Slow things down: Adult Emotional Connection part 2

We previously saw what can happen when emotional connection between adult partners is weakened. This week let’s look at how it helps to slow things down, by doing these four things:

  • Notice that you are getting into a familiar cycle of conflict – perhaps one pushing and the other withdrawing.
  • Call out the cycle. Name it as an unhelpful external force and work on it together.
  • Try to see from your partner’s perspective, without judging what you find, and
  • Honestly look within yourself for the underlying feelings of vulnerability that are sparked in you by the conflict with your partner.

Sharing these deeper feelings will be the first step towards re-establishing emotional connection, once the negative, destructive cycle can be stopped.

More about how to slow things down

This slowing down, or de-escalation is vital but can feel difficult to achieve so it’s worth looking in more detail at how to manage this new approach to conflict. Dr Sue Johnson in her book Hold me Tight describes first, the process of recognising the pattern of conflict.

Recognising the pattern of conflict

There are three basic variants which Sue Johnson calls:

“Find the Bad Guy”- or “It’s Not Me, It’s You!”

This is a pattern of mutual blame which keeps the couple apart. Underneath mutual accusations and recriminations, there is a starting point of emotional flooding; You might think of this as a trigger. Something your partner says or does of the tone they use which “rubs your fur up the wrong way”.

If this feels like criticism or implied criticism, in order to defend ourselves we might react verbally in emotional self-defence at our partner. If this makes our partner feel vulnerable and alarmed, they may retaliate and we can easily get locked into a repetitive cycle of emotional negativity. Irritation and reaction escalate quickly. This destroys the feeling of safety and security with our partner which we actually need, so we need to slow it down.

“Protest Polka”

A very frequently found pattern which she calls “Protest Polka”. In this, one party reaches out, “protesting” the emotional disconnection. The other, sensing an implied criticism of themselves, withdraws, inspiring the first partner to try harder, which pushes the second partner further away. You can think of this as Pursuer/Defender. As you might imagine this can easily become a self-perpetuating circle but one in which the real emotional motivation for the push and pull is never addressed. People come to therapy, aware of “communication problems” and this push and withdraw cycle is often what they are experiencing.

Freeze and Flee”

This pattern may evolve out of the push and withdraw cycle if it is not improved. This third stage is one of mutual self-protection, lack of connection, pained silence and withdrawal. It happens when the pursuer finally gives up and also lapses into hopelessness and detachment. Quite often there are no rows. Partners are polite and civil with each other, but the emotional connection has been un-nourished for so long it has withered and may die unless action is taken.

How to handle these patterns

Keep blame out of it. Each of these patterns may emerge from our own specific ways of being, our family history and how we kept ourselves emotionally safe as a child or in previous relationships. Those mechanisms may have been helpful back in the day, and so we learn to fall back on them, however, we change as we grow and develop through life. What worked well previously with different people; parents or partners, may not work well for us now. It takes time and reflection for us to recognise that. Give yourself time. Slow things down and have patience.

If as a couple we want to improve our relationship, it helps not to harbour grudges. We are all carrying emotional baggage with us, but we can decide whether it is useful to keep carrying it. We can each choose not to point out our partner’s (former) faults and we can reflect on our own faults and choose to lay them down. That may be difficult and may take time. We may need help from each other or from professionals, but we can always choose to seek a new attitude with creativity and positivity.

Next week we will look at how to look in on ourselves and understand our own feelings and vulnerabilities. Once we have an idea of these and can share them with our partner, the door can open to the kind of close and mutually supportive relationship that so many of us want to find.

If you would like to get in touch to discuss difficulties in your own relationship in confidence and safety, please phone 07375 029 075 or use the contact form on my home page.

Adult emotional connection

Emotional connection and attachment in adults and adult relationships

Adult emotional connection

Previously we looked at how children develop a sense of security and safety in early life through emotional connection and attachment. We saw what happens if instead of security, children develop a sense of insecurity. Here we look at adult emotional connection, and how to start improving it.

How can we strengthen adult emotional connection?

For adults and adult relationships, partners in securely bonded relationships can reciprocally ask for and give care, love and support of their partner, knowing that their call will be heard. This freedom allows each to explore their relationship and feelings in the reliable knowledge that they will not be rejected or criticised.

What does it look like when it goes wrong?

If in our adult relationship we find that we do not feel heard, if we feel overlooked or unimportant, taken for granted or criticised for our needs, like the uncertain child, we build our own defences and create our own security blanket.

That might look like silence and withdrawal or reluctance to be participate in a physical relationship. If our calls for attention are ignored, our defences might also express as frustration and anger. Unfortunately these have the effect of pushing our loved one further away rather than drawing them close as we really wish.

What can we do about this?

Remember, Safety First. These suggestions do not apply if there is any domestic abuse or violence or if there’s an ongoing affair. These factors affect our ability to positively engage with our partners and that’s what we’re working towards.

Learning to meet your partner at an emotional level can work lasting magic in your relationship. But, do both partners want to meet each other at that level?  Are you both prepared to make changes in yourselves? Changing the relationship can only happen if partners make changes in themselves.

De-escalate

The first thing is not to try to hammer out a solution when the emotional temperature is high. Don’t try to reach the soul of your partner during an argument, or when you are feeling picked on or ignored, unloved or unheard or irritated or taken for-granted.

Honesty is always worthwhile however, and it can help if you can find a way of gently letting your partner know how you are feeling in that moment and that you’d find it helpful to talk, but later.  Something like, “I can hear that you’re irritated with me. I’m not really sure why that is and I hope you’ll be able to tell me later. It makes me sad and lonely to feel excluded from you when you’re angry with me.”

This kind of approach can help to cover a number of bases:

  • It allows the angry, irritated person to know that they’ve been heard. (Their irritation may be a symptom of some emotional need)
  • It allows them to know that their partner wants to understand why they feel irritated, when the time is right.
  • There’s no judgement or criticism of the angry partner. No striking back verbally or rising to the bait. (This can just wind things up to a higher pitch)
  • There’s an offering of honest vulnerability. Finding and expressing an underlying feeling of sadness and loneliness is hard to do. It opens up the precise emotional raw spot that we might otherwise try to numb, blunt or divert by any of our usual defensive tactics.

Finding the underlying feelings

This sort of sadness and loneliness creates a deep hurt. It’s a lack of that precious emotional connection. It’s about feeling excluded from your primary supportive grouping; your couple. The place where you should feel most at ease, accepted and welcomed. This feeling of exclusion and being “cast out” could also happen for people rejected by their family or in-laws.

After de-escalation, how do we start working on re-creating lasting adult emotional connection? We will explore this further in part 3., to follow.

There are lots of resources out there to support you if you wish. If you are affected by anything mentioned here and would like to talk it through with an experienced relationships counsellor please get in touch via the contact form on the home page or email anytime.

Emotional Connection

Emotional connection through attachment bonding

Part 1  How it starts.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;…” John Donne wrote this in 1624 and it is no less true today.

He was right of course. We humans are mammalian creatures who naturally live together in social groups, nurturing and supporting each other physically and emotionally in small ways every day.

You’ve seen this behaviour in footage of our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees in the wild, grooming each other. Paying attention to each other, slowing down, taking time, being focused on each other and helping the other to feel safe and secure. They can lift their arms and speak of their needs, “saying”, you’ve missed a bit, without their partner taking offence.

Emotional connection as children

Many parents naturally behave like this with our own new-born children. We tend them physically and emotionally, looking into their eyes and calming them with soothing sounds and cuddles when they are sad or frightened. We check with them what they need, trying things out; food, water, cuddles, sleep, play, fresh air…we ask by offering and we listen to their reply and act on it.

Attachment working…

We don’t have to be there 100% of the time with babies. We can soothe them and let go of them for short periods.  They learn to know that they can rely on us to come when they call and tell us that they need us. If we do that, they learn to manage to cope on their own for short periods between calling us. They learn to trust us. To trust that we will return to them and hear their call and act on it. They begin to feel secure with us and relaxed. This lets them explore their world and learn more. Some of what they learn is to do with building their own emotional resilience, within the framework of care that we build for them.

Emotional connection

We can do this for ourselves and our adult partners too, but more of that in Part 2.

Problems with attachment…

If as parents we can’t or won’t attend reliably to our babies’ and young children’s needs, this can lead them to feel abandoned and frightened that they don’t know if or when we will return to them. This feeling of insecurity is an emotional burden and a hurt for them, even if they are physically well looked after; well fed and clothed.

Such anxiety can stop children feeling secure and they develop strategies to soothe themselves and make themselves feel safe again. They may learn to avoid the emotional pain of not being attended to by teaching themselves not to expect care. They may appear to be “very good” children, not “needy”, but “quiet” and able to “look after themselves”

This all happens within a curve that we all have a place on. Some children are naturally quieter and are happy to play by themselves for longer than others. When they become engrossed in play it does not necessarily mean that they are soothing themselves from emotional pain. If they have been given a secure base it more probably means that they have learned to be confident that their carer will return. Meanwhile, their confidence is allowing them to safely explore their world.

However, feelings of anxiety and abandonment may emerge pre-language, so the child cannot express verbally how uncertain they really feel. If these feelings and responses get embedded early in the child’s life this can set up a pattern for how the child will respond emotionally in later life if they experience the same feelings again.

Emotional connection as adults…

Part 2 of this mini-series will deal with how this pattern can show up in adults and adult relationships and what we can do about it.

Attachment and bonding is central to our relationships. If you would like to talk through anything that is arising for you, please get in touch either via the contact form on the home page or by email.

Healthy Emotional Boundaries

Healthy Emotional Boundaries

Healthy emotional boundaries are about defining ourselves, what we’re happy with and what we’re not. Respecting our own self-worth and helping others to know and respect it too.  When we set boundaries we can find and keep our own sense of identity.

When we’re in a couple, respect works both ways and in the same way that we feel comfortable and secure when our own boundaries are respected, so it is for our partners. How can we learn to manage these boundaries so that we can still connect and be joyful together without crashing into a painful unseen barrier and causing or feeling emotional pain? Here are five ways we can help ourselves.

1. Know ourselves

Take time to explore ourselves and find out where our boundaries lie in different circumstances. Setting healthy emotional boundaries can have many benefits, including helping us make decisions based on what is best for us, not just the people around us. This autonomy is an important part of self-care.

2. Become comfortable with this

We can feel free and relaxed within our individual space of comfort and so when we’re true to ourselves and secure there, we become the best version of ourselves, for us and others and a good model for our children, if we have them.

3. Learn how to express these boundaries clearly and calmly

Keep it simple, honest and focused on what we need ourselves rather than what we’d like the other to do or stop doing. Some explanation can help in order to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings. For example: When I get in from work I need time to change gear mentally, and it helps me to reconnect to family life to have 10 minutes to myself first.

4. Be clear what happens if the boundary is crossed

In a different scenario, maybe after an affair when trust needs to be re-built, try saying, for example: I find it difficult not to feel excluded and fearful when you are on Facebook so much and don’t tell me who you’re chatting to. I don’t want us to slip back into our old habits and this time for us to split up.  It would help me to feel comfortable and less worried about splitting up if we both came off Facebook altogether for a month and focused on talking to each other.

5. Watch out for and respect your partner’s boundaries

There are different kinds of boundaries in different situations and times of life: rigid and porous, professional and personal, physical, emotional, sexual. We are not mind-readers. We need our partner to be able to explain what they feel comfortable with so that we can respect this.

Sometimes talking about boundaries can lead us to feel defensive, as if we have done something wrong. It’s important to avoid making ourselves or our partner feel guilty. If we explain clearly, calmly and kindly what we mean, those who love us and have our best interests at heart will probably do whatever they can to make us feel comfortable and at ease.

For example, for an army veteran, sudden loud noises or open doors may trigger previous trauma. Rather than getting irritated about the open door but not explaining why and the couple rowing over this “stupid little thing” it can help to explain this simply. You could try  saying: “I feel really insecure sleeping with the bedroom door open because of my previous experiences. It helps me feel relaxed and safe to have it closed.”

Interested to find out more about where your own boundaries lie and how to express these to your partner? Contact us via the home page or email us for information about arranging a no-obligation assessment consultation.

Heathy Emotional Boundaries  BACP registered logo
Laura Scott, MBACP

Reconnect with our partners

Eight ways to reconnect with our partners

In a world filled with stress, uncertainty and high separation rates, what do we need to do to stay together? How do we nurture our relationships, reconnect and stay happy with our partners?

In my relationship counselling work, I see common patterns and themes of what can contribute to a relationship’s downfall and what fosters a satisfying one.

Here is a list of 8 simple ways couples can strengthen relationships and beat the statistics.

1. Be the partner you want

It’s easy to get lost focusing on your partner’s shortcomings. However, blaming stunts connection and responsible participation in your relationship. Blaming ensures an unhappy cycle. So, challenge yourself to explore what you are contributing to the relationship. Ask yourself, how you can improve what you bring?

2. Set aside 10-15 minutes every day with no devices.

Ask your partner about their day and listen with purpose. Focus on what they are saying. Ask questions and/or summarise what you have heard so they know they’ve been heard. Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman, found that a few minutes of focused communication are more important than spending a week together with distractions.

3. Practise daily appreciation for one another.

In the business of life and daily stress, it’s easy to focus on what isn’t working or what your partner isn’t doing to your liking. Here’s the challenge: Train yourself to focus on what they are doing right, how they are contributing positively and then let them know. This daily practice of expressed appreciation reconnects and reminds our partners they are loved, and as a result, cultivates a stronger connection with further understanding.

4. Eat meals together without screens.

Research shows that couples who eat together feel better about their partners. During meals you are sharing time in the experience of eating, sharing your likes, dislikes and conversing about your day. Remember to leave your devices with notifications turned off.

5. Plan a holiday together without the kids.

It’s so easy for many parents to anxiously focus on their children’s activities at the expense of their primary intimate relationship. Be mindful of the balance. All our relationships require time, investment and attention to thrive. When is the last holiday, short or long, that you took with your partner? As lockdown begins to ease, maybe it’s time to start planning one today. Even a weekend away can work wonders!

6. Do physical activities together.

Couples who participate in physical activity together report more satisfaction in their relationship. To increase this phenomenon, studies tell us that couples who take more risks to embark on new and “exciting” activities feel more “connected” to each other. Have conversations about a physical activity that interests you. Try something new together, or something you haven’t done in a while. Commit to it and mark it down in your calendar this week.

7. Date night.

Setting time aside to reconnect with our partners shows them they matter. How about scheduling a date night once every 2-weeks? Whether you’re putting the kids to bed and having a candlelit dinner at home, or curling up together with Netflix, (without devices!) set this time in your calendar. This is one appointment that will help fuel your connection.

8. Have more physical contact.

Increase your emotional intimacy through touch. Physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone), can improve our mood and is calming. Holding hands, hugging, touching, and kissing can reduce your stress hormones (cortisol) and increase your sense of relationship satisfaction.

While this list may seem like a lot, these ideas are all very doable. Relationships require effort and thoughtful planning. Change takes time and you’ll want to set yourself up for success, so start with small steps and don’t give up.

Why not discuss the list with your partner and choose one or two items to undertake this week. Then as you move forward, add or change the items you are doing.  

At times, relationships require additional help of a professional. Don’t hesitate to contact me for an initial consultation or to book your online couple counselling appointment today.

How to keep kids and ourselves going

More thoughts on how to keep kids, and ourselves going…

Expect behavioural issues in children and respond gently.   We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children. Children rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next.  Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns.  How can we keep ourselves and the kids going? Do not introduce major behavioural plans or consequences at this time; hold stable and focus on emotional connection.

What can we do to keep the kids going?

Focus on safety and attachment.  We are going to be living for a bit yet with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, home-schooling children, running a sterile household, and managing summer in partial confinement.  Adults can get wrapped up in meeting expectations out with the home, but we must remember that these can be lonely and unpredictable times for children. Children can feel out of control, cut off from normal routines and friendships.

To help children feel secure, focus on strengthening the connection of attachment. This can be done through time spent following their lead. Connection grows through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and verbal reassurances that you will be there for them.

What can we do to keep ourselves going?

Allow yourself to lower expectations and practise radical self-acceptance.  We are juggling so many things in this moment, still under uncertainty and stress.  This does not make a formula for excellence.  Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self-acceptance”. Accept everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.  You cannot fail at this; there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an unpredictable situation.

Online counselling can help to relieve  parents’ anxieties and keep things in proportion. Contact us using the online form for further information or email to book an initial assessment consultation without obligation. 

 

Anxiety and what can help

Anxiety and what can help

When we worry, we can get caught up in anxiety and magnifying the risks to ourselves. We think about the worst that could happen and tell ourselves that it will happen, catastrophising, in other words. It’s difficult to think rationally about what can help when caught in that whirl of panic that can arise.

What can help?

What can help, first, is to find whatever way works for you to calm yourself. This might be; focusing on breathing slowly, raising your eyes to the outside world, moving your body, maybe yoga, sport or just a walk in the fresh air.

When you have slowed your thoughts a little, it can help to capture them by writing them down – just for you. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. The very act of getting your thoughts and worries down on paper can help you to sort them out a little and tame them.

What else can I do?

Maybe you can then think for a little about the actual risk of your fears happening. How likely is it that of all the things that could happen, the worst will actually happen. You can also ask yourself, to think that if the worst did happen, how would you deal with it?

Thinking about that won’t make the worst happen, but it will help you to deal with your worries. Making a plan of action about how to deal with your response can put you in charge and stop the worries getting out of hand.

Making a plan, thinking of what you can do to keep yourself safe really helps. If for example you’re worried about the relaxation of lockdown, remember what you can do for yourself. You can stay home where possible, or avoid crowded places. Time your shopping for when it’s quiet, wear a face covering outside, keep your distance from others. Wash your hands regularly and clean the things that you touch before you can wash your hands, like the car door handles and steering wheel.

You can take back control over your worries and this model can apply to other concerns like social anxiety and phobias. We can help anxiety, with individual or couples counselling. If you would like to know more, please get in touch for our initial no-obligation assessment consultation.

Uncertain and changing times

Relax and go with the flow in uncertain and changing times.

Sometimes change occurs and we have absolutely no control over it. We are still in the midst of uncertain and changing times with Coronavirus continuing at large and social distancing very much in place. 

Lockdown is gradually relaxing, and many are returning to work, and enjoying meeting loved ones again. For some of us, however, the return to greater contact outside the home brings more anxiety about the risks of infection and the consequences of that for our health or work.

When unexpected and unwelcome change happens, even though we can’t stop it happening, we can still choose how we are going to respond. If we resist change and remain rigid and inflexible in our mindset, the challenges and necessary adaptation to our behaviour may feel a lot more difficult and possibly even painful.

How to reduce anxiety

Some anxiety about change is totally normal but it is not helpful if we let it get out of control. some questions to ask ourselves are: How realistic are our worries? Can we make a worry into an action? Make a plan and carry it through instead of just worrying?

Recalling that things will work out and that we do have the power to adapt may make it easier to cultivate a positive attitude and mindset towards change.

Remember that at every stage, this is a phase; It will come to an end and resolve. Try if you can to keep a feeling of perspective. Meanwhile, going with the flow, being gentle with yourself while doing so, is likely to be helpful. Find places and activities that do help to make you feel safe

Contact us to learn more about how online counselling/ therapy can help. Email for details of our no-obligation initial assessment consultation.

Children and young people

Thinking about children and young people…

Hello I’m Laura, individuals and couples counsellor working exclusively online at the moment by IM, email, phone and webcam: sharing some thoughts during lockdown. Children and young people are part of the family and what affects them can also impact on parents and siblings. It can help to know what to do to manage stress on the young ones. 

How can we help children and young people who are still not back in their routine?

For children

Spend extra time playing with children… Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play. You might well see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play. Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children. Play is how children process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.

For young people

For younger (and older) people… Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blow-ups; Don’t show up to every argument you are invited to, and don’t hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.

And if we can help, do get in touch! Children and young people impact on their parents’ lives too. Email me on LauraScott13@Protonmail.com or through the online form on the home page or phone 07375 293 075  to arrange a convenient date and time.