Relationship Counselling: Ending the Blame Game for Better Communication

How often have you been in a situation where your partner has blamed you unfairly or found fault with everything you say? Constant put-downs and negativity mean criticism is thriving in your relationship. Here are some ideas about how to nip them in the bud and start having better communication with your partner.

First up, let’s talk about language. I prefer not to use terms like ‘critical people’ or ‘blamers’. Anyone can fall into speaking critically of others. Criticism can take the form of always pointing out what is wrong, constant negative comments or picking fights. If it’s coming from your partner, it could be a sign of unhappiness of lack of fulfilment. But don’t take it personally: people who have been taken over by criticism are generally in a bad way!

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Criticism: You Can’t Fight Fire with Fire

When criticism and negativity becomes obvious, it’s time for action. But you can’t fight fire with fire. Imagine reacting to criticism with criticism… it doesn’t work does it? Most of the time when we are burning up with criticism we aren’t even aware of it. Pointing it out can just fan the flames. We need to be a little more strategic.

Start by checking your own reactions. To reduce the physical stress response, breathe deeply into your abdomen and relax your muscles as you listen to what your partner has to say. Accepting criticism is like receiving a gift that you don’t need. There’s no need to take offence. Just don’t catch the negativity being offered. If you react to criticism, you have basically engaged with it. And if you react critically, you have lobbed it back. Ever heard the expression ‘someone is going to lose an eye’? Once we are playing the blame-game, we have already lost perspective.

Non-Violent Communication


One way of changing your response to criticism is to indicate you have heard what the person has said and you need time to consider it. This way, you keep some distance between yourself and the remark. The idea comes from Non-Violent Communication or NVC, an approach developed in the 1960s that involves awareness, expressing feelings and asking for what you need. I recommend the above book ‘Non-Violent Communication: Practical Skills to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation‘ that describes this approach in detail. With practice, anyone can improve their communication but it’s important to be assertive and have boundaries. If you are in a situation of physical danger or abuse, don’t stick around. Get out and get help.

There are a few simple things you can start doing now to change the existing patterns of your relationship. If this interests you, read on!

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A repeated scenario I have witnessed in relationships is one partner putting aside their own needs to try to meet the needs of the other. Which of course doesn’t work too well. It usually ends up with the self-sacrificing partner feeling resentful when their own needs aren’t met. But we can’t neglect our own needs!

Does this sound familiar to you?

The situation generally worsens when both partners suppress their feelings and ignore their own needs to try to make each other happy. Both can end up feeling trapped and not knowing what to do. At the same time, the solution isn’t just about looking after one’s own needs. When in a relationship, we have to find a way to be with the other person. We have to be aware of our own emotions and look after our own needs but remain conscious and sensitive to the other person’s feelings and needs as well. It’s not easy, but when both people are generous with each other, it tends to expand the sense of the relationship. If both partners are tight and mean towards each other, everything tends to get worse and worse.

From Blame-Game to Generosity

If you’ve ever found yourself ‘playing the Blame Game’ with someone, you will know the story. We can get caught in a cycle of blaming the other person or blaming ourselves for a silly mistake or the unpleasant emotions we are experiencing. Non-Violent Communication offers a way forward through taking responsibility for – and expressing – our emotions while empathetically listening to the other person’s feelings and needs. Partners can’t always meet our needs. We sometimes have find ways to meet them ourselves but still communicate them to our partners.

Finally, there is always the possibility your partner may be right, even if the way they are saying something is not ideal. Working out what to take on board isn’t always easy. I offer confidential appointments in English in Stockholm, online counselling over Skype and through email. Fill out my contact form to make a start on improving communication. To break the ‘blame game’ pattern in your relationship, contact me today through www.ForwardTherapy.se or call me on 08 559 22 636.

Therapy for a Broken Heart, Separation or Relationship Breakdown

woman looking over mountains

How do you overcome a relationship breakup?

Dealing with heartache. Coping with rejection. Recovering after splitting up. These are subjects about which I am regularly consulted as an English speaking therapist in Stockholm. And I wish there was a simple solution that worked for everyone. The good news is that most people find it helps to talk over matters of the heart. It’s even better when the person you are talking to really listens and asks some questions or offers some perspectives you hadn’t thought about before.

Whether you have left a long term relationship or are struggling after a series of short romances that went bad, sharing the hurt and making sense of it can be part of getting your life back together.

More information about separation counselling in Stockholm or online

The Shock and Pain of Separation

How long does it take to heal from a separation?

There are no rules about the time it takes to recover from splitting up. In these situations it can help to throw out expectations about what is normal. Maybe you are dealing with loneliness or emotional pain and looking for coping strategies. And it can help to have some of these if you want to keep working, you have children to care for or you are just trying to hold your life together! But my experience is that coping techniques work best when they are adapted for each person. If they were the same for everyone, it would be easier to read a self-help book than see a relationship therapist.

“Ja visst gör det ont när knoppar brister”  Karin Boye, Swedish poet

A Coffee and a Chat, A Walking Companion or Making a Game Plan

Private counselling is an opportunity to speak in confidentiality about things that you might not be ready to tell anyone else.

The same approach to counselling or therapy doesn’t work for everyone. All kinds of people come to see me to discuss their relationship breakdowns – engineers, creatives, lawyers, psychologists, business people, researchers, teachers, athletes – and they are at all different places in terms of separating from their partners. Some people want advice about dating, some ask for CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). Some are fine to talk (and sometimes cry) over a cup of tea or coffee. Others want to make a game plan about their recovery and I have a whiteboard in my room we can use for that purpose (you can even take a photo of it at the end of the session). And if you don’t feel like sitting still, you don’t have to; we can take a walk together and talk in the fresh air. I also work over webcam, so we can meet in Stockholm or online from wherever you are in Sweden or elsewhere in the world. My approach to talk therapy is flexible and responsive to the circumstances you bring to the consultation and your personal preference for the appointment.

Don’t let doubt or indecision stop you considering your options or getting your life back. Contact me now for more information about my fees and services.

Dealing with fears, feelings and emotions can be a collaborative process. Regardless of whether you have just separated from your sambo, are going through a divorce with your husband or wife, just adjusting to being on your own or ready to start dating again, conversations are therapeutic. Narrative Therapy offers an approach to talking about relationships that is quite unlike other therapy. People tell me that their friends always have advice but it is another thing altogether to confide in a therapist or work together to start feeling better.

If you are unsure, you are welcome to write to me using this email form, and ask me any questions. You can also call and leave a message on 08-559 22 636 if you would prefer to speak in person (let me know the best times to return your call). I look forward to hearing from you.

Counselling for LGBT People in Stockholm: 5 Reasons to Choose a Gay Therapist

Rainbow Illustration

Rainbow IllustrationWhen expats move to their new country, it can be an opportunity to make a new start. Sweden, with its relatively inclusive attitudes to lesbians and gay men, would seem like a natural choice for gay expats hoping to live their identity more openly. But coming out is often more of an ongoing process than a point in time.

 

LGBT expats in Sweden experience the same difficulties as other immigrants with adjusting to Swedish culture, climate and maintaining relationships. But some aspects of the transition to Nordic life are often unexpected. It’s been suggested that the ‘Law of Jante‘ has Swedes downplaying differences in favour of viewing everyone as equals. And living in a city such as Stockholm where being gay or lesbian is generally not regarded as anything unusual might also mean that it is less likely previous difficult experiences will be acknowledged. One way of getting recognition of what you have endured is to speak to a counselling therapist who is understanding and supportive of gay identity.

Coming Out

Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is often discussed as if it were an event. But it is more likely to be a series of events or an ongoing process that continues through life. Some would say we never stop coming out. Even in Sweden, we have a society where the heterosexuality is still the considered the norm and the assumption that a person is straight often goes unquestioned. This assumption is part of what has been called ‘Heteronormativity’, a way of thinking that also suggests people fall into distinct genders (man and woman) associated with specific gender roles. The reality of life is, of course, quite different. Humans are as diverse as other species so biologically, sexually, gender-wise and in terms of identity, there can be much individual variation.

Making the decision to share your identity with others is a personal choice and needs to be treated as such. At the same time, the relief that comes with inviting others into your life can reduce anxiety and free up creativity. Talking about who you are and having an audience for your experiences is personally validating. Being able to be yourself around others is one of the rewarding aspects of living in Sweden that might be less possible in certain other places in the world.

Coming Out Later in Life / Gay and Married

For people who are older, coming out can be particularly challenging. I have spoken with many men who have decided, after years of marriage to a woman or having raised children in a traditional family, to explore other aspects of their sexuality and identity. Starting to identify as gay, bisexual or trans in your 40s, 50s or later can seem like entering a new world and an unknown world at that. If you are in this situation, it can be important to remember that you already know a lot about life even if the ‘world’ you are entering seems to have its own set of rules or conventions. Coming out after a straight relationship or later in life is a journey in itself. It can be helpful to have a gay counsellor to assist you to navigate the way forward.

Gay Relationship issues

Many of the individuals who consult with me at my practice at Hornstull or online are going through couples counselling, recently ended a relationship or are dealing with the aftermath of a break-up. It’s quite usual to have a difficult time when a relationship ends, and upset feelings can continue, especially when the end was unexpected or if you had been with your partner for a long time. If you are gay, lesbian or transgender, it can be therapeutic to talk about the feelings and to find a way forward with the help of a professional.

For gay people, finding a partner in a ‘heteronormative’ world is not always easy. Gay Internet dating has become one of the most common ways to look for and find love but some argue that it has turned people into commodities that are marketed. Not everyone finds it easy to ‘sell’ themselves to others over the net. In Stockholm there are a few gay venues, social groups and sports organisations. And many people meet their partners through work or friendship networks. Taking the first step or returning to dating after a break might involve some effort and motivation, not to mention support.

Family Relationships

Lesbian and gay expats in Stockholm and elsewhere in Sweden, even those who have settled into life here, sometimes have unresolved family issues that may or may not be related to their sexuality. In terms of sexuality, it can help to know as much as possible about being gay and gay life in case the time comes when questions are asked. Family members can take time to adjust to a new understanding about their loved ones and people tend to learn acceptance at their own pace anyway. For those who are struggling with particular relatives, geographic distance can be both a blessing as well as a barrier to resolution. Having the ‘sounding board’ of a gay therapist might make a difference when exploring options.

Dealing with Workplace Homophobia

I’ve just attended the Nordic LGBT Business Leadership Forum, an event organised in Stockholm by IBM to promote discussion about how organisations can maximise the power of diversity in the workplace and translate it to success in the market. Companies based in Sweden are generally much more inclusive of transgender, lesbian and gay employees than in other countries but that doesn’t mean homophobia and transphobia in the workplace does not exist here. Workplace equality and inclusion also means being able to talk freely about what you did on your weekends (if you choose to). Dealing with workplace harassment or simply feeling at ease with your colleagues can be dependent on a number of factors and it is important not to blame yourself if you feel uncomfortable. If your job is stressing you out, make an appointment to talk about it and get it off your chest so that you can work out what to do.

Finally, it is common for people to wait to come to see me until the point comes that they feel really bad about things. My advice is to act now instead of waiting. Often when you start discussing problems with a therapist, difficulties do start resolving themselves.

Counselling in English in Stockholm has advantages and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are always welcome at Forward Therapy Stockholm. Just contact me by email or leave a clear message on 08-559 22 636 if you are interested in meeting at my office, walking talk-therapy or online counselling.

Couples Counselling and Marriage Therapy in Stockholm

couple walking together

couple walking togetherLooking to Find a Relationship Therapist Who Speaks English?

As an English speaking therapist in Stockholm I meet regularly with couples who are struggling with aspects of their relationship.

For expats, the stress of relocation and dealing with cultural and climatic differences does put pressure on relationships. Many who consult me have decided to live in Sweden because they have a Swedish partner. Others have arrived in the country with their girlfriend or boyfriend (or husband or wife) to take up a position in multinational company. And some people have arrived in Sweden on their own and met a special Swede (or someone else) in the meantime.

Each of these circumstances brings its own challenges. Within relationships it is not uncommon for everyday pressures to compound and start affecting the way partners relate to each other. Language barriers are obviously a factor here and non-Swedes can be, by necessity, at least for the first year or two, quite dependant on those close to them to get through the bureaucracy and procedures associated with employment, banking, tax affairs and residency requirements (just to name a few!). There is also the question of how to start establishing social connections. As expats, we are not only getting to grips with Swedish culture and language but developing a new identity and sense of ourselves as individuals and as partners.

What might get lost in all of this is the passion or tenderness of the relationship, sex or intimacy, the meaning of a marriage or the easiness of being with each other. Even living with each other as a ‘sambo’ can seem to get harder. The aspects of the partnership that were working previously might seem to have disappeared and even the memories of a shared past might seem very distant.

How Can Couples Therapy Help a Relationship?

There are a number of ways in which meeting with a relationship therapist can be helpful.

Firstly, counselling and therapy appointments provide a space for couples to step outside of the usual positions they take with each other. At my counselling room I try to make these meetings as relaxed as possible and if you could see us talking it might look like we were just having a conversation. But actually, couples therapy and marriage counselling conversations are like building a new platform from which to consider the relationship. A separate place away from the chaos, crises and mess of what has been going on. These therapeutic conversations can be like coming up out of a canyon or ravine and taking a new position at a scenic look-out. I invite people to discuss where they would like to be with the relationship, what they want to let go of and what they want to hold onto in making these shifts. And we also discuss practical ways you might get to this better ‘place’ for real.

Occasionally I am asked about what method or technique I use with couples. The truth is there isn’t one approach that works for everyone. If there was it would be in a single book that we could all read. But perhaps there are a lot of different formulas or approaches others have used and, once I get to know more about your shared situation, I am happy to talk about some of the ideas that couples have shared with me that have been helpful to them. I draw not only from my training, reading and years of experience working with relationships but also from the experiences and journeys that other couples have shared with me.

Resolving a relationship difficulty or crisis in a marriage or other partnership starts with a simple commitment to sit down together in the presence of a third person, the therapist. This in itself is significant because it is an acknowledgement that both individuals are interested in changing the situation. Therapists are witnesses to many of the forces that keep people together: companionship, respect, admiration, shared hopes and passions, sex, intimacy, trust, a sense of parental duty and love of course. When we start talking about what has happened and each person’s hopes or expectations of the appointments, there are a number of things I have noticed start happening. These include acknowledgement, recognition, remembering, recovering, renegotiation, constructing strategies together, making new efforts and regaining balance. Counselling consultations can contain defining moments for couples and the process of therapy can be a rite of passage in itself.

Therapy Together and Separately for Greater Understanding

Occasionally I am asked to act as a kind of umpire or judge as to what is ‘okay’ or ‘not okay’ in the relationship. This isn’t a role I am prepared to play because it denies the couple their own decision making skills (I often say that if I had wanted to be a judge of others, I would have studied law instead of counselling and psychotherapy!). However I am prepared to help explore individual standpoints in relation to what has been going on and create opportunities where each person can be heard with respect. I generally find this approach leads to greater understanding for everyone.

In the journey of settling into a new country and all the challenges presented by such a move, we often find ourselves facing personal tests that play into or disrupt our relationships, partnerships and marriages. For example, we might be reconnected with a vulnerability we have not experienced for years. Or revisited by a fear we thought we had already overcome. Most people can name at least one or two such ‘issues’ they have had to deal with at some stage in life. At this point I should say that I often find when the individuals in a couple start sorting out their own ‘stuff’ or ‘issues’ (so as to speak), the difficulties or ‘relationship problem’ tend to just disappear. This might be surprising given popular ideas that relationship counselling always needs to involve the couple seeing a therapist together. I’m not suggesting that the disappearance of the problem or difficulty happens in all situations where each partner attends individual sessions but it is definitely common. So if you are reading this blog post and both willing to try it, going separately to counselling or therapy might also be an option for you.

When I work with individuals and couples, one of the ways in which I work is to help people establish their own connections so they have support outside of the relationship. This can take some of the pressure off the relationship as well as assist to develop or reinforce each person’s own skills, abilities and knowledge.

Relationships change and evolve just like individuals. Changes happen when people move in together, when they are expecting a child or become parents, when someone starts a new job or a business, as we age and simply over the course of time. Meeting with a therapist is a chance to let go of what might have been holding the relationship back as well as to hold onto and acknowledge what is still important to you both.

I work with both straight and gay couples. Couples counselling is available face to face at Hornstull on Södermalm in Stockholm or over the net via Skype webcam. If you would like to give either a try and need more information about my fees and availability, please contact me here or call 08-559 22 636 and leave a message.

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