School holiday-proof your relationship

do216genres-relationships1200The kids have broken up and we’re heading of on that holiday we’ve been slogging towards since Christmas. We’re looking forward to a rest, being with family and long hot lazy days.

But the reality for most of us is that often we work harder in that last week before a break, the weather will be unpredictable, travel will be problematic, kids will whinge, getting out of our routine is stressful and drinking more alcohol than usual can make us more reactive and more tired and grumpy the next day.

Holidays are great for kids, who grow both physically and emotionally over the long summer holidays, but what about us?

It may be first time you’ve been with your spouse for a while, particularly if you work shifts or on a rota. Take a tip from school teachers, who often take the first week of the holidays to flake out and depressurize. That two week holiday abroad might look restful on the brochure, but how about taking a week at home, with nothing planned, to get to know each other again and destress, before heading out on a shorter adventure?

For those of us who parent with an ex partner the school holidays can feel even more stressful and it’s worth starting to negotiate your child’s schedule as soon as possible. Some parents might have a tried and tested formula for holidays, but remember as your child grows what you agreed for them at three years old might not work at age 13. As kids grow their peers become more important, so taking this into account and building in time to catch up with friends can be really helpful.

Whatever you choose to do this summer, be thoughtful, curious and kind to yourselves, and enjoy this wonderful season.

Advertisements

It’s your fault!!

2014-02-13 09.28.18 - Copy (1)I was down at the beach last week, the weather’s been so great, and there was a festival or some kind of party going on. I noticed something that stuck with me and I wanted to share it with you.

There’s a food stall that sells amazing barbecue. They also sell alcohol, but as part of their licence you have to buy food in order to order alcohol. So people start buying their cheapest dish, which is a pot of yummy fried potatoes, and then ordering loads of drinks, effectively turning it into a bar type situation.

Now this is out of order, as any British people reading this will appreciate, and could have led to the stall being shut down, but the people buying drinks didn’t put themselves in the shoes of the poor guy running his own small business, they just wanted to drink and party. I would have been pretty peed off if I was him. I would have been tempted to go have a stern word with the party people and get them to accept how rude their behaviour was.

But instead of sending them off with a flea in their ear, or feeling the need to explain to these drunk people how disrespectful they were being, the staff just quietly went to the menu board and removed the potato dish.

It struck me as an elegant way to set a boundary when we can’t trust those around us to overstep the mark. We don’t have to explain, or justify ourselves, when we reinforce a boundary that isn’t being respected, just notice, accept, course correct and carry on.

Birth Trauma Awareness Week 2018

Birth Trauma Awareness Week starts today until July 8 2018.

I have a personal and professional commitment to helping people recognise and manage traumatic birth experiences having been through a traumatic birth.

I often ask my clients about their birthing experiences and have heard their surprise at being asked. A common response is ‘Well you just get on with it don’t you ..’ Partners say ‘Well she went through it, I just watched’. In reality the trauma of emergency intervention or seeing the person you love in peril and feeling powerless to help can stay with you and cause flashbacks, ongoing panic or depression.’

Just talking things through afterwards and in a safe space can be hugely helpful for men and women alike. It’s also worth considering ante natal counselling for future pregnancies.

The Birth Trauma Association says on its website: “Each year, up to 20,000 women and their birth partners go through a traumatic birth experience and suffer the often long-lasting impact this has on their physical and mental health, their ability to bond with their baby and their relationships with their family and friends.

Many women and their partners who have been through birth trauma are left feeling isolated, unable to share their experiences and talk openly about what has happened to them. “

Last year, Birth Trauma Awareness Week brought the subject of postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder out into the open and gained widespread media attention. The Association will be holding Twitter chats each evening from Monday July 2 to Friday July 6 on subjects relating to birth trauma as well as launching new videos of women talking powerfully about their traumatic births.

Other resurces

Unfold Your Wings . Hope, Support and awareness for Birth Trauma and Perinatal PTSD

Sands . We operate throughout the UK, supporting anyone affected by the death of a baby, working to improve the care bereaved parents receive, and promoting research to reduce the loss of babies’ lives.

Email Counselling

I’ve just completed a fascinating course in using digital technologies in counselling and therapy.

Some of it was a refresher as I’ve been offering telephone and webcam appointments for some time, but it’s always nice to take a full day to work with new and existing colleagues on our clinical practice. There were Relate counsellors in our group from as far south as Devon. Luckily I didn’t have to travel as far.

I’m excited about reaching people who can’t schedule appointments at specific times by offering email counselling. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and now I have some practice under my belt this way of working is available to all my clients.

People who can really benefit from this way of accessing support are those like new parents, carers, people who work away, or maybe those who just don’t feel comfortable speaking with someone for any reason.

There’s a £40 charge for each email you write, and I spend an hour reading and responding to your email. I guarantee that you will receive a reply within 3 working days.

Get in touch if you would like more information.

The Wonder Down Under

I’m always keen to share books and other resources that are useful to people and having read The Wonder Down Under I’m mentioning it to friends, colleagues and clients who I’m sure will all find it useful.

The book, published in 2018, is written by two Norwegian medical students and sex educators who aim to ‘bring genital elightenment to the masses’. So far so good, but in practice I find books about sex tend to be quite dry (take it from someone who’s waded through Schnarch and a lot of Masters and Johnson research, I know, I’m weird!)

This one is written very much with the reader in mind, sentences are punchy and the tone is conversational. There’s no judgement, instead a lot of practical advice and information about what a healthy body and sex life looks like and how to keep it that way.

Books about sex and our bodies do tend to date very quickly as our understanding develops, for example I’d never read anything more than 5 years old about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as the information is very likely to have been overtaken by more up to date research. This book includes up to date information about STIs which is great but once it’s aged a bit I’d recommend reading it in conjunction with a bit of research.

I’d recommend this book to parents of teens of both genders, all educators of children, counsellors, women and the people who love them.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

We’re coming to the end of mental health awareness week and it’s been a great chance to raise awareness of mental wellbeing as well as ill-health, which is what people often think of.

I wrote a short piece for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy on how not being able to talk about feelings adversely affects men and boys.

Https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/2018/may-2018-mental-health-awareness-week/may-2018-men-and-stress/

Many men have expressed their surprise at how easy it is to talk in the counselling room, given a skilled listener. All too often we take on board cultural messages about men not needing to be listened to, that they should be able to work things out on their own.

Let’s not give our sons these damaging and isolating messages, listen to them, encourage them to open up, to share with trusted friends and family.

5 Principles to a Stronger Relationship

Thanks to David at Select Psychology in Tynemouth who asked me to write a short piece for their website for Valentine’s Day. I thought it was the least I could do in recognition of all the fresly brewed coffee and teapigs green tea he lets me drink there!

I’ve seen many couples for relationship therapy over the years: some have managed to part with a better understanding of why they found it so difficult to sustain a loving relationship, while many leave grateful for the opportunity to deepen their relationship and move to the next level of togetherness as a result of facing difficulties.

I’m a Relate trained therapist, and also a big fan of the Gottman Institute’s work in researching thousands of real couples since the 1970s (https://www.gottman.com/about/research/) as I believe it’s important to base therapy on a sound evidence base. I’m a bit of a relationship geek and actually enjoy reading research papers!

Four of the principles from the Gottmans’ work that I find myself using all the time are included in their book ‘The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work’ and their ‘Sound Relationship House’, both of which can be easily found online.

69% of conflicts go unresolved: not every disagreement has to be worked through and many successful couples never address 69% of these. Make it a rule to consciously choose which conflicts are worth working on together and which are not important.

5:1 ratio: often when couples come to see me they’ve become frustrated because in trying to improve the relationship they’ve got to a point where every interaction is negative. This is an easy trap to fall into because humans naturally focus on problem solving, but research shos that every negative or problem solving statement needs to be balanced by at least five positive ones. I think of it like vaccinating your relationship in advance of the bugs of life!

Love Maps: often when we date we stay up all night talking and finding out about our partner, but when things become more familiar we forget our partner is changing all the time. Making time to find out how their day went, whether their favourite colour has changed, where they would love to go on holiday helps to build a shared foundation for togetherness.

Turning Towards, not against or away: when conflict calls there are two really unhelpful ways to manage things, you can fight, or you can run away. The only successful way of managing differences of perspective in a relationship is to turn towards each other in calm moments and find ways to speak and hear each other respectfully and with empathy.

In addition to these, in ‘Romancing the Shadow: A Guide to Soul Work for a Vital, Authentic Life’ Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf write about the relationship as being the ‘third body’ that needs to be nourished. I prefer to think of a relationship as a garden that grows between two people. If one (or both) parties neglects the garden then weeds and pests will quickly invade the space and take over, but if both people make space and time to cultivate their shared garden it will flourish and grow as they would wish.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Armele Philpotts is a relationship and family therapist working at Relate and privately in the North East of England. She is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Association for Family Therapy