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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald click here or read below:

Make sure depression does not destroy your relationship 

In my work with couples it often comes to light, that at some point in the past, one of the couple has struggled with depression. Through therapy couples often come to realise that the way they responded at the time harmed their relationship. In this article I explain what often happens and what to do.

Depression often occurs after something has happened in a person's life that has been difficult to cope with. The struggle can be very tiring, resulting in low confidence and a circle of behaviour that only serves to lead to more unhappiness. 

It can have a terrible impact on how someone experiences their life on a day to day basis, symptoms often include a felt sense of low desire to undertake daily activities including work, socialising, exercise etc. It can have a debilitating effect and often be a very confusing experience for the sufferer and their friends and relatives. It can also have a significant impact upon partners and can often lead to the breakdown of relationships.

So what goes wrong? In our relationships we generally expect that partners support each other during difficult times and illness. So far so good! However the difficulty tends to come from failing to support partners in a way that recognises the needs of a healthy relationship.

All too often, the person struggling will most likely be experienced by their partner as withdrawing and this creates a dilemma. On the one hand the partner will be upset to see the person they care about struggling and want to help them, whilst at the same time they are also likely to be struggling themselves with negative feelings about how the relationship with their partner has changed.

To be upset ourselves when our partners are struggling can be difficult as judging thoughts can come to mind like indulgent, selfish, uncaring. We prefer to think that when things go wrong for someone we care about we will drop everything and put the other person first and that they will do the same for us. Whilst this expresses just how important our partners are for us it introduces a mindset that leads to thinking about “them and me” and not about “us”. So at a time when we both most need our relationship to be working well we tend to put it on hold, relegate it, not give it priority.

Quite simply if you are affected by the fact your partner is struggling then you need to look at it as information telling you that your relationship is struggling. If someone is unhappy in a relationship then it is an unhappy relationship and no matter how tempting it is to try and hide this fact from a partner who is struggling, ultimately that partner will not thank you for this further down the line.

So what is it that happens that causes the relationship harm? Usually the partner not struggling puts their needs to one side, they might miss their “old partner”, but they give them space, or their sex life but don’t want to impose, or being able to talk about their own problems. Unfortunately the denial of needs tends to have a habit of impacting upon us in ways we do not expect. 

Of course the struggling partner will be finding it hard to carry on as though nothing is happening but if that partner also loses the benefit to their sense of self that comes from being able to make their partner happy, then thats just another thing to add to their probably ever increasing list of failures. They might not even realise this so it is up to the supporting partner to remind them!

Unfortunately patterns get put in place whereby the supporting partner also withdraws and changes their behaviour with the result the way the relationship works is changed to such an extent that a time comes when neither recognise it any more. The relationship can be experienced as lifeless, dead, lonely. 

Couples can often avoid this for years, particularly if they have children, busy jobs, other interests etc but ultimately they become to realise that their relationship is no longer there for them.

Main points - 

  • Think about your relationship - it is not helpful to think just about your partner and yourself separately. 
  • Take a step back and think together about what you can do so that you can both feel as though you remain committed to each other
  • Even if your relationship is in a good place at the moment talk about this now - if trouble comes along you will have an agreed strategy in place and this will make it much easier to have the conversations that will help.
  • If you or your partner is depressed share this article with them and think about seeking couples / relationship / marriage counselling.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, click here to visit the site or read below.

Here’s how to give yourself a summer mental health and wellbeing check up!
 
Summer can be a great time to take stock. The disruption in our usual routines can remind us that there are different ways to live and this can be enough to help us make some simple but hugely important changes.
 
The summer holiday is for many people the one time when they feel they have earned the right to do what they enjoy. As a result it is a time when many things are enjoyed - some of which maybe vital for well being - but how can you decide what is vital and what is merely pleasure for pleasures sake? 
 
It is a natural tendency for us to let the things that support us fall by the wayside at times when the pressure of everyday life demands sacrifices. I use the word sacrifice intentionally because what I see people doing every day is “sacrificing” something. Firstly because there is a hope that some reward will follow and secondly because a sacrifice is mostly seen and understood as positive thing. Everyone has heard something said like “she sacrificed the best years of her live for  her children and see how they repay her”, or “he worked for them for years, put up with poor pay and now look at how he’s been treated”. It doesn’t change what has happened but it does position the one who has sacrificed as the one to be judged more sympathetically. 
 
In other words I think people can find themselves leading hard lives because they prefer to think of themselves as someone who sacrifices. And then of course people don’t sacrifice overtime for time with their families, don’t sacrifice promotion for staying in a job they are actually enjoying, don’t sacrifice the rush hour commute in favour of a yoga class, don’t sacrifice the hour they spend each day reading bad news for an hour listening to music, reading, walking, making love… A sacrifice seems to be about giving up something we find positive…
 
My point is simply that the judgements and beliefs we hold about the way to approach life will affect the way in which we make decisions and not always for the best! So use the summer holidays to give yourself a mental health and wellbeing check up and heres how. 
 
Think about and write down:
 
1. The things you do during your usual routines that you are pretty certain are unhealthy / unhelpful, the things you would like to change or improve for example, lose weight, drink less, exercise more etc. 
 
2. Your life when you are in your usual routines and without stopping to analyse/censure what comes to mind list the times when you have the most positive feelings/thoughts/bodily sensations.
 
3. When you get the most negative feelings/thoughts/bodily sensations.
 
4. How this compares to when you are on holiday.
 
 
Now:
 
1 Write down the three most significant things that you DO NOT feel compelled by when on holiday. For example “on holiday I do not feel under pressure to get everywhere on time” again do not stop to analyse or censure.
 
2. Again without analysing / censuring, write down what would need to be different for example, “I would need to start working part time”.
 
3. NOW is the time to allow yourself to analyse and censure your reactions to these changes - so list all the reasons why you do not think you can change.
 
This is the point at which you will see all your judgements and belief’s - ask yourself “what of the things I’ve listed here do I actually know, where does this come from and what evidence do I have that this applies to me and my life?”.
 
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Our latest article is being published in the Chiswick Herald newspaper and online here. Or read below:

Mental Health Round Up
 
It has been a very busy few weeks in mental health and it is heartening to see so many people agreeing it is time for mental health concerns to shake off stigma. The charity led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Heads Together aims to encourage people to speak out when they are struggling.
 
Of course it is part of our experience of being alive that we have an internal and private world of thoughts and experiences that we do not routinely share with others. So how can we know whether we have a concern which needs attention?
 
At the present time it still seems that only in certain instances can it be accepted that someone might struggle with their mental health; so people who have experienced life changing trauma or those who through a number of factors are diagnosed with a mental health condition. It is also still a harsh reality that only if someone’s “presentation” fit with a recognised “condition” will their struggle be seen as genuine and treatment be provided through health services. Further with all the gaps still existing in the science around mental health we cannot yet be clear about whether existing treatments are in fact effective treatments.  
 
All so called “mental health conditions” (still widely thought of as illnesses) are not identified by the presence of viruses, bacterias, infections, tumours or fractures etc but rather by observed “experiences”.  PTSD, ADHD, Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anxiety Disorders, Learning Difficulties etc are all identified through observation and judgement. The authors of the worlds most widely recognised diagnostic publication the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) have stated that they are concerned that science has not yet been able to validate the categories of conditions it contains. 
 
If you cannot be completely certain about the problem how can you be completely certain about the treatment? And if the treatment is not correct what might the implications be for the patient? For example, in the UK it has been identified that young black men are much more likely than young white men to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and no underlying biological cause has been found. So I think that a system that only treats and recognises “conditions” may be as effective at preventing people seeking and getting help as it is at encouraging treatment.
 
Indeed in response to my article published on the 24th February “What causes mental illness?” where I reviewed a seminar I had attended based upon a book by RD Laing and Aaron Esterson called Sanity, Madness and the Family, the seminar convenor, Anthony Stadlen wrote:
 
“I think the title is a bit misleading, as the whole point of the book, as I try to explain in the seminars, was to question "mental illness" and "schizophrenia", not to ask what "causes" them. The very first sentences of the Preface to the Second Edition were:
 
"There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion. But it has been taken to be so by many people." 
 
I think this whole question is really important because the gaps in scientific understanding can mean only one thing - we need to look to ourselves and how we experience our lives and decide whether we need to make changes. So back to the question I posed at the start of this article - “How can we know if we have a mental health struggle that needs attention?” Firstly, if people who you are close to say they are worried about you or have noticed that you do not seem to be your old self then take some time to think about their feedback, ask them to give more detail and if you are unsure whether they might have a point then go and see someone to talk things through with. Secondly, if you wonder whether you are struggling then again go and see someone and talk things through. Be as kind and careful with yourself as you would your best friend!
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, click here or read below; this article looks at our take on how relationship counselling would have been useful in the musical La La Land.

Love and relationships in La La Land
 
SPOILER ALERT - If you have not yet seen La La Land you might want to read this article when you have!
 
In the final scene of La La Land, as Ryan Goslings’ character plays the piece on the piano that first captured Emma Stone’s characters attention, an alternate outcome flashes by where they get together and stay together. 
 
The pivotal moment appears to be where instead of him roughly pushing past her, he instead stops and kisses her passionately. To me this suggested that if only he had acted differently in this moment, if only he hadn’t been so upset, then everything would have turned out differently? However putting my relationship therapist hat on, I would suggest a very different potential turning point in their relationship - one that if handled differently may well have led to a positive although maybe less dramatically satisfying outcome?
 
For me, the key moment in the film where I would expect the problems to have originated was where he overheard her speaking on the phone to her mother about their and his financial situation. He is seen looking at a damp patch on the ceiling and these things are shown just prior to him deciding to take on a new job. A job where it is clear is out of line with the way they had both been thinking and feeling until then. We can only imagine what he thought and how he might have felt hearing the situation and him discussed in hushed tones? And why was she speaking in this way we can also only wonder about whether she found it difficult to talk to him about this situation, there may have been a part of her that wanted him to overhear but also what she wanted him to understand? The most skilful thing for them to do at this point in time would have been to talk about something they were obviously finding difficult - so why didn’t that happen?
 
In therapy I would be wanting to understand how they both thought and felt at this point about the financial situation and to explore what they both understood about how the other was thinking and feeling? I would also want to know whether they talked together about making decisions that would impact on the relationship and to consider what had been talked about and what was not. For example, if he said that he had decided to take on this work how did she think and feel about questioning him about his reasoning? Likewise what were his thoughts and feelings about talking to her about what he saw as a problem and what he thought would be the best solution? So often partners will think or feel that talking might not be the best thing to do. They might think they should not question their partners decisions or might also not want to share for fear of burdening the partner. 
 
They might think certain subject areas are out of bounds or they might not be expecting their partner to be interested in a particular problem. An added dimension here might be how they were both very passionate about wanting to make a success in their separate careers and also aware of each others career dreams. I would want to know how they felt and thought about challenging but also being challenged about the priority they might give to their careers at that point in time?
 
So often things do not get talked about because people are so focussed on doing things in what they think is the right way they forget that in a relationship the right way is actually about teamwork. There are no rights or wrongs only the need for the couple to feel comfortable in the relationship and to think that it works for them.
 
Maybe in La La Land if they had talked about the financial situation at this point different decisions would have been made? However in my opinion, it is not so much the decision itself that is crucial as the fact that both think and feel that they made it together. It is this that I think ensures even through the most difficult of times, both partners see their situation as the problem rather than their relationship or each other and it is this state of mind and belief in their relationship that ensures they can find the energy and motivation to work in harmony.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, please click here or read below:

How to make this Christmas the best ever!
 
The Christmas holidays are a wonderful opportunity for us to strengthen and improve our relationships and yet for many they can bring stress and anxiety. For some it can be more about surviving than enjoying the Christmas holidays.
 
The first thing to remember is that people think of Christmas in many different ways and there are often many competing expectations. For example people may use the following words to express their hopes for Christmas, family times, friends, relaxing, having fun, spirituality, charity, reflection, partying, staying in, going out, log fires, wintery walks, time alone, time with others, entertaining, being entertained. Remembering this means that you can be proactive and ask people what they are wanting to get out of Christmas and what they would like to do - you can then decide with those you care about how to ensure everyone can have a good time
 
Principle one - Examine yourself first
 
Priority number one is your well being. So it is really important that you know what you want to get out of Christmas. After all it is you who will have to manage whatever plans are made. Here are a list of questions to help you think about this:-
 
How are you? 
How’s life for you at the moment?
What is concerning you at the moment?
How do you feel about family life?
What would you like to get out of Christmas?
Why do you think you want this - is this what you want or need?
Now take a moment to now think what you NEED from Christmas?
What do you not want to happen?
Thinking through how the family is at the moment what do you foresee?
In terms of current challenges what have you tried and what haven’t you tried?
Do you feel supported? Again, if not what have you tried and not tried?
How self critical are you? Yes difficult behaviours in the family may well be coming from the dynamic created by traits that you see as your own shortcomings but be kind to yourself. Don’t make yourself do things because you feel you should - find creative ways to achieve the same aims!
 
Principle two - Use a constructive and collaborative communication style
 
Avoid escalation of conflict by simplifying your communication. When you feel that conflict may arise use this four step way of ensuring you express yourself clearly and in a non confrontational way.
 
  1. State the fact/s
  2. Share your response to the situation - say how you feel and think (never say you make me feel / think because that will escalate conflict)
  3. Explain why this matters to you
  4. Share the problem you now have, ideally tell them what you want to do but if you are unsure ask them for their input
 
For example one of your family arrives late, this means you will be under pressure to get somewhere on time, this is something that you have said is important to you, you feel angry and stressed. It also means that it is unlikely you can fit in both of the things that were planned.
 
  1. I said we would need to leave at 9am but you have arrived at 9.45am
  2. I feel upset, angry and under pressure
  3. I want to be relaxed and easy going and being late means to me that I am failing but being late also means I end up under pressure 
  4. Now that we are 45 minutes I do not think we can do what we had planned, I need help in deciding what to change. Do you have any thoughts?
 
Principle three - Maintaining boundaries
 
A constructive and collaborative style of communication does not mean that you now let others decide what happens. Particularly if you are clearly the one with the designated responsibility - for example the cook of the Christmas lunch! The key concern now is finding a new plan that works for everyone - including you. With the example above you may decide to take out one of the activities that had been planned. Before you do this double check with your motivations to ensure that this is the most practical solution - that the decision is not an outlet for your difficult feelings but an answer to the dilemma you face. 
 
So you have said your piece and have invited help but it is now for you to decide what you need next. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting others to know what you want and to step in. If it doesn’t feel right then say so - in the best relationships people work together to ensure everyone is happy, it is merely wishful thinking that someone else can know you better than you know yourself. So avoid disappointment this Christmas, take responsibility for your own happiness whilst working with others to help them realise theirs!
 
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
 
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In our last article published on Friday the 28th October we started to look at the concern many people struggle with when finding a relationship difficult, mainly that the unhappiness may affect children. I suggested that it is really valuable to think about this because you can do a number of things to manage any impacts. I even think addressing the issues head on can help with improving relationships both with partners and with children.
 
Child Psychotherapist Juliet Lyons says: 
 
“Protecting your children from abusive or frightening behaviour is important. But avoiding conflict for the sake of keeping the peace will not be helpful for your children in the long run. It is important that your children learn that it ok to stand up for yourself when you believe that your partner has got it wrong and that you can work through this. This can model for your children how to navigate your way through difficulties in relationships, how to express yourself, hear your partner and compromise”.
 
In the last article I encouraged doing a review of your relationship so as to gain a clear perspective on the areas of struggle. By doing this you should be able to recall actual events and situations and the details of what happened, when, where, why, how and who was there. The value of specific events is that they are much more valuable in resolving problems than thinking of struggles in terms of generics, for example I don’t feel loved any more, I am not cared for, there is no respect in this relationship.. 
 
Think about these events and bring to mind your children, were they there? did they say anything? ask any questions? show any behaviour that suggests they might have been aware of the conflicts? Again, identify specifics for example, they stopped doing homework, asked whether you are both ok etc. When you have done this think about how you responded to them, what do you think they understood, what did you want them to understand, what did you not want them to know and why, do you still feel comfortable with how you dealt with the situation?
 
If you are thinking about this with your partner it can be really useful because there will be two different perspectives feeding into the thinking around this but you should both agree that whilst it will feel very compelling to get drawn into the conflict again and about who was to blame this is not what you are attempting to do, stay focussed on the children and agree to agree that you will return to any unresolved issues between you at another time to be agreed.
 
Adds Juliet: 
 
“The language you use is very important. It is important to make sure that you are taking responsibility for your own feelings, aiming for an ability to express vulnerability, rather than blame and attack. Marshall Rosenberg has written an excellent book on this subject- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”.
 
Hopefully you will now have been able to identify situations, behaviours, conversations that suggest whether your children may have been affected by your conflicts. Even if nothing comes to mind it is worth thinking about whether you have spoken to your children about conflict in relationships? Conflict is inevitable however what is important is to develop skills in handling them when they arise. And irrespective of whether you think your own struggles may have been affecting your children it can be really useful to remember that. In reading this article and thinking about this issue you are starting to change your approach to conflict and ultimately that is what will be important to your children not only because they will be reassured but because you are modelling skilful behaviour.
 
 
Safety must always be the first consideration. Abusive behaviours are not to be tolerated and if you are unclear about what is abusive take some time to read about abuse and bullying (our next article will focus on this) in the meantime and assuming you conclude that the conflicts are without abuse and you wish to speak to your children then the best way to get started is to ask them whether they have any concerns about conflict either in life generally or in the context of the family? If you have a specific event in mind then state it for example, when asked me whether we were ok after the argument I had with your mother / father I wonder whether my response was clear, whether you understood, whether you were left with any worries?
 
By starting this conversation you are showing that it is ok to talk about conflict, demonstrating that people may react in the heat of situations but that it can be useful to revisit conflicts rather than leave them unresolved, that talking about them may not resolve them immediately but is an important first step. Of course you may find it very hard to have these conversations, feel under pressure to be perfect parents or feel defensive, the important thing is to be aware of what is happening for you and remember it is always possible to say “I am not sure about that right now, I need to think and get back to you”. Ultimately you need to have a conversation where any concerns your children have can be understood and addressed. For example, some children can worry that they might be to blame for the conflict in their parents relationship. 
 
In addition to helping your children feel reassured such conversations may help you to further understand the conflict in your relationship. Remember though you are the adults and you have full responsibility to manage your conflicts in such a way that your children can feel secure, learn about conflict and learn about how to manage them skilfully. In finishing Juliet recommends:
 
“Of particular importance is that you don't endlessly argue over your children in front of them and that you find a way forward together during times when you can fully express your feelings without fear of disturbing your children”.