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    16 Pieces Of Relationship Advice Everyone Needs

    Single or coupled, relationship counselling can be a huge help.

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    The reasons why people sign up for counselling are vast and varied, but from my own experience as a counsellor, I can think of very few clients who have not wanted to discuss relationship issues at some point during the counselling process. After all, as psychologist Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" puts it, the desire for love, belonging, and sex are universal drives we need to satisfy in order to find true contentment.

    But the search for a healthy and happy relationship can be challenging, as the numbers of people wanting to talk about relationship issues in counselling shows. I started my career in journalism and while I didn't realise it at the time, the thousands of people I interviewed and stories I wrote taught me a lot about love: its positive power to overcome illness and adversity through to its potential to become destructive.

    I retrained as a BACP-accredited counsellor and have counselled clients for the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre and Mind and Lifeline in the UK. I now use my skills to coach clients through writing blocks. Counsellors generally don't give direct advice to their clients in the belief that the best answers come from within. But here I offer some of my experience of counselling clients about relationships along with general advice from a range of counsellors and psychotherapists.

    1. Falling in love is more than a feeling.


    The early part of a new relationship can feel all-consuming. When you're with your new love, you feel you're on an incredible high. When you're apart, you can experience painful "withdrawal symptoms" like longing, obsessing, and worrying whether it will last.

    In fact, during this initial stage, you literally are on a physical high. The brain's levels of the chemicals dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine increase when two people fall in love. Dopamine brings on euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine increase your heart rate, restlessness, and vulnerability to distraction.

    Blood flow also increases to the brain's pleasure centre – the same part of the brain affected by obsessive-compulsive disorders. Andrew G Marshall, relationship counsellor and author of I Love You But I'm Not in Love With You, says: "You're driven by an intense biological reaction. That's why when you walk by their street, your heart rate increases. If they want you to support Canadian ice hockey and you wouldn't usually be interested, you pick a team anyway."

    2. It's completely normal for this initial intensity to wear off.

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    The psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the word "limerance" to describe the initial head-over-heels stage in her classic book about relationships, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. She estimated that in relationships, this phase usually wears off between 18 months and three years in.

    Marshall says: "After that, you need to move into a lasting loving attachment based on who you both really are, rather than the chemical-driven fantasies and lust. If not, the likelihood is that you will split up or end up with affectionate love, meaning you like each other but you're not really committed."

    For some, the "limerance" stage can become addictive, leading to a pattern of compulsive and damaging short-lived relationships, as psychiatrist David Sack explains here. If so, relationship counselling and addiction treatment can help.

    3. And when you get to that point, it's totally OK to plan sex.

    4. Or spice things up by focusing on sensuality instead of orgasm.


    Relate's Barbara Bloomfield often speaks with clients about sex. She says people need to stop worrying so much about reaching the big O, and focus instead on sensuality.

    "It can be tempting to make reaching orgasm your main goal when it comes to sex," says Bloomfield, "but for a change try focusing on sensuality rather than penetration. Explore one another's bodies with a feather. Or try having sex outside if you have enough privacy. Notice the feeling of the wind in your hair and the texture and the grass beneath you."

    5. You should absolutely talk to a counsellor about your sex life.

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    Talking to your counsellor about these issues might feel awkward to begin with. But because sex is important to most people, counsellors are trained to talk about it and it will be very normal to them if you bring it up as an issue.

    If you feel dissatisfied with aspects of your sex life, the counselling room is a safe place to practise talking honestly about your desires before sharing them with your partner.

    Sex and shame can be closely linked for many people. You may feel confused about an aspect of your sexuality. Sex and intimacy may be difficult for you due to past sexual abuse. Or you might be wondering if you have a sex addiction. If talking face-to-face is too difficult to begin with, start with one of the anonymous helpline links above.

    6. Bear in mind that the kind of love you need might not be the same kind of love your partner needs.

    7. There's probably no such thing as "The One".

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    If you're single, get up off the floor. Don't panic! This is actually good news.

    This doesn't mean that you will never find one great person you can have your dream relationship with. It simply means that having a set idea about "The One" might actually be stopping you from meeting them in the first place because your selection criteria are too narrow.

    Counsellor Arabella Russell says: "People put too much focus on the idea of 'The One' when there are probably a lot of interesting people who you could have a great relationship with.

    "Instead of focusing on whether somebody ticks all the boxes," she says, "try thinking about whether you can be yourself around them, and if you both share the same values."

    8. And know that relationship counselling can be helpful if even you're single.

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    Many people are completely happy with being single and the freedom this offers. But if you're single and would like to be in a relationship, it can be tough. Friends and family members might be well-meaning when they ask whether you're dating, but it can feel like an added pressure.

    Relate offers counselling for single people, or you could find a private relationship counsellor to give you a chance to talk about your feelings about being single with someone who is non-judgmental and supportive.

    9. If you are paired off, it's essential to consider your partner your equal.


    According to transactional analysis, a branch of psychotherapy created by Canadian psychiatrist Dr Eric Berne, we often play out the roles of parent, adult, and child in our relationships.

    For example, one partner might take on most of the responsibilities in the relationship, paying bills and organising social activities. Over time this can cause arguments if they start to feel resentful that they always have to play this role or if the other partner starts to feel controlled. It can also bring up memories of being "told off" by their real parents in the past.

    Counsellor Angela Keane, whose clients have ranged from students to pensioners, says: "How old you are is irrelevant; we can all swap between these roles in our interactions with our partners at different times. Basically in order to have a healthier relationship, the aim is to start relating adult to adult as equals, based on how things really are in that moment."

    10. Your phone might be the "third person" in your relationship.

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    Technology can be good for your relationship. One study found that 84% of people who use technology to keep in touch with a partner daily said this had a positive effect on their relationship.

    But counsellor Barbara Bloomfield says: "Technology can also make us feel less connected if our partner is more focused their phone than us. Take some time each week to turn off your mobiles, tablets, and laptops, and concentrate on one another."

    The way you bring this up with your partner is important. If they feel like you're criticising or complaining, it's probably less likely they will give it a try. Explain how important it is to you that you spend quality time together one-to-one (keep reading for more about using "I" instead of "you" to get your point across).

    11. The bad times can actually be good for your relationship.


    Every relationship goes through tough periods, particularly during difficult life events when disagreements can be heightened. But psychotherapist Kate Simpson says: "It's often through tough times that we learn something new about ourselves or the other person. If you're in a relationship that coasts along uneventfully, how do you ever find out that you can get through difficult times or differences of opinion as a couple? Strength and resilience come from working through the tough patches together."

    However, if the bad times outweigh the good and you're thinking of ending the relationship, counselling can help. I have sometimes asked my clients what they would say to a friend in the same situation as this can lessen self-judgment.

    12. Listening is more important than talking.

    13. Be honest, even if it might cause an argument.


    Sometimes it feels easier to stay quiet than talk openly and honestly about how you feel. But being truthful in your relationship is essential to create trust and respect.

    Relationship therapist Shakti Sutriasa says: "Think about it. Do you have respect for people who always tell you what you want to hear? It may feel nice at first but isn't it so much more refreshing when someone is honest? When they question your judgment or actions?"

    But this isn't an excuse to say whatever you like in a confrontational way. "We all need people in our lives who can be both the voice of encouragement or concern – who take on either role," says Sutriasa. "It gives us clarity and truthful feedback. This only comes with honesty, trust, and rapport."

    14. And know there is a good and a bad way to argue.

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    A six-year study of newly married couples by psychology professor Dr John Gottman found that the way they argued actually predicted whether they would stay together. Those who started with negative statements like "You're lazy and never do anything around the house" without also including any positive statements in the first three minutes were significantly more likely to split up.

    The study also found that those who stuck to the specific situation that has just happened instead of making general statements like "you're lazy" and using words like "always" were more likely to stay together.

    15. Say "I" and not "you".

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    When a counselling client is arguing a lot with their partner, they tend to feel frustrated that they are not really being heard. There can be signs that their partner also feels the same way. Often both are fluctuating between firing complaints at each other and clamming up completely because there's "no point as it will just cause an argument".

    Changing the way you frame your complaint can bring down your partner's defences and help them to actually hear you.

    Simpson says: "Most of us have exploded with something like: 'Why do I have to take care of everything?' or 'You never do X, Y, Z.' The problem is that we're not telling the person how they made us feel or opening up a conversation about it, so they get defensive and shut down. Start by saying: 'When you do X I feel…' Even better, make a habit of also telling them things they do which make you feel good."

    16. And never forget that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself

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