The Raw Truth of Parenting - falling out of love
“Happy school bloody holidays” I heard you say when you saw the title of this blog post. I mean, what a depressing post to read when it’s all smiles, sweets and family days out at the moment. I’m not here to rain on your parade, but instead, to reassure you that if you’re putting on a front right now for the sake of the kids and, underneath it all, not feeling all that happy with your partner, we’re here and we get it. A six-week summer holiday break with your partner home for a chunk of it may be your worst nightmare if your relationship is on the edge.
In this blog post, we are going to outline common, yes common, situations that couples go through and what to do if you resonate with one of the areas. Us humans are excellent at getting on with it and brushing things under the carpet, but after a lot of therapy, I have learned that these things always come back to bite you on the bottom. And if you switch off at this point because a) you think the post is crap or b), you know deep down that you will relate to some it and you’re just not ready to let your mind think about plan b, that’s cool. Just remember this article and come back to it after you’ve had a pretty intense argument with your partner and feel like you want another life but can’t face breaking the family up, so just carry on as before.
And in the spirit of honesty, which I feel is essential when writing in such a candid way, I’ve been in this situation very recently with my partner. Throughout our marriage, we have had to tackle mental health blips (I hate the word issues). Anyone who knows what it is like to suffer or live with a sufferer, it isn’t easy. Depression and anxiety are, by default, very selfish illnesses, as the person suffering can only view the world through their eyes. Mental health is all consuming and blocks logic, reason and the impact it has on those closest to you. So often your partner can feel totally isolated and like they aren’t heard or even seen in the eyes of the person suffering. There have been moments when we have both wondered if it is the right thing to stay together. It has been that bad. I won’t give you the details leading up to this point, but we certainly didn’t wake up and consider this dilemma out of the blue. Lots of arguments, stress, anxiety, ignorance and putting heads in the sand took place and it wasn’t pleasant. What I really really needed during all of this, were people to talk to who had been here before. And given the taboo around mental health that already exists, added to the fact that in our society we tend not to put our cards on the table and declare we’ve got relationship woes, my chances of finding someone to relate to were zero. So here’s a blog post for that one person who is thinking there is no one out there who is living through this. There is.
HOW MUCH ARGUING IS TOO MUCH?
This question will be baulked at by therapists across the globe, but it is something that plagues me and my close friends all the time. I will hear one person saying they had an argument last night with their partner and they diffused it within the hour, but then the same thing happened every night for a week. And another person, who had a monumental argument with their partner with screaming and throwing of items, but then they didn’t argue for another month. Which couple would you say is more at risk of having marital problems? I have no idea! Why? Because the extent of arguing and how much is too much is down to the individuals concerned. It’s all down to tolerance levels and the makeup of the individuals in the marriage and NOT whether you love one another. I hate the way society asks this question of couples when they’re going through a rough patch. Of course they love their partner and I challenge anyone who disagrees with this. You may not look at the person and think love, or when they’re out of sight think of love, but in Pandora’s box that exists in your mind, love is in there. It may be suppressed or a bit bruised and so it isn’t on the top of the pile, but it’s there. It’s why you can go in between arguments and still be OK with that person. Love isn’t just about the soppy bits, it’s also about having enough resilience and strength to sit alongside that person and parent, or cohabit. That takes love, even if it’s not comfortable love.
I would say that too much arguing is when you can’t find inner peace. By that I mean, when you’re not physically arguing with your partner, you’re arguing with them in your own head. You’re mulling over the arguments that have taken place or finding additional claims or reasons to fight them in your mind. And during this, you’re getting upset without them even being there. You physically may feel low and unable to focus on anything. You will still operate in life – go to work, look after the kids, etc – but not feel present in those moments. And when you question why you feel this way, your partner pops into your mind. Make sure you have a boundary in place and this is usually it.
WHAT'S THE FIRST STEP TO TAKE?
If you’re nodding after reading the above, the first step is to be honest with one another. It’s not easy, especially if you have a partner who doesn’t like to communicate about their feelings. Timing is key, so do it when the kids aren’t around. I would suggest first thing on a Saturday or Sunday morning; go out for breakfast and sit outside. Why I suggest this is a) arguing around children is a big no-no for many reasons that I don’t have to list, b) Saturday and Sunday morning is a time when most people feel happiest because work is over for the week and it’s the start of a day of fun or relaxation. However, don’t have a chat when your partner has been out late the night before and is tired and/or hungover. And c) going to somewhere public minimises the chances of an argument blowing up too quickly and sitting outside means either of you can escape if you feel too anxious/angry/upset to carry on talking.
The key to this discussion is to keep the words ‘You did or do this’ to a minimum. Why? Because nobody likes to be accused of things, even if they are true. Keep the chat to ‘You make or made me feel’. By using the words 'I feel' it means that the other person cannot argue with what you’re saying. The way you feel is the way you feel. It also makes for raw listening, because to hear that you’ve made someone feel sad or that they’re not worth anything, is heart-wrenching. It should make any person stop in their tracks and think. They may not respond in the best way straight away, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve planted the 'feelings' seed.
The other thing to remember is when you do communicate how you feel and your fears for the relationship if you don’t seek help, is that you’ve played your part. You can’t change what your partner then chooses to say or do, but you’ve taken a step towards trying. This is really important, because if after trying for a good period of time you don’t feel as if the other person is receptive or will ever be receptive towards you, you may choose to take time away from your partner knowing you’ve done as much as you can and in a fair way. There is nothing worse than thinking ‘I wish I had done this or that’ and that might have saved things.
WHAT IF MY PARTNER ISN'T OPEN TO GETTING HELP?
So you’ve tried to communicate honestly and openly with one another and one partner isn’t playing ball or refusing to acknowledge the point where you’re at. What do you do next? You may think about going to see a counsellor together, but you’re met with the reaction, “What the hell are we going to talk to a stranger about our problems for?! I’m not going.” And there you are, back to square one. In this instance, I would thoroughly recommend you going alone to see a marital counsellor initially. He or she will be able to listen to your story, walk you through how to approach your partner about coming to see them and give you some coping strategies to avoid the arguments escalating to the extent they are at the moment. The coping strategies may indeed work, and when the uncooperative partner comments on how things seem to be a bit less stressful between you guys, you can perhaps attribute the change to the advice given by the counsellor. This may lead to your partner seeing the counsellor in more of a helpful and reasonable light and changing their mind.
WHERE CAN I GO FOR HELP?
There are so many websites out there if you search for ‘Relationship problems’; some are good and some are harsh. Instagram is a great platform to find other people talking about the same things you’re feeling right now. Blog posts such as mine, can do a great deal of good and even sharing them with your partner may help initiate an honest chat between you. Empowerment is key and that means realising others are feeling the same. If like me, you’re first thought is sometimes: ‘Oh god, what would other people think if they knew the truth about our relationship’, reading about other people going through the same thing makes you quash this thought, as you suddenly realise that you’re not as abnormal as you thought.
I’ve just read a wonderful book which made A LOT of sense and helped explain why my partner and I act the way we do. It’s called ‘Daring Greatly’ INSERT AMAZON AFFILIATE LINK and is by Brene Brown. It’s evidence-based, so it’s more than a counsellor speculating and Brene shares her stories in a very honest way. I’m not a self-help book kind of girl, but this one has stuck with me. If you’re not keen on reading, watch Brene on Ted.com deliver a taster of her book.
As people close to me know, I’ve seen more counsellors than I’ve had hot dinners. And not all of them have been good or effective. This is a subjective thing I know, but when you know, you just know. When you’re thinking about seeing a counsellor, go for recommendations. Look on their Facebook pages, or on Yell.com if they’re listed. Interview three counsellors just the once, either alone or as a couple, and then evaluate them. Remember, you cannot expect miracles overnight; it usually takes four sessions to start to get somewhere and the progress will be slow thereafter. You will still argue in the meantime, but the ferocity of the arguments should start to calm down. I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Priory in Chelmsford and it was there that I met my favourite ever counsellor. She has worked with me individually, my husband individually and us as a couple.
Also, when you evaluate your counsellor, make sure they fit the tone of your personality or couple style. My husband and I are ‘get-sh*t-done-type people’ and we like having an approach to tackle things head on. So we opted for a non-fluffy counsellor who focuses on plan b and getting us there, and tells us when we’ve each messed up. However, if you’re a quieter couple who are a bit more laid-back, a counsellor who is softly spoken, calmer and more relaxed may be best for you. And don’t be afraid to start with one counsellor, realise they’re not for you and move onto another.
If money is an issue, then go to your GP. You will go on a waiting list, which can be up to eight weeks, but you will eventually be seen by a local counsellor and there are some excellent ones. The same approach as above applies. In the meantime, if you find the relationship is really impacting you or your home-life, give MIND or Relate a call (details below). I’ve spoken to MIND a few times and they are brilliant, and don’t charge you either. It’s all confidential as well.
Whatever you do, don’t be alone in all of this. Confide in someone and if it’s a stranger, then even better. They don’t hold bias and can give you the best perspective. I’ve been known to open up to the woman working in GAP before, or an older chap who once looked at my glum face, offered to buy me a cup of tea and over the next 30 minutes imparted his very wise wisdom on relationships. I felt so much better after it, even if it didn’t solve the problems, but it at least allowed me to vent.
THE RAW TRUTH OF PARENTING SERIES
The Raw Truth of Parenting is a series of interviews with parents on areas of parenting that tend to be hidden, or not discussed openly. Our aim with the series, is to open up these areas and empower those parents who felt or feel the same. For expectant parents, we're not wanting to scare you, but instead, arm you for what might happen. And if you don't look at these blog posts now, remember that we've covered these areas and come back to us for information and support.