Couples: why your partner needs to feel loved AND understood

davanti counselling loved and understood copy

Relationship conflict can be healthy if you understand your partner’s point of view (pic courtesy of niamwhan/freedigitalphotos.net)

Couples following Oscar Wilde’s advice that “women are meant to be loved, not to be understood” could be missing a trick. OK, so you can substitute ‘men’ or ‘partners’ in place of ‘women’ to make Wilde’s quote relevant to your own relationship. But the point is that just loving someone isn’t always enough for a successful, enduring relationship – especially when it comes to managing conflict.

This concept is highlighted in a Quartz article on how to make conflicts in relationships healthy. It draws on a study from the University of California at Berkeley, ‘Do you get where I’m coming from?’ that examines the perception of being understood in the context of relationship conflict. Researchers Amie M. Gordon and Serena Chen carried out seven studies to test “whether conflict in close relationships is only detrimental when people do not feel their thoughts, feelings, and point-of-view are understood by their relationship partners”.

Conflicts can become toxic when partners descend into behaviours such as blaming, withdrawing, making the other party feel guilty, or dragging up past misdemeanours and misunderstandings. The antidote to that toxicity is understanding your partner – and showing him or her that you understand, even while you’re disagreeing.

Gordon and Chen concluded: “Feeling understood during conflict may buffer against reduced relationship satisfaction in part because it strengthens the relationship and signals that one’s partner is invested. Overall, these studies suggest that perceived understanding may be a critical buffer against the potentially detrimental effects of relationship conflict.”

From the perspective of a couples counsellor, this research has huge resonance. Couples often come to therapy with both partners holding an entrenched position: that to compromise would mean ‘giving in’. They’re both holding out for the other person to change.

I find that the process of couples counselling is to help partners understand where the other is coming from. In other words, to ‘get’ each other. This may mean appreciating that one is an introvert, the other an extrovert. One may need closeness, the other may need more time alone. One may need to do all the planning, the other prefers to ‘wing it’. Neither is right or wrong. They are individuals in a relationship. Both, ideally, just need to be understood.

Couples counselling can facilitate that understanding so couples can be kinder to each other, for who they are and how they respond.

If you can identify patterns of conflict within your relationship that you’d like to resolve, and if you feel you’d like to try couples counselling, call Karen on 07956 823501, or email davanticounselling@gmail.com to book an appointment.

Why too many Instagram selfies can ruin your relationships

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Limit the number of selfies you post on Instagram if this causes conflict with your partner (image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net)

Post too many selfies on Instagram and it can have a negative effect on your relationships. The more selfies you post showing how happy you are with your body, the worse those effects will be. That’s according to recent research into the ‘dark side’ of Instagram use by Florida State University.

To investigate the consequences on relationships of posting selfies on Instagram, the researchers carried out an online survey of 420 people aged 18 to 62. One of the findings was that people with higher body image satisfaction (the mental image they have of their physical selves) were more likely to post Instagram selfies. While the selfie-lovers may be happy with how they look, there was a correlation between frequent posting and conflict in their relationships. This conflict manifested as jealousy and arguments – and, in worst cases, break-up, separation and divorce.

These negative relationship outcomes can arise from jealous partners becoming hyper-vigilant about Instagram use. The researchers explain: “We speculate that Instagram-related conflict might arise when users begin to monitor their partner’s Instagram selfie posting behaviours. Excessive online monitoring may then result in verbal disputes between romantic partners [who] may experience jealousy given the amount of likes and comments a selfie has accumulated on Instagram. It is also possible that Instagram selfie posts may capture other users’ attention, resulting in the development of online relationships with other Instagram users.” This can ultimately lead to relationship breakdown.

The researchers recommend limiting the number of selfies you post if it’s causing conflict with your partner. They also suggest exploring Instagram and social media use in couples counselling, especially where trust and betrayal are key issues.

The full research is ‘Instagram Unfiltered: Exploring Associations of Body Image Satisfaction, Instagram #Selfie Posting, and Negative Romantic Relationship Outcomes.’

How your local pub can make you happier

davanti counselling pubs

The friendship and community shared in pubs can boost wellbeing (pic courtesy of dan/freedigitalphotos.net)

If you’ve got a local community pub that you visit regularly for a social pint, you’re more likely to be happier and more trusting than people who don’t have a local. That’s according to research from the University of Oxford (carried out for Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale). While Camra – understandably – would promote research saying pubs are good for you, the findings of the study focus less on drinking beer and more on the emotional and mental wellbeing of people who often pop down their local.

The study was carried out by Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist known for his research into the limit on the number of friends any one person can have (it’s 150, in case you were wondering).

His report, Friends on Tap, says that the more friends you have and the more often you see them, the happier and healthier you’ll be. If you have a local pub and visit it regularly, you’re likely to have a better community network, and feel happier and more fulfilled with your life than, say, someone who might visit a larger pub now and again and who doesn’t know that many people there. People in city centre bars are said to have shorter conversations and feel less engaged with the people they’re out with. The research talks about social drinking, not people who regularly consume vast quantities of alcohol.

Professor Robin Dunbar said: Friendship and community are probably the two most important factors influencing our health and wellbeing. Making and maintaining friendships, however, is something that has to be done face-to-face: the digital world is simply no substitute. Given the increasing tendency for our social life to be online rather than face-to-face, having relaxed accessible venues where people can meet old friends and make new ones becomes ever more necessary.”

Couples who laugh together stay together

Shared laughter is a marker of relationship closeness (pic courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Shared laughter is a marker of relationship closeness (pic courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net)

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” Victor Hugo

Ask any couple what first brought them together, and it’s likely they’ll say a shared sense of humour was one of the clinching factors in deciding to give their relationship a go. Laughing at the same things helps create shared memories and, as in Victor Hugo’s quote, laughter puts sunshine on the faces of a happy couple. Yet, years down the line when a relationship might turn chilly, the lack of laughter can be the first thing to go – leaving to winter to settle into the relationship.

Yet the ability to laugh together is a marker of relationships that last, according to Laura Kurtz and Sara Algoe, psychologists at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, who researched this very topic and had it published in the journal Personal Relationships. They videoed 71 heterosexual couples, asking them to talk about how they first met, then coding the instances of spontaneous laughter and asking the couples to complete a survey on relational closeness. They concluded that “the proportion of the conversation spent laughing simultaneously with the romantic partner was uniquely positively associated with global evaluations of relationship quality, closeness, and social support”.

In terms of what this means for relationships that have gone cold: attempt to bring spring back by remembering what you both like laughing at, and attempt to reconnect through shared laughter.

Women hurt more than men after a breakup – but bounce back faster

A woman will recover more quickly from a broken heart than a man will. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Idea go)

A woman will recover more quickly from a broken heart than a man will. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Idea go)

A relationship breakup will hurt the female partner more than the man, but the woman will recover more quickly because she is able to seek support and talk about it. Men, on the other hand, can let resentment fester for years.

The Daily Mail reports on a study by US researchers, published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, into the emotional and physical pain experienced by men and women in heterosexual partnerships when their relationship breaks down. Women reported more emotional and physical pain then men – especially feelings of anxiety, depression and fear, which in turn leads them to comfort eat to feel better, and possibly put on weight. Men, on the other hand, reported feeling angry and numb, will sometimes react badly, and will often move on into another relationship without having processed their feelings about the breakup. The researchers said this could be “self-destructive”, and the man could still have unprocessed feelings emerging years down the line.

While women hurt more as the relationship breaks up, their ability to talk about it with friends and family, and to take full advantage of their social support network, helped them to deal with their feelings before moving on. The research said that women are more able to recover from the hurt as a result.

Lead researcher Professor Craig Morris was reported as saying that breakups can help us learn to take relationships more seriously: “Breakups should hurt, so that we have evolved to avoid them! If breakups didn’t hurt, we’d invest very little in relationships.”

Why ‘soulmates’ struggle with conflict in their relationship

Do you have a 'unity' or 'journey' approach to your relationship? (image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

Do you have a ‘unity’ or ‘journey’ approach to your relationship? (image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Emily Brontë

The image of romantic togetherness may sound idyllic – meeting your soulmate and living happily ever after – but it could ultimately be damaging to your relationship. A psychological study has found that people in romantic relationships who regard their partner as their ‘soulmate’ or their ‘other half’ can struggle when it comes to conflict. After all, if they were a match made in heaven, why on earth would arguments or discord affect their perfect union?

The key to a happy life together lies in how people view and evaluate their relationships. While there may be a multitude of ways of thinking about relationships, the social psychology researchers identified two frames through which to view relationships. One is the ‘Unity’ view, where couples believe they were made for each other and meant to be together. The second is the ‘Journey’ frame, which sees a relationship unfolding over time, with conflict helping to grow the partnership and make it stronger.

In two experiments Professor Spike W. S. Lee of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California tested couples on the unity vs journey spectrum. The first experiment was a knowledge quiz that recalled either conflicts or celebrations with their partner. The second, subtler experiment involved identifying shapes that formed a whole (representing unity) or drawing a line from A to B (representing journey).

As anticipated, recalling celebrations made people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they thoughts about it. Recalling conflicts made couples feel less satisfied with their relationship—but significantly only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

Professor Lee concluded: “People who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out.” If you think of your relationship as a journey, he added: “You’ll feel better now, and you’ll do better down the road.”

Stress makes men more self-centred and women more empathic

Men's stress makes them   unable to relate to what's going on around them (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/MasterIsolatedImages)

Men’s stress makes them unable to relate to what’s going on around them (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/MasterIsolatedImages)

Stress makes men shut down, think only of themselves, and makes them unable to empathise with those around them. Women, on the other hand, become worried about other people. More evidence, perhaps, that could explain the difference in gender responses – and how the breakdown in communication and empathy explains why some relationships just don’t work. Or, at least, that’s according to new research from SISSA.

Men become unable to distinguish their own emotions and feelings from those of other people when subjected to stress, says the study. Women become more ‘prosocial’ while men think that everyone else must be feeling the same way they do.

“There is a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective and therefore be empathic, and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically,” say the researchers. “To be truly empathic and behave pro-socially, it’s important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this.”

Women apply more ‘social strategies’ when stressed – meaning they reach out and ask for help – while men expect everyone else to feel the same way they do.

To work out how to communicate more effectively with your partner, under stress – whether a man looking to become more empathic, or a woman looking at ways to cope with stress – call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com