Thursday, 27 March 2014

Couple or 'uncouple' - your relationship is key

In the press yesterday was news that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin are to 'consciously uncouple'. By this they mean they will continue to remain friends and co-parent but hope to reduce all the emotions that commonly come with a separation – anger, sadness, and bitterness.

Relationship difficulties and separations can be an extremely stressful and upsetting time for couples and families.

Relationships are often complex things, particularly when there are children involved. Both partners have a shared love of the children and want to make things as pleasant as possible for them. Despite this, anger and bitterness can often lead to significant conflict during relationship difficulties and the children can get caught in the middle.

But whether you have children or not, there are some common relationship issues that may lead you to feel unhappy in your relationship.

Common relationship issues
Arguing - couples can get 'trapped' in a cycle of arguing which is more about who wins and less about who empties the dishwasher. This can be very destructive and can lead you to feel that your partner dislikes you.

Intimacy - couples often describe feeling as if they are living together as flatmates rather than partners. Professor Leslie Greenberg, a Canadian psychologist has identified a cycle in which one partner pursues the other for intimacy and the other partner becomes more distant to escape the situation.

Relationship beliefs - we all grow up with certain beliefs which often stem from our families. These may relate to how we want to bring up our children or even how we deal with conflict. When you are your partner do not share similar beliefs about the things that are important to you both, things can get tricky.

Mental health problems - common mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety can impact significantly on the health of a relationship.

Is there a way back for my relationship?
If you and your partner are committed to making your relationship work, it is worth seeking the help of a relationship counsellor who will work with you, listen to what you both have to say and remain neutral during the process. You do not need to come to relationship counselling with your partner – and indeed it is common for individuals to seek help alone – but it is usually more beneficial if you can both attend at least some of the sessions.

What if it's over?
You may be surprised to hear that a relationship counsellor can provide the support you need to work through the issues that arise at the end of a relationship. Whether you view this process as a 'conscious uncoupling' or a 'big split', it can be a devastating time for both partners. There is often a grieving process involved, but a relationship counsellor can help you work through any issues that arise and help you move on to greater happiness.

Further information about relationship problems 
To read our information sheet about relationship problems see

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Mindfulness to enhance relaxation and wellbeing

In our last blog we talked about anger and how the practice of mindfulness can be used to aid relaxation and bring about an increased feeling of calm and wellbeing, but what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is currently very popular and sometimes it seems you can't go far without reading about its benefits somewhere. However, mindfulness has actually been around a long time – indeed it has its roots in ancient eastern meditation practices. Mindfulness was introduced to modern healthcare by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn.

So what can mindfulness do for you?
It is a natural process of the human mind to wander and make up stories or 'chatter'. However, what we often don't recognise is that these thoughts strongly affect our emotions. Despite being processes of our mind, we can get caught up with them and find ourselves feeling angry, upset, sad or jealous.

Mindfulness practices work to inhibit negative thinking patterns and the over active limbic system that can occur when people are feeling depressed of stressed. An expert in mindfulness, Professor Mark Williams at Oxford University, claims that brain patterns actually change with the practice of mindfulness and this has been backed up by numerous studies.

What does mindfulness involve?
The process of mindfulness is about learning to accept the 'chatter' of the mind, allowing it to come and go, while concentrating on the here and now. A mindfulness exercise is given below. It demonstrates how powerful your own thoughts can be in how you feel. While doing the exercise you will notice how much the mind wanders.

Sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed. For the next six minutes concentrate on your breathing. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your rib cage and follow the air in and out of your lungs. Let your thoughts come and go and each time you notice your attention wandering, gently refocus it (you will need to do this again and again). For the next three minutes expand your awareness to include your body and your feelings as well as your breath. For the last minute, open your eyes and connect with the room around you as well as your body, your feelings and your breathing (Harris, 2007).

Further information
Tasim Martin-Berg, a counselling psychologist at First Psychology Edinburgh, has written a helpful article about mindfulness. The article explains a bit more about the practice and benefits of mindfulness and has a list of useful resources.

There are a variety of self-help materials to help you learn to become more mindful. A good one to start with is Jon Kabat-Zinn's CD, Mindfulness for Beginners.

For details of practitioners who offer mindfulness based therapies at our centres, please see your local centre's website at: Aberdeen | Borders | Dundee | Edinburgh | Glasgow | Inverness.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Is anger good or bad?

Anger gets a bad press, but we thought it worth explaining why we get angry and why anger isn't really so bad.

Anger is a natural emotion and something we should all expect to feel from time to time. However, anger is often seen as a very negative emotion and one we should aim to quash. Anger may be bad for us - but on the other hand it has its uses (The Guardian, 04/04/14)

What is the purpose of anger?
Anger is an emotion that kicks in when we feel violated in some way - it allows us to stick up for ourselves and in that respect it is a positive thing.

Well then it's good to be angry isn't it?
Despite its bad press, anger isn't a terrible thing, it has a very useful purpose. It fires us up and allows us to take action. Anger is our emotive response to something. However, our behavioural response to feeling angry, aggression, can be extremely damaging to relationships at home and work. Therefore in instances where aggressive behaviour in response to anger has become a problem, anger is worth addressing.

Surely if something makes me angry that isn't my fault?
Often people feel that things make them angry. However, as NHS website Moodjuice points out, it is important to note that it is not people or events that make you angry, but your personal reaction to them. Once you know that, you can take steps to address your feelings of anger.

What can I do to manage my anger?
There are many techniques that can help you manage your feelings of anger.

The website Moodjuice contains self-help materials you can use at home.

The ancient practice of mindfulness is currently a popular approach and one that can be very effective for increasing feelings of calmness and relaxation. It takes skill and practice to gain the maximum benefits, but is well worth the effort. Mindfulness does not aim to suppress how you feel, but is a way of learning to become more aware of your responses to the world around you.

There are also a number of other approaches that may be helpful for anger management so it is worth consulting an experienced professional if you are struggling to manage things by yourself.

More about anger >

More about mindfulness >