A is for Anger

A is for Anger!

We know what it is, but what pushes our buttons?

What fears, griefs, insecurities…past hurts?

Understand your anger and you can overcome it.

Anger might make you enemies, but enemies don’t make you angry. Your thoughts do.

Control them and everything will be just fine and dandy.

1. Think before you speak

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything — and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.

2. Once you’re calm, express your anger

As soon as you’re thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but nonconfrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.

3. Get some exercise

Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.

4. Take a timeout

Timeouts aren’t just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what’s ahead without getting irritated or angry.

5. Identify possible solutions

Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does your child’s messy room drive you crazy? Close the door. Is your partner late for dinner every night? Schedule meals later in the evening — or agree to eat on your own a few times a week. Remind yourself that anger won’t fix anything and might only make it worse.

6. Stick with ‘I’ statements

To avoid criticizing or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use “I” statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes” instead of “You never do any housework.”

7. Don’t hold a grudge

Forgiveness is a powerful tool. If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation and strengthen your relationship.

8. Use humor to release tension

Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humor to help you face what’s making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.

9. Practice relaxation skills

When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “Take it easy.” You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few yoga poses — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.

10. Know when to seek help

Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Seek help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.

Games and our Kids: Silence isn’t always Golden.

Knowing what our kids are playing and taking a second to think of the implications, now and later.

Well, I don’t know where to start on this because I don’t know where it would finish or even if it could finish without writing a novel.

‘It’s awesome! If you finish the level quick enough then you can kill the baby when its still sleeping and upgrade your gun!” This came out of the mouth of a six-year-old child I was seeing as a counsellor. I had been called into a school to help improve the behaviour of some challenging wee ones. To give a bit of context, I’d barely sat down and asked how the week had gone so far. The game is called Duck Hunt (search duck hunt horror – if you see the red eyed dog, you have found a version) and he put an impressive amount of energy behind reenacting how to move and shoot with speed and accuracy. Now, my generation will remember that game as one where you shot ducks as they flew across the screen. Its not that one! I didn’t believe what he was telling me at first, so I looked into it and quickly found what he was playing. He was right! It starts quite harmlessly as a basic shoot’em up (birds) game, before it quickly enters a room with a family all sat in a lounge. Depending on which family member you shoot will dictate which gun you upgrade to. The graphics are damned realistic too. This is just a game that this six-year-old fills a bit of time with and far from the worst he plays. The exception, absolutely not!

I am a counsellor working with kids from 5 upwards as well as the grown-up work I do. I have been doing this for over a decade and therefore believe I have a pretty fair reflection on what is going on purely from experience rather than from afar in a research paper. I have seen a direct correlation with behaviour challenges to the games used. I intentionally didn’t say technology as that isn’t the case at all. Demands on parents are increasing and work patterns have changed massively. On my way back from a run or the gym at about 6.30am day cares are already receiving their first drop offs.

With this increased busyness and kids that by the very fact that they are kids are a bundle of fun, energy and thirst for time and entertainment. Digital devices are gold for keeping young ones still and quiet. They are however, far from safe. Any parent will tell you noise (within reason) is the norm, but silence – that will get me jumping up to see if the boys have drawn on the wall or hand fishing in the toilet. It is kind of like that with kids and games, just because they are out of your hair for 5 mins don’t start celebrating until you know for sure what they are up to.

Firstly, I am completely pro technology and certainly see its abundant benefits. Having access to information is invaluable, especially when in academic land and completing research.

This post is raising a flag on how technology is used by our kids. It’s a bit of common sense really, but I get how life can result in a few blind spots.

  1. First, have a think on what your values and beliefs are.
  2. Explore what they may look, and sound like for you and then your kids.
  3. Then take a look at the games that they have, regardless of age. You pick what is appropriate for your kids not the games company or censorship committees. Google the highest-ranking games in the world right now- well keep tracking back over the last 10 years- it’s the same result. Every one of the top games is a shoot ‘em up and the graphics are bloody realistic.  Grand Theft Auto is a cracking example. Pull over, once you have evaded police, and then kill as many people as possible to get some money. You get even more money depending on how creative you are in your murder. Not to mention the rewards for killing female characters.  Then ask, how does this look compared to my image of the values and beliefs I thought of earlier. What is it normalising and desensitising our children to? As an ex police officer, I have seen my fair share of the dark side, murder and violence. Maybe that’s why I might be a tad ‘sensitive’ and ‘overprotective’, or maybe not.
  4. Take a second. You are at a barbeque with some friends. You see your wee angel playing with a few other wee angels. You listen and look a bit closer. One of the other kids pretends to shoot your angel in the head with a gun whilst shouting ‘take that biatch!’. In the meantime, the other kids want in on the action and pretend to kick the crap out of your little angel because they too can get some points if they inflict a bit of damage too. They then turn on one of the other kids shouting, “now you can be the police” we are gonna f.&k you up! Would you smile and nod to one of your friends and smile before sharing a “kids aye” moment? I think not.
  5. Fortnite– the latest global phenomena game- is not unheard of by any means with many of my young and old clients.

Social media and the role in the lives of our young ones is a beast in itself that I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point. When it comes to computer games, it is really simple. How does the game look compared to your own family values and beliefs? We all make our own decisions, and these are my thoughts. They are however thoughts based on working with young ones for nearly 20 years and the last 10 specifically with child and adolescent mental health. I absolutely see a direct correlation between behaviours and the types of games and amount of time spent playing them.

As parents, but as adults and a society we really need to take as much responsibility of the safety and wellbeing of our children and future when they are sat in front of screens as we do when they are not. We can’t be too surprised or p’d off with the kids behaving in a way that is pretty out there. We need to step up first and then see what happens with behaviours and some very shaky wellbeing.

Strong Relationships Include These!

10 Steps to a Happy Relationship

 (Part Two) … and then keeping them?

Food for thought for any relationship, whether you are starting out or you are living it up a fair few years down the track. Without being cryptic or confusing, I believe what underpins all of these is acknowledging that you are married, or in a relationship with somebody else! Celebrate difference and if you have someone that extends you rather than reflects you then heck you are on an exciting path for sure.

This isn’t a 10 step programme, that if followed to the letter, will guarantee love, laughter and eternal companionship. Everybody, and the journey’s they travel, are so awesomely unique that some will connect and others not. I would expect nothing more or less. Each aims to pose a question and reflection for us individually but also as a couple. It’s based on my experience as a counsellor that backs up or challenges what text books or training has told me. When I have seen or heard these points in action the relationships have been on a stronger footing.

  1. Feel Safe (Honest Communication) – You have got to feel safe in a relationship to get anywhere close to feeling like you want to be intimate, physically and emotionally but also in terms of relational stability. This is through open and honest conversations.  Folk are generally outstanding at the talking part, but god awful at listening. Listening means really taking it on board, not simply waiting for your next opportunity to speak. By listening properly, you will hear clearly and therefore have a fighting chance of discovering and understanding your partners wants, needs and expectations. Think dialogue not monologue!
  2. Drop the perfectionism. Everybody is perfectly imperfect, but certainly not perfect so give yourself and your partner a break. Tone down the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy of relationships. “You didn’t ask me about my presentation today, so you have fallen out of love with me”. Accept who they are as you would hope they do for you, within reason that is.
  3. Getting Physical: Physical touch is key to a significant relationship. Yep, this does include sex, but so much more. Giving a hug, holding hands, a genuine kiss. Oxytocin is released which has heaps of benefits such as feeling closer and even a stronger immune system. That doesn’t mean an early morning taser like attack with your ‘morning glory’ whilst sniggering both childishly and blindly optimistic. Check out the short post I put on for securing a good sex life.
  4. This ties into Love Languages, which I highly recommend you and your partner identify and use on a daily basis. Time, Words, Gifts, Touch, Acts. Look them up and explore yours and your partners, together. What does it look and sound like? I use this for all my significant relationships with my kids, family and wife. When I have taken a breath I turbo load this and do all 5 in a day.
  5. Your partner can’t be your everything and all the time. Respect your and their own interests. I asked a colleague at his retirement what was the secret to a long and happy marriage given he was passing his 50th year. He simply said, he salmon fishes and she loves her drama group. It made perfect sense and yes, I am sure they were understating how they nurtured so many years, of what I would describe as a beautiful relationship, but that was front and centre and he didn’t pause for a second with his answer.
  6. Do fun stuff. If a Kmart dash is the most exotic thing you tend to do on weekends, it’s time for a change. And you don’t need a ton of cash or vacation days. Choose to do something fun together. This could be watching a movie, going for a stroll, trying a new restaurant, date night, anything. Anything new and positive can help boost the happiness in your own relationship. For parents in particular, it’s oh so important to be more than mum and dad. Invest in you time, friend time, lover time and partner time. It’s tough but I see a large number of couples who have teenage kids and state ‘they have drifted apart’. Don’t make excuses, it’ll come back and bite you.
  7. Check and Connect – Reunited and it feels so good. When you and your partner reunite—at the end of a day, when one of you comes back from a trip, or even when you wake up—do something to show your love. When your partner comes home, for example, stop what you are doing (within reason) and devote just a few seconds to being completely present. Give them a hug or kiss, look in their eyes, and ask how they are. Not, all at the same time… it would be weird and awkward. Put down your phone, pause the TV…do whatever you need to focus even just a short amount of time on your partner. You both will feel much more connected.
  8. Be respectful. John Gottman is a pioneer on research about the longevity of marriages. In fact, in a longitudinal study, he was able to predict with 93 percent accuracy which couples would eventually get divorced. He has identified what he refers to as the four horsemen, which are predictors of relationship problems—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The quick antidote for these is to simply be respectful. Rather than criticize, openly communicate without criticism. Instead of contempt, express disappointment without eye rolls or passive-aggressive comments. Ditch the defensiveness; it is important to take feedback so you and your relationship can improve. And rather than stonewall, listen to your partner and have a constructive conversation when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Learn to communicate even your disappointments with respect.
  9. Just ask and LET IT LAND!. This one takes an open mind. Ask your partner, “What is one thing I can do this week to be a better partner to you?” The response may be surprising.  The goal is not to be defensive— “I already do that anyway!” or “Yay, I wish you would do that, too!” Instead, simply absorb what you hear and take steps to implement your partner’s desire (as long as it is within your moral boundaries). This is a great way to meet needs that you may not have even realized your partner had.
  10. Abide by the 5-to-1 rule. While you may think giving your partner a compliment will counter some negative “feedback” you provide, think again. The “magic ratio” is not 1:1, but rather 5:1. This means that in order to have an overall positive feel about your relationship, you need to have at least five positive encounters (actions, statements) for every negative one. The take home? Spend more time telling and showing your partner what you love and appreciate about them, laugh more, and spend more fun time together. When you do, the tough times are easier to get through.

Above all, be hopeful. Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. If you are in a downward slope right now, have faith: Things can get better. Put some time, energy, and love into your relationship. Focus on being the best partner you can be. Get help if you need it. And see the positive in your partner and your relationship.

You’ll have a better sex life if…

You’ll have a better sex life if… Taking the guesswork out of it

Now this came up in a recent conversation and is never too far away when talking about relationships. There are a few practice methods or modalities that practitioners use, not that you would be able to hear or see any real difference between them. I have always been fascinated by all and pick what connects with me and utilise with clients when I think the fit is right. Anyway, then there is cold, hard research that can join so many dots and even better challenge ‘old’ thinking towards ‘new’ ways, based on fact rather than assumption. John Gottman is a legend in that he didn’t settle for guesswork and that he really has done his homework (along with his team). He trawled through 1000’s of research papers and articles. He also observed relationships in real time as they played out in an apartment and they are just for starters. I certainly use elements of The Gottman Method having been though the training, but I find it a tad prescriptive as a one stop shop therapeutic process. I am however hoping to challenge my own view by continuing to learn more about this method, as anything so backed up by fact and best practice can’t be dismissed too quickly.

So, in summary (from The Normal Bar Study):

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

  1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  3. They give surprise romantic gifts
  4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  5. They are physically affectionate, even in public
  6. They keep playing and having fun together
  7. They cuddle
  8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  9. They stay good friends
  10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  11. They have weekly dates
  12. They take romantic breaks
  13. They are mindful about turning toward

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

Not local but… The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  1. Spend very little time together during a typical week
  2. Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  3. Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  4. Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  5. Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  6. Are unintentional about turning toward one another

The Gottman Institute certainly doesn’t leave you flapping in a place of , “now what?”. Check their resources out for either professionals and/or couples. https://www.gottman.com/couples/


I Know Whats Best for You!?

There is this American Fella who pops up on my Facebook feed each now and again. I’ve never met him but I have taken a wee look at what he has to say. The latest was asking me how I’d spend $84,500 each day. Well, first off, I’d be going for upsizing to a large coffee with an outrageously extravagant shot of hazelnut, because now I’m cashed up. This quickly moved to paying off daily chunks of my mortgage and a local charity and so on… Turns out it was making reference to the amount of potential time I have each day to reach the dizzying heights of personal and professional success. This use of time points to the success behind Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama and a couple of big hitters who get up at 4am and 5am to embrace the day. Why is this the secret to success?.. Well the video was impressively professional and he has tens and thousands of followers, and they all were in awe at his insight.

Well, this morning was much like any other in my household starting with a hiss and a roar at 4.30am. My 11 months old was in hysterics as he beat on my peaceful brow like a drum that could not be broken. The laughter (his, not mine), then like a firelighter was enough to raise our 6 year old from his slumber. The hearing and sense required to sense such activity from his room at the other side of the house is the gift that is blessed between all siblings (based on no science other than my experience). With an absolute fear of missing out on the magical family moments and picture perfect scene that was unfolding in my bedroom, my eldest raced into the room and proved that with enough force and momentum you could take all the wind out of their barely awake father. My wife was already in the kitchen putting the kettle on resigned to greeting this new day slightly ahead of schedule. So, given this early start, and having read the article, I have checked my bank balance and I’m nowhere near the big leagues, or even over 40’s social league level to be fair. I’m certainly putting in the serious awake minutes suggested.

This got me thinking, as this gentleman’s posts directed me to an unimaginable number of other bloggers and ‘influencers’ that were keen to share how I too could reach my true potential. We are being bombarded by folk telling us what to think, feel and all are offering the gifts of success and happiness. Who are these people and why on earth should we listen. I am a tad sensitive to this very question as I have found myself in a position where I am employed to take on such a role. Even thought it is in an area that I am highly qualified and experienced in, it still doesn’t sit particularly easy with me. I’ve now done two series of a show with the awesome Warner Brothers in sunny New Zealand as a host/ relationship expert. This was certainly a different path for me but it continues to be a heck of an adventure and experience. It is what has been generated from this experience that has been at times random. One such request that I found most disturbing was during the most recent NZ national elections. What we had was a coalition government going against the majority party who couldn’t quite make the cut on their lonesome. The two primary leaders joining forces, were from the outside, an unlikely match. Anyway, I was asked to go on a national breakfast show and the evening talk show, along with writing in the national paper about the potential of these two individuals, and therefore political parties, to work together based on relationships and body language. Well, I kindly declined such an opportunity based on the fact I didn’t have a clue, I’d never met them and I didn’t particularly have a robust political understanding of what was going on. Beside this, I therefore had no right nor place to publicly speak on such an issue. Especially as if its said in print or on screen, then it must be fact.. far from it!

In this era of social media and information overload its best to take the words of others with a pinch of salt and to prompt further questions rather them being taken as tried and tested. I tend to only follow and enjoy following those that are reflecting on their lived experience of something, that does tend to be tried, tested and informative. Kmelerine and his blog (Squeeze the Space Mans Taco) for example, offers an honest and open insight into his experience of raising his son with autism.

The slightly disjointed point of this post. Well, I’ll put a bit of it down to being away from social media and posting for a wee while. The main point is as with most of my posts a dose of self reflection. When reading posts, especially by folk with amazing energy and personalities, that have a lot to say about how you can be better.. if you just like, then listen to their podcasts. Keep being curious and never stop asking questions. Take a look at who the person or group of people may be that is delivering these inputs. I wouldn’t take advice from a plumber on how to fix my car, neither would I take parenting advice, mental health guidance or tips towards success from a 23 year old philosophy student, without kids. I don’t care how fancy the podcasts are.

My goal when I write for papers or magazines and especially this blog space (which is my little secret indulgence to reflect) is to make sure that whoever takes the time to read any of my pieces leaves with something positive to take away and consider. As a counsellor the right answer is in posing the right question, that way the reader or listener can add their own flavour as only they can know how.

Hitting a Moving Target, Blindfolded!

Getting the relationship you want, need and deserve.

Normal, what on earth does that even mean? In so many contexts, it’s not only a flawed baseline, but clumsy and quite misleading.

This post could branch off in any direction, ‘normal’ behaviour, ‘normal’ levels of mood, ‘normal’ job and ‘normal family’. Normal and average are interchangeable and very beige. I am reigning this in to talk about ‘normal’ relationships, in terms of the work I do with families and individuals, but primarily couples and relationship challenges.

The ‘normal’ benchmark of relationships is so distorted within society that when reality kicks in we panic and react. The only normal in relationships is there isn’t any such thing, and the sooner we acknowledge the difference and celebrate what diversity brings to our relationships, the sooner we get to experience a deeper and more fulfilling relationship. Many academics and seasoned therapists past and present suggest 3 phases to a couple’s relationship. This contrasts a fair bit to the romantic notion of love and how that is what love looks like from the very start to our passing days.

relationships2The Romantic phase. You can’t help but love this phase. Colours are brighter, the bird song serenades your effortless skipping through each moment and day. Time apart is unimaginable, thanks to endorphins flying around your body. That feel good sensation is fuelled by the brains ‘high 5’ of approval through the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. An awesome duo of neurotransmitters that bathe the body in a sense of wellbeing. This is a period, both conscious and unconscious, where we put our best foot forward…we wear aftershave and everything! Now, this phase can last for seconds to a couple of years, and has to come to a transition point at some stage. It’s at this point we navigate towards the second phase, being the power struggle. This is usually around the time of a definite commitment, such as getting engaged or moving in with our partners. Now, this is like enjoying life as a fun runner, in dress up and face paint to leaping into an Olympic event. They certainly don’t hand out Speights (beer) and a sausage at the end of these big shows (I imagine this is something quite unique to Kiwi events).

Harville Hendrix, suggests ‘it’s like the wounded child takes over. I’ve been good long enough to ensure this person is going to stick around, now lets see the payoff’. The expectations of each partner well and truly step up a gear and the performance each is giving steps down. Being attractive, clever and fun-loving aren’t enough. Partners are now expected to satisfy unmet childhood needs, complement lost self parts, nurture and be forever available.

“Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain” C G Jung. The power struggle sets the stage for growth and the third stage, conscious love. Here the how, why and when’s can’t be done justice within a few sentences, so if this flicks a switch for you check out one of the many texts by Harville Hendrix.  At this stage we-ideally- move from, ‘what can I get from this relationship?’ to ‘what does the relationship need from me?’ It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as holding on for dear life to the romantic phase of the relationship, sits far more comfortably in the sphere consumed by the me, myself and I. Rather than being a hindrance, it is only after you pass the romantic phase do you start to explore and nurture a deeper, longer lasting relationship and love. The key is to send the mantle of relationship expectations based on a perceived social norm on its sweet merry way. It is essential that we embrace, not fear difference and begin celebrating each others uniqueness. As it is this uniqueness that has been unconsciously hand picked to continue your personal growth and emotional maturity, through a relationship. Many folk search tirelessly for a mirror reflection of themselves. Time is better spent looking for someone that extends our strengths and reduces our weakness and vice versa. Much of which is informed by past scripts and our experiences of our own caregivers. Some refer to this as an Imago match. I learnt this lesson over a decade ago in my second year of counselling. Whilst at a colleagues retirement dinner I was genuinely fascinated when I found out he had been happily married for 42 years to his first love. Fresh to life as a married man myself I wanted to know the secret. Straight off the bat his response to my question was ‘we have similar interests but very different hobbies’. I’m sure he undersold the ingredients fully to his impressive marriage, but he didn’t harp on about how they finish each others sentences and have been tennis partners since school, as this was far from the case, it was they acknowledge and support each others differences but their values and beliefs bring them back to a central point of connection.

I scribbled this down recently when talking to folk about identifying potential relationship matches. The first image being what many of us think is a good match and the second is quite often the best match.

There is no secret as far as I know, some folk are making a pretty penny from what amounts to little more and a short lasting pep talk. However, what I would say is that it can offer a huge shift to simply acknowledge difference in your relationship and ignore any thoughts of pursuing ‘normal’. Celebrate the wonderful uniqueness each person brings to the party. Know that difference isn’t as alarming as it may feel or incompatibility, but in fact the foundations for growth, personal and relational. Unsettling at times, but you will do well to embrace it with open arms. I must add that, just in case it may not be obvious, i am in no way including abusive relationships, and I hope this is a context that will not be diffused or associated within this post.

I don’t see these three phases as lineal, but cyclical as we navigate through life and all the highs and crappy bits. There will be conflict, whether overt or covert, it’s making a conscious commitment to the relationship and developing communication that continues to strengthen relationships and enable growth.