Christmas-proof your relationship

“Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace.” – Edward Hays

xmasdisasterTomorrow is the start of December, and it’s so easy at this very special time of year to get caught up with the chores of Christmas: the cards, the gifts, the cooking .. and put our couple relationship on the back burner until the New Year.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but sometimes the stress can take its toll on our relationships, with many couples seeking counselling from me after the holiday season, when stress, the family, disappointed expectations (and one too many Baileys) have resulted in relationship melt-down.

December is a great time to take stock of our relationships, and to make sure loving each other is part of the run up to Christmas. Those of you who read my posts regularly will know I’m a firm believer in the power of small sustained actions to build and sustain loving relationships.

So for the third year in a row I invite you to follow my new and improved Relationship Advent Calendar Challenge, a great way to build acts of love into each day from December 1st, as my seasonal gift to you.

And if you haven’t met your sweetie yet ..  you’re still warmly invited to take part .. use this time to practise the actions I suggest on your friends and family.

So, what’s a “Relationship Advent Calendar?

A lot of advent calendars are about getting, but this one’s all about giving, because in a relationship we give to receive. Every day in December until Christmas, I’ll reveal a new action to build and sustain your couple relationship.

Subscribe to the blog, follow me on Twitter or Facebook and & get 25 acts of love delivered to your inbox each day, starting tomorrow December 1!

I’ll be doing all of these right along with you .. I’d love to hear how you get on ..

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Are you excited about this advent project? Do get in touch using the Comments box below or my Contacts details to the right of your screen .. happy adventing!

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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.

separation .. get support

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/

8 Ways to Babyproof your Relationship .. after the arrival

The goal is to have a conversation in a way so that you can have another conversation tomorrow . Unknown

babynewsmWhen your baby is born it may feel like it’s your birthday, with lots of attention, gifts and well wishers, but the reality is that looking after a new baby can be hard on your relationship as well as on you individually.

Children are both the best and hardest challenge for a couple, they bring joy and love as well as frustration, anxiety and test parents to their limits. Amidst all this it’s easy to lose track of what brought them here in the first place, your relationship.

Once your baby arrives it’s important to look after yourselves, not just for your own sakes but everyone in the family:

  • Take time out to talk, listen and to have fun together
  • Make time for each of you to be alone, hang out with friends and remember what it’s like to be you, not mum or dad
  • Be flexible, and be prepared to change your approach as your child’s needs develop
  • Be realistic about what you can manage .. Simplify, simplify, simplify!!
  • Avoid being territorial about the baby, share with your partner even if they do things differently to you
  • Be each other’s cheerleaders and point out successes at least once a day
  • Keep an eye on each other to watch for signs of postnatal depression or other indications that you’re finding the adjustment tough
  • Find outside sources of support in your community or online, like mumsnet or http://newdadsnetwork.com to help you through this time

And above all don’t give up, if you feel you need additional help with your relationship contact a specialist relationship counselling organization like Relate or a qualified private relationship counsellor.

With thanks for much of this material to Elizabeth Martyn, whose book Babyshock, is one of a series of books by Relate on maintaining happy and healthy relationships.

babynewWhat do you think? Have you been given any really useful advice about becoming a parent? Are you finding things difficult and would appreciate a confidential place to talk about it?

Get in touch using the form below or using my contact details.

4 Way to Babyproof your relationship .. before the birth

The greatest thing you can do for your children, is love your partner . Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families

babybumpsmImagine someone moved in with you, and your partner fell deeply in love with them?

To make things even worse this person screamed every 3 hours day and night, demanded food and took your hard earned money?

Children are both the best and hardest challenge for a couple, they bring joy and love as well as frustration, anxiety and test parents to their limits. Amidst all this it’s easy to lose track of what brought them here in the first place, your relationship.

Whether you chose to become pregnant or not, parenthood is a shared adventure, and it’s a good idea to prepare for it together as much as you can now, while you have the time and energy to devote to it.

  • Take time out to talk about your expectations and assumptions about how things might change in your lives, you may be surprised!
  • Above all practice listening, listen and listen some more!
  • Some things to think and talk about might be: sex, lifestyle, holidays, time together, wider family contact, time for intimacy, how you manage money, work, finding support outside your couple, childcare, any worries about the birth and becoming a parent you might have.
  • What might you have to give up and what do you hope to gain by becoming parents? What are your individual and couple goals and how will having a child affect them in the coming years? What changes can you manage before the birth and what needs to be put off?

If you find talking about these issues difficult you can seek support from a specialist relationship counsellor who will help you, either as a couple or on your own, to prepare for the changes ahead.

With thanks for much of this material to Elizabeth Martyn, whose book Babyshock, is one of a series of books by Relate on maintaining happy and healthy relationships.

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What do you think? Have you been given any really useful advice about becoming a parent? Are you worried about the challenge ahead?

Get in touch using the form below or using my contact details.

Babyproof your Relationship

Becoming parents is a marvellous time for many couples, and for others it can be rough, even leading to relationship breakdown.

birth and baby basics The lovely Janine Rudin over at Birth and Baby Basics asked me to write a couple of articles on preparing your relationship for the birth, as well as ideas on how to manage things afterwards.

Janine is an inspiring antenatal teacher, doula, baby massage instructor and postnatal educator, who’s been providing a unique combination of professional support and services from pregnancy through to life as a young family on Tyneside since 2008.

I’m lucky enough to be a mother, but when my baby arrived it was by no means plain sailing. At times it felt like my husband, new baby and I were in a tiny boat on very stormy seas. We had very little support close by at that time and I suffered from post-natal depression. Eventually my marriage broke down, which at the time was really tough, but gave me the motivation to heal, as well as learn how to help others who might be in a similar position.

Go and take a look at Janine’s fab Birth and Baby Basics website and see what I wrote here .. and here.

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I would love to hear what you think about becoming a parent? Did you struggle? Any tips? Any hopes or worries you’d like to share?

Do get in touch by Commenting below or using my Contact details to speak direct.

Fighting for your relationship ..

“If peace cannot be maintained with honour, it is no longer peace”

Lord John Russell (1792-1878)

The most common problem that couples report when coming to me for relationship counselling is arguments that they find difficult to successfully resolve. In other words they’re stuck in a pattern and they need some help to  find alternative ways to deal with it. This might seem daunting, but is usually straightforward enough, with both partners’ effort, to quickly resolve.

The second most common problem, and one which has usually been going on longer than the ‘conflict style’ above, is when a couple come to me and say “We never fight; I just don’t love him / her any more”.

The second style can often be more damaging because it becomes invisible .. couples pride themselves on keeping the peace when in actual fact levels of resentment are rising and both partners are compromising their personal integrity in the interests of “the relationship”. The partner who has an affair because ‘my husband / wife doesn’t understand me’ is often guilty of not opening up enough to allow their partner to understand them because of a fear of conflict.

Contrary to what people with both these conflict styles believe, conflict is actually necessary and healthy for two people in a relationship (and of course within families) in order that individuals be able to express their true selves and to be understood, to maintain clear personal boundaries and to enable growth.

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Something to keep in mind is that both of these conflict styles have an effect on children living around these patterns of behaviour. Research by the Gottman Institute suggests that

” .. parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes.”

While couples whose conflict style involve withdrawal can produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

And of course your children will learn and repeat your conflict style in their own relationships.

To put this learning into practice in your relationship ask yourself which conflict style tends to dominate between you?

If it’s the first practise spotting when you feel the temperature rising in your exchanges (faster breathing, tension, heightened temperature) and taking time out, at least 20 minutes, to let your breathing slow to normal and resume the conversation using only “I” statements, eg I believe / think / feel that ..

If you tend to withdraw from conflict practise spotting when this happens. Again take at least 20 minutes time out to work out what your position is on the issue at hand and return to your partner. Find a good time for both of you to discuss it, explain your position briefly, and calmly, thank them for listening, tell them you would love to hear their side and give your partner some time to process before they get back to you. This will avoid their tendency to ‘cave in’ to avoid the anxiety of conflict.

Both these strategies will feel unnatural at first, but with time and practise will become second nature as you experience the benefits of being understood.

Sometimes getting your relationships moving forward needs an outside perspective. If that’s what you need get in touch with a well qualified and experienced relationship coach who should be able to work together with you to achieve your relationship goals.