How Grateful Are You?

poppies bannerNovember has been designated a month for Gratitude in both the USA and Britain for different reasons. In Europe we have a Day of Remembrance on the 11th and as we see the Remembrance poppies gradually appear on our streets we are reminded of ordinary people just like us who gave their lives so that we can live in peace.

Gratitude and giving thanks are incredibly powerful mindfulness practices that we can use in our lives to increase our wellbeing and nourish relationships. It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, and equally as easy to let this slip when life takes over or gets challenging. This of course is when we need to flex our gratitude muscle the most.

Sharing our gratitude with others is so important and research in the field of Positive Psychology shows that we are more likely to feel and express gratitude when shown kindness by a stranger than towards those whose lives we share:

When was the last time you thanked your partner for being there for you?!

How do you think they might feel if you took that one step towards them?

For the past twenty years I’ve been marking each November by re-focussing on my daily gratitude practice, and more recently I’ve been using the power of social media to keep myself on track. Making a pledge to post something different that I’m grateful for every single day of November on Twitter or Facebook really helps get me back on track!

This year I’m using Instagram to give myself the extra little challenge of finding a nice image to go with each reflection. If you fancy following me you can check if I manage it, and I’d love you to join in! Or if you prefer to receive prompts there’s an online 30 Day Gratitude Challenge (not run by me) that you could sign up for .

And of course gratitude goes hand in hand with Kindness. There are lots of groups and projects springing up around kindness and compassion, with an excellent Facebook group in my area of Tyne and Wear that encourages members to both carry out and notice acts of kindness in their everyday lives.

So go ahead and try it, ask yourself once a day every day of November .. what am I grateful for right now?

 

Gratitude-Month

References
Gratitude and Positive Psychology: What is Gratitude and What are the Benefits of Gratitude? Meade, Claire. http://positivepsychology.org.uk/gratitude/ accessed 8 November 2017.

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We’re Separating .. Help!

Separation and Divorce are tough, whatever the circumstances surrounding them. Sometimes a couple come to the decision to part ways together; more often one person makes the decision, and in some cases the other person has no idea their partner is unhappy in the relationship until the point at which they make the announcement they want to leave.

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Usually, adults are trying to make important practical decisions that will impact their future while also managing the strong emotions that are completely normal when we go through big changes in our lives.

You might be okay with your decision to leave the relationship but be confused because you’re finding the other changes around the separation a challenge. Things like the loss of your home, a dual income, your pets, seeing mutual friends, or the status of being ‘a couple’. And when other factors like affairs and looking after children are added into the mix sometimes it can feel like being on a rollercoaster.

When we go through any change there are stages we have to navigate. In the example above someone may have reached the end stage of Accepting that for them the relationship is over but still be right at the start of processing the other changes. Their ex partner on the other hand could be in Shock and Denial that the couple relationship is at an end, but be further ahead in coming to terms with the more practical aspects of the separation. People need different kinds of support as they go through the different stages, and if you feel you’re stuck in one of these stages it’s a good idea to ask for help.

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When ex partners are at different stages in this Cycle of Change practical negotiations can often get stuck, as one or both people bring their hearts to the table as well as their heads. This is why I hear often that mediation has been tried early on and failed because one or both partners just aren’t in the right place emotionally.

The challenge is to get to a place where although a couple relationship has ended, a productive relationship as exes has begun.

Making decisions around your children

In an ideal world parents will still be able to communicate together to make important decisions for their children. The Parenting Plan created by CafCass is a really useful tool that maps out most of the important choices parents have to make during childhood. Printing one out each and considering what choices you would like for your child can be a great way to prepare in advance for parenting discussions. Particularly consider WHERE those beliefs are coming from:
Is it because I had/didn’t have that?
Is that choice relevant/appropriate to MY child’s situation?
What can I compromise on and where can I give ground?

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Mediation can be a good next option when both parents are willing to negotiate but talking together might still feel tricky. Agreements made in mediation can be court stamped if parents believe this is necessary.

Collaborative Law focusses on working together with specially trained solicitors for a mutually beneficial result, and acknowledges that often people need to work through their normal emotional responses to the separation in order to move forward. It avoids the expense, disruption and emotional distress of going to court.

And never forget that however difficult things may be, the best way to look after your children during any kind of stress and disruption is to LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. Talk to friends, family and / or a counsellor, get exercise, eat well and rest when you need to. Put limits around the emotional energy you give to the situation.

And never forget to hold HOPE for the future. One day the storm clouds will part and you will see the good work you’ve done paying dividends.

More Resources

Sorting out Separation is part of the Government’s help & support for separated families initiative  . https://www.sortingoutseparation.org.uk/

The Parent Connection . Information about parenting after parting . https://theparentconnection.org.uk/

If You Want Great Sex with a Woman Read This!

zoey-kneesAs a relationship coach and counsellor I think about sex A LOT. I talk about sex all the time with my clients, my colleagues and also (excruciatingly for some) with random people in my life.

Research shows that couples who are constantly exploring ways to make sex more pleasurable are five times more likely to be happier in their relationship and 12 times
more likely to be sexually satisfied.

I can’t speak for my generation but my sex education in the 1980s was poor: what little information there was came with a large side of shame, and (no wonder) by Year 11 I heard reports of girls being sexually assaulted and girls disappearing from class due to teen pregnancies.

So my sexual education came from family, my sexual partners, peers, books and magazines, as well as A LOT of studying academic research papers since I became a relationship therapist. BTW if you fancy a bit of light relief or a cheeky gift for a loved one I’d recommend Bonk, by Mary Roach, a hilarious look at how awful a lot of sex research has been.

And I read about and saw the ‘pornification’ of culture and I worried about how our kids, with no coherent national sex education strategy, are learning about sex from porn. Girls and boys are being told sex isn’t about mutual communication and trust, but about male pleasure, thrusting and violence. And both sexes are suffering. In my practice I speak with couples where ‘normal’ sex means 5 minutes with the lights off, and with young couples where use of porn from an early age has caused premature ejaculation or porn addiction.

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And then along came OMGYES, a sexual pleasure research website. After hearing about the site I was dying to have a good look and I was lucky enough to be offered a preview.

The team behind the site carried out research with more than 2,000 women, aged 18-95, and created a website where real-life women – not actors – share their stories and demonstrate their techniques. Then, users get the chance to practice through touchable simulations.

Because .. different strokes suit different folks ..

The topic has been so taboo that even scientists hadn’t studied the specific, various ways of touching that feel good for different women. I can actually vouch for how taboo because none of the four people I asked to anonymously comment on the website for this article felt comfortable doing so .. just wow!

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OMGYES is for women and the people who love them (approximately 50% of users are female/male). Women can use the site to explore more ways to touch themselves and guide their partners, while partners are adding new, research-based tools to their toolbox.

Fifty videos are organised in 12 sections (pictured above) and for a one off payment you can access the site as often as you like, watching videos in any order and at your own pace. The site also uses tech to the max, with touchable demos where users can practise what they’ve learned (useful if you don’t have a vulva guys!). I found the site ran a bit slow on my (very old) tablet, but on the laptop it was fine.

I was expection the site to be purely about technique, and it was a pleasant surprise to find sections on ‘Framing‘ and ‘Signalling‘ .. those hugely important bits of sex that happen in our brains and come out of our mouths.

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I’ve been recommending this site to clients and colleagues, in fact I might have become a bit of an OMGYes bore, but beauties like this don’t come along every day. I’d recommend it for single women as well as women in a relationship, and when the time comes I’ll be recommending it to my daughter as part of an ongoing conversation about what she should expect from sexual maturity.

To learn more, visit the website at omgyes or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And tell me what you thought of OMGYes .. email me or contact me through the website.

Mindful Relationships

I was lucky enough to be asked by the lovely people at The Counsellors’ Cafe to write a piece of my choice and I chose Mindful Relationships, because as a practising Buddhist it’s something that I apply to my relationships and to my work as a relationship therapist.

It was fun writing the piece as it gave me a chance to pull out some useful resources for people from the many I’ve collected over the years on being mindful in relationships mindful parenting and mindful families.

Go take a look and let me know what you thought below, or on the Counsellor’s Cafe comments area.

I’m also very excited to be part of the first Mindful Relationships Summit, an online conference from 17 to 21 May 2017 about  how we can create and sustain mindful relationships and embrace love as a spiritual practice. Some of my favourite speakers on mindfuless and relationships like Susan Piver, Rick Hanson and Dr Kristin Neff will be there.

It’s absolutely free and it would be great if you’d consider joining me.

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Calling Scottish Couples

I had to blog about Relationships Scotland’s current project: they’re looking for couples to take part in a couple counselling documentary.

The charity say on their website .. “.. we are interested in dispelling myths about relationship counselling and, where appropriate and with permission, telling the real life stories of the couples we support.”

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Relationships Scotland are working with Zodiak Media on a new six part series following couples through the process of relationship counselling.

They plan to look at the very different issues that bring people to couples therapy, with couples across age groups and in different stages of their relationships, with the intention of removing stigma around couple counselling. Hopefully the project will show that therapy is something many couples could consider to improve their relationship before it reaches crisis point.

Both of these goals are hugely important: statistics and my experience suggest that if many couples accessed counselling earlier they would save themselves a lot of money and heartache by looking at making small changes that would make big differences in the quality and trajectory of their relationships. I personally am a strong believer that universal funding for short courses of relationships education and therapy at key stages, like high school, making a commitment, having a baby, moving to an empty nest and retirement would improve wellbeing throughout our nation now and for future generations.

Relationships Scotland’s next step is to find appropriate Scottish couples willing to discuss the opportunity further – they stress that there is absolutely no commitment at this stage.

If you would like an informal chat about taking part please email Ross McCulloch, Head of Communications at Relationships Scotland, ross.mcculloch@relationships-scotland.org.uk or call 0845 119 2020.

I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for the documentary when it comes out. What do you think, will this project be realistic and / or useful?

3 Words that are toxic to relationships

Words are one of the tools of a relationship therapist’s work. Words can be kind, thoughtful, and lead to people feeling deeply understood. But there are certain words that I often hear at the start of couple counselling that while meant to bring someone’s partner closer actually push them away.

Watch out for these words and use them wisely in your relationships.

ALWAYS .. It’s easy to see our sweetie’s faults as a permanent part of them and also to focus on the behaviours that drive us crazy rather than the whole. Starting a sentence  ‘You always ..’ is a sure sign that you’re not seeing the big picture.

Take a step back if you hear your inner dialogue starting to go down this line and think about some of the good things he / she also ‘always’ does. If you decide you want to ask for a change you could start the conversation by letting her or him know how much you appreciate the other stuff.

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SHOULD .. When I hear ‘You should ..’ from couples I sometimes ask ‘Why should he/she?’ Our ideas of what people ‘should’ do often lead to pain and lack of understanding between partners.

Take some time to ask yourself why you believe he or she ‘should’ do something, it may well come from ideas you’ve taken from family, culture or society without realising they’re not really yours. Ask yourself instead what COULD my partner do, and why would they want to?

Always and Should can both be used to blame our partners. If you’re tempted to use them it may be because you’re relying on your partner to fulfil too big a part of your needs.

Ask yourself if you have other sources of support outside your relationship, things like friends, family, hobbies, exercise, anything that strengthens you to be the best partner you can be. If you don’t it may be time to work on this, and if friends or family are absent or unhelpful to consider contacting a therapist to talk any personal stuff through without overloading your relationship.

I sometimes wince inside when couples acknowledge their partner’s point of view then add the word BUT. It’s important to stick up for yourself in your relationship of course, and also important to not fall into the trap of setting yourselves up in opposition by using ‘the B word’.

Try using AND instead. It’s easy for a conversation to get stuck if your But gives the impression you’re not giving  value to what your partner’s expressing.

These are my top 3 words to look out for .. Do you have others, and what did you do about them? I love reading your responses, private or public.