Successful Marriages

The phrase ‘it takes two to tango’ can be applied to many aspects of our lives….from dancing to relationships!  Primary to successful relationships are when two people are fair, just and sensitive. Of course we can not be these at all times yet when we are not we are able to recompense by making amends, repairing the ruptures, making right of the wrong, if our marriage is to be successful. Stan Tatkin in his latest released book “We Do” offers practical skills for relationships whether the couple are just starting out on their adventures together or for those who wish to enhance their relationship after years of togetherness.

Committing fully to a loving relationship, which can be the most fulfilling experience we’ll ever have, can also be one of the most challenging.  When people come to me for relationship counselling most do not realise the opportunities for their own personal growth which lay in front of them. These opportunities, alongside the focus they are placing on their partner, are part and parcel of relationships as successful relationships demand that some of the hard questions that we tend to avoid need to be answered.

Some of these questions center around responsibility, honesty, compassion, curiosity, trust, respect, your ability to regulate your emotions as well as take care of your partners.  Sounds like a tough call? Well it is, but then these questions don’t happen all at once. They happen and develop as we engage and grow with our mate over time.

It is the willingness to engage with ourselves and our partner that either will make or break our relationship.  Couples who take the steps to come to  counselling are usually at a crisis point. It is their ability to repair, patience, willingness to understand, facing up to themselves and their beloved, along with their care for each other and commitment to stay with the process that gets them through  these tough times.

Men’s Grief

In our Aussie culture, men are disproportionately unprepared to express their distressed feelings as they are expected to be strong, assertive, to take charge, to achieve goals, to endure without giving up or giving in,

Look out for the well being of your mates. You can open up a conversation by saying “You don’t look right……..What’s up……..?”

to protect and support. Due to these spoken, unspoken messages and expectations, it is no wonder that men find themselves isolated in their grief as they are required to deal with tough times and difficult emotions with a certain non-emotional response.

Boys are told “to take things like a man” and “big boys don’t cry”, if not by their fathers, they will be by their peers. This means they are not to show their tears and more vulnerable side as this is called weak. They are to be self sufficient and independent. Men often have minimal support systems outside their immediate family with his girlfriend or wife being their best friend and confidant. It is embarrassing for Aussie men to have the expression of feelings as women might do, to breakdown and cry. It is difficult for an Aussie man to feel helpless and out of control because if he does we believe something is wrong with him.

It becomes a lot harder for a man to handle upsetting feelings or to talk about, cry about, even share thoughts about loss, let alone reaches out for support, while this male conditioning acts strongly and in direct opposition to the grieving process. Most men will react to loss by keeping their thoughts and emotional pain to themselves as doing this protects their vulnerability. Due to this, men are more at risk of getting sick, mental illness and suicide.

Therefore, men will grieve a loss in their own way and even when there is not an outpouring of emotion, there is still grief. It is OK for men to grieve differently and it is OK to be strong and active (some men throw themselves into their work as a distraction from painful feelings) in the face of grief as long as you are not avoiding your feelings. It’s OK for men to feel and express rage (safely) and not to cry as these are typically more masculine responses to grief. There is no right way to mourn a death or loss of any kind.

We have created a myth that if a man is vulnerable and emotional, the castle that he has built will crumble and this is not true. Man can dip in and out of these things and can have both, the castle and the courage and strength to be vulnerable, to show sadness, to go through the grieving process. Silence can kill.  Aussie men are changing. It takes guts to show pain and it takes balls to cry. The main thing to do is to start with a friend, a mate, a trusted person, a trained professional and say “I’ve got something to say…” or “I’ve got a problem…” The hardest thing is about showing your vulnerability as it is most likely that you think you’ll be laughed out of the room but just the opposite happens and often they say “I rate you high on what you’ve just done there”.

Look out for the well being of your mates. You can open up a conversation by saying “You don’t look right…What’s up..?”

Men can talk about their feelings and not lose their manhood.

(Sources for this article include The Man Up documentary series and campaign funded by Movember about masculinity and men’s mental health and N.A.L.A.G. The National Association of Loss and Grief)

Developing Resources- a way to expand a stronger sense of ourselves

Developing resources – a way to expand a stronger sense of ourselves by Christine Urja Refalo. MA.Gest.Therapy.

I want to write. I have so much to say yet the task of writing is so challenging for me. The spoken word being so different from the written, as I discovered in the many essays I needed to produce during my studies.  It took me a while to understand the difference, and my patient partner and editor, endured many hours of correcting my work whilst also witnessing the whittling down of my resistance to the writing process, painfully yet lovingly.

I say ‘lovingly’ now, yet at the time we debated and argued, tolerating each other and the task at hand with such difficulty. The endless stream of words overwhelmed my sense of peace and tranquility.  Much of the time my brain felt swollen; inflamed with so much cogitating and processing. Coming across the term ‘Brain Gym’ now, brings with it an ache as I remember exercising in this way.

As I write now, I feel and literally see in my mind’s eye, my brain firing, synapsing and then pinging, when it has found the ‘what and how’ to express itself. My breathing in rhythm with its workings; becoming shallow and slow as it mulls over what to say, sometimes quickening when it is grappling to focus on the idea, and giving a long out breath when the ‘how’ is in place, and flowing through my fingers onto the screen in front of me.  This period of intense work, where I used my brain in new ways was difficult, yet rewarding, to the point where it gave me a ‘fit’ brain. I now know how to think and realise that there’s work involved, something for which I had such resistance, ‘till I challenged that part of me that I had long denied’.

Denial can take many forms. It can be that we are so fixed on the path we are taking, that we simply forget parts of ourselves, or we hide them and do a good cover up job as this keeps us in a more comfortable and secure place. We may eventually have to acknowledge our actions or inaction as we get stuck in life or feel like a change, a challenge. This could be at a time of crisis, whereas for me it was a conscious choice to further my education.

I recall a recent client, whose life had got ‘too much’ for her; the situation she found herself in had become unbearable. She became ‘burnt out’ in her demanding job, which she had once enjoyed immensely, and some of her personal and work relationships had become problematic. She was no longer able to cope emotionally, physically and mentally.  Now six months along the road she was ready to resurface into the world with a better balance between work and play; a place where she could also stop and care for herself.

As she was familiar with mindfulness and meditation, a valuable resource she had put aside over the last few years, we worked with this as a tool to access her process around fear, anger and sadness.  Working this way, she discovered that she was able to ‘be with’ her physical sensations and feelings rather than become overwhelmed with them as had happened in the recent past. She was able to observe the patterns and fluctuations of her internal experience, and through this process, broaden and expand her experience beyond the pervading emotions and intrusive thoughts.

One of the rewards I find from working with people is the recognition, acknowledgement and development of the myriad of resources available to them. These resources are usually not seen at crucial times in our lives, as it is at these times our logical brains are not functioning as well as normal. Along with the initial steps of building a good working relationship, are the development of resources and creation of emotional stability, where the client learns to calm, soothe and manage oneself.  Learning to do this helps us to enrich self-esteem, strengthen confidence and generate more positive feelings.