How’s your love life, boys and girls?
Because chances are, there might be a little trouble in paradise round about now, especially if you’re in a long-term relationship.
Marriage counsellors across the UK – and yes, even here in the romantic hotspot of Northern Ireland – are expecting more calls than usual.
According to counselling service Relate, they answered 19,527 calls last September, 9% up from the monthly average.
Bangor-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist and couple’s therapist Julia Greer, says she fully expects a surge in inquiries.
“September is like January for a sense of renewal in people’s minds. When the schools go back, people see the new term as a time to reassess and start again,” she explains.
“Difficulties in relationships that air themselves in September have very often been there under the surface for some time.
“People will look to the summer as a time to fix those problems, and if September arrives and nothing has changed, then things might seem bleaker than ever.”
According to Julia, who runs her own private consultancy and has been a counsellor for more than 30 years, the summer is a time for hope.
“Couples will look forward to family time and holidays away as an opportunity to air their annoyances and get their relationship back on track,” she says.
“In other cases, people will put off getting things out in the open because they don’t want to rock the boat before a long-planned holiday or nice trips with the family.
“When September arrives, after spending more time together than ever, the problems can seem even worse than they did earlier in the year.”
So what are our WORST relationship faux pas… and how do we fix them?
“This really is the key to everything in a relationship,” says Julia.
“It is very important to have an honest, calm conversation with your partner about what you’re feeling.
“Too often problems are aired in the middle of a row, they’re not discussed properly and are swept under the carpet when couples kiss and make up.
“If possible, sit down for a calm, reasonable chat that will allow you to thoroughly explain yourself and come up with a workable resolution.”
2. Time & Intimacy
“Most couples – especially couples with busy lives – know they don’t spend enough time together,” says Julia.
“Life’s different pressures mean the time you spend together can become very functional.
“Yes, the days of hearts and flowers and candlelit dinners might seem like a lifetime ago, but you should make an effort to spend meaningful time – just the two of you – doing something you both enjoy to remind you why you became a couple in the first place.”
All of this plays into communication, says Julia.
“If you’re only talking to one another about the mundane, day to day stuff like the bills and who’s picking the kids up after school, the intimacy and loving nature of your conversations falls by the wayside and it can almost feel embarrassing to talk about your feelings.
“Remember, it was your feelings that got you together. They’re nothing to be embarrassed about.
“Relationships – and the people in them – need attention. And don’t forget about sex.”
3. Too much emphasis on extra factors
“Kids, work, the in-laws,” explains Julia. “These are hugely important elements in many relationships, but they can present difficulties.
“Again, it’s best if you can, to stick together and face external pressures as a couple.
“As always, communication is vital here, and it can be easier said than done.”
4. So what if your partner won’t talk?
“Your first move should be to approach your other half directly to discuss your problems,” says Julia.
“But this isn’t always possible. One person might be very keen to get all the grievances out in the open, but the other might be more likely to stick their head in the sand.
“It might be they’re quick-tempered and any attempt to sort things out will spark straight into an argument.”
If that’s the case, Julia advises seeking professional help.
“There are services in Northern Ireland which can help, either by offering therapy for you both together or separately.
“If you both struggle to speak openly without one storming off or losing their temper, an initial consultation can be a good, practical way to start a conversation.
“There is a sense of safety within a counselling session, that you are in an environment that will allow you to say difficult things more easily – and have those things heard.”