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Couples Counselling Practice Counselling for Couples and Individuals with Dawn Kaffel
West Hampstead in North West London and Central London W1

Blogs. Jun 17: Lightbulb head 5x5

Blogs

Here is a selection of articles I have written over the last two years. Please click on the title to read the article.



Stress and the Couple

Two news items caught my attention this week: how stress impacts relationships and whether there is a stress gender divide.

1. The first is new research released for National Stress Awareness Day on 1 November 2017 shows that many more women than men are feeling stressed and anxious.

Data showed that:

  • more than half of women (54%) experiencing stress or anxiety are struggling to sleep – while less than 4 in 10 men do (39%)
  • More than half eat junk food due to stress compared to a third of men
  • Nearly half (45%) have taken out their stress on partners or family – in contrast to less than a third of men (31%)
  • Almost a third (29%) have had panic attacks due to stress compared to less than one in in five of men (31%)

Do women juggle with more caring and parenting responsibilities which need to be juggled with their careers?

2. The second is the BBC 2 programme Trust me I’m a Doctor Mental Health Special who were testing out some of the claims that can help to reduce stress, only some of which are supported by scientific evidence.

Working with couples it is becoming more evident how big a part stress can play between partners and how difficult it is to stay connected amid the difficulties. When conflicts arise it’s much easier to blame our partners – 'How could you have done that?' 'Why didn’t you empty the dishwasher?' 'You never ask me about my day.'

These are all everyday examples of annoyances, disappointments and criticisms that can easily lead to the blame game with our partners. It seems simpler to focus on these negative interactions than to consider how much stress may be a major contribution. Do we even realise how much stress can be the cause of our relationship distress?

Many couples continually juggle with busy work schedules and parenthood and run a hectic lifestyle. This can be difficult enough. Throw into the mix lack of sleep, financial worries, illness and family issues – its not difficult to appreciate stress’s constant presence in our lives.

How does stress affect a relationship?
When a stressed partner does not get the support they need from their partners, this often leads to feeling isolated and ignored in the relationship and the tendency is to withdraw or fight. If we confront our partner for not supporting us, they often feel misunderstood – not even realising their own behaviours.

Even if we aren’t stressed ourselves, we are often not very responsive or miss the opportunity to provide comfort and help to our partners. We often don’t want to admit to ourselves that everything and everyone is making you irritable.

If both partners are overwhelmed with stress at the same time, which often happens, the situation worsens. We use each other to vent and take it out on our partners by picking fights over little things and being overtly critical. This often becomes a competition for who is not cared about the most.

How to stay connected under stress
Some partners chose to keep stress to themselves in order to protect a partner. Other partners chose to off-load at every opportunity making it difficult to find any relief. Neither way is ideal. Use this situation as an ideal opportunity to connect with your partner and really try to understand what they need in the way of support from you right know and how to give it. It may be as simple as practical hands-on assistance or it may include more physical comfort and emotional reassurance.

Learn to be more aware of just how much stress your partner may be experiencing. Don’t just look at the negative behaviour but try and understand together what might be going on below the surface.

At times we presume our partners should know when we are stressed and get reactive when they don’t respond in the way we want them to. Perhaps the answer to this is to ask for help when it is needed in a way that will get the response you need from your partner.

Take time out to support your partner's stress head on. Sitting down together, taking time out to listen, to offer comfort and understanding rather than focusing on yourself, these are not only key factors in managing stress but show our partners in those important moments that we are truly there for them side by side no matter what.

Stress doesn’t need to threaten our connection to our partners, it can bring us closer together when our stress hormones activate our brain's systems. Instead we can respond with compassion, love and cooperation.

If you would like to discuss things further or to make an appointment, you can call me on 07976 403741 or (020) 8959 9528. Alternatively you can contact me by email by clicking here.



Navigating Change in a Couple when the Children Leave Home - 2017

The summer holidays are over and the kids are back at school. Many parents up and down the country are bracing themselves for the inevitable when in the next few weeks their children will be leaving home for university.

Adjusting to children leaving home, whether its your first child or your youngest child for some couples, poses very little difficulty, whereas for others it presents such a major milestone that it can de-stabilize even the securest relationship. When a first child leaves, there is some comfort that there are others at home to help with this period of readjustment. When the last child leaves the nest is empty and it’s just the two of you. For some the feelings of heartache and loss are overwhelming and like a mourning period. For others it welcomes a period of change and excitement that is free from the daily stresses of parenting and an opportunity to enjoy doing different things as a couple and to focus positively on their relationship.

Often couples struggle to identify that children leaving home can cause such difficulties between them, so accepting that this can be a difficult time for relationships rather than denying it is vital.

Children are often the glue in their parents’ relationship and when they leave there can be a sense of dislocation as a huge void is now present which can be scary and unmanageable. Shifting back to being a couple again can often trigger a "What’s my role now?" It can often feel lonely and scary.

Worrying about your children leaving home is part of the letting go. Feeling sad they are leaving doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go!!

Here are some problems that couples can struggle with at this stage:

  • Communication breaks down
  • Finding faults with each other
  • Increase in arguments
  • Taking on more work to try to fill the gap left by children
  • Staying at the office later to avoid having to spend time just the two of you
  • Finding yourselves spending more time doing things separately
  • Using social media and texting more regularly is easier than talking
  • Seeking out alternative experiences like excessive drinking, drugs or affairs


Couples don’t have to fall apart when the nest becomes empty. It can be an important time to reconnect and to start adjusting to new roles and responsibilities by spending more time focusing on being a couple than you have done for years.

Here are some suggestions to help you work on your relationship and restore what may have been neglected between you:

Can we be friends again? Do we still have things to talk about? Do we have enough in common? Will I be enough for you? Do you still love me? It may be surprising that you both have similar anxieties and will relish the chance to talk it through with each other in a way you haven’t done for a long time.

Memories of being child free: enjoy the opportunity to share with each other how it was before children arrived and took over your lives. Use humour and examples to reminisce. Take pride and delight in sharing your accomplishments as a couple.

Notice your spouse as a partner not a parent: you may have been so busy working and being a parent that noticing each other as partners and what you need and how you nurture that precious relationship may have been way down the list of your priorities. Focus on being two equals. Show each other you are equally invested, equally involved and equally responsible.

Refocus and rethink life and fill gaps left by children: start accepting each other for who you are, start putting each other first and learn to see other as partners again. When did you last compliment each other? Practice talking to each other about shared plans, your hopes, your concerns and what you are both looking forward to. Discuss together what you need and what you don’t need from each other? What you like and what you don’t like?

Start thinking about yourself and what you need: it’s an important time for you two as individuals. Discuss what you would like to do that you have been putting off for years. What new challenges would you like to take on? Its important that you feel fulfilled yourself in order to bring the best you can to the relationship

How do we look after our relationship? Start to enjoy each other’s company again. After years of neglect the relationship needs to be prioritised. When was the last time you planned an evening out together? When was the last time you had a holiday just the two of you?
Do you enjoy doing things separately as well as together? When was the last time you had sex? It may have been a while since you both felt very close and connected to each other. The more you talk to each about how you feel and what you would like and start focusing more attention on each other the intimacy and affection will start to grow and sex should begin to feel more exciting as you explore what you need from each other sexually. You now have more quality time to spend together.

Hopefully you will start to feel that although one chapter has ended another has just begun and what feels like the end is often just the beginning.

If you would like to discuss things further or to make an appointment, you can call me on 07976 403741 or (020) 8959 9528. Alternatively you can contact me by email by clicking here.



The Importance of Father's Day - 2017

After the election chaos, the atrocities of the London bombings and yesterdays fire disaster in Glenfell Tower, Fathers Day on Sunday comes as a welcome relief. A celebration first observed in Washington in 1910 to honour fathers and father figures, step fathers, grandfathers and fathers in law. Many families go to great efforts to make special plans, send messages, cards and gifts, to celebrate fatherhood up and down the country.

Fathers’ day provides an opportunity for children to express their love and respect for their fathers’ and acknowledge the important role they play which strengthens the father child bond. However it can also be a time of mixed emotions where there may be an absent father or one who is only seen occasionally. Other male role models may be more reliable and present than the real father.

In our counselling rooms Fathers’ Day gives clients an opportunity to think of the significance of fathers in their lives and perhaps take time out to remember fathers if they are no longer around.

The role of father is often relegated to secondary status compared to a mother. But a father is just as important for a child as a mother is. However research shows that fathers are engaged in caretaking than ever before due to mothers working, longer hours, and there is more recognition of the importance the role of a father plays in family life

Role of fathers
Children depend on a father for emotional physical financial and social wellbeing. For daughters a father is the first man they love and for sons a father is the man they aspire to.
Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children. Having an affectionate supportive and involved father can contribute greatly to a child’s language and social development, self-confidence, academic achievement and positive opinions of men.

What a father means to his daughter
A fathers ‘influence on his daughters life shapes her confidence, and her self-esteem and sets an example to her about men.
In her book Women and their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic impact of the First Man in your Life, Victoria Secunda suggests that those women who grow up with a remote and aloof father and do not feel affirmed by their father, tend to respond to men in their lives like they responded to their elusive father: they seek out the intimacy they didn’t receive from their father, but are unable to believe they can trust their partners to deliver.

Working as a counsellor I see many clients of both sexes whose sense of worth as an individual is rooted in their experience of their fathers. How some re-enact their struggles with their fathers onto their adult partners and how having an absent father can remain such a significant influence.

What a father means to his son
The father-son relationship can be complex. Boys tend to model themselves on their fathers. They look for their fathers’ approval in everything they do. They copy those behaviours that they recognise. Boys who have an actively involved father tend to develop securely with a strong sense of self.

If a father is loving and supportive, boys will want to be that and if fathers are controlling, and dominating those could be patterns that boys take into their adult relationships.

So on this Fathers’ Day, especially after the turmoil of the last few weeks take this opportunity to recognise and reward fathers for being there and playing an important role in your lives. Fathers’ need to feel they are special too!

If you would like to discuss things further or to make an appointment, you can call me on 07976 403741 or (020) 8959 9528. Alternatively you can contact me by email by clicking here.



Why don’t couples come to counselling? - 2016

Husband: “Look. Can you hear yourself? Can you? Do you have any idea what a terrible person you have become? All you give out is this endless negativity, a refusal to see any kind of light and joy, even when it's staring you in the face and a desperate need to squash any sign of happiness in me or... or... or... anyone else. It's a wonder that I don't fling myself at the first kind word or gesture that comes my way, but I don't, ou... ou... ou... out of some sense of dried-up loyalty and respect, neither of which I ever bloody get in return."

Wife: [long pause] “I checked my emails. There's one from Laura.”
Extract from: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach.


How do a previously loving couple get to this place in their relationship? Clearly the wife in the extract above has rather perfected the art of denial. We can see how, in the husband’s emotional outburst that if things are ignored or denied, someone explodes.

We too can be in denial – we pretend that all is fine: ‘for the sake of the children’, because ‘if I don’t rock the boat everything will be OK’, or ‘my family will be so disappointed in me’ and ‘We’ve got a lot to be grateful for’. Sure we do, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no option to the very real suffering that is being experienced. Denial leads to avoidance and if we ‘do’ avoidance successfully, we believe we don’t have to face the truth of our experience and our feelings. What happens is the suffering continues and gets worse as our feelings get stuffed further and further down.

So why don’t we ask for help? There are many reasons, here are some of them:

- if we acknowledge the fact that we have a problem it makes it real and our continued avoidance becomes difficult if not impossible. What’s stopping us is that we feel afraid, we wonder what might happen if we dare to face it all? We cannot imagine a positive outcome. This can lead to deep unhappiness, an affair, even illness.

- we think we’ve failed: the power of our culture to present the perfectly happy family is socialised into us from childhood. Deep beliefs about how we should feel and act are visible everywhere: in films, magazines, on the internet and social media. Little account is taken of the realities of day-to-day life. There’s not enough understanding of the very normal challenges that all of us experience in our relationships. There’s little idea of the importance of keeping our relationships going, it’s as if ‘well, we’re here now, we’ve got kids’ and that’s it.

- ‘counselling will ‘break us up’ – things are so terrible that it will all fall apart, our fear ridden minds can only see what we think is the worst possible outcome.

- the counselling room will be a battleground for blame and accusation and the truth will upset or hurt my partner, making a bad situation even worse. Couple counselling can awaken long dormant sibling rivalry issues. We worry 'will the therapist love me most?' Is it any wonder that couples struggle with the idea of counselling, never mind getting as far as seeing a therapist?

Let's deal with each of these points:

- how would it be if we felt able to talk about our relationship in a place where we can feel safe, respected and encouraged to express our feelings? To be with a well-qualified therapist who is there for both of you: experienced, skilled, willing and able to help you sort out the tangle of your daily reality and the fears and unhappiness it promotes?

- feeling that we’ve failed suggests that there are some expectations not being met. What are your expectations and how realistic are they? Many people have secret fears that often include feeling that they’re not good enough, or it’s all theirs or their partner’s fault. Imagine the relief and release of being able to express your fears and feelings openly and without judgement.

- fear of vulnerability and shame that we can't work it out ourselves leaves many couples waiting far to long to go to counselling. This delay can lead to further unnecessary frustrations and unhappiness.

- being terrified that going to counselling will ‘break us up’ and ‘it’ll be a battleground between me and my partner.’ This ignores the very common outcome that we haven’t considered - that it can help you to very positively repair and re-build your relationship, to learn together how to do things differently, to connect and to be happier, to remember that you love each other and want to be together.

Relationship breakdown is a slow process and you should expect that it will take time to rebuild. Great relationships don’t just happen, they need to be nurtured and maintained. If only a small percentage of the effort and energy that goes into arranging the ‘perfect’ wedding or managing our jobs was put into our day-to-day relationships, couples counsellors would be out of a job.

Don’t be afraid – it takes courage to ask for help – but, hard as it to believe, positive change can happen.

It is also very important to see a properly trained couples counsellor who specialises in working with couples and is accredited by a professional body.

If you would like to discuss things further or to make an appointment, you can call me on 07976 403741 or (020) 8959 9528. Alternatively you can contact me by email by clicking here.




Couple Therapy can help with Mental Health Issues - 2017

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 8-14 May and this year’s theme is ‘Surviving or Thriving’. Since 2005 mental health problems are on the rise – we are making progress on our physical health but not doing the same with our mental health. Thanks to journalists and TV programmes speaking out against the stigma of mental health, our awareness is being heightened as to the effects of mental health issues on daily lives. Thanks to Prince Harry leading the charge of his own experience of depression and anxiety and his work with the Heads Together Campaign with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge they have highlighted the importance and power of conversation and how being able to talk openly about mental health challenges can be life changing. It now seems a good time to think about how mental health issues impact on our couple relationships.

Mental Health Professionals tend to focus on symptoms and treatments with the individual and overlook the huge impact this has on our couple relationships. Any couple relationship can have its proverbial ups and downs but what about when there is the extra challenge of being the partner of someone who has a mental illness. Losing harmony and connection in a relationship is difficult enough but especially so if some of the relationship changes are brought about by one or both partners developing mental health issues. Things can be very challenging for a partner without mental illness who has to assume a care giving role

Most people fall in love because they are enjoying each other’s company, have fun together and live harmoniously. Life doesn’t always work out as planned. When a partner becomes depressed, they often tune out, withdraw and have little energy to do much except sleep. This can often give the impression to a partner that they are no longer cared about, and there is no interest in them, or going out or having sex. This often leaves the other partner having to pick up the slack especially if there are children. As frustration and exhaustion develop over time, this often turns to anger and resentment at a partner who cant seem to “get over ‘ the depression. If this pattern continues it can often lead to affairs and a complete breakdown of the relationship.

Issues with mental health can be debilitating and its important that partners recognise some of the signs that suggest a partner is suffering:
signs to look out for:

  • withdrawal
  • agitation
  • hopelessness
  • acute tiredness
  • poor self care
  • change in personality

In my work with couples I see how a healthy relationship can serve as a buffer to help ward off mental health conditions. Equally it is well documented that relationship stress can negatively affect the person who is struggling with mental illness and make the condition worse.

We all come to our adult relationships with conscious and unconscious patterns from our own experiences and feelings around mental health. For example growing up with a parent or family member who may have been depressed, anxious or suicidal can greatly influence how we manage mental health issues in our current partnerships.

Couples coping with some mental health issues are not that different from other couples in therapy. Often individuals experienced a difficult childhood, a history of low self esteem and lack of confidence, trauma and loss. Although many of these things happened in the past, they often find a way of infiltrating the couple relationship resulting in on-going conflict. They too develop patterns of poor communication, increased conflict and loss of intimacy. They too have got stuck in negative cycles leaving them feeling distant, helpless and sad.

Give therapy a try

Coming to Couples Therapy with your partner is a positive step forward. Every Mental Health issue presents its own unique challenge and can be complicated and testing on our relationships. It requires special attention in couples therapy from a skilled couples therapist to help give clarity to the situation.

Finding a qualified couples therapist is a valuable option to help explore the roots of the mental health issues and to try and understand how it affects each partner. At Coupleworks we pride ourselves in taking care to consult with the patients GP, primary care worker or psychiatrist so that we can all work together for the patient to bring about change. We don’t have to just Survive we can learn to Thrive.

If you would like to discuss things further or to make an appointment, you can call me on 07976 403741 or (020) 8959 9528. Alternatively you can contact me by email by clicking here.




Blog Archive


Building and
Repairing Trust.

Please click on the image
below to read the blog.

Blogs. Sep 17: Blog Archive: Building & Repairing Trust



What Happens to couples
when the children leave home?

Please click on the image
below to read the blog.

Blogs. Jun 17: Blog Archive PDF: What happens to couples when the children leave home?



Is giving up on marriage
easier than working on it?

Please click on the image
below to read the blog.

Blogs. Nov 17: Blog: Is it easier to give up on marriage?



Difficulties with commitment
in your relationship?

Please click on the image
below to read the blog.

Blogs. Nov 17:Blog:Difficulties with Commitment


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