Below are a series of articles; to read the content, click on the downward v on the right hand side of the page. If there is a particular article you'd like written, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are good relationships hard work?
There seems to be this saying that does the rounds that "relationships are hard work." I don't agree. Bad relationships are certainly hard work - a good relationship takes commitment and attention, but it doesn't feel like "hard work" to the participants. If you have these ingredients in your relationship:
then doing things for the other person will come naturally. It won't feel like an obligation or a chore because you get just as much goodness back from your partner as you give to them (and there's never a scoreboard).
Think about couples you know that have what you would describe as a "good" or "solid" relationship. You will probably witness things like:
lots of affection
thank you being said, even for the repetitive everyday things
robust discussions where the other person's perspective is considered
fun and laughter
time taken to be together, rather than just "fitting in" each other when the other tasks are done
time spent apart from each other, then discussed when they return
high trust, especially when they are apart
kindness paramount in their interactions
listening to each other about what interests the other person (even if it's not a subject that interests the listener)
If your relationship feels like "hard work", there are probably dynamics below the surface that need some attention. Your partner may need to know what respect feels like for you. You may need to know what kindness feels like for them. If your discussions don't go the way you intend, or you are having trouble being understood, consider getting some counselling - the investment could pay off hugely in relationship satisfaction.
Suzi Wallis | Aug 2014
Are you a good listener?
Do you believe you are a good listener? You might not be aware of some of the barriers to good listening that are commonly practised by people in everyday conversations.
Multitasking: Think you can check your texts and emails on your smartphone and listen at the same time? How about watch TV and talk? Think again. Listening effectively takes more concentration than a lot of people think. Not only does multitasking distract you from listening, it sends a message to your conversation partner that you are not really interested.
Welcome to my world: You've taken a leap of faith and put your trust in the person you are pouring your heart out to. You're one of those people who don't talk easily about their problems. You're a 'glass half full' kind of person, so when you do open up about something that's bothering you, it's quite a big deal. You're feeling vulnerable and potentially judged - and then the person who you're talking to says "Welcome to my world". You now feel about 2cms tall - like your thoughts and feelings have no validity whatsoever. Their problems, which you are about to hear about are waaaaaaay more important than yours and you wasted your time looking for empathy here. Empathy is when you use minimal language to convey understanding - jumping in and telling your story is rude and disempowers the other person.
Body language/minimal encouragers: A person who is interested in what they're being told is keeping regular eye contact, nodding, saying little words and phrases like "Yes", "Ah huh", "Say more". Rolled eyes, looking away, interrupting and turning your body away all indicate disinterest.
Preparing your response: One of the key reasons that people don't hear what is being said to them is that they're mentally preparing their response. Maybe they've been emotionally triggered by something the other person has said; maybe they have a really strong opinion on the topic being talked about. Either way, your ears close when your brain's engaged in formulating your response to what's being said. Just listening, feeding back what you've heard and asking for clarification shows respect for the person and their words.
Information saturation: Everyone is different in the amount of information they can hear, retain and make sense of. If you find yourself getting lost in the information, you might be getting saturated. Ask your conversation partner to give you a few seconds to process, or ask them to clarify something they've already said. This will lead to clearer understanding of each other and a more satisfying outcome.
Not allowing enough time: Different brains process at different speeds. Some people speak rapidly for a few minutes, take a quick pause, then continue. Others speak quietly, pause often and continue on when you think they might have been finished. If you're not sure if the person you are speaking to has finished, it's really easy to find out - ask respectfully. A question like "Is there more you want to say about that?" or "Would you like to hear my thoughts on this?" are respectful ways of finding out if it's your turn to express yourself.
I hope the above gives you some food for thought next time you are having a conversation that you want to remember. Small changes can make a real difference to the experience for both the talker and listener.
Suzi Wallis | Apr 2012
Are you using busyness as an anaesthetic?
Busyness can be used as an effective, although unhealthy, way of avoiding issues, emotions and challenges. The human subconscious needs to process information and experiences on a daily basis, so that sense can be made, and knowledge acquired from what you have been through. If you don't stop and just be, you may get symptoms like:
a foggy mind where it's hard to think
trouble making decisions
unusual dreams and/or nightmares
illness manifesting in your body
'accidents' occurring seemingly out of nowhere
unexpected emotions coming up when you don't expect them (in particular anger and sadness)
painful experiences repeating themselves
You don't have to be out and about to be using busyness as an avoidance tool. How often are you waiting in a queue, and pull out your smart phone? Do you need to be constantly entertained? What might happen if you just sat and watched the world now and then? How do you feel about your own company? Even if you are a true extrovert, who needs to be around people to recharge, time with your own thoughts is the only way to truly assimilate knowledge and experience.
Over-busy people can often be poor listeners as their minds are jumping to the next thing they are planning (or the one after that). If you are constantly busy, you are less likely to be able to form authentic attachments to others. Slowing down just a little can reap all kinds of rewards. Give it a go and see what you notice.
It you want to grow wise, and not just older, consider taking 10-15 minutes out of your day just to think, process and be. If you choose a location that is nurturing to you, the benefits will be enhanced.
Suzi Wallis | Jun 2013
Are you using your super powers for good?
All of us have things we are particularly good at, and when used in a positive light, they can be very powerful (and empowering) for others. You may:
Have an exceptional grasp of grammar: if this is the case, using this super power for good would involve helping others who ask for your help with phrasing and sentence construction. Using this super power negatively would be correcting people who don't ask for help - this can cause great embarrassment and shame.
Be highly intelligent with a fantastic memory: being a resource for others who are having difficulty remembering information can be very useful. If you correct others' "facts" (or what they believe to be facts), particularly in a public setting (even one witness can feel public in this context), your super power is being used negatively.
Be a fast runner: if someone is interested in running with you, you can encourage them, and run at their pace. Racing ahead and leaving your running companion behind is using this particular super power in a way that is likely to create a negative outcome.
Be comfortable speaking in crowds: keeping a conversation going with an introvert in the circle can be supportive of them. Taking up all the space, and not allowing them to speak, or interrupting them when they pause to think is using this super power negatively.
Be physically strong and large: this can help others feel safe in potentially volatile situations. If you stand over people, or too close to others, invading their personal space, this is a negative use of this trait.
Love giving and receiving affection: Receiving a hug from someone who we trust and are comfortable with is heart warming and pleasurable. Being forced to hug someone (because consent isn't considered) is unpleasant and potentially violating - this applies to all ages (kids too).
Be able to hold a tune really well: entertaining your friends with your lovely singing voice will bring smiles to their faces. Competing against them at karaoke will not.
This article invites you to be aware of your impact on the world. The saying "any strength used to excess can become a weakness" springs to mind here. Leave space for others to ask for your help/input. Offer help with healthy limits (for you both). Listen at least as much as you talk. Practice kindness, compassion and support, even to those who don't seem to need it (we all do in reality). Go out there and be awesome.
Suzi Wallis | Jul 2016
Caregivers need care too
You may be caring for, or supporting someone with a number of conditions:
physical deterioration with age
a mental health issue, such as depression
autism or severe aspergers
dementia or Alzheimer's
someone who has been unemployed long term
someone who has experienced a major loss or change
a physical disability
It is vital that you practice self care during the time period you are carrying a heavier load than normal (and permanently if the situation is permanent).
Because the other person's "symptoms" may be more obvious, your needs may be lost in the myriad of commitments, challenges and obligations that are presented to you on a regular basis. If you are noticing any of the following:
trouble making decisions
higher emotional reactivity
a feeling of emotional numbness
physical discomfort such as headaches, sore stomach or breathing imbalances
inability to tolerate your usual stresses
you need to take some time out, and have some downtime (whatever that means for you). You are no good to the person you are supporting if you are spread too thin. If you encounter a serious illness or accident, those who are reliant on you will be helpless. Prevention is better than cure. Ensure you:
get a good amount of sleep (this could be anywhere from 7-9 hours per night)
spend time with people who nourish your soul
spend time alone if that's your recharge style
eat good quality food
reduce alcohol consumption
avoid recreational drugs
spend time in nature
take vitamin D supplements if you are not able to get good access to sunlight
Self care is not selfish, even if you don't have additional commitments to your normal load. It is a vital element of a healthy life. When you do have additional responsibilities, it is even more essential, and will ensure that you are more present and available when you are around the person you are supporting. A few hours to yourself could generate an extra day's energy - which will lighten your load in the short and medium term.
Suzi Wallis | Jul 2015
Celebrating occasions that work for the majority
I write this as Christmas is approaching - an event that is largely celebrated in our Western Culture. Celebrations such as Christmas and Easter come with many traditions - and some of them may not work for you. Just because it's 'always been done that way' does not mean you can't put a creative spin on it, and choose something different.
Some people find Christmas, for example, very stressful. There's the increased financial pressure to buy gifts, more food around (some of it not healthy or enjoyable), travel at a time of year when there are a lot of others doing the same thing, seeing people you feel 'obligated' to see rather than motivated, amongst other things. What might it be like if you celebrate your occasions the way you want to celebrate them?
Some families have rituals around Christmas like:
no gifts for anyone over 18
healthy, light summer foods in our warm hemisphere
Secret Santa gifts for adults if any gifts are purchased at all
everyone bringing a dish on Christmas Day
changing the host household from year to year
everyone helping out with cleanup
heading to a beach or park
going for a long walk and enjoying physical activity
Some of those ideas might work better for you than the current traditions you feel 'forced' to follow.
Other celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, acknowledgement of achievements, honouring those who have passed - these can all be done in a way that suits the individuals, rather than following tradition for the sake of it. Talk to those around you who are affected by the events. Brainstorm ideas (with an agreement that no idea is ridiculed or criticised) - cast aside the ones that don't suit some or seem inappropriate to them. Ask Mr Google - he has lots of good ideas!
Most importantly, stay authentic in the process of celebration/acknowledgement. You may find that others are feeling the same way as you - limited and silenced by traditions that no longer suit them. You speaking up could provide them with the courage to find their own creativity. A joint creative venture that replaces some of the old ways could breathe a fresh perspective and energy into the way you celebrate events. Go forth and be new!
Suzi Wallis | Dec 2013
Common communication mistakes almost everyone makes
Many people make the common communication mistakes below, until they know better.
You think you're speaking the same language but are you? You've grown up in the same country or at least speaking a language in common with most other people you interact with. For some reason, this doesn't guarantee clear communication and a conflict-free life. There are some common reasons for this - the absence of active listening, respectful language, enabling the other person to feel 'heard' and using language that 'pushes buttons'.
Ask yourself if the topic you want to discuss is important enough to bring up with the other person. For example, if you are giving them feedback, is it really necessary? If you can let it go and remember all their good points, that may be the best option. If it is something that's creating conflict and does need to be cleared, forge ahead with care.
It's dangerous to assume that the person you are wanting to communicate with has the time right then and is in a headspace where they can listen. It's respectful to ask (and listen for the answer) whether the person has time now or later and give them an indication of how long you might need. Making an appointment lets them know you respect their time and yours. This applies to family and friends too, although you'd be less likely to get the diaries (or smartphones out) to compare.
Your tone, volume and posture can dramatically affect your listener's ability to hear what you're saying. Keep your voice at the lowest appropriate volume for the space you are in (you can always raise it if the person can't hear but they won't always tell you you're shouting). Use a balanced, gentle tone, even if the message you want to deliver is serious. Sit down or match the person physically - stand if they're standing, sit if they're sitting and try not to have a physical barrier between you like a desk or table if at all possible.
Give your listener the benefit of the doubt. Assumptions can get you into a whole lot of trouble (ever seen assume broken down into ass/u/me?) and the one that is useful to hold is "this person is doing their best, as am I." If they don't understand you, or you are not noticing non-verbal cues (head nodding, yeses, etc), you might need to rephrase what you're saying.
Any words that come after "you" can sound like a judgement or criticism. Words that are helpful to come after "you" are descriptions of behaviour. Describe the behaviour as if the person you are talking to wasn't in the room. For example, "When you raised your voice", "When you talked over me", "When you swore at me".
Be curious. Instead of assuming that you know what the other person is feeling or thinking, use phrases like "It seems like...", "It looks like...", "I'm guessing you might be..."
Take two (or three or four) attempts. If you don't get it right the first time (your message isn't clearly heard), ask for another chance. If you've dropped a verbal "bombshell', leaving the room then could do more harm than good. An attempt (if the listener is willing) to try again, may build some bridges. It's also important to respect the other person's right to be left alone if this is what they need.
Kindness can't be overdone. If you are genuine about your kind gestures - a hug, handshake, pat on the back or offer of help - it's impossible to be "too kind". Be nice - it's good for the soul.
Suzi Wallis | Oct 2011
Do people have trouble hearing you?
Do you have the experience of people not hearing you well, or appearing disconnected when you speak to them? It could be because you are coming across as authoritarian, condescending, patronising or superior. This can happen quite unintentionally and create a distance between you and your audiences (of one or more).
Things that can give people the impressions above include:
Speaking in a loud voice that is inappropriate for the setting
Speaking over the top of others
Having a sarcastic tone in your voice
Using complicated words and phrases that others may not understand
Being forceful in your phrases, rather than tentative
Using 'should', 'must', 'but', 'I know', 'look...'
You may be an expert on a particular subject, or a number of subjects. You can still express your opinions in a gentle, respectful way without coming across as superior. Even if you know the answer (or feel driven to correct some 'wrong' information), you can do this tentatively and curiously. This will give the impression that you are humble and a team player. Words like the following will help to create a respectful/inclusive impression:
I think it could be...
That might be...
I read somewhere that...
I think...what do you think?
What I mention above can be very subtle and you may be unaware that your audience perceives you as patronising or superior. Notice the non-verbal cues in others like looking away, being forceful in their response (it could mean they're feeling defensive or judged), shutting down, changing the subject, rolling their eyes (even subtly), looking at other members of the group in a particular way.
Be an observer of your own behaviour, make incremental changes where you can, and you may find that people seek you out more than before.
Suzi Wallis | Dec 2013
Do mental health conditions hurt relationships?
Any chronic health condition - whether it's mental, emotional or physical, can have a similar effect on a romantic relationship to an affair. What I mean by that, if a lot of energy is needed to manage a health condition, neglect can be inadvertently created for the romantic relationship.
Short term, a robust relationship can weather the storm of a new challenge - even up to six months of high need from one partner can be sustainable. Beyond this, or in a relationship with a shaky foundation, the relationship can be at higher risk of breakdown.
This is why it's so important to reach out for appropriate emotional support if you find yourself in a caregiving role for your partner. Although the concept of being there for better or worse is a generous idea, the reality can be intensely draining, and much harder than you expected. Some good friends, a therapist, colleagues - all can help you weather the storm through listening and supporting. You don't need to "white knuckle" or suppress all your stuff while your partner is having challenges. Caregivers need recharging to be physically, emotionally and mentally available.
It's not selfish to reach out - it's essential.
Suzi Wallis | Nov 2022
Do therapists need to be optimists?
You will meet some counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who come across as positive and perpetually cheerful. Chances are, like any other segment of the population, this is not true for them all of the time. There are many factors that influence a person's ability to maintain optimism in the face of challenging and painful circumstances.
Therapists, through their work, encounter proportionally greater numbers of people in pain - whether this be physical, emotional or spiritual. It takes awareness, emotional intelligence and the correct type and amount of support to maintain emotional resilience in the helping professions.
I believe that good therapists can maintain a mixture of optimism (after all, if they don't believe people are capable of change, it would be very difficult to be effective) and realism. As you can see from the Wikipedia link on realism, there are many interpretations of this term. What you don't want from your therapist is unrealistic optimism (defined as believing that you are more likely to experience pleasant events than is actually the case, and less likely than others to experience negative ones), because it can minimise clients' experiences. Unrealistic optimism can keep you from being able to change direction when you are unable to see the trouble that lies ahead. More realistic optimism itself, can offer hope to a client who is struggling to find it. Unconditional positive regard (see below), is a process where a therapist can hold a space for growth and understanding on the client's behalf, until they are able to do this for themselves.
I once heard a supervisor describe a therapist's story of their own optimism changing due to burnout as a "Pollyanna" way of thinking. This refers to a story from 1960 where the main protagonist maintains a highly positive attitude in the face of much hardship and negativity. I think the supervisor in question was highly disrespectful of the therapist, as they were showing emotional intelligence and self observation - the "symptom" of negativity or pessimism was informing them of a serious resilience issue that had arisen. Labelling in this manner (of any kind) can create disconnection and even a backwards pattern in relation to progress.
You could say that optimism and pessimism operate on a continuum, and realism is in the middle. Unfortunately, this is a very subjective statement, and each person's perception would most likely place realism in a different place on the continuum.
I've outlined some of the terms below for clarification.Optimism
Optimism, according to Wikipedia, is a mental attitude. A common idiom used to illustrate optimism versus pessimism is a glass with water at the halfway point, where the optimist is said to see the glass as half full and the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.
The term is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best". Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, is defined as expecting the best possible outcome from any given situation. This is usually referred to in psychology as dispositional optimism. It thus reflects a belief that future conditions will work out for the best.
Variation in optimism and pessimism is somewhat heritable and reflects biological trait systems to some degree. It is also influenced by environmental factors, including family environment, with some suggesting it can be learned. Optimism may also be linked to health.
Pessimism is a mental attitude. Pessimists anticipate undesirable outcomes from a given situation which is generally referred to as situational pessimism, or believe that undesirable things are going to happen to them in life more than desirable ones. Pessimists also tend to focus on the negatives of life in general or a given situation. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?" situation. In this situation a pessimist is said to see the glass as half empty while an optimist is said to see the glass as half full.
Perhaps the best definition of realism is actually from the definition of logic:
Logic (from the Ancient Greek: λογική, logikḗ), originally meaning "the word" or "what is spoken" (but coming to mean "thought" or "reason"), is generally held to consist of the systematic study of the form of arguments. A valid argument is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the argument and its conclusion. (In ordinary discourse, the conclusion of such an argument may be signified by words like therefore, hence, ergo and so on.)
In my experience, realists tend more towards a pessimistic view of life than an optimistic view. They may plan for the worst, so that they are not disappointed or unprepared. This can sometimes lead to a compulsion to plan for the worst, and can reduce people's ability to enjoy what is happening for them in any given moment, or to anticipate a future event that will be pleasant.
Unconditional positive regard
Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client-centered therapy. Its founder, Carl Rogers, writes:
The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.
Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard is essential for healthy development and tried to establish it as a therapeutic component. Through providing unconditional positive regard, humanistic therapists seek to help their clients accept and take responsibility for themselves. Humanistic therapists believe that by showing the client unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the therapist is providing the best possible conditions for personal growth to the client.
By definition, it is essential in any helping relationship to have an anticipation for change. In the counselling relationship, that anticipation presents as hope—an optimism that something good and positive will develop to bring about constructive change in the client's personality. Thus, unconditional positive regard means that the therapist has and shows overall acceptance of the client by setting aside their own personal opinions and biases. The main factor in unconditional positive regard is the ability to isolate behaviors from the person who displays them.
Therapists, to be effective, need to be able to maintain their own resilience and strength. Separating their internal reactions from the therapeutic work is essential, so that they can hold a neutral, safe space for clients to gain understanding and realisations. A combination of positive and realistic attitudes on the therapist's part will best serve both them and their clients. Negative or pessimistic views are likely to be counter-productive for the therapeutic process.
Prioritising self care is essential for therapists to maintain their equilibrium. This can include meditation, exercise, massage, creative endeavours and maintaining boundaries. It needs to include professional supervision - a place where they can discuss their client load, experiences, triggers and self care. If you have a friend who is a therapist, you can contribute to their self care by pausing before asking them to hear your problems - they may already have a brain full of such information.
Suzi Wallis | Apr 2017
Do you create barriers between yourself and others?
We all want to connect with people meaningfully, or we might as well go live on a desert island somewhere. Sometimes an interaction is just to get a need met, and it's not deep at all. You may be self-sabotaging all kinds of encounters without even realising, and creating barriers between you and others with some unconscious behaviours. These could be:
Multi-tasking: when you carry out other tasks like checking your phone or computer, reading, filing or anything that's not strictly listening/engaging behaviour, you could be sending the message that the other person isn't important, or that you'd rather be doing something else.
Looking away: you don't want to stare at someone all the time you are having a conversation, but looking away and focussing on other objects/people looks like you don't care. Minimal encourages like regular eye contact, nodding, hmmms and lightly repeating back part of what you've heard all send the signal that you're interested and listening.
Always being right: if you are engaged in a general conversation and someone hasn't asked for your expert opinion, correcting them when you believe they are wrong will most likely create a defensive reaction. If the other person notices you doing it frequently (or more than once), chances are they'll avoid speaking to you except when absolutely necessary.
Trying to cheer people up: this is a funny one. With the best of intentions, if you tell someone "It'll be alright" or "You'll find a way", you could be minimising what they are feeling. Most people respond really well to empathy - just reflect back what you see. Examples are "That must be really tough right now" or "Sounds like a big load you're carrying" validate what the person is feeling, and often gives them the space to come up with their own solutions. If they still appear to be struggling, you could enquire about what you could do to help.
Having a mismatched volume or tone: if your tone or volume is significantly different to your audience, it may look like you are trying to increase your audience, rather than engage with the one you already have. Note how loud the other person is speaking - see if you can match it. The same goes with their tone. People feel more heard and listened to when the other participants are respecting the boundaries they have set with their example.
Have a think about whether you get caught up in any of these behaviours. If you do, be kind to yourself (after all, you were doing the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time), take a breath and choose another option. People will seek you out more often if you are considered a good and intentional listener and speaker.
Suzi Wallis | Mar 2013
How are you telling your story?
The way you tell the story of your trauma/pain/past experiences/current difficult circumstances will have a huge impact on how empowered you feel. You could say "I suffer from [an illness]". How does that statement affect you? What about "I am a victim of [an experience]"?
How do you feel when you say instead "I experience [an illness]" or "I have a relationship with [an illness]" - do you feel more or less empowered? The words you use have a powerful impact on your internal strength, and ability to handle future difficulties.
Imagine the story you would like to write about your experiences - if you are the victor in the end (you didn't get beaten as such, you learned some new things from your experiences), your resilience will increase. An example I sometimes give in sessions is:
"I was riding a horse and it bucked me off. I broke my leg, and I'll have pain in that leg for as long as I live. I wish I'd never got on a horse that day."
"I was riding a horse, and it must have got spooked. It bucked me off, and I got injured. I was a really good patient; I did my rehab just the way it was recommended, and I will always appreciate the care I got from the medical staff. I have been to visit the horse since, and made peace with it - fear can make us all do things we don't think about. I now appreciate and respect horses more than ever."
Which version above feels more empowering? Which would you prefer.
Our stories carry different feelings and energy with them - they affect both the orator and the audience. Have a think about how you want to feel about your current or past stories. If you are struggling to come up with an alternative to your current narrative, consider getting some therapeutic help. You could get a very different result in just one or two sessions.
It's important to tell your difficult stories in therapy or with trusted confidantes, so that you can hear what they sound like, and consider how they affect you. Telling the story over time will hopefully encourage stronger parts to be highlighted, and the tough parts to lose their power over your present.
Another technique is writing down or typing your story. You can tweak it and change it as you create it. Experiment with different ways of portraying difficult situations. Be creative. Include super heroes (in addition to your super hero status) and fantasy. Your mind is unlimited in its ability to help you to see the world differently. Go forth and create.
Suzi Wallis | Jul 2017
How People Pleasers can compromise their integrity unintentionally
Integrity is a fundamental value that most people value highly. Those who have been brought up with the idea that others' needs are more important than their own (often called People Pleasers or PPs), can unintentionally violate their own integrity simply by keeping their word. If you are a PP, you probably find it difficult to say no, so you can commonly end up in situations that you either: don't want to be in at all, or you have discovered are unhealthy for you. Because keeping your word is so important, the idea of exiting out of the situation before it's complete, is excruciating.
I want to encourage you to rethink this concept. Changing your mind, exiting gracefully or ungracefully, is self care, it's not a lack of integrity. If you weren't aware of what was being asked of you, if you've discovered the commitment is unsustainable for you, if you actually need to be doing something else for yourself instead, if you are unwell or injured, or you really need to recharge, it's ok to change your mind. Continuing to over-give is compromising your integrity to yourself! Valuing your own needs and expectations is way more important for your medium and long term health, than prioritising others.
A habit of PPs is justification and explanation of their reason for saying no. This is a trap that can keep you engaged in a verbal game with a manipulator long after you could have walked away. I'm no longer available for this, I can give you another 5 minutes, I'm not going to be able to meet you at this time, I don't have capacity to carry out what I agreed - all these are legitimate reasons to terminate your agreement/commitment without explanation. If you are asked why, simply re-state your previous message. Don't give the manipulator ammunition to argue with you.
Life is a constant balancing act of our needs and others' needs. In a healthy relationship (with a friend, colleague, family member, partner), healthy compromise is doing or saying something you'd rather do or not do, because it nurtures the relationship (and it's in alignment with your values). Unhealthy compromise is doing or saying something you'd rather not do, because you're afraid of the consequences. PPs are more likely to say yes when they want to say no, than those with a robust sense of self.
It takes practice to build the skill of prioritising yourself over others. Rehearsing in your head is absolutely normal, and can be very helpful. It is not rude to say no, although it might feel rude until you are more confident at saying it. If you are willing, and now/the requested time doesn't suit, you can also say I'm not available for the task then, I could help you out [at a later date].
Best wishes for learning or strengthening this skill. It's an important one for keeping management of your life in your hands.
Suzi Wallis | Nov 2019
How to support someone with a different or opposing point of view
Imagine you have been approached by a friend, family member or colleague. They are distressed about something that is directly related to a belief they have. This belief or view is not one you share. You believe that your point of view might help ease their suffering. What do you do?
Firstly, ask yourself what is going to be most helpful initially here? The majority of the time, the answer is empathy or compassion. Many people in distress just want to be heard - they don't actually want to hear what you think, at least at first. Empathy, acknowledging how they feel, and naming what you see ("you seem sad", "that really sucks", "I can see you're distressed") is a fantastic first step. Many people will then expand on what's going on, and feel better as a result. If they already know you don't share their point of view, they have shown extreme courage to approach you in the first place, and this action is a reflection of the desperation they are likely to be feeling.
The gentle pause from the listener is a powerful technique for opening someone up and helping them to feel safe in your presence. If you interrupt with your own words too quickly, they may feel shut down. Non verbal indicators that you are listening like eye contact, nodding or "hmmm", and minimal verbal encouragement like "yes" or "carry on", all help someone process their emotions and potentially find their own solutions to feeling better.
One of the worst things you can do is share your opinion when it hasn't been asked for. This has the impact of minimising the other person's feelings, and can potentially create a disconnection between you and them. It's like saying "your feelings aren't important" or "my opinion is superior to yours". If your opinion is an opposing one to theirs, this effect is magnified. It is up to you to fight your internal battle - if you think their belief is hurting them, it's not actually your responsibility to change it.
If they do ask what you think, that's a different story, and one that still needs to be approached with care. Gently share your view with a starting statement like "This is what I've found helpful to believe in this kind of situation" or "I see this differently to you, and I respect your opinion" or "We have what might appear to be opposing views on this, and both are valid."
The other benefit of not sharing your point of view unless it's asked for, is that the distressed person might get to a different belief place in time, if they are given the space to talk about their own perspective first. They might be able to hold your ideas in their mind for a while (the ones they already know about you) and mull them over. If someone else's beliefs (yours in particular) have been imposed on them, especially while they are upset, the chance of them defending their own view internally and/or externally is stronger. Most people don't like being told what to think or what to do - we all want autonomy in our lives and minds.
Remember this article applies to some of the most controversial topics - politics, health/medicine, religion, environmental issues - and also to any belief that is different from our own. You have the choice to be a supporter or an opposer - which one will bring more harmony to your world?
Suzi Wallis | Aug 2017
How will you be celebrated after you die?
You may be a humble person who doesn't want any fuss after you die. You may wish to ease any financial burden on your relatives. For these reasons (or others), you may wish not to have a funeral. Please consider your grieving loved ones in your decision. Rituals are very powerful for the grieving to celebrate what you meant to them, and asking them not to acknowledge you, can negatively affect their ability to grieve.
If your loved ones, including friends, aren't given the opportunity to farewell you in an appropriate way, they may get stuck in their grief for months or years. This can manifest through:
emotional stuckness or numbness, inability to feel anything, or only one emotion over and over
inappropriate anger, lashing out or hopelessness (out of context with the current situation)
trauma staying stuck in the body (tightness, unpleasant sensations, persistent pain)
physical or emotional illness developing
foggy brain, inability to make decisions
sleep and appetite issues
continuous questioning of the meaning/purpose of their life
A traditional funeral (depending on your culture), isn't the only option. A gathering of people with or without the deceased person could be:
a picnic where people tell stories about the deceased person
a memorial service
an informal gathering at a favourite place or venue
anything that honours the one who has passed on, and also those who cared for them.
Embalming adds significant cost to a funeral; if burial is only one option, rather than a fixed idea/request/commitment, cremation is a cost effective way to take care of the deceased person's body. Cremation also removes the cost of a burial plot (although many cemeteries/urupaas include a place for ashes to be interred).
Some modern funeral directors offer a body transport service, and assistance with viewing the person if the family requires, without having premises that include viewing areas, or an area to gather after a service. This is cheaper than utilising a funeral director where all facilities are onsite, including embalming/body preparation for viewing.
In short, funerals are for the grieving, not the person who has passed on. It can be a gift to those who love you, to provide a forum where they can cry, wail, tell stories, be supported, see friends and relatives they may not have seen for a while.
Talk to your family as soon as possible, so that when your time on this earth has passed, your final celebration is a chapter in your loved ones' grief journey.
Suzi Wallis | Mar 2022
Humility vs martyring
Humility, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humility is:
Humility is the quality of being humble. Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness. In a religious context humility can mean a recognition of self in relation to a deity (i.e. God) or deities, and subsequent submission to said deity as a member of that religion. Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as being "unselved", a liberation from consciousness of self, a form of temperance that is neither having pride (or haughtiness) nor indulging in self-deprecation.
Humility is an outward expression of an appropriate inner, or self regard, and is contrasted with humiliation which is an imposition, often external, of shame upon a person. Humility may be misappropriated as ability to suffer humiliation through self-denouncements which in itself remains focused on self rather than low self-focus.
Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue which centers on low self-preoccupation, or unwillingness to put oneself forward, so it is in many religious and philosophical traditions, it contrasts with narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride and is an idealistic and rare intrinsic construct that has an extrinsic side.
According to WebMD, martyr complex is:
A martyr complex is a recognized psychological pattern. It’s marked by self-sacrifice and service to others at your own expense. Identifying martyr traits and tendencies can prevent burnout and stress on your relationships.
Some aspects of martyrdom may seem desirable, but it’s important to understand the negative implications, too.
These concepts play out in relationships over and over. If we have been brought up to believe that we are only of value if we are serving others, it is very difficult to claim our own power, and enforce safe boundaries. This is particularly common for women in most societies. Additionally, if we have been overtly or covertly encouraged to not take up too much space, we can end up martyring ourselves, instead of the more desirable concept of humility.
If we are martyring, we may be presenting as:
having no boundaries, saying yes to all requests/demands, regardless of our capacity
helping others with, or doing tasks for others which they are capable of doing for themselves (a common rescuer behaviour, which can create resentment in one or both parties)
only asking for help, if at all, when we collapse in exhaustion or illness (or have an "accident" which forces us to stop
having co-dependent relationships romantically, with friends, family members and colleagues. Marshall Burtcher writes extensively about co-dependence recovery on his Facebook page.
finding ourselves upset out of context with the situation at hand
Another way of looking at the unhealthy dynamic of martyring/rescuing is through the Karpman Drama Triangle. Caregiving/supporting, within boundaries is much healthier than rescuing - and will lead to more meaningful interactions and relationships.
Humility goes hand in hand with safe boundaries; we are self aware, can self reflect, don't offer more than we have capacity for, and recognise that not everyone will like us.
As Dita Von Teese is quoted as saying:
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
The ability to sit with the discomfort of disappointing others, is essential to move away from martyring/rescuing, to humility/safe boundaries. Best wishes for noticing the difference, finding compassion for yourself during the process, and maintaining strong boundaries as much as possible.
Suzi Wallis | Jul 2020
I don't mind vs I don't care
When we are trying to support a friend, or family member's autonomy, we may, with the best of intentions, send the message that we don't care about them. This is due to a subtle difference between the phrase "I don't mind" and "I don't care". The first one shows flexibility of thinking, a respect for the other person's autonomy, and a support of their choices. The second can deliver the message "I don't care about you". Although that's not usually the intention, small differences in phrasing, tone and volume, can make a huge difference to how your message is received.
Making eye contact, touching the person gently in a neutral zone (shoulder, upper arm) if you are on touching terms with them, keeping the volume as low as possible for the physical situation, putting away any devices (and ensuring they are on silent) - these are all vital signals that you care about the person and how your message is received.
If the response you observe isn't what you expected, chances are it hasn't been interpreted as you expected. The sooner you clarify, offer to re-deliver the message, and/or carry out a repair attempt, the stronger your connection with your conversational partner will remain.
Suzi Wallis | Feb 2020
Is depression contagious?
Hopefully that question got you thinking! This article is mainly for support people of those experiencing depression. It can be easy to find yourself feeling run down or burned out when you have been supporting someone with depression, and your self care has taken a back seat.
Self care is important for us all, including those with robust mental health (it helps keep the robustness alive) and those who are facing challenges around their mental health. Someone who is experiencing a depressive episode may not be aware of the impact they are having on others, so it's up to you to build your own awareness about what you need so that you can continue helping out your friend/loved one. Some things to consider:
What do you notice about yourself when you are getting stressed? I know someone who starts getting grumpy, when they're a normally optimistic person. I know someone else who starts looking critically at others, which is a sure sign she needs some alone time. Once you know your own signals, you can take action quickly so you don't get into a dark place yourself.
How easy is it for you to say no? Those who find it difficult to say no can run themselves into the ground before they stop and take stock of where they're at. Saying yes is healthy when you are feeling resourced and when you have the time, ability and motivation to help. If you are busy with something else, your mind is on something else or you have somewhere else you want/need to be, saying yes means you are not going to be fully present, and less effective at what you've promised to do. It can also mean that you're less likely to be able to recognise when you are getting overwhelmed.
Do you know the difference between empathy and sympathy? Empathy is the capacity to recognise emotions in another. It is strongly linked to compassion, which creates connection between people. Sympathy, on the other hand, doesn't require the listener to recognise what's going on for the other person, so that they can end up 'joining' the depressed person in their dark state, without understanding how they got there. They will also struggle to get out of that state as they are unlikely to have the tools to do so (having not experienced it themselves).
An empathic statement would be something like "That sound really tough."
A sympathetic statement might be "Poor you, that's absolutely horrible."
Empathy is like walking alongside the person and help them find their own solutions to what they're going through. Sympathy joins the person in their state, which can be disempowering for both people and can lead to a dual feeling of 'stuckness'.
What do you say in your head when you hear from your depressed friend? If you wonder how they are doing, you are most likely in a place of resilience where you are able to be of assistance. If you feel dread, resentment or are tempted not to return the email/phone call/text, it may be because you need to put yourself first. You can still return the contact, with yourself as a priority (and say no if you're not able to be of assistance at this time).
Do you have an understanding with your friend about appropriate contact? Does your friend contact you multiple times a day, when you are at work, very early in the morning or late at night? This type of contact can lead to you feeling overwhelmed quite quickly. It's important to have an agreement that certain contact is only appropriate if there is an emergency; otherwise, they need to wait to hear from you when you are available. Likewise, if your friend is in crisis, and they are not returning your contact, this can be very stressful. They need to understand that you need to be considered also.
Good luck with your journey of supporting someone experiencing depression. Remember that you are special and deserve recognition, even if it's indirect or late in arriving.
Suzi Wallis | Jan 2013
Is sexual monogamy realistic?
The subject of sexual monogamy has been very present in my counselling room lately. There seems to be a general expectation in the Western world, that everyone who enters into a long term relationship will be sexually faithful to their partner. This is something that is often assumed, and not discussed.
With the variety of culture, ethnicity, religion, family expectations, schooling and education, is it unrealistic to expect everyone who lives in a particular area to conform to any behaviours (apart from those that the law defines as illegal)? Isn't that like expecting everyone who lives in a particular area to have the same hair, skin and eye colour too?
From a biological perspective, sexual attraction (also known as limerance and lust) are designed to bond a male and female to reproduce, and ensure that the male remains present for long enough to ensure the child's survival. Historically, the expectation of sexual fidelity has long been expected from women almost exclusively, particularly when they were perceived as chattels through marriage. Sexual fidelity created assurance of children's paternity, which is important when it comes to inheritance of title or goods.
The effect that sexual infidelity has on relationship partners is varied and complicated, and suitable for another article at another time. What I want to stimulate discussion about is the expectation of fidelity, and why it is so often not discussed in relationships. Attraction to other people is a natural by-product of being a sexual being, and the decision to act on attraction is one that we can all make, or not make, countless times in our lives. Expecting yourself or your partner to never find another person attractive is unrealistic, and can lead to unnecessary disappointment and pain. In a strong relationship (and ideal relationship in my book), an attraction would be discussed with your partner, and their support obtained to turn your focus back onto your primary relationship.
If you are very tempted to act on a sexual or emotional attraction to someone outside your relationship, it may be time to ask yourself some important questions:
Is there something that I'm needing from my partner that I'm not currently getting?
Is there a lack of emotional or physical intimacy in my relationship?
Am I holding resentment towards my partner that I need to express, in an adult and respectful way?
Am I feeling under pressure somewhere other than my relationship (work/family/hobbies/other commitments) that I am trying to avoid?
Is there an area of my life that needs change, that I am currently in denial about?
Am I projecting my partner's attraction/flirting/inappropriate behaviour onto myself?
Do I feel respected, appreciated and loved by my partner?
It's also worth defining with your partner what your boundaries are with regards to infidelity - for some, flirting or talking about your relationship with another feels like just as big a violation as sexual contact might. Knowing what your partner's boundaries are means that you are more likely to respect them.
There may be many more questions that will come up for you as you read this. I encourage you to discuss this topic with your partner, friends and family. The more you discuss it, the more you will be aware of your own behaviour and boundaries, and have the opportunity to become a more conscious relationship partner yourself.
For further reading, this article in Psychology Today refers to a concept called Mate Ejection, which is a process by which a partner ends a relationship - different genders can do this very differently.
This book takes you through a process about whether to stay or leave your relationship - I recommend reading it in its entirety before making a decision.
If you have already acted on an emotional or physical attraction, this book may be worth reading - it provides information for both partners, and helps you to make short, medium and long term decisions about the future of your relationship.
Suzi Wallis | May 2015
Men are not always available for sex
I have been seeing more and more men recently in my counselling practice who are not available for sex with their partners if they feel disrespected or belittled.
There seems to be a myth out there that all men can be turned on at a moment's notice if they are offered sex. This is not true. Like some women, there are some men who are ready to 'perform' 24/7, but I think this is becoming more and more rare. I'm hearing from both my clients, and men around me in my life, that they need to first feel emotionally connected to be physically intimate with their partners.
If the relationship has conflict, or very disrespectful or abusive language is regularly used at them, many men will feel too unsafe to be physically intimate with their partner. Given that most people feel vulnerable when they are getting naked (physically or emotionally) with someone, they are going to need to feel safe to take this step. I saw a beautiful writing on a Facebook post recently, where it was mentioned that foreplay for women begins at the end of the last sexual encounter. I think this is also true for many men.
Men, as a rule, need to feel important, appreciated, attractive, competent and many other things to also feel sexual. Unconsciously, withdrawal of affection or sex can be used to regain power. If a man is subjected to insults or verbal or physical abuse, he may feel powerless. Withdrawal may be the only way he can 'lick his wounds' and recover. If you have had an encounter like this recently with your male partner, and he has withdrawn, you will need to give him time to settle his emotions first. He will then need to hear and feel remorse from you (even if you didn't intend to hurt him) before he will become emotionally and physically available to you.
Bear in mind that sex in long term relationships is largely about emotional intimacy. In the early days of a relationship, when lust is high, it is designed to bond a couple strongly. If you've been together a while and you have sex less often than you'd like, have a look at your relationship's emotional health. Are you respectful of your partner in your words and actions? Do you tell him how wonderful he is, how much you appreciate what he does for you and how attractive he is to you? If not, maybe it's time to increase that behaviour and see how much closer you feel.
Suzi Wallis | Jul 2013
Privacy vs secrecy in romantic relationships
Although transparency as a concept is appealing in romantic relationships, if we are complete open books, we can become de-eroticised to our partner, and end up "friend zoning" each other,
As Esther Perel talks about in Mating in Captivity, relationships are a constant dance between enough distance for attraction, and enough closeness for security. One aspect this plays out in is what we share with our significant other(s). Privacy in our own heads, including fantasies, is important for us to feel autonomous and empowered in our own lives. Privacy in a low trust relationship can be experienced as secrecy, and that's when damage to the connection between the couple can occur.
If you have information that directly impacts your partner, examine your motivation for keeping it from them.
Is there fear of the impact on your partner?
Is there fear they will respect you less?
Is there fear you will be influenced or coerced into making a decision you're not comfortable with?
If these factors are relevant to you, you may need to engage a couples counsellor to learn how to have robust conversations safely.
If the information you are holding has no direct impact on your relationship, it may be ok to keep it to yourself. If it's something that you haven't shared with anyone else (like a fantasy or a kink preference), and there is no risk of your partner finding out through other means, you probably don't run the risk of hurting your partner unintentionally.
However, if you are holding something that is out of alignment with your relationship agreements and understandings, it's worth sharing at the right time, in the right way. Additionally, if it's something you want to explore in your relationship, to increase the satisfaction in your emotional or sexual life, it's well worth sharing. Ensure you choose a time when your partner is emotionally and physically available, there are no devices or children interrupting, and you've agreed to meet/speak. Asking for something doesn't guarantee you'll get it, but if you ask in an adult way, you can collaborate to find a solution that meets some aspects of both people's needs.
Suzi Wallis | Oct 2023
Sex and intimacy during and after menopause
If you are a woman experiencing perimenopause, menopause, or a partner of a woman at this life stage, read on. It's important to know what can be going on for women at this stage of life, so adjustments can be made.
Perimenopause begins as a woman's oestrogen reduces. It usually starts in a woman's 40s, but can start in the 30s as well. It can begin 8-10 years before menopause. In the last 1-2 years, the drop in oestrogen accelerates. This is most likely when women experience symptoms. Women are still having menstrual cycles during this time, and can get pregnant.
The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months. Perimenopause ends when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period.
Menopause is the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and women no longer have menstrual periods. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their oestrogen. Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. Women can no longer get pregnant once they are fully in menopause.
Symptoms, sex and intimacy
Symptoms of perimenopause
Women may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
Hot flushes (a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body)
Night sweats and/or cold flashes (this is highly disruptive to sleep, not only because of the full wakefulness that occurs, but also the difficulty getting back to sleep)
Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
Urinary urgency (a pressing need to urinate more frequently)
Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression)
Dry skin, eyes or mouth
Women who are still in the menopause transition (perimenopause) may also experience:
Worsening of premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
Irregular periods or skipping periods
Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
Symptoms of menopause & those worth getting checked out
Women may experience some or all of the first list above. Some women also experience the list below:
Joint and muscle aches and pains
Changes in libido (sex drive)
Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses (often temporary)
Hair loss or thinning
These symptoms can be a sign that the ovaries are producing less oestrogen. Not all women get all of these symptoms. However, women affected with new symptoms of racing heart, urinary changes, headaches, or other new medical problems should see a doctor to make sure there is no other cause for these symptoms.
Women who are experiencing symptoms related to either stage, most predominantly perimenopause, may feel exhausted, irritated, less resilient, absent minded, unattractive, unimportant and have a severely reduced or absent libido. This is completely reasonable, given the impact of the symptoms they may be experiencing. It's really important for women experiencing these symptoms to have emotional intimacy with their partner. Without feeling emotionally connected, the desire to make steps towards physical intimacy is likely to be very compromised.
Sex & libido
If a woman's libido previously came about from having sexual feelings, this may no longer be the case. Sexual feelings can disappear entirely at this stage. This also affects a women's self image, as she may no longer feel attractive.
Women at this stage of life cannot expect to feel like sex, then initiate or respond to sexual overtures. If you have no libido, you need to make a decision that you want to feel close to your partner. You can then initiate sexual contact, and desire/arousal will come about after you start a sexual connection with your partner. This will be severely compromised if your relationship doesn't have emotional intimacy, if there is disconnection, or high conflict.
One of the other things that happens at this life stage, is that the vaginal skin thins, and becomes more vulnerable to damage through intercourse. It's really important to use a lubricant during intercourse, even if you feel aroused, to prevent any abrasions or mini tears. The vaginal tissue is similar to that between the webs of our fingers. If you have ever had a wound or cut to that part of your body, you will remember how painful it was. Some organic lubes on the market include Bonk, FlowMotion, Intimate Earth, Love, Sliquid, SytemJo, and Yes.
Sexual position will also be important, as some positions could work against lubrication being where it's needed. A woman on top of her partner can help natural lubrication to move down the vagina, which in turn, helps to facilitate intercourse. Experiment with different positions, and most importantly, take your time.
What do partners of perimenopausal and menopausal women need to know/do?
Your partner is going through a transition. She may feel unattractive, both to you, and out in the world. She may be seriously sleep-deprived, foggy in her thinking, and in pain. She needs your patience, love and consistent support, as you both navigate this time.
Ask her what she needs from you. Ensure there is lots of non-sexual affection between you. Compliment her on her efforts, and the things you admire about her. Reassure her that you are in this life stage together. Emotional intimacy is especially important at this time - knowing what is going on for each other, and being able to navigate each other's internal worlds. Take time out of your day to really find out how she is, without the interruptions of technology, tv, or other demands.
If you have lost your confidence about sex
Ladies, if you have been experimenting with sex, and have had negative experiences, or you don't feel like trying with no desire, read on.
This is a meaningful time of life, and deserves to be honoured. You can experiment on your own, to reassure yourself that you can have sexual feelings, and that your body is still a source of pleasure. Read some erotic literature, buy clothes that you feel attractive wearing, change your perfume to one that feels more sensual, have candles and low lights in your home, purchase a dildo or vibrator, purchase some good lube, and communicate with your sexual partner/s! Even if your partner has gone through this life stage themselves, it will be a unique experience for you. You need to talk, laugh, and have some lightness about this topic, until you both feel comfortable.
Most women's partners will not be expecting them to lose interest in them or sex. Keep them in the loop about where you're at. Ask them to be patient. Talk about what your turn ons and turn offs are - they may have changed since you first got together. Keep trying to connect sexually. Unless you have negotiated a non-sexual relationship, this issue can cause much conflict and disconnection in relationships. It can be very confusing for your partner to find that you no longer respond to them in the way you once did. They may feel unattractive and unwanted too.
I wish you well in your experimenting and play. You are still you, even though aspects of your body are changing. You deserve to feel pleasure, to feel safe and loved. You are a big part of co-creating an environment for you and those who share your life, that works for you all.
Suzi Wallis | May 2018
Sex in a long term relationship can be so boring!
One of the best aspects of 2020, is that consensual sex is more available now than it ever has been in history. This shows how far we have come as a species, although there is also lots of work to be done still. Although this article was written largely about heterosexual sex, it makes some good points about how our evolution has not yet caught up with the social changes that are being made around sex and consent. One of the challenges now, is how couples navigate sex that might appear, from the outside, to be outside of gentle, mutually consensual sex.
This is where the kink world can help. In the world of experimentation with sexual boundaries, such as Bondage and discipline (B & D or B/D), Dominance and submission (D & S or D/s) (including "master and slave" role-playing scenarios and ongoing relationship structures), Sadism and masochism (S & M or S/M). Click here for information on some common terms/sub categories of BDSM.
The world of kink is usually very organised when it comes to safety and consent. In fact, it is also known as "consensual power exchange", which gives you a good idea of the consenting adults involved. Agreements are made in advance between players, about which words will be used to put a halt to proceedings, or pause for whatever reason.
This concept can be utilised for any sexual encounter, and although it might feel odd or uncomfortable to a couple who have been together for a while, it creates a great opportunity to expand your sexual experiences together. If there's something you've been wanting to try that's different from how you usually show your sexual connection, do your research, approach your partner, and agree on some "safe" words - the ones that say "Stop, I'm not enjoying this/I'm feeling scared" and "Pause, I need to take a breath before we continue." Once you have those established, ensure that you choose your time well - you are not going to be interrupted, you have the right lighting, environment, location - and start playing.
Suzi Wallis | Jun 2020
The importance of non-sexual touch in an intimate relationship
What is it that makes your relationship with your partner different from just a friend or flatmate? Apart from (hopefully) trust, friendship, love, respect and kindness, the way you touch each other displays an intimacy that you may not share with other people in your life (at least not to the same extent). Sometimes you can see a couple who are comfortable together by the way they interact physically – a touch there, a quick hug or kiss as they pass each other in a social setting. Non-sexual touch (the kind that isn’t necessarily going to lead to lovemaking) can keep a couple feeling connected during their everyday lives.
Rather than getting ‘out of the way’ when you pass in the hall or kitchen, how about getting ‘in the way’ intentionally? It’s a great opportunity for a re-connect, flirt and can send a message that says ‘I’m glad I chose you.’ If you are watching tv together, sitting on the same couch, with legs draped over each other is far more intimate than separate chairs. If one is preparing dinner, having the other hanging out in the kitchen, passing items backwards and forwards will create a feeling of connectedness. There are plenty of opportunities for getting into the same physical space if you allow your mind to contemplate them.
The quality of hugs and kisses, especially during greetings and farewells can make the difference in your partner’s day. When you kiss your partner hello or goodbye, is it on the lips or cheek? Which one feels more intimate? Do you look in their eyes when you greet them or farewell them? When you hug your partner, do you ensure that you are connected from knees to chest? When you come home, do you greet the children or pets before your partner? Why? What is this modelling for your children and what message does this send to your partner about their importance to you? It’s perfectly ok to ask your children to wait and say you want to greet your partner (whether it be their Mum or Dad or someone else) first.
I hope you are able to find opportunities to solidify the foundation of your relationship through what you’ve read here.
Suzi Wallis | Nov 2011
The myth of unconditional love
We'd like to think (and are in fact socialised to think) that when we meet Mr, Mrs or MX Right, all will be perfect. We'll love them unconditionally until we are parted by death. The reality is often far from this fantasy.
The idea of unconditional love versus the reality of day-to-day living in a relationship can be two very different things. If we really loved someone unconditionally, we would be saying it's ok if you:
Disrespect me with your words
Are verbally, physically or emotionally abusive or violent towards me
Are unfaithful to me emotionally or physically
Disrespect the things I care about
Don't consider me in your decision making
Drink heavily, do drugs or participate in any other activities that are dangerous
Spend as much time as you like with people other than me (friends, hobbies, family, work etc)
As are messy as I am tidy or vice versa
If we had one or more of the things above happening in our relationship, chances are we would be feeling resentment, not unconditional love.
Wikipedia defines unconditional love as:
Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations. This term is sometimes associated with other terms such as true altruism, complete love, or "mother's/father's love." Each area of expertise has a certain way of describing unconditional love, but most will agree that it is that type of love which has no bounds and is unchanging. It is a concept comparable to true love, a term which is more frequently used to describe love between lovers. By contrast, unconditional love is frequently used to describe love between family members, comrades in arms and between others in highly committed relationships. An example of this is a parent's love for their child; no matter a test score, a life changing decision, an argument, or a strong belief, the amount of love that remains between this bond is seen as unchanging and unconditional.
In religion, unconditional love is thought to be part of The Four Loves; affection, friendship, romance, and unconditional. In ethology, or the study of animal behavior, unconditional love would refer to altruism which in turn refers to the behavior by individuals that increases the fitness of another while decreasing the fitness of the individual committing the act. In psychology, unconditional love refers to a state of mind in which one has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite any evidence of benefit for oneself. The term is also widely used in family and couples counseling manuals.
If you are a parent (of the human or pet variety), you may have experienced something very close to unconditional love in your lifetime. Have a think about what unconditional love could mean in the reality of everyday living. Maybe it could mean:
Listening instead of talking when you have an opinion about what you're hearing
Listening to how someone's day was, even if the subject matter doesn't interest you
Spending time doing something you'd rather not to support another
Accepting someone else's faults and not trying to change them
Offering help to someone in need and expecting nothing in return
Expecting the best out of others
Believing that everyone is doing their best with the knowledge they have
What it doesn't mean is:
Accepting any behaviour no matter what
Saying yes when you are not resourced to help or participate
Staying mute when it is appropriate to speak up
Not protecting someone who is weaker than you
Staying in a relationship where fundamental values are different (the kind you're not willing to compromise on)
I hope you enjoy exploring what unconditional love could mean for you in your daily life. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Suzi Wallis | Jun 2013
What is trust?
Trust is a decision you make. Some of us are led to believe that it's magic - when you meet the right person, are in the right job, live in the right home, all will fall into place, and you won't have insecurities any more. For people who believe this, trust can be elusive.
Trust is a decision that you make internally. When you decide to trust, "evidence" presents itself to prove that your decision has merit. The converse is true - if you decide not to trust someone/something, you will see reasons for that decision too. If you've ever heard the saying "what you focus on gets bigger", trust is a great example of that.
For some people, mistrust comes about because of their own inability to control their impulsiveness. Maybe they have some compulsive behaviours that they are ashamed of, or intrusive thoughts that they know others would disapprove of. Perhaps they think of cheating in their job or relationship, and suddenly they see "suspicious" behaviours in others. This is projection - and it applies to many emotions. What we don't own in ourselves we see reflected in others. It's our way of being given the opportunity to fight our demons, and grow in the process.
Wikipedia has a social sciences definition of trust:
In a social context, trust has several connotations. Definitions of trust typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.
Trust can be attributed to relationships between people. It can be demonstrated that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness that can be traced to the neurobiological structure and activity of a human brain. Some studies indicate that trust can be altered e.g. by the application of oxytocin.
Conceptually, trust is also attributable to relationships within and between social groups (families, friends, communities, organisations, companies, nations etc.). It is a popular approach to frame the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group interactions in terms of trust.
When it comes to the relationship between people and technology, the attribution of trust is a matter of dispute. The intentional stance demonstrates that trust can be validly attributed to human relationships with complex technologies. However, rational reflection leads to the rejection of an ability to trust technological artefacts.
One of the key current challenges in the social sciences is to re-think how the rapid progress of technology has impacted constructs such as trust. This is specifically true for information technology that dramatically alters causation in social systems.
In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology and psychology the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, fairness, or benevolence of another party. The term "confidence" is more appropriate for a belief in the competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty. In economics, trust is often conceptualized as reliability in transactions. In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.
Trust is in part, a leap of faith. Those who live life not trusting until it's "proven" lead a draining life indeed. To do this, you must be hypervigilant - looking out for danger constantly. Apart from being tiring, it's hard work! People who trust as a default behaviour lead happier, more productive lives.
If someone has betrayed your trust in the past, take the knowledge that you have gained and put it through the logical part of your brain (or someone else's if you need an objective view). You can then decide if forgiveness is an option, or if it is an indication of a character that you no longer wish to interact with. You can then vote with your feet.
One exercise I have given couples who have difficulty trusting each other is to "try it on for size." It's a self reinforcing thing - once you behave "as if" you trust the other person, evidence presents itself, your confidence grows, and you trust the other person more.
I hope you have enjoyed the concepts above, and at the very least, it gives you food for thought.
Suzi Wallis | Mar 2014
What is toxic positivity, and are you guilty of it?
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It's a "good vibes only" approach to life.
Toxic positivity has become more well known in recent times. Others can experience it as a forced, false positivity that nullifies and minimises theirs, and others' feelings. When someone is always appearing positive, it can feel unsafe for others to be authentic with them, in case they are ignored, talked over, criticised or given unwanted advice.
This is very different to optimism, which, along with empathy, is a chosen lense to look at the world through, and can be very empowering. If empathy isn't present, optimism can come across as blind positivity.
Toxic positivity can include shaming others for being negative, hurting, feeling sad or angry - generally feeling natural, valid human emotions.
Sometimes people may perceive optimistic approaches inaccurately; as if the person is unable to hear, or hold space for tough experiences or feelings. This is not usually true. Optimism can be very empowering for individuals, although it is no-one's right to impose it on someone else. This is likely to come across as patronising and/or critical.
Genuine, helpful positivity involves:
being an active listener - letting the person finish, offering non-verbal validation such as nodding and consistent eye contact
offering comfort if the person wants it (ask for consent first)
asking the person what they need
asking the person if they'd like to hear your perspective, before offering it
providing empathy - making some guesses at what the other person might be feeling
checking in with the person later, if you have an ongoing relationship with them
Best wishes for finding the right balance for you and those you care about.
Suzi Wallis | Apr 2021
What quality makes the difference between a good relationship and an exceptional one?
From both my experience working with couples, and my personal experience, I believe there are five non-negotiables for a good relationship:
If you don't have the first five, your relationship will have challenges that can sometimes make it feel like really hard work. You could be settling for less than you deserve if these qualities don't exist between you and your partner.
Love: This one may seem obvious, but I'm talking about the love that develops after the initial attraction phase. When the lust dies down and you are left liking both the person and their qualities, deep love can develop. You aren't constantly swept off your feet or obsessing about your partner; you feel hopeful and happy about the time you spend together (and the planning you make as a couple).
Trust: Trust is essential in building a strong foundation - trust in yourself to make valid choices that support the relationship, and trust that your partner will do the same. In order to have trust, you need to understand each other's boundaries clearly. Don't assume you will automatically know what these are - if you discuss them, you'll have a much better understanding of each other.
Respect: Respect can be modelled in many ways. One way that it shows between couples in a strong relationship is listening to each other's opinion even if they disagree, and giving feedback in a respectful way (if it's helpful and requested). Respect can also be shown by the way you talk about your partner when they're not listening...to others, publicly, on forums like social media - respect and disrespect can both be easily identified. Respecting each other's differences is a key factor to strong relationships of all kinds.
Friendship: This is about genuinely liking the person you are intimately involved with, wanting to spend time with them, having a laugh together, hanging out and feeling safe in each other's company. If your partner is truly your best friend, and you can count on them for anything, you're very blessed.
Kindness: Sometimes we are kinder to strangers than we are to the person we have promised ourselves to. Everyday kindness will be so appreciated, even unconsciously, by the person you spend your life with. This also applies to thanking your partner for their kindness - even if they cook dinner five nights a week or mow the lawns every week without fail, thanking them will help them to feel appreciated.
The sixth quality that I believe takes a good relationship into the realm of exceptional is acceptance. Not only is acceptance a vital part of the grief process, enabling you to move in a forward direction, it is also a quality that can help to make your relationship unshakeable. That may sound like an exaggeration, yet the people I know who have this, have relationships that look as solid as it's possible to get. Acceptance is truly being ok with your partner's values, their way of seeing the world, their way of making choices you wouldn't make, their questioning of you - the list goes on.
Suzi Wallis | Nov 2011
What's the bridge when you have opposing points of view?
We can spend a lot of energy in conflict, trying to convince the other person that our view is correct - of course, this implies strongly that their point of view is wrong. Given that we usually come to our views through some reasonably thought out process, we are going to resist changing it. A key to keeping the relationship intact, whatever kind it is, can be reflective listening or empathy.
Something as simple as "I can see your perspective, and understand it" can soften the other person's stance towards your perspective. Another option could be "I really want to understand more about your point of view" and shows respect and dignity, along with curiosity.
People can fight for days, weeks or longer trying to convince someone else to give up their belief/position and adopt theirs; and it's often fruitless. When you are considering whether it's reasonable to change your mind consider the difference between healthy and unhealthy compromise:
healthy compromise is doing or not doing something because it adds value to the relationship/increases goodwill
unhealthy compromise is doing or not doing something because because of fear
Given this definition, moving from black/white or wrong/right can benefit the relationship, and set it up for future collaboration/compromise. Although negative scorekeeping is very toxic in relationships, recording/recalling positive interactions leads to more optimism and benefit of the doubt. No matter the type of relationship, the two of you/group against the problem is much healthier than me against you.
Suzi Wallis | Sep 2023
Why sex is so important in a long term relationship
Sex can be the glue that holds a relationship together, and when the relationship is exclusive, sex is a symbol representing/honouring who you have chosen to spend your life with. At the least, it is a point of difference that identifies your relationship with your partner as special.
If you are in an exclusive/monogamous relationship, sex is one of the few activities you can participate in only with your chosen partner. Most other needs can be met to some extent outside the relationship:
quality time spent with others
kind words received and given
hobbies/activities with others
having your problems listened to
trouble shooting work/life/parenting/family challenges
So it automatically becomes a connecting experience for both of you - a physical and emotional demonstration of I choose you.
Lower blood pressure
It's a form of exercise
May help reduce risk of prostate cancer
Boost your libido
Improved bladder control in women
Increase intimacy and improve your relationship
Boost your fertility
Fight colds and flu
Disease-proof your body
Lengthen your life
Shift your middle-age spread and keep fit
Ease those nasty period cramps
Helps lower your risk of incontinence
Prevent a heart attack
Increase your attractiveness to others
Smooth out your wrinkles
Give yourself an all-over healthy glow
Improve your self-esteem
Lower your blood pressure
Cure that headache (yes, really!)
Kick your insomnia into touch
Strengthen your bones
Cut your risk of prostate cancer
Feel better all day
In a long term relationship, sex isn't about feeling horny and acting on it. It's about wanting to feel close to your partner, and then making steps towards physical intimacy. Become aware of your inner talk about sex - if you have had an unhappy relationship in the past or traumatic sexual experiences, your mind may automatically reject the idea of intimacy. Listen to that voice in your head. Coach it to consider the possibility of some physical loving, and then take action to make it happen (or seek therapy if you can't resolve the resistance on your own).
It's important not to discount the non--physical turn offs. We can all imagine we're likely to be reluctant if our partner:
has bad breath
has unpleasant body odour
is dirty from some physical activity
you prefer genitals that are recently cleaned (can be particularly important for partners of non-circumcised men)
doesn't kiss us or touch us the way we like (it's very important to put some time aside to talk about this is if it's an issue)
has a physical condition that is unpleasant to us
eats foods we don't enjoy
is not looking after themselves (with a medical condition or generally in life)
There are lots of emotional turn offs that can interfere with your sex life:
doesn't validate you or minimises your contributions to the relationship
spends a lot of time away from you when quality time is a love language
gambles, drinks heavily or uses drugs
says they're more important than you
doesn't help around the house
doesn't help with parenting
puts down your faith/life choices/beliefs
and many others that may be unique to your situation. If these are occurring, I suggest getting yourself to couples therapy asap.
Getting what you want in your sex life
There's no point aiming towards having more sex if you don't enjoy it. You may have been with your partner for a long time, and not communicated what you like and don't like. One exercise that can reset your sex life uses the baseball/softball analogy (it can also used when recovering from sexual trauma). Each phase lasts for the agreed time frame - 2-4 weeks is a good minimum time period for each stage (there's no limit for the maximum time period; it depends on how patient the more impatient partner is feeling).
First base: you agree with your partner that all you are going to do is kiss and touch with your clothes on. Tell your partner how you like to be kissed - where, how, how long for, and what you don't like (for example, they may have been sucking your earlobe your entire relationship, which actually turns you off).
Second base: you agree that you will kiss and touch with only your top halves bare. Anything that is possible with this restriction is allowed.
Third base: you agree that you will be naked, and oral sex is ok, but no intercourse as yet. Talk about all the ways you like to be touched, scratched, tickled, nibbled and licked, and with which body parts of your partner.
Home run: intercourse is now ok (hopefully with lots of foreplay from what you've learned in the first three stages).
Take your time in each phase, talking gently about what you want more of, and what you want less of. This can be a precious opportunity to really educate each other about your body and how you want it treated. Have a signal that says pause, I need to breathe/think/process so that you don't end up engaging in any activities that are turn offs or traumatising.
Don't worry if you end up having intercourse before you have reached the fourth phase, as long as you both consent.
Another important conversation to have as a sexually active couple is to identify your individual signals. Some couples may have a code word, others may use an arse grab, others may deepen their usual kiss - if you don't know what your partner's signals are, you may miss many opportunities to be intimate. Sex usually needs to work around women's menstrual cycles, so communication about timing of these is important too.
Libidos vary between genders and individuals - talk about what your normal is versus your partner's. There's no right or wrong number, as such, however I am encouraging you to have sex at least monthly if possible. If you connect physically less frequently than this, you're more likely to feel like friends with occasional benefits than a couple. Couple relationships are more resilient when we feel loved, appreciated and connected, both physically and emotionally.
Suzi Wallis | Jan 2017