Relationship Advice – Happy Vs. Unhappy Couples – Tips for Building a life lasting Relationship between Two People who are in Love
It is wonderful feeling to be in love and date each other. While dating prior to the commitment made to each other for a long term relationship, the couples meet for a while and then pine for each other till they meet at the next date. Everything is seen by them from behind the rosy shades of love and affection for each other. The emotions of possessiveness and yearning do not bring in the mundane communication of a daily grinds of life. But being in a long-term relationship isn’t merely pining for the lover’s physical intimacy alone.
Being in long term relationships will involve managing and taking care of many other lives in addition to the lives of the lovers. And it is not an easy task. . Both people need to accommodate themselves to new family atmosphere and new relationships in their lives. Gradually they will have to raise their own families to make their family a complete unit. They need to then communicate over many other issues in addition to the romance and love in marriage. Their issues that gain priority over love may pertain to jobs and careers, money and household expense, household work and taking care of the babies, social, cultural and religious affairs, parenting and in many cases taking care of the aged and old in the families. As a couple begins their journey into the long-term relationship of wedded bliss, their love for each other many a times may take a back seat and the love gets reduced to a few stolen kisses and quickies here and there.
The couple forgets about nurturing and keeping the flame of love and desire for each other alive. Soon the infatuation of physical hunger wears off and then the focus shifts from the affection to the problems. The stark realities of need for more money, career priorities and of culture, of religion, and of family may cause concerns and small squabbles. Before these squabbles get blown into major issues and a beautiful relationship begins to disintegrate. The couple needs to understand that every relationship is important in life and more so with the one with whom you have to spend your life time. Needless to say, that every difference and misunderstanding should be treated as worth working for and saving, once the infatuation begins to fade. Communication is the only tool and doorway to establish a better understanding; essentially the couple, need to take up all those problems that are causing strangled relationship .
We often think that our children have better resilience to their anxiety and they become normal once we have either given them positive strokes,bought them a chocolate,a gift or diverted their attention by permitting them to play video games . But it needs to be understood that anxiety doesn’t happen to the kids like the way we experience it happening to us adults. Anxiety in children can trigger, in panic attacks,in their tantrums ,in their sudden rush of energy or it may occur in the untimely defiant behaviour.We as parents just push it aside by ascribing it to their misbehaving or being in the company of wrong friends .However children may react differently depending on the immediate situation ,past incidents or future anticipations.
As psychologists counselors and family therapists we have to deal with couples , parents and other family members of our clients who always appear to be suffering from anxiety, In most such cases their children too suffer from similar anxiety or otherwise children from families where there is a good coordination amongst parents struggle with anxiety too .
Some parents would pretend and hide their issues of anxiety and other concerns from their children . Even when kids are understanding the parents would try to act as if everything was fine .These parents would do everything they deem fit or within their reach to calm their wards and reset their nervous system through various practices of calming . Children can pick up anxiety from their parents through the verbal communication, through the body language of their parents,through their mood disorders or the kids themselves can react to any genreal event in the family and develop a full or partial panic attack.
We have seen many a parents fighting and undermining each other when they come to us. They fail to realise that when they behave so their children too suffer mental agony and a fear of being abandoned by either or both of their parents. Children feel abused when their parents fight .They feel cheated by their parents.Children want to live in a typical family life environment irrespective of the riches or poverty.Any thought of living without a parent causes them much mental pain and that triggers anxiety.To them, their family is their safety nest. Their family enables them to play, to study, to make friends .It helps them grow. It is the reason of their being here in the world. To them family is the only reality ,rest all is just make believe.Any iota of doubt on family’s continuity causes deep anxiety.
Parents should remember that their children would always pick up the stress and trauma that their parents experience and exhibit. The parents may think that their children are safe and that children have not been exposed to any kind of stress , physical,sexual, or emotional or personality abuse . They may believe that they are offering their children a great childhood compared to parents’ own childhood or other experiences that parents had to suffer. But actual truth is far from this .Children can become anxious for many reasons triggered by the parents obvious circumstances or not so obvious happenings within the family .Some of these reasons could be the actual and some could be as perceived by the children. To us adults many of those reasons might not be major , but to a child they become quite significant in triggering insecurities and anxiety thereof. Should the parents happen to be separated or divorced the self blaming mind of the children would always be devastated by the memories of the times when the family was together. They would not understand the sudden blow of isolation and the non availability of the parental umbrella .They struggle to be emotionally available to the single parent they now live with and at the same time add on a make believe relationship with the parent they have been separated from which they continue to believe was on their account.A two edged anxiety of this kind breaks them . It shreds the very fiber of their mental balance.
Children are often left heart broken if there happens to be a fight in their family.They tend to believe that all tension is on account of their being a cause of distress to their parents. Often they are left with a broken trust .They feel guilty with their self confidence devastated by the memories of parents shouting at each other.They are afraid of the sudden isolation caused by such disputes amongst their parents.
We always assume that our children are understanding. They adjust to the life as they grow . That they have stronger plasticity. This could be applicable in some way but it is not the complete truth .They are not as strongly fortified against anxiety as we tend to believe. Children do build up their defence mechanisms but these defence mechanisms may prove more damaging to their growing personality during adolescence and later on in their grown up relationships. We often come across young persons and old people alike who suffer from the traumas of their growing up years in anxiety .
We give hereunder some of the symptoms that we have witnessed in children while counseling the families .
1) Dissociation: Children have exhibited dissociation by completely cutting themselves off mentally from what is happening in their families.They form their own make believe world to hide the pain .Though parents may believe that the child is being creative ,when the child speaks to and play with imaginary characters .Riya 6 years is one such case .Her parents donot see each other eye to eye .Their constant bickering causes much anxiety to the child. The child is seen talking to her doll most of the times and refuses to part with the doll when she goes to school or goes to bed. Her parents eventually brought her to the counselor when her teacher noticed the child talking to the doll she had brought into her school bag to the classroom.
Monty’s (9 years) parents had been advised by the psychologist that their child suffers from ADHD because that’s the only way he can get their attention and evoke sympathy from them.His parents both working, hardly find time to spend with their child .Their occasional outbursts cause him such a deep distress . He exhibits his anxiety by getting irritated, by indulging into hyperactivity , impulsiveness and inattentive behavior.
Depression was diagnosed in Deepa ( 10 years ) as a mood disorder because the chronic emotional outbursts indulged in by her grandmother and mother in their interactions caused much disturbance to the child.
2)Gastrointestinal : Meenu’s (5 years ) anxiety has been cropping up in her difficult behavior to ease up herself. She holds up her anxiety in her abdominal area.Inspite of her feeling pressure on the stomach she would refuse to sit on the pot to clear her stomach. She suffers from constipation.Her bowel training has been conducted a few times .But whenever she needs to clean her bowels , she holds on to her stool and often soils her clothes.A better approach would be to ensure the child is offered a better protective environment at home free from tension and stress. We noticed she catches on to her parents’ anxiety and expresses her own in the manner described.
3) Obsessive seeking of Validation : Divya (11 years ) exhibits lack of self confidence.She most of the times struggles to express herself confidently. She would often speak in almost inaudible tone She needs to be reassured that others are paying attention to her and she must speak louder with confidence. She always needs validation from her mother.
Children themselves may not be aware of their anxiety but parents and the teachers need to read the symptoms and signs that speak of anxiety in the children.
If you can be aware that a life experience has created anxiety in their lives, you can bring attention to it and help them cope with that anxiety. You must take your child to a psychologist for evaluation and necessary counseling wherever needed .The psychologist may have to counsel the parents too.
Just being aware that your child can suffer from your chronic circumstances and catch on to anxiety should be taken as an initial step to prevention.Take them to a psychologist whenever or if they exhibit symptoms of anxiety. Whenever possible speak to them about their fears ,concerns and phobias whether implied or implicit .Children should be trained and encouraged by both parents to discuss ,open up and ask questions from parents should there be any stressful occassion in the family. This will help them to understand that there can be differences of opinions,arguments and even conflicts within the family but that you will always protect them and be with them to take care of them.
In a country where approaching a psychiatrist/psychologist brings with it all kinds of taboos, fears and the unknown stigmas, reaching out to a family therapist by a couple simply can be a big uphill task. Most often the couple would prefer suffering in silence in their day to day disagreement and dispute rather than approach a professional family therapist. Approaching a therapist is often looked at as a step to lodging complaint against the partner. Couples shy off from reaching for the professional help because they do not want to disclose the problems they are having in their marriage to the family for one simple reason,”What would the people say “.
Let’s understand when do you need to approach a therapist and what process would couple therapy involve.
When you feel your communication with the spouse ends up into irritation and leads to the stomping of feet and rushing out of even a normal discussion quite regularly, the time to reflect is now.
When you feel your love has vanished and your acceptance of each other has been going down day by day, you need to be in touch with a family counselor.
When you carry strong resentment towards your partner on any account ,you should know,it is time to explore a session with a good family therapist.
When you feel you or your spouse has been losing interest in all kinds of spousal activities ,it is time to get a professional help to explore, understand, reflect and reconcile the challenges to your marriage .
Professional help can be available from an approved professionally qualified family therapist and not the usual agony aunts writing columns or providing readymade prescription to all problems.A good qualified professional family therapist necessarily should hold recognised postgraduate qualifications in family therapy in addition to a post graduate degree in psychology. The therapist should have a good standing in dealing with family therapy and counseling.
When you decide to eventually consult such a therapist you can be assured of total privacy and confidentiality of any discussion with the therapist.The professional code of privacy and confidentiality is absolutely sacrosanct for every therapist ,belying the fears “,What will people say”.
Let us now understand ,what would the therapy involve.
Usually the first session begins with the introductory process wherein the therapist is keen to understand as to what kind of issues,problems and disputes have been occurring in your family life and /or marriage.
The session involves knowing about your family history, the systems and the units of inner family circles within the family ,the communication system in your family and the power systems of the family.
The therapist is keen to understand the reasons for your contacting him/her i.e. the problems you are facing as a couple.How long has the problem been occurring and whether you have been consulting any other counselor earlier,if so what has been the impact of such counseling.
The therapist in this session evaluates the relationship the couple shares only on peripheral level as the depth of understanding and the misunderstanding would be assessed only in subsequent sessions and that too with a complete unbiased mind .It is not the task of the therapist to judge you,nor does the therapist acts as a complaint centre. The major task of the therapist is to understand the underlying emotional upheaval prevailing within the relationship of couple ,or amongst all other members of the family .
Though the families of the spouses or / and the spouses obviously look towards the family therapist as the complaint lodging centre ,but that definitely is an absolute misunderstanding of the process of family counseling .The therapist lends an unbiased ear and attention to every dispute,difference of opinion and misplaced emotions. The therapist is not a judge but a facilitator for bringing about better understanding of the misplaced emotions and feelings amongst the family members . It generally happens that the therapist is looked at as the mediator of the disputes by the family members,but mediation definitely has never been the scope of any family or couple counseling.
The therapist would also try to learn from you ,your career graph if working or in own business,the money position,the spending habits,financial interests if any and of course about the extended family members’ financial interests if any in connection with your finances.
Then again sometimes either of the spouses who has contacted the therapist,expects by default that the therapist would align with her or him ,but a true professional therapist approaches the counseling without any kind of preset mindset.The main task of the family therapist is to understand the tensions ,stresses and hindrances prevailing within the marital /family relationships and evolve better perception of the problems prevailing between the marital partners and other family members.
The couple issues could relate to any of the following:
Relationship of either spouse with in laws and other family members. Household responsibility and commitments of members in honouring their responsibility.
Daily chores and spousal attitude towards sharing the chores.
Relationship of the spouses within and outside marital boundaries .
Marital compatibility of thoughts and emotions. Sexual adjustments and acceptance. Sexual orientation and attitudes towards partners.
Parenting plans ,children and parenting issues.
Communication pattern between the couple and the problems being faced in the communication.
Setting up priorities for the marriage and providing needed priority,time and space to each other in the marriage.
Modern couples also look for personal space in marriage as otherwise the relationship often gets suffocated with too much closeness .
Having understood all that has been delineated above, the therapist has to understand personalities of both the spouses ,the acceptance level or non acceptance levels of each others habits ,attitudes,opinions and daily functioning.
In fact a good therapist will help the couple evolve a new outlook and perception of their respective relationship provided ,the partners have the patience to continue with the sessions conducted over a long period of time varying from three to six months .the session may be conducted once or twice a week depending on the convenience and availability of both the spouses.
Though initially every session appears to be an exercise in raising grievances by the couple against each the other . The therapist’s intervention helps the partners read positive and negative cues of each others emotions in the right perspective and the couple soon moves from the warring zone to the negotiation levels. The negotiation is often done by the aggrieved partner to secure future as assurances and promises .The understanding levels though still remain far fetched and many more sessions will be needed to gradually establish a trusting common bond ,wherein an acceptance of each other is re-established amongst the family.
The revelation that her husband has been having an extramarital affair for past three years with one of his office colleagues came as a big traumatic shock to Shalini (name changed) and her two children.
She had been devastated, traumatized stressed and depressed .She felt as if someone had hit her with a big stone on her head. She felt dizzy as she could foresee a tough time ahead for her and her two children .Her heart sank. She could see her marriage of twenty years, falling apart at that instant.
Shalini and Amit (name changed ) have been married for twenty years .They have a son 11years and a daughter who had just completed her 18th birthday last week .So far they have had an acceptable level of understanding within the family, like any other middle class educated family. There have been occasional arguments and some fighting incidents between husband -wife or mother in -law and daughter in law, but none could have expected that one of them could be going astray in an age when it is often felt that marriage has withered all storms and it will be all smooth sailing from here. The kind of traumatic stress that had befallen all members of family after the revelation of extramarital affairs of the head of the family needs to be understood in the larger context here.
It has often been assumed that such an unfortunate situation affects the couple and it may not have much impact on other members of the family. But that is only a myth; in fact it leaves very deep scars on all members of the affected family.
The traumatic shock of such revelation of infidelity by (either spouse), brings about profound stress levels to all members of the family. The impact of such revelation of the infidelity perpetrated by the spouse can be as potentially and severely traumatic as the trauma brought about by a natural disaster uprooting entire family, mentally, socially, emotionally and financially. The post infidelity traumatic stress disorder unlike the other PTSD needs to be assessed on entire family as a whole and on each individual family member individually .
PITSD mentioned in the above case can be seen as it affected all members of the family, in the following manner.
The wife has lost total confidence in her and has ever since been suffering from low self esteem. She has not been able to find reasons for the infidelity brought about by her husband, around whom she had built her world of twenty years.
She often complains of somatic pains and sleeplessness. At times her memory gets affected .She forgets attending to smaller details about herself. Frequent visits to her psychiatrist /psychologist do help .Yet the gnawing pains and the thought “why” come back repeatedly. Seems she will take a long time to recover from the PITSD.
The young ones too suffer from PITSD .A sense of impending breakup of the parents’ marriage hurts them all the time. Their son not being in a position to side with any parent ,has gone into silence .He speaks in low tones and uses very few words to ask for anything needed by him This has resulted into his neglected of studies and self care. It has however brought both siblings closer to each other.
Daughter of the family doesn’t like such a situation .She believes that this could have been avoided if she had paid more attention to the family environment over the years. She has been in the process of self remorse .Any discussion in the family on the subject matter triggers her severe depression and she would start crying in no time .She believes her father has been her infallible hero and should have been more careful with his conduct. She ends up fighting with both her parents a few times a day. She refuses to listen to any reason by her father. She suffers from eating disorder and her physician has diagnosed her for IBS
Post Infidelity Traumatic Stress Disorder as such doesn’t happen to one individual .It virtually affects the complete family system. As a family therapist we have been focusing on the couple #both the spouses as a single system but in such cases it becomes obvious that the systems within the system too need as much attention and intervention/therapy as we give to the main couple.
The impact of such revelation/disclosure/finding is no less traumatic to the spouse who has been wayward and promiscuously adventurous .He feels miserable now thinking that his children know everything about him. He faces the wrath of his partner always feeling guilty. A defiance attitude was fine so long as he had been dealing with the spouse. But the reaction of both, the daughter (who’s an adult) and the adolescent son has been a little stronger to be taken lightly .Resultantly business suffers, nightmares occur and visit to family therapist occur frequently now.
Nothing else can be as fatal for the marital relationship as your anger. An uncontrolled anger is like a slow poison to the strong threads of relations between husband and wife .The uncontrolled anger virtually eats into the very roots of love,trust and respectability of both the partners .
I have observed while counseling estranged or opposing spouses that couples would often express their anger and resentment towards each other and after a while they tend to cool down when educated about their misplacement of their emotions or expectations from each other.
However heavens may help in situations where one of the spouses happen to have an uncontrolable anger . Such expression of constant complaints and anger often leads to physical abuse ,emotional accusations against each other and ultimate separation.
Anger is not so bad if used momentarily and allowed to subside and defused once it has been expressed. The message that the angry person has been upset over certain issues or acts of either spouse can be conveyed and thereafter both would do better to come to the levels of finding ways to negotiate peace and make amends .
There comes a stage when the partners need to involve a professional family therapist who can help them look at their differences or different perceptions in new light to sort out the disputes .Such intervention is arranged with a view to evolve newer and better emotional understanding amongst the couple ,even though the previous hurt still remains at the background. But the seething anger has been overcome as the partners give each other opportunities to grow their new closeness and understanding.
But many a times the harmed partner particularly wife finds it difficult to let go of the past and forgive her husband. Her anger seethes like a wild fire that knows no direction ,hovering over the relationship and destroying everything that comes in its path .Such situation finds no retrieval and the couple sooner or later ends up parting ways through legal separation,or finding it difficult to stay together peacefully.
A partner with such an uncontrolled anger often brings to the fore the mistakes of the other partner,by shaming him or her at every available opportunities,refuses to listen to any explanation by the partner and believes no compromise can be big enough to solve the problems which have arisen in their relationship.
An understanding partner can help coverup many shortcomings ,mistakes and at times blunders of the other partner unless it happens to be a complete erosion of trust and faith.But in the event of such a situation too,the partners need to sit together by letting the anger go and understand how to proceed with their relationship further or even give it a break by inflicting the minimum damage to the family and partners themselves.
It is important that both husband and wife should pay attention to their anger control and if they find that their relationship is getting affected by such frequent bursts of anger. They should consult a counseling psychologist and family therapist .A trained professional counselor and family therapist would help them with relevant anger management therapies including perceptive breathing exercises .
While there are enough advisors in every social circle to guide and help the estranged or fighting couples but such unprofessional approach unknowingly out of their ignorance can ignite more anger or mistrust towards each other often leading to frequent accusations. As far as possible couples should avoid such agony aunts for their own betterment .Repeated complaints, frequent bickerings and trying to put down the partner or staging a show down for your partner just because you are angry with him or her can on the contrary take the love out of relations,resulting into the damaged partner finding solace elsewhere .No partner in the right mind who values relationship would like to be in such an embarrassing situation .Anytime you feel angry with or at your partner ,give yourself sometime to think over if the confrontation can be through anger or matters can also be discussed without losing control and being firm in your tone and body language.
,If you have such uncontrolled anger /domestic violence situation You should come to us at Family Therapy India and we will help you resolve all issues of your marriage in more amicable manner .Find us @ http://www.familytherapyindia.com.