Christmas time is jolly, but never easy
We all have different expectations of Christmas. Some people love it, and some people dread it. Others might try really hard to make it special, only to find it doesn’t live up to their expectations. The family tries to have a wonderful time, basking in the tradition and magic of the day, all the while side-stepping difficult moments and awkward family clashes. If you’re a family with a disabled child, you might find Christmas carries some additional challenges. For example, if your child relies on fixed routines (common for children with ASD for example), then the whirlwind of Christmas can feel like a big disruption to them. Even decorated rooms and the presence of a large tree in the room can be a hard adjustment as it’s such a break from the norm. Regular outings and planned events may also go out the window, which can be upsetting. Disabled children who struggle with communicating might find that, due to the number of people in a large family gathering, they don’t feel as heard or given the usual attention. This can be difficult, especially in noisy rooms full of people chatting.   You can help your child to cope with this by preparing a few things in advance, and talking them through what’s going to be happening on the day. If you’re putting up decorations, consider doing it gradually, or just putting up the tree on Christmas eve without making too big a deal of it. If you’ve got family coming over, set up a quiet room with some of your child’s favourite things so they can retreat if things get a bit much. If you are parents trying to make these preparations for their child and make time for one another, you might be struggling at this time of year. But you’re not alone. Even those without those extra challenges struggle through the festive season. Almost a third say they do not look forward to Christmas and a quarter admit to arguing more at this time of year than any other. These extra stresses can lead to pressure on your relationship with your partner. Lots of breakups and plans for divorce are at their highest during the weeks approaching Christmas day.So what can you do to help the situation? You may already be very aware of the ways to help your child cope with the changes and the excitement of Christmas day. If you’re not sure, it might be an idea to get in touch with your local support group or Carers’ Centre, where you can swap tips with other parents on how they do Christmas. You might hear some ideas you hadn’t thought of, and there may even be some community parties where your child can let off a bit of steam. It could be helpful to discuss with your partner which festive traditions are supporting your situation, and which ones are hindering it. For example, if having a huge meet-up with all the family puts too much stress on you, or if you struggle to divide your attention, you might choose to have a smaller, more intimate Christmas with just your immediate family. We’re often nostalgically connected to traditions, but remember; you’re free to make new traditions as well. We also recommend that you and your partner find a quiet moment for yourselves, just to remember that you love and support each other. It may be that you’ve only got the time and energy for a quick cuddle and a smile and an “I love you”, but the little moments can make a big difference. By reminding yourselves and each other of your mutual love and support, you’ll be building on the core relationship, and in a stronger position to tackle other challenges.  
Article | christmas, stress, parenting, disability
0 3 min read
Body image and low self-esteem
While it’s nice to imagine a time when we can all be comfortable with our bodies, and focus on being healthy and happy instead of worrying about what we look like or what others think of us, we’re not quite there yet. Research shows that both men and women struggle with body image. This affects our self-esteem, which in turn has an impact on our overall relationship satisfaction [1]. In a relationship, many of us want to present our best sides to our partners. If you’re dating, or in the early days of a relationship, you might find yourself drowning in insecurities. When you’re trying to convince others to look at you and see the best, it’s easy to look at yourself and see the worst. You might find yourself fixating on your flaws and insecurities, questioning how someone could possibly be attracted to you, let alone fall in love with you. Be kinder to yourself Your partner, prospective or actual, may well be doing the exact same thing with their own insecurities. Think about a time when a partner has expressed their insecurity about something they see as a flaw. When you love or care for someone, the things they worry about are often the things you love most about them. For example, your partner might think they don’t have the best singing voice – and maybe they don’t – but your heart melts when you hear them singing along to the radio. You might think you’re a terrible dancer but, even if you are, there’s nobody your partner would rather dance with.  Now think about this in terms of body image. Have you ever been totally in love with the things a partner worries about – an untameable curl, an eyelid freckle, or a misshapen finger? Well, it works both ways. Even if you think you have a wonky nose, silly eyebrows and a doughy tummy, your partner can still see you as the cutest, cuddliest creature on the planet. Most of us are our own worst critics. What you think of as your flaws could be just the thing your partner finds most adorable about you. In studies of body image, both men and women were less satisfied with their own bodies than their partners were [2] [3]. So, knowing that the person most likely to be most critical of your body is you, could you give yourself a break and try to celebrate the body you’ve got? Be kinder to your partner  If your partner has a negative body image, the first thing you can do is the most obvious thing – be kinder to them. Sincerity is essential here. It’s no good throwing out random compliments for the sake of it if your partner doesn’t believe you. While you can’t be 100% responsible for how someone feels about themselves, studies do suggest that the more things your partner believes you like about them, the more loved they will feel [4].  This can work in your favour too. When you see your partner in a positive light, you are more likely to feel satisfied with your relationship. This is worth bearing in mind if you think you might be prone to taking your partner for granted. And, the more loved your partner feels, the more optimistic you are both likely to be about the future of your relationship [4]. This, of course, can apply in any relationship – if you’re reading this because you’re seeking advice for a friend, you could do well to remember it in your own relationships too. How to show appreciation You might be wondering how to go about showing your partner that you appreciate all their components. While the specifics are very much down to the individual, most of us fall into one of a few categories, and there are certain things you can look out for to notice the types of things that your partner is likely to appreciate. Some people, for example, are moved most by words of love – simply being told, “You have lovely hands” is enough, provided it’s delivered sincerely. Some rely on physical intimacy, which doesn’t just mean sex – it can also include back rubs, cuddling or actually holding those lovely hands. Others need quality time together to know that they are truly loved, or little practical gestures like surprise cups of tea (delivered into their lovely hands). This isn’t just about paying them compliments—it’s about demonstrating that you love being with them. Try a few different things. Notice what your partner appreciates most, and try to do more of that. Of course, if your partner has very low self-esteem, it can be difficult for any kind of positivity to sink in [4]. If this sounds like you, try to be more considerate to your partner in general, and attentive to their insecurities. If it’s something they’re trying to change, support their efforts. If it’s something they can’t change, keep reminding them that you wouldn’t want them to even if they could. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves and we all want our partners to see us in a positive light. But even people with low self-esteem feel happier in their relationships when they truly feel that their partners love and appreciate them [4] – weird body parts and all. Getting support This article is about general body image worries. If you are worried that your partner has an eating disorder, or consistently negative body image, seek external help. You can find many routes to support through the eating disorder charity, Beat. References [1] Tager, D., Good, G., and Morrison, J. B. (2006). Our bodies, ourselves revisited: Male body image and psychological wellbeing. International Journal of Men’s Heath, 5, 228-237. [2] Markey, C. N., & Markey, P. M. (2006). Romantic relationships and body satisfaction among young women. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 256-264. [3] Goins, L. B., Markey, and C.N., Gillen, M.M. (2012). Understanding Men’s Body Image in the Context of Their Romantic Relationships. American Journal of Men’s Health, 6(3), 240-248. [4] Murray, S., Holmes, J., Griffin, D., Bellavia, G., and Rose, P. (2001). The mismeasure of love: how self-doubt contaminates relationship beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol.27(4), pp.423-436.
Article | self-confidence, YPc
If your partner is aggressive
What am I up against? Every relationship is different, and what works for one couple might not be what works for another. But it’s fair to say that no relationship will benefit from partners being aggressive toward one another. There are several forms of aggression, here we’re going to look at physical and psychological. Firstly, the physical kind. Research tells us that: 10% to 48% of adolescents report experiencing physical aggression in their relationships [1]. These acts include pushing, slapping, hitting and being held down. And secondly, the psychological kind. This includes: Making fun of the other person or calling them hurtful names. Saying negative things about their appearance, body, or family and friends. Telling them who they can see and where they can go. Constantly checking up on them and what they are doing. Using private information to manipulate or threaten them. Research also says that: 25%-50% of adolescents report psychological aggression while dating [1]. Physical aggression is often seen to be more harmful, but psychological aggression can be just as damaging to the individual and the relationship.  How do I deal with it?  1. Recognise the signs, and trust your judgement Early signs to watch out for are controlling behaviours, threats of violence, attempts to control your social interactions, or a short temper. During a series of interviews with young women who had experienced violence in relationships, they could all recognise these early signs but didn’t always trust their own judgement and leave the relationship. They also said it would have been much easier to get out early, rather than waiting until the relationship was more developed. 2. Consider carefully how long you hold on Brand new relationships can be powerful and compelling; this is one of the reasons that young adults sometimes stay in violent relationships, hoping their partners will get their anger management in check. When there’s a connection with someone, it might be easy to believe that you can fix them, or that you can heal them in some way. But research suggests that as relationships progress, it’s likely that the violence will too. The longer you stay in a violent relationship, the worse it’s likely to become [3]. 3. It’s not your fault If you’re a victim of violence, it really isn’t your fault - even if you feel like you’re exacerbating the situation. According to research, young people often stay in violent relationships because they feel like it’s their own fault that their partner is behaving in this way. It’s also quite common for people in a violent or aggressive relationship to justify the behaviour as ‘caring’, or ‘their way’ of expressing love [2]. They may be in difficult circumstances or have suffered past experiences that have contributed to the way they are, but it’s up to them to get help for that. You shouldn’t be punished for their emotional or psychological struggles. If you continue to put up with this behaviour, there’s a danger that it will become normal in your eyes. It could begin blurring your sense of what is right and wrong, which will make it even more difficult to leave the relationship [2].  4. Take it to someone Young men and women who experience violence often don’t report it because they don’t recognise it as violence or think no one will take them seriously [3]. This is most commonly the case with psychological violence, as it is often deemed to be a lesser offence than physical or sexual violence. This is a dangerous assumption; abuse of any kind should be taken seriously. While it’s a good thing to seek support from a friend, there’s a limit to the assistance friends can give in protecting someone from violence. If you don’t feel ready to go to a formal source of help, like an official support helpline, consider someone you can trust like a lecturer or a teacher. They can be impartial as they’re outside of the situation. [3] References [1] Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Kupper, 2001; Jouriles, McDonald, Garrido, Rosenfield, & Brown, 2005 [2] C. Barter, 2009 [3] Christine Barter et al., 2009
Article | physical abuse, emotional abuse, YPc
Improving your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise your own feelings and choose how you respond to them. This can allow you to take better control of the way you think and behave [1] and improve your communication skills by helping you to read other people’s emotions better [2]. Why emotional intelligence is good for your relationship Couples with strong emotional intelligence are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships [3]. The more aware you and your partner are of your own emotions, the easier it becomes to see things from each other’s points of view. This can help you feel closer, support each other better, and understand each other more [4]. Developing your emotional intelligence will help you communicate and resolve arguments more effectively. When you have a good understanding of how emotions work, you’ll find it easier to step back from a difficult conversation, examine the options, and look for ways to work towards a resolution [5]. How to improve your emotional intelligence The following tips can help you work on your emotional intelligence, allowing you to take charge of your emotions and improve your communication skills. Learn to recognise your emotions  Developing your emotional intelligence starts with self-examination. Notice how you feel, particularly in times of stress or high emotion. Do you get angry easily, or sulk when you don’t get your way? What about other emotions – what does it feel like when you’re happy, confused, or bored? Check in with yourself from time to time and notice the way you experience different feelings. Without judgement, describe to yourself what you’re thinking and feeling. Notice the physical sensations as well as the thoughts in your head. Is your heart rate up or down? Is your mind racing or still? Are your muscles tense or relaxed? Look behind your emotions Once you’re comfortable with the process of recognising your emotions, start to delve a little deeper and think about why you feel the way you feel. Is it because of what’s happening now, or are there other factors influencing you – perhaps something from the past, or an external factor like a work deadline or a lack of sleep? Check in on your emotions a few times a day, whether you feel good, bad or neutral. As you become more aware of the triggers that lead to certain emotions, you’ll find you can anticipate them, and even regulate them. This is an important step in learning to stay calm under pressure and composed during an argument. Reflect on your behaviour Your thoughts and actions are intrinsically linked to your feelings. As you learn more about your feelings, expand your attention to notice how they affect your behaviour. Do you lash out when you’re angry? Do you leap to the defensive when you’re feeling hurt? Do you get single-minded when you’re under pressure? Remember that the ways you respond to different situations are the product of years of life experience. Try to observe your behaviour without judging it – this will make it easier for you to give yourself an honest account of what’s happening. Notice the links between your emotions, thoughts and actions, and see if you spot any familiar patterns. Take responsibility Once you’re able to recognise the way you respond to your feelings, you can start to take more responsibility for your choices. Try to catch yourself before you react negatively to something, and see if you can make a different decision. This could be as simple as asking someone to clarify their meaning before you respond, or taking a break from something that’s irritating you. The more you practise this, the more you can start to choose how you respond to difficult situations and conversations. Work on your empathy skills Understanding your own emotions will start to give you an insight into others’ emotions too. Being emotionally intelligent will not make you a mind reader, but it will give you a level of insight and understanding that can make you a much better communicator. The next time you are facing difficult feelings, try a quick check-in. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What am I thinking? How is that making me behave?  You can’t stop yourself from feeling bad, but you can learn to make different choices when you do. References   [1] Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. [2] Mayer, John D (2008). Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology. 59: 507–536.  [3] Brackett, M., Warner, R., & Bosco, J. (2005). Emotional intelligence and relationship quality among couples. Personal Relationships, 12(2), 197-212.  [4] Schröder-Abé, M., & Schütz, A. (2011). Walking in each other's shoes: Perspective taking mediates effects of emotional intelligence on relationship quality. European Journal of Personality, 25(2), 155-169.  [5] Zeidner, M., & Kloda, I. (2013). Emotional intelligence (EI), conflict resolution patterns, and relationship satisfaction: Actor and partner effects revisited. Personality And Individual Differences, 54(2), 278-283.
Article | communication, mental health
0 4 min read
Dealing with debt problems
What does money mean to you? We all have different dreams about what we would do if we had lots of it, but we also have different plans about how we would cope if it were to run out. Couples who talk openly about money tend to cope better in tough times, and yet far too many of us keep quiet about our finances. Exaggerating our money management skills and hiding debts from partners are common issues. Your money or your wife? Relationship problems and money problems are directly linked. When you’re struggling with money, you might argue more, have less time together, or feel that things are unfair – particularly if one partner built up the debt without the other knowing [1]. Often, when one partner goes through financial troubles, it’s the other partner who starts to feel less satisfied with the relationship [2]. You can counter these negative effects by talking things through and working together to resolve the debt. In one study, couples who consciously worked together were better at maintaining their relationship through difficult financial periods. These couples made the decision to see their money problems as separate from the relationship, focusing on the importance of communicating well and working together [3]. Aside from overspending, one of the biggest money problems relationships face is appointing one partner to manage all the household finances while the other takes a back seat [4]. While this might seem simpler, it can often increase stress in relationships, creating an extra burden for the person in control [5], and leaving the other person in the dark. The couples who have the most success at dealing with their issues are those who recognise the need for trust and communication around financial matters. When you can trust each other to pay bills on time, discuss big purchases, and avoid overspending, you’re likely to feel more confident in your finances and in your relationship [3]. If you’re worried about debt, be open with your partner. Seek emotional support as well as practical help – research has shown that emotional support like relationship counselling can help people cope better with financial problems [6]. Relationship counselling, in combination with practical debt management, can help you develop your communication skills and build trust in a structured environment.  Talk about money Having regular conversations about money with your partner might be one of the best things you can do for your relationship. Check in a couple of times a year or even once a month. Try to understand and respect each other’s perspectives – you don’t have to have the same money habits, but learning to accept your differences could mean you’ll cope better as a couple if things get tricky in the future [4]. Learning to discuss money with your partner will help you on the road to financial peace [4]. Talk about your long-term financial goals – how much you want to save, big things you want to spend money on, and any issues you might run into. Don’t minimise your problems and don’t boast about how well you manage your finances – particularly if you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Make sure you have the difficult conversations as well as the easy ones. If you’ve been hiding debt from your partner, or if you suspect your partner has been hiding debt from you, have a look at our debt and relationships section. How to manage debts If you’ve gotten into debt, set goals as to how you are going to manage it and work together to carry them out. You may need to make some sacrifices – working more, spending less, or both – so talk about how you are going to handle any lifestyle changes. A clear budget is especially valuable when finances are tight. Set yourself a programme of essentials, alongside optional spending, and review it regularly together. Keep talking. It’s important to have a regular dialogue about money – not just about what has gone wrong, but also about how you will work together to manage your finances. Be open and transparent in conversations about money. Support each other. This could be practical, like paying bills, writing a budget, or making phone calls to creditors; or emotional, like helping each other feel better about the situation. Recognise that you and your partner may have different spending habits and money management styles. Talk about how you will manage your savings and big purchases. Make sure your plans take account of each other’s money preferences – you may want to allow for occasional impulse buys, while also setting aside some savings for the future. If you are in debt, and don’t know how to manage it, speak to a debt management agency. There are many free services available where you can get help with your debts, including tips on which ones to prioritise, and how to set up manageable repayment plans. The most important thing is to support each other and work together to come to solutions. Offer your support wholly and without resentment. Don’t minimise your partner’s concerns and don’t act like you’re above it all. Whether it was your fault or not, you’re a part of it now, and engaging in the solution is the best thing you can do to help get your partner, and yourself, out of the woods [6]. For more information on debt and relationships, see our debt animations and guidance articles. References [1] Dew, J. (2008). Debt Change and Marital Satisfaction Change in Recently Married Couples. Family Relations, 57: 60–71. [2] Karademas, E. C., and Roussi, P. (2016). Financial strain, dyadic coping, relationship satisfaction, and psychological distress: A dyadic mediation study in Greek couples. Stress and Health, 1-10. [3] Skogrand, L., Johnson, A.C., Horrocks, A.M., DeFrain, J. (2011). Financial Management Practices of Couples with Great Marriages. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32: 27. [4] Doherty, H. F. (2006). Communication is vital to a couple's successful financial life. Dental Economics, 96(11), 92-93. [5] Rowlingston, K. & Joseph, R. (2009). Assets and Debts Within Couples: Ownership and Decision-Making. Friends Provident Foundation. [6] Falconier, M. K., & Epstein, N. B. (2011). Couples Experiencing Financial Strain: What We Know and What We Can Do. Family Relations, 60(3), 303-317.
Article | debt, communication
0 5 min read
Dealing with debt in a relationship
Whether it’s a credit card or a bank loan, help from a family member, a quick dip into the overdraft, or even a payday loan, almost everyone has some experience of borrowing money. In between borrowing money and paying it back, we are in debt. As long as we have the means to pay it back, debt can be a useful way of managing money - but it can end up costing more than it is worth. How debt affects your relationship   Money worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in UK households [1], sitting in the top three relationship strains for 55% of couples (for parents, it’s 61% [2]). A quarter of people have found money worries getting in the way of their sex lives [3] and one study suggests that couples who get into problem debt are twice as likely to break up [4]. If you are worried about debt, it’s better that your partner finds out sooner rather than later. When you are under pressure financially, your partner will pick up on it and bear some of the brunt of that strain. Many people feel ashamed of debt, or think they can handle it better alone. However, keeping debt a secret can just make things worse. By sharing the concern with your partner, you can share the burden and work together towards a solution [5]. For practical tips on talking to your partner about debt – whether it’s you or your partner who accrued the debt – visit the guidance page on our ‘Debt and relationships’ service. Getting into debt   Couples can get into debt when entering a new phase of the relationship, like moving in together, getting married, or having a baby. These times are always challenging, no matter how positive and exciting the change. Your relationship is intensified and magnified as you step up the commitment and costs can escalate. In these times, couples tend to have big expectations of the future, and how their lives will be [6]. While it can be tempting to load up a few credit cards to get the things you want, it’s important not to borrow more than you can reasonably plan to pay back. Being in debt makes it much harder to live up to your expectations of the future anyway. The more debt you have, the more likely you are to argue, and the less time you are likely to spend together [6]. How to deal with debt Talk to your partner. Get things out in the open and share the burden. Put all your debts in front of you. Open your post and check your accounts. Hiding from debt won’t make it go away and could make it worse. Make a budget. Look at what you are spending and where you can cut back. Work out how much you can afford to pay off each month. Contact your creditors to can organise a payment plan, even if it’s only a small amount. Speak to a debt advice organisation. Free services like The Debt Advice Foundation can help you get all this information together and offer tips on how to negotiate repayment plans with creditors. Dealing with debt takes time and understanding [7]. You can make things easier by getting help from debt organisations, but keep in mind that money issues can persist. You may need support not only with money issues, but also with the relationship strains that can accompany them. If you and your partner want some extra support, counsellors such as those at Relate may be able to help you deal with relationship issues, whether debt-related or not [7]. The good news is that once the debt has been paid off, relationship quality has been shown to improve again [6]. References [1] 4Children. (2016). “Britain’s Families: Thriving or Surviving?” [2] Undy, Helen, Barbara Bloomfield, Kate Jopling, Laura Marcus, Peter Saddington, and Patrick Sholl. 2015. “The Way We Are Now: The State of the UK’s Relationships 2015.” Relate, Relationships Scotland, Marriage Care. [3] Ann Summers & Relate. (2012). “The Sex Census.” [4] Kneale, D., & Trinley, W. (2013). Tales of the Tallyman: Debt and Problem Debt among Older People. International Longevity Centre - UK. [5] Falconier, M. K., & Epstein, N. B. (2010). Relationship satisfaction in Argentinean couples under economic strain: Gender differences in a dyadic stress model. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(6), 781-799. [6] Dew, J. (2008). Debt Change and Marital Satisfaction Change in Recently Married Couples. Family Relations, 57(1): 60–71. [7] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke‐Morey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58(1), 91-103.
Article | communication, finance, debt
0 4 min read