A mid-life crisis, transition or transformation is usually experienced around the age of 40 plus or minus 20 years. One of the first to write on the subject was the psychologist Carl Jungwho struggled in his own mid-life and came up with the term individuation - the path towards wholeness, the journey to the Self at the core of one's being and is felt to be a normal part of the maturing process.   Not all people experience this transition but for some, a midlife crisis is very apparent and can be an uncomfortable time emotionally which may lead to significant psychological upheaval.

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Sunday 1st March 2015 was National Self Harm Awareness Day. Perhaps it passed you by? For those of us who work in psychotherapy, Self Harm Awareness Day might appear as an email alert in the in-box, another statistic or “-ism” which we scan and move on.

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Valentine’s Day has been and gone. While the greetings card and flower industries are measuring their takings, most of us go back to ordinary worries around our relationships: are we in one? Can we stay in one? Can we attract one?

Talk of relationship “addition” or “love addiction” seems baffling to most people for whom addiction is associated with alcohol, drugs, or perhaps gambling. Love addiction has been ridiculed in the press – either an overblown term for the serial dater, the Hollywood A-lister who has a new partner on their arm each time the red carpet is rolled out. When the golfer, Tiger Woods, announced he was seeking help for sex addiction, it was greeted in some quarters with scornful murmurs of excuse making for sexual or emotional lack of self-control.

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Its been a few days since I returned from a ManKind Project Rites of Passage weekend. See http://mankindproject.org/ 

I’m still processing and will likely be for some time. The weekend could not have come at a more appropriate time. I have just completed my four-year diploma in transpersonal psychotherapy. By its very nature, this training has had a very maternal “holding” energy, part of the re-mothering that is skilfully crafted into the process. Being transpersonal, there was a lot of emphasis on the elements model of earth, air, fire and water, archetypal and Jungian psychology, alchemy and the myth of Iron John was mentioned more than once.

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From the time we are little boys, men are programmed – both socially conditioned and psychologically hard-wired to prove themselves, to make a name for themselves. Consequently, they experience life in a superficial way, almost inevitably focusing on the surface issues of their lives.

Not everyone has a midlife crisis. Its impossible to predict who will and who wont. William O Roberts, Author of Crossing the Soul's River posits there are two factors that contribute to the midlife crisis –  success and sensitivity. If you are successful – even reasonably successful – you will be known by your successes. You will be known by your persona. If you are sensitive and especially if you are resolved to be both reflective and creative in the living of your life, you will most likely experience the restrictions of the Persona and will struggle to break out of those restrictions. When there is a Breakdown of the Persona, then you head out into the river and start your midlife journey.

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An article from a US psychiatric journal dropped into my in-box: “Hooked on Messy Loving”? Usually I press delete. Or forward to my friend and colleague with a mutually understood sigh. We psychotherapists can be a little suspicious around the pop-psychology of “love addiction” or “toxic relationships”. Suspicious not because either she or I dismiss the concept of addictive relationships. Far from it. Both of us sit with clients in psychotherapy practice who bring the agonies of obsession, infatuation and abandonment.

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With Christmas fast approaching, I have more time than usual to reflect. Prior to limerence, I hadn’t appreciated how I used my addictive tendencies to distract myself from my inner feelings of anxiety and dysthymia, a constant low grade depression that has been with me most my life. I used work, food and shopping as ways to numb my feelings, to fill the “hole in my soul”.

It took limerence and its addictive element for me to really appreciate the tenaciousness of addictions and our inability to just stop partaking in the behaviour that is problematic. I should have sensed things were getting out of control when just before limerence struck, I almost blew our life savings on buying a second-hand aircraft.