Relationship in need of a bit of attention as we start 2017?

I often say that relationships are like gardens.  They don’t just look after themselves; they require some careful tending and nurturing if you don’t want them to end up overgrown, ugly and unloved.

My favourite reading over the Christmas break was this wonderful article, 1500 People Give All The Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Need by the talented writer Mark Manson.  As a newly wed, he asked his readers for their relationship dos and don’ts and then distilled their answers into the most concise yet comprehensive relationship advice I’ve ever read.

In fact, if everyone were to read this and do their best to put it into practice, we Couples Therapists would be sat at home twiddling our thumbs all year waiting for the phone to ring. It’s that good.

I’ll stand by you

Today I’m blogging about love, though not necessarily of the romantic kind.  Rather, the love that enables us to stand by someone who is depressed and try to just go through it beside them, instead of trying to persuade them out of it.

I know from personal and professional experience that this is very hard to do.  When someone we love is depressed, it’s so painful to see them suffer.  We feel as if we should be able to suggest or do something that will fix it, for their sake … and for ours.  It’s hard for us to tolerate their pain, and we’ll do almost anything to make it stop.  And if we can’t, sometimes in our despair we distance ourselves from them because we can’t stand it, maybe leaving them feeling even more lost and alone.

When we’re the one who’s depressed, oftentimes we know the things we should do to make us feel better … get out into the sun or nature, do something physical we enjoy, spend some time with trusted others, do something that helps someone else.  But the cruel irony is that the time we most need to do these things is the very time we find them hardest to do.

And yet, there is something that can help.  Knowing that someone is there for us unconditionally, who can bear our pain just as it is and not try to change it, can make all the difference.  This link, “A message to the depressed” from the young vlogger Sky Williams (no stranger to the black dog himself) sums it up beautifully.  It’s a couple of years old, and has a few million shares already … but I’ll bet there are still plenty of people who haven’t seen it who might find it helpful.

My favourite Pretenders’ song also puts it so movingly:

Oh, why you look so sad, the tears are in your eyes,
Come on and come to me now, and don’t be ashamed to cry,
Let me see you through, ’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.
When the night falls on you, you don’t know what to do,
Nothing you confess could make me love you less,

I’ll stand by you,
I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you

So if you’re mad, get mad, don’t hold it all inside,
Come on and talk to me now.
Hey there, what you got to hide?
I get angry too, well, I’m a lot like you.
When you’re standing at the cross roads,
And don’t know which path to choose,
Let me come along, ’cause even if you’re wrong

I’ll stand by you,
I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you.
Baby, even to your darkest hour, and I’ll never desert you,
I’ll stand by you.
And when, when the night falls on you baby,
You’re feeling all alone, you’re wandering on your own,
I’ll stand by you.

I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you, baby even to your darkest hour,
And I’ll never desert you,
I’ll stand by you.

Emotional Intelligence

I enjoyed this recent article by Travis Bradberry, co-author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

I think some people have naturally high EQ, but we can all improve our levels.  This article articulates very well a lot of the skills, qualities and behaviours we nurture through psychotherapy and counselling to do just that, such as helping clients to:

  • be able to identify, distinguish, name and choose if, how and when to express different emotions
  • actively work on countering negative self-talk, perhaps through writing the thought down on one side of a sheet of paper, and a rebuttal on the other
  • become more assertive – say what they mean, and mean what they say
  • give up on the idea that perfectionism is a good thing!

I’d love to see this stuff taught in schools, though it would surely do us therapists out of a lot of work!

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dr John Gottman identified four communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and especially Contempt. He called them, rather amusingly, The Four Horsemen. Tammy Fletcher in San Diego calls them Relationship Killers.

Here are two nice, short articles on the subject to help you avoid the apocalypse – well worth a read.

http://www.gottmanblog.com/2013/04/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism.html

http://sdtherapy.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/relationship-killers/