Counselling in Wokingham – Arguments About Little Things

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – paulcockayne3@gmail.com
This blog is intended to give you a flavour of how I work. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Do you find that you and your partner argue about little things? What is the best way to load the dishwasher? Whose turn is it to take the dog for a walk? What should you have for dinner? What time should the kids go to bed?

Many couples find that they argue about little things – things that aren’t really that important – and they can’t understand why they do it. It is also a common pattern that as time goes on the little arguments become more frequent, and escalate more rapidly. You can get to the stage where you are expecting every conversation to lead to an argument – and that in itself makes it all the more likely that they will do so.

A useful technique to defuse arguments is to have a scoring system you both use. So when yet another argument about Which Shelf of the Cupboard the Baked Beans Go On threatens to start, just ask yourself the question “on a scale from 1 to 10, how important is it to me that the beans are kept on the shelf I prefer?” If you find you are both scoring it very low, just let it go. It can be difficult to do – at the time the argument can seem important – but it is an important first step towards resolving your difficulties.

Being able to let these things go is, in general, just a first step. The scoring technique can reduce the number of arguments you have, but it does not answer the question of why you have these arguments about silly little things. But stopping these little arguments clears the way to look at the underlying causes.

Often, the answer to that tends to be “because it is a way of avoiding arguments about the big things”. Underneath these little arguments will be some important feelings; very often the arguments conceal deep concerns about the relationship. If we are feeling insecure – unsure whether our partner still loves us – we can seek reassurance through small signs. Then small things can start to take on a huge significance, hence the arguments about trivial matters.

When we are feeling worried and insecure, our thinking can become a bit warped. We can start to believe “If my partner really loved me they would put the baked beans on the second shelf of the cupboard”. Put like this, the idea seems absurd; love (hopefully) goes a little deeper than that! And yet it can really feel like that when we are stressed and concerned.

Counselling can help you to get below the surface, to understand what the big issues are, and talk about them in a safe environment. And if you can talk about the real issues in an adult way, the little arguments will just evaporate.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Cats and Dogs and Carousels

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com
This blog is intended to give you a flavour of how I work as a counsellor. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links above

As I write this, I can look out of the window at a blue, and almost cloudless sky, which is a novelty; We’ve had a lot of rain recently, and though we have had sunny periods they haven’t seemed to last long.  My garden is disctincly boggy, the pond full (and frozen this morning, the flower beds boggy .

When the weather is this bad, we tend to shut ourselves away indoors – Noah even built himself an ark! We hide ourselves away and wait for the rain to stop, and this can feel quite oppressive, even depressing.

We can, of course do things to brighten our confinement, playing games with the family, cooking something special, even catching up on household chores. But nevertheless, it tends to be very welcome when the rains stop; it seems that there is something about not being able to go outside that is quite depressing – lack of space, loss of choice, loss of freedom probably all have something to do with that.

It seems to me that this is similar to how we can feel at other times when we are down, or depressed, or are struggling to deal with a difficult problem in our lives. We can find ourselves mentally trapped by circumstances. We lack space, have no choice, are not in control. Thoughts may be whirring round in our head but not helping us to move forwards. That gives me an image of being stuck on the inside of a carousel, the brightly-painted horses passing round and round us in a blur, leaving us unable to look at any one of them long enough to get a clear picture of them, and quite incapable of stepping onto the carousel to enjoy the ride. All we can do is to sit tight and wait for the horses to stop.

Counselling can’t stop the rain or slow down the carousel, but it can give you an alternative way to deal with the thoughts that are whirling round in your head. Talking about those thoughts can get them out in the open; you can lay them out in front of you and experience them differently. With a counsellor you can look at them from alternative angles, you can walk around them, you can start to have control over them, rather than feeling that you are powerless, in the middle of the carousel, waiting for the rains to stop.

When clients first come to see me, I quite often hear a quite confused story. In talking to me about their situation, clients often “dot about”, telling me about events out of sequence, or jumping from one topic to another. This is, of course, a sign of confusion in themselves, but in general, it only takes one or two sessions before the story starts to become more coherent, before it becomes clearer what is important and what is not.

The horses slow down, their shapes become clear rather than blurred. The rain eases off, blue patches appear between the clouds.

You can go outside again.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Difference

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406– paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

A lot of the counselling I do is with couples, and of course when there are two people in a relationship, inevitably there are differences between them – everyone is different.  Sometimes those differences can seem very difficult, impossible to reconcile and can become a source of conflict in a relationship.

We are shaped by our upbringing – by what our parents told us, and even more so by what they showed us.  Our parents are likely to be the first two people we ever see disagreeing with each other. Did they argue tooth and nail? Did they sit down and discuss things? Did they brush things under the carpet? The way you saw them deal with difference is going to have a big impact on how you do it, which is not to say that you can’t do it differently, but that it will probably need some hard work on your part to avoid repeating the patterns you saw as a child.

Our values too, are first shaped in childhood – not just by our parents but also by the culture we are brought up in.  The importance (or not) of family and extended family, gender roles, how we treat others and expect to be treated ourselves – these and many other values are shaped by our childhood experiences.

So the roots of our behaviours go way back.  Our ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, start to form when we are young and can be difficult to change.  They are like deep-rooted trees – it’s difficult to dig them up and plant a new tree.

Sometimes situations arise for couples where there are clashes of values and each of the couple can feel that they are right, and therefore that their partner is wrong.  Each can try to convince their partner to change their way of thinking, to win them over, and this can lead to protracted arguments with no resolution.

In seeking to resolve such disagreements, it is important to let go of the idea that you are right, and your partner is wrong.  It is more useful to acknowledge that you are different, and to respect each other’s opinions.  Understanding the roots of these opinions can be very helpful – it can move you to a place where you can say “Yes, I can see why you hold that view – if I’d been brought up as you were, I’d probably think that too.”

In doing that you can move your relationship from war to peace, from a battleground to a negotiating table, from silence or anger to constructive conversation, from distance to closeness.

There will always be things you disagree on; that is natural and can be a source of strength for your relationship, not a threat to it.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Polarisation

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

They say that opposites attract and it’s true that often we seem to choose a partner who is different from us in important ways.  For example, some people like to talk, others prefer to listen, some are extrovert, some introvert, some are planners, some live for the moment, and so on.

These differences make relationships work – put two talkers together and they’ll tend to be in competition with each other.  An extrovert can help an introvert come out of themselves more.  A planner can slow down the impulsiveness of their partner while they themselves can find it easier to be spontaneous.

These differences, then, can be sources of great strength in a relationship.  Recognising each other’s strengths and using them effectively leads to a sense of teamwork. You help each other out, you fill the gaps the other leaves.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

But these differences can also lead to problems.  Over time, the listener may allow the talker to fill the silences more and more.  The talker, rejoicing in the space they have, may fill it eagerly.  And eventually, that may go too far – the talker may be heard to say “all you do is sit in silence, I’m doing all the work!” and the listener might think (but maybe not say) “I can never get a word in edgeways”.

I often see this issue when I talk to couples about parenting.  One of the couple might believe in being firm with the children.  “Kids need boundaries”.  The other might believe in a more relaxed approach.  “Kids need to be free to express themselves”.  Neither of these attitudes is initially extreme, neither is right or wrong.  But as time goes on the firmer parent can start to feel that the children get away with too much, and this can leave them feeling the need to become stricter and stricter.  Meanwhile the more relaxed parent can feel that the children are being regimented too much and to compensate for this they may want to be more and more lenient, to flout the rules that their partner sees as so important.

What I am describing is a process of polarisation.  If there were a way to measure strictness, on a scale from -10 to +10, we might initially see our two parents as being at +1 and -1 on the scale. Over time they can drift out from the centre, to +5 and -5 or even further.  And then, rather than working together and being able to find compromises, they can find themselves working against each other, seeing themselves as being in the right, trying to force their partner to change their parenting style.  Mutual respect gives way to a power struggle.

Counselling can help by enabling couples to identify this sort of pattern and hence to change it.  Typically, that change requires effort by both parties to change their natural tendencies so that a better balance – perhaps the balance that existed at the start of the relationship – can be found.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Recovering From Loss

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406– paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

In my last post, I talked about the “needs wheel”, and how a loss affects us because it leaves us with a gap in our wheel; it can feel like we have lost a part of ourselves, like there’s a hole inside us.

How can we fill that hole?  Well, the simple answer to that is “slowly”.  Recovery from loss is a slow process; it is partly a matter of waiting for that hole to heal up, just as a wound might heal through a gradual, natural process.  However, we can help this process along by understanding the loss – what exactly was it about the loss that is difficult for us?  What specifically are we missing?  So, going back to the needs wheel, we can think about the gap or gaps that the loss has left – did that person give us love, or companionship, or fun?

Understanding exactly what we’ve lost can help us recover.   In the short term we may be able throw ourselves into things to fill – or partially fill – the hole   For instance, organising a funeral, concentrating on our work, cleaning the house or partying.  There are many immediate things we might do to help ease the loss we are feeling, to ease the pain a little.  Such things distract us and can be very useful in the short term, but don’t necessarily tend to be helpful in the longer term.

If the loss is a deep one – the loss of a close parent or long term partner, for example – the things we miss will tend to be much more difficult to replace. If you are lacking love or security, doing something short term like getting drunk is unlikely to help beyond enabling you to forget about the loss for a while.

Sometimes, after a relationship breakup, people move straight into a “rebound relationship”.  I think that this is often an attempt to plug the gap in their needs wheel with an identical slice of pie.  Most rebound relationships do not last, of course.  This is partly because finding an identical slice of pie is impossible – and expecting a new partner to fill the gap left by one’s ex is unreasonable, and likely to put great strain on them and on the relationship.

A new relationship needs to be allowed to grow naturally.  It will never be the same as the last relationship, as the one you’ve lost, but given time it will take its place in your needs wheel, while other things will change around it to fill in the gaps left by your loss.

So big losses mend slowly, and accepting that can be a big step.  It takes time to grieve but if you are able to sit with it, to accept the pain as part of a natural process, the healing can happen.  If you are inclined to fight the pain, to distract yourself from it, the loss can be all the harder to deal with.

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Counselling in Wokingham – When Do You Feel Loss?

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

In thinking about loss, a model I sometimes use is what I call a “needs wheel”. We need different things in our lives – to feel loved, to feel special, to feel useful and worthwhile, to feel physically healthy – and so on. Many different needs, and the relative importance of these needs is different for different people.

How do we meet these needs? Again, this is different for different people. Relationships are likely to be important – relationships with friends, family, loved ones. Work may be important to us, as may hobbies. We may get some comfort from going to the gym, or smoking, or alcohol. For each of us this is different, but we could construct a personal “needs wheel” – a pie chart in which different activities or people are represented by slices – their relative importance represented by their relative sizes.

So, then we can understand when we are likely to feel loss. If we lose something or someone that is a big slice of our wheel, our needs will not be met, and we will feel loss. If the loss is of something that is only a small slice, we will feel it much less.

We might express our losses in different ways – “I grieve for my mother”, “I miss my old dog”, “I’m bored since I gave up work”, “I’d love a cigarette” – but all these things express the fact that we are missing something that we used to have – we are feeling loss.
We may suffer loss in many different guises – it may be the loss of a person who is important to us, friends moving away, kids leaving home, separation from a partner, or death of a loved one.

But loss is not just about people. We might lose our job, for instance, or lose a major interest in our lives such as a hobby. We might also lose an idea – a client recently told me about an aunt who was a strong role model to her as a child. But as an adult things happened that caused her to change her view of the aunt – she saw a darker side of her – and the role model was lost, leaving her with many doubts about who she was and where she was going.

We can also lose dreams, or visions of the future. For instance, some people enter marriage focusing on setting up a home, having kids, and bringing up a happy family. But if they are unable to have kids for some reason, the vision they had is destroyed, and this can knock away a foundation stone and leave a huge hole in their lives.

So there are many different things that are important to us for various reasons, and if any of those are removed from our lives, we are likely to feel a loss. Some of these losses are great than others, of course – some are easier to overcome than others. More on this next time….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Join the Dots

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

As a child, I used to enjoy “join the dots” puzzles; I liked the way the picture would gradually emerge, and would enjoy the challenge of working out what was represented as soon as possible.

As a counsellor, I still do “join the dots” puzzles, but they are of a rather different nature.

When people come to counselling, they will often be hoping to improve their self-awareness in order to help them understand why they behave as they do, or why they want the things they want, or to help them make an important decision. Sometimes people will say that they’ve done something that’s “just not me” – an angry outburst, an affair, an impulsive decision. They may be seeking to ensure that they don’t repeat that behaviour, and understanding why it happened is usually a very important part of that.

When people start counselling, often they will bring me dots. They will talk about memories, incidents, experiences which have been part in their lives – isolated events or thoughts – maybe people who have been important to them. There may be many such dots, scattered randomly, apparently unconnected. What picture will we see once the dots are connected?

In join the dots puzzles, of course, the dots are numbered, the route is signposted.   Follow the path and you’ll get a picture – a picture that is predetermined by the puzzle setter. In counselling, however, the dots are not numbered. There are potentially many different ways to join them up, and therefore many different pictures that can be formed. What is the best way to join the dots, the way that makes most sense to you? Which dots are relevant, and which can be ignored?

As a counsellor, I have done a lot of these puzzles, and so I can offer my experience in helping you to join the dots. I can enable you to explore in a constructive way, with suggestions about which dots are likely to connect. Which experiences have influenced your behaviour, your decisions, your priorities? Suppose we join up these dots in this sequence – are we are starting to make a picture?

But while I have a lot of experience in joining dots, I don’t have the answer – I don’t know what the final picture ought to look like. So just as you might need my guidance to help you to join the dots, I will need your guidance in deciding whether a particular sequence feels right to you. Does it ring true?

We can draw many different pictures from the dots you bring. We can explain things in many different ways. But it’s important to remember that whatever pictures we might draw, they are about you, and they belong to you. Only you can say which of the pictures you like, which of them make most sense to you.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Stuck?

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

I enjoy crossword puzzles, but sometimes of course, I get stuck. I find that I just can’t see the solution to a particular clue. But very often it seems to happen that if I put the newspaper down, and go and do something completely different, I can solve that difficult clue quite easily when I come back to it an hour or two later.

I used to work in IT. Sometimes, in that environment, technical people would find themselves stuck with a program that wouldn’t work or with a hardware problem they couldn’t diagnose. I often found that, if they tried to explain the problem to me (even knowing that I lacked the technical know-how to solve it), they would suddenly see the answer – it would just flash into their head.

In both cases, people are stuck, unable to see a way forward. In both cases, the solution becomes obvious when they look at their problem differently. In the first case, it’s as if I have cleared my head of preconceptions and can look at the crossword clue afresh. In the second case, the act of verbalising the problem seems to enable the techie to see it in a new light.

People often come to counselling because they are stuck. They perhaps feel trapped in a situation, in a relationship or in a job and can see no way out – they have no choices. Or maybe they are struggling with repeating patterns – they keep losing their job, they can’t seem to maintain a relationship, they repeatedly fail in their attempts to give up smoking or keep to a diet.

Couples, too, can be very stuck with a particular issue. They may have tried to talk about it many times but have ended hitting the same brick wall every time – or maybe they find that they just argue round and round in circles.

As with the crossword puzzle or the IT problem, they key to getting unstuck can be about looking at things differently, and counselling can help with that. The simple fact that you are sitting in a different room, physically removed from your normal environment, can clear your head and give you a new way to look at things. The act of describing your problem to a counsellor, of verbalising it, can help you to see it differently. In telling someone else your story, you are giving it a different perspective and that can help you to approach things afresh.

For couples too, that repeating conversation can be different with a third person in the room – that vicious circle you are stuck in can be broken. You can start to hear your partner better, to understand their point of view, to see things from their perspective.

Now, back to the crossword, 17 across, Therapy unclogs line unexpectedly (11)

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Counselling in Wokingham – Your Support Network

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

We all need support – some of us more than others. Support may come from people, pets, activities – all sorts of places – and perhaps, from some potentially destructive sources such as alcohol, drugs or pornography.

It can be useful to think about your support network by asking yourself who (or what) gives you:-

  • Someone you can rely on in a crisis
  • Someone to talk to if you’re worried
  • Someone who makes you feel good about yourself
  • Someone who can tell you how well or badly you are doing
  • Someone who makes you stop and think about what you’re doing
  • Someone who introduces you to new ideas, interests or people

You may not be able to answer all these questions, which means that may be gaps in your network. That’s worth thinking about, because if, for example, there’s nobody you can turn to when you’re worried, you’re probably having to deal with any worries on your own. Up to a point there’s no problem with that, but it is stressful and difficult to be in a constant state of worry and in the long term it will probably take its toll. It can be a bit like a bucket placed under a dripping tap. It’s a big bucket, it’s a slow drip, but eventually the bucket will fill and overflow.

Going back to the list above, your answers may make it apparent that you rely heavily on one or two people for support. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but again, it is something to think about. For example, if you rely on your partner to fill all, or most of, these categories, perhaps you are asking too much of them, putting too much pressure on them – and perhaps they are too nice to tell you that. Perhaps they are that bucket for your dripping tap.

It’s good to have people around you who can support you, but it’s also good to have your own resources. That might take many forms. Religion and meditation, exercise and dance, food and drink, cleaning and DIY. All these things can be helpful in different situations, to help us feel better about ourselves in different ways.

Pets, too, can be a great support. Stroking them is very soothing (though maybe not if your pet is a hedgehog). And they are great listeners: they never answer back, they never criticise, they just let you talk it through.

Similarly, some people turn to a lost friend or relative to support. “My dad always listened to me when he was alive, and I feel that he’s still listening now.” You can still lean on someone even if they’re not physically with you. “What would my mum say if she could see me now?”

There’s loads of support out there and inside you, waiting to help you. And if, occasionally, that’s not enough, well, you could always try counselling!

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rewriting History

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406paulcockayne3@gmail.com

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

People come to counselling for many reasons, some with a focus on dealing with past events, some to deal with present problems, others to think about the future and what that may hold.

These three time “divisions” – past, present and future, are intertwined. Our past experiences influence us in the present and shape our view of the future. We are a product our all our experiences, whether we see them as positive or negative. The way we deal with the things that happen to us in the present is based on the results of past behaviour. So if, for example, you have always been good at languages, you are likely to be confident about learning a new language now. If your past partners have always cheated on you, you are likely to be more suspicious of a new partner. If the last Christmas dinner you cooked was not up to your expectations, you’ll probably try to do some things differently next Christmas.

But as well as the past influencing the present and the future, in a sense the present and future also influence the past.   Of course, we cannot alter the events of the past, but we can change our view of the past, our interpretation of past events. We see historians do this in their work – they may find new information, or question the reliability of some sources of information. Or they may offer alternative ways at looking at things, which challenge existing accounts of the past.

We are our own historians, and so we too can offer alternative interpretations of our own history. Our brothers or sisters may remember things a little differently.  They may assign different motives to people’s actions and conversations with them can enable us to look at the past in a different light.  We can choose the stories we tell about ourselves, and the lessons we take from past events.

Our view of the future influences our view of the past. If we feel optimistic about that’s to come, bad experiences from the past will seem less significant – which will leave us feeling happier in the present and in our vision of the future. If we are looking at the future with foreboding, that will tend to mean that past events take on more significance, perhaps even leaving us with a feeling that we lack control over our future because so many things have gone wrong in the past.

Exploring these three time divisions, and how they interrelate can be an important part of counselling….and it can be a very rich and surprising experience!

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