Counselling in Wokingham – The Common Enemy

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

enemy1Many years ago I was part of a 5-a-side football team. The standard was very poor (and I did nothing to raise it), but the team spirit was excellent. Why was this? Well, it was all down to the organiser and captain who I shall call Fred, an abnoxious little man, universally disliked by the whole team.

It was fortunate that Fred was not a drinking man because after our usual defeat on the pitch the rest of the team would gather in the pub to talk about Fred and whatever ridiculous and annoying things he had said or done that week. Our dislike of the man united us, and whatever differences might otherwise have been apparent in the team were insignificant in comparison to our universally negative opinions about Fred.

Though it was fun at the time, in retrospect I suppose it was a bit mean of us – Fred worked hard to make sure we had a team every week, and did no real harm – but leaving that aside, it is interesting to reflect on the unity Fred inadvertently managed to produce.

enemy2Having a common enemy can be an incredibly strong force. Revolutions are built on it. The French and Russian revolutions (though my historical knowledge is admittedly hazy) targeted the aristocracy, Nazism focused on the Jews, and now, on the morning that Donald Trump was elected as US President, I think perhaps he has managed to do the same thing with more of a scattergun approach.

But ignoring Trump for a second (I doubt that will be easy in the next few years) and turning my thoughts to relationships, I think that unity is incredibly important. Typically when we start out on a relationship – even in the first few dates – we’ll be exploring to find out what common ground exists between us. Do we like the same things as each other? Do we share the same views? The same sense of humour? Without a certain amount of commonality, the relationship is very unlikely to thrive.

We probably make the relationship a long term one with common ends in sight – a shared vision of the future, but of course as time goes on couples can find that they change, in individual ways. This can mean that the shared vision no longer exists, and partners can find themselves living day to day, following a routine, without a common goal and without the “travelling companion” who their partner once was.

enemy3Acrimony and arguments can develop when partners have different views on parenting, on finances or politics, or on how to spend their time.   Without that long-term vision the atmosphere can easily become hostile – couples can become enemies rather than allies.

If this has happened to you it can be helpful to find a common enemy – a “Fred”. Fred doesn’t have to be an actual person, he might instead be something like “anger” or “blame”. But having a Fred can re-unite couples, who can acknowledge the need to work together to overcome the anger in the relationship. With a common enemy, you are automatically on the same side, and once you are on the same side, almost anything is possible.

Is there a Fred in your life?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Asking for Help

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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 am not particularly a political animal, but the Brexit vote and its aftermath have rather revived my interest.

help3My interest is largely a voyeuristic one – what will happen next? We are in unknown territory, and I think, if they were honest, the government would admit that they are very much out of their comfort zone. It’s a scary place to be, and we see politicians reacting to that in various ways. Some are full of bluster and bravado (“we’ll be better off out”) while others are all doom and gloom (“it’ll be an economic disaster”). Some want to get actively involved, others want to run away and hide. Fight or flight…

We can have these same reactions when, as individuals, we find ourselves outside our comfort zone. We don’t know what to do, we have no control, we can easily resort to fighting or fleeing, whichever is our natural reaction.

This loss of control makes me think, more generally, of loss. The reactions we experience in dealing with a bereavement are varied – anger, denial, blame, bargaining, depression are all common, and we’ve seen these from various politicians in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, too.

help2In our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to ask for help, which can take various forms such as practical support, advice, training, emotional support, all of which can be more or less useful depending on the circumstances. On of the difficulties can be that we don’t always know what sort of help to ask for, and that can put strain on a relationship if a partner assumes we want advice when what we really need is a shoulder to cry on.

Asking for help can also be difficult because it is often seen as an admission of weakness. We need to make that admission first to ourselves, and then to others, in order to access the help we need. That can be quite a brave thing to do and in fact I think that asking for help is usually a sign of strength, not weakness. Already out of our comfort zone, we may want to run away, or to fight, to deny, to withdraw, to shout and scream or to blame others. To admit we are struggling is, for many of us, another step away from our comfort zone, the zone where we feel in control of our lives.

It can be difficult to do, but asking for help can be the most important step in dealing with a problem. Certainly in working with relationship difficulties I often feel that couples have already made a huge step forward, just by coming to counselling. They have admitted to themselves and each other that they are struggling and in doing so they have already started to change.

help1Will we see our government making such a brave admission? Will Teresa May make a statement to announce that she doesn’t know what to do? I somehow doubt it…

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Counselling in Wokingham – Falling In Love Again

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

Last time I wrote about “falling out of love”. When I counsel people who feel that has happened to them, they often ask if it is possible to “fall in love again”, and how they can make that happen.

fallinginlove1The idea of making it happen is perhaps a little strange, because in general falling in love just seems to happen on its own, it’s not something you work at. So trying to fall in love can feel a bit contrived, but I see nothing wrong in that. In many areas of our lives we set objectives and work towards them in a conscious way. Why should developing our emotions be so very different from gaining academic qualifications or mastering new piece of computer software? If you want something specific, it’s more likely to happen if you actively work towards it, than if you just wait and see.

However hard you and your partner work at it, you can’t necessarily make it happen, but there are things you can do to make it more likely – to improve your relationship with somebody to the point where it becomes possible to love them – and for them to love you – again.

In my last blog I suggested that love is an accumulation of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours that are different for all of us; different feelings in a different mix. If you’ve stopped loving someone, you’ve stopped feeling some or all of those things, and so falling in love again is about finding ways to build back the feelings you’ve lost.

fallinginlove3A common theme is trust. For many people, trust is an important ingredient of love – indeed for many it is essential; love cannot exist without trust. A good way of breaking trust is by keeping secrets from your partner, and so something like the discovery of an affair will break trust and damage love.

Secrets damage trust and honesty restores it. It can be a painful and difficult process but after an affair, being honest about what has happened is a really important step in rebuilding trust and therefore in restoring love.

If you and your partner can understand what love means for each of you, you can work at restoring it, by breaking it down and building it up. It may be about spending more time together, about making plans, about sharing your joys or fears, helping each other achieve individual goals, about extending boundaries in your sex life.

It may be about almost anything and about many different things, but almost certainly it will be about doing things together, thus fostering a sense of partnership that may have disappeared over time or through circumstances.

fallinginlove2Love changes. When you’re 60, your ideas about love will probably be very different from the ideas you had when you were 20. As you get older, you need different things in life and so you also need different things in love. Some relationships seem to change naturally – they seem to adapt to changing needs. Love can evolve, it seems, though I suspect this comes about through good communication, together with respect and flexibility from both partners.

Not all relationships change naturally, however, and so, without any obvious circumstantial changes, couples (or one of a couple) can fall out of love. Where both partners are willing to put in the effort, I think it perfectly possible to rediscover love, perhaps a different form of love, often a better, deeper love.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Falling Out of Love

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

It’s a recurring theme in the work I do – often couples will tell me that they have drifted apart, “fallen out of love”.

What does that mean? It’s a complicated question to answer, because I don’t think there’s any single definition of what love is. It’s different for each of us, and indeed our love for one person might be different from our love for someone else.

love1Love is a collection of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours that add up to something special and important. The elements that add up to what we call love are many and various : trust, excitement, respect, physical attraction, support, fun, closeness, honesty, shared values, friendship, common goals, great sex, loyalty, attentiveness, humour, faithfulness. And some people would associate love with negative things as well : blind devotion, helplessness, disappointment, delusion.

I’ve probably only scratched the surface. Ask ten people to make a list of “love elements” such as the one above and they’ll all be different. Ask people to rank the items in order of importance and there will be even more differences.

So falling in love, and falling out of love are very personal things, different for each of us. But if we’ve fallen out of love we can say that not enough items on our own personal list are being ticked – or if they are, that the ticks are not big enough.

love2In breaking it down like this it perhaps becomes clear that the reasons why we might fall out of love are just as varied as the reasons why we fall in love. Your list of “love elements” might have ten items on it – things that are special for you but not necessarily for other people. If one or two of them get dented a bit, your love will probably survive – but if several of those love elements are significantly damaged, so too will your love be.

Sometimes it will be significant events that damage your love. If faithfulness is important to you, it will be a great blow if your partner has an affair. If fun is high up your list, it will be tough if you or your partner becomes depressed. And so we can go on – each element on your list can be damaged by events, sometimes events entirely out of your control.

But sometimes, it’s just down to circumstances. For young couples, it’s often the case that things add up. Work is perhaps intensive and demanding. Financial pressures mount with a house purchase – and a solution may be to work longer hours. With the arrival of children, priorities change dramatically and this adds to the strain for both partners.   Often all these things happen at the same time, and couples find that it becomes almost impossible to spend quality time together. This can continue for years, so that it can become “normal” for the couple, and so some, perhaps many, of the items on each person’s love list will no longer be ticked.

love3But we are a race of survivors, and without necessarily realising that we are doing it, we will adapt to changed circumstances and learn to live without all those love elements that were once so important. This can happen so gradually that we don’t realise it until, one day, it hits us that the relationship has changed. We have fallen out of love.

So can you fall in love again? Can you make that happen? You’ll have to wait for the next exciting episode….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Windows, Bubbles and Patchwork Quilts

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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 the dark ages, when I started a career in IT, it wasn’t even called IT. There were no graphical interfaces. Windows hadn’t been conceived. Computers had very limited memory, they could only do one thing at a time.

Things have changed, just a little, since then. Now computers multitask and we can have many windows open at the same time, viewing more than one on the screen at a time, and flipping between them as we wish.

windows1I think this is a pretty good representation of how we operate in our daily lives. It is rare that we will just have one thing going on at a time – we might be driving, listening to the radio, and thinking about work all at once. We might be watching TV, playing a computer game and listening out for the kids at the same time.

One of the stories we are told about gender is that men can’t multitask. This is a bit of a myth, I think – we all do multitask even if we don’t realise it. It’s a skill we all possess and can develop – a skill that’s really valuable at times, essential in certain situations. (So too, of course, is the skill of being single minded, to concentrate all your attention on one thing, as high-performing sports people learn to do).

windows2These multiple windows that we have open are, I think, more like bubbles than windows, because they can vary in size. It’s as if the bubbles are competing for our attention, striving to grow as large as possible, to occupy as much space as possible on our “computer screen” – in our conscious mind. The screen is a fixed size, so as some bubbles grow, others are squeezed into corners.

Some people seem to have many bubbles of roughly equal sizes – children, partner, family, work friends, hobbies, the ”to do list” all seem to coexist. This can be quite tiring and these people can find it hard to relax. They can also find it difficult to change their habits, their way of doing things, because of the complexity of their pattern of bubbles. It’s perhaps, for them, more like a patchwork quilt than a set of bubbles, a static arrangement that is not easily changed. Everything connects with everything else.

windows3Other people seem to live very much in the present, and so one bubble dominates their screen – the thing that they are working on, thinking about, in the present grows and everything else shrinks to make room. These people can be prone to addiction because what is happening in the present seems to be all that matters – all that actually exists. Similarly, they can find it difficult to look at or think about the big picture and can find themselves prone to having affairs. When they are with their affair partner everything else becomes insignificant. Nothing else matters, there are no connections.

How big are your bubbles?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Not My Fault

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

blame1After I left university I joined the IT profession, then in its infancy (frighteningly, this was nearly 40 years ago). I worked as a computer programmer and of course I made mistakes. Some were easy to spot and correct, others were much more elusive – a zero for the letter “O”, a missed semicolon. I remember on one occasion that I’d made an error that I just couldn’t find, and I managed to convince myself that I hadn’t made a mistake at all, that it was a problem with the computer, not with my program. When I voiced this opinion, however, the more experienced programmers all laughed at me. They had all had the same issue, and similarly had thought they had found a computer problem, but, they told me, it always turned out to be an error in the program. “Keep looking”, they said, and they were right.

But it can be comforting to blame our mistakes on others, and in my work as a counsellor I encounter this a lot. Classically, perpetrators of domestic violence will try to blame their partner. Phrases like “If you hadn’t looked at me oddly…” and “If you didn’t go on….” put the blame on the victim, and “I had to… “ or “I had no option..” deny that the perpetrator had a choice.

blame2It’s not just in cases of domestic violence where people blame others for their own actions, however, and it’s not always our partner who gets the blame. People can claim their parents : “I can’t help it, it’s the way I was brought up”. And their gender “I’m doing my best but remember that women can’t read maps” – or “I’d help more with the housework but men can’t see dust” (yes, a client of mine actually said this). And we can blame circumstances, of course, by saying “I haven’t had time” or “I’ve been too busy” rather than “I decided other things were more important”. We can even blame ourselves while denying responsibility : “My memory is bad”, “I have no patience”. It was a part of me over which I have no control.

What all these reasons (or excuses) have in common is that they deny that I can do anything about it – they deny that I have any control over the situation, they deny that I have any choice in what I do. As intelligent humans, we do have free will, however. Everything we do is a choice, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. With choice comes responsibility, of course, and if we accept responsibility, we will find ourselves taking the blame more often. It can be much more comfortable to deny that we have the choice in the first place!

blame3Having a partner can be very convenient, because there is always someone there to blame, but of course blame can be very divisive in a relationship. But, surprisingly, it can be used humourously too. I remember working with a couple who blamed each other a lot, even for things that were clearly not their partner’s fault. We worked on this and over time they learnt to own up, to take responsibility for their own mistakes. And when they had done this, they were able to parody their former relationship. One evening they arrived for the session slightly late. The man owned up, looking rather foolish : “I put the car into reverse by mistake and backed into the garage door”. And then he smiled “I’m sure it must have been my wife’s fault, but I haven’t quite worked out why yet!”

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Counselling in Wokingham – Collecting

Paul Cockayne – 07791

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

collect1It must be over 30 years since I visited a fascinating manor house in the Cotswolds – Snowshill Manor. Apparently, it was owned by an eccentric (and presumably rich) Englishman called Charles Wade, who lived himself in a small hut in the garden because there was no room for him in the house – it was full of collections. Mr.Wade, it seems, collected collections – or butterflies, sword guards, bicycles, toys, masks, clocks and samurai warrior costumes – to name but a few.

What is the attraction of collecting? Mr Wade surely wasn’t interested in all those objects for themselves, I can’t imagine that he was an expert on all those things. His pleasure, or a large part of it, must have come from the joy of accumulating the objects. So I think it was probably less about the objects themselves than about the hunt for them. Before the days of the internet, collectors must have had to trawl through second hand shops and to have relied on a network of contacts to accumulate the things that interested them. Nowadays, the eBay and other sites make collecting a whole lot easier – and maybe rather less fun.

collect2Collecting has an addictive quality, and I think the fascination of the process extends beyond the collection of objects. Some people, for example, collect knowledge. We’ve all seen the people on quiz shows who seem to know everything about a certain subject and, here again, I think that these people find pleasure in accumulating knowledge, just as others love to gather objects.

Objects, knowledge – and people. Some people love to collect people! In business, in academia, in other walks of life, networking can be very important, and the process of finding and making connections can offer the same attractions as other collections. Look at Facebook! Some people just love to collect friends – even if they’re people that they’ve never met, it’s still one more name in the collection.

People collect real friendships, not just virtual ones, of course, and this can go hand in hand with a collection of facts about those people, perhaps in the somewhat unhealthy form of gossip. Here, there is also the excitement of getting to know someone well – to understand what “makes them tick”, or of building a bond. To collect an object, you need to find it, buy it, and put it on a shelf. To collect a person, you need to meet them, understand them and…..

Those dots can be a problem. The natural end to the process can seem to be to have sex with the person you have got to know. And once that’s happened, the person is in your collection and they can be forgotten about – it’s on to the next person, the next addition to your collection. Many “serial cheaters” have this sort of mind set, I think.

collect3Breaking this sort of pattern can be tough, but as with many behavioural habits, the first step is to recognise what is going on, and then to understand the effects on others. And what is important for the collector of sexual partners? Perhaps philately can provide an alternative amusement….?

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