The year 2020 saw a rise in uncertainties. Many have experienced anxiety, job loss, a strain on finances and family relationships due to the impact of the pandemic. By default, couples need to adjust to working from homes, with blurred boundaries between work and family, lesser personal space and challenges in new routines. They may not have readily communicated effectively about their roles, given the constant changes in adjusting to tightening and lifting measures. Coupled with the labour crunch, families may find it increasingly formidable or costly to hire a helper to care for children, who are required to stay home for home-based learning or the care of elderly parents who may be weak and frail. This may inevitably lead to unresolved conflicts between the couple due to the stress and demands of constant transition and change. In 2020, a survey for mums showed that 60% of the participants rated their stress level at a 7 out of 10. In addition, 3 out of 10 of the participants felt sad most of the time.
Children and young people are not spared from the raging wave of anxiety. According to a survey conducted by Focus on the Family, kids are more anxious about exams than Covid 19 (The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2020). However, in an international study of 72 countries (including Singapore), only 6% of teens share their problems with their families (Impact of the Pandemic on Family Life Across Cultures 2020, Namad Bin Kalifa University). No wonder the CEO of the Institute of Mental Health says that “Gen Z faces different forms of stress, maybe more anxious, depressed than others before them (Today, updated on 1 Mar 2021).” President Halimah also urged Singapore to step up efforts to protect children’s mental health early (The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2020).
Given the tremendous stress that kids and adults are facing, families are stretched very thinly. Therefore, they ought to rise above their concern of seeking a mental health facility to deal with their issues early, so that family members can get the professional help they need.
It is timely for the family to consider attending family therapy to address and deal with the mental well-being issues, be it stress or anxiety collectively.
You may have some questions about family therapy, and here are some FAQs that seek to answer your questions.
Why Family Therapy?
Having to deal with unhealthy family dynamics constantly puts a toll on one’s mental wellness.Family therapy focuses on improving family communication; it deals with family conflicts, seeks and creates better functioning and environment. It provides family members with an opportunity to talk about how they think and feel, being affected by the issue they face. It enhances skills to facilitate healing. Therefore marriage and family therapy are essential.
Family therapy shifts the focus from blame, diagnostical lens, linear causality, and looks at circular causality in an issue. For example, a teen who exhibits school refusal may be staying home because of his worry and caregiving role to his mum, who is in chronic health and has a strained marital relationship with her spouse. It helps the family understand the issue confronting them in the family context and the larger contexts, i.e. the pandemic.
Family Therapy is often used to help treat an individual’s problem that has dire effects on the entire family, i.e. depression, anxiety and behavioural issues. This type of psychotherapy is also helpful in addressing family-centric problems, i.e. conflicts between spouses, siblings, parents and children.
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is psychotherapy designed to identify family patterns that may have contributed to behavioural or mental well-being concerns. The idea is to help family members break those habits as the family therapist involves the family in discussion and problem-solving.
What can I expect when my family and I attend a Family Therapy session?
During family systems therapy, the family therapist works individually and collaboratively to resolve their issue, which directly affects one or more family members. Each family member has the space to say what they think and how they feel as the issue affects them. For example, when a teen has anxiety issues, a family member gets to talk about how this issue impacts them.
How long is each session and how long is the therapy period?
1.5 hours per session over a period of 4-8 sessions, subject to review with your family therapist. Family therapy is a specialised counselling process. No one is a miracle worker. It takes time and commitment for the family to work through their issues.
Are family therapists trained?
Yes, systemic family therapists are trained with a Masters in Family and Systemic Psychotherapy, a specialised skills competency in systemic couple and family work. It draws on systems thinking and views the family as a unit. It evaluates the parts of the system (individual) in relation to the whole (family) and examines how an issue of one or more members of the family affects the whole family. It suggests that a family member’s behaviour or issue may be embedded in the family dynamics and influenced by the family of origin issues.
Family Therapists would have undergone at least 560 hours of academic instruction and supervised clinical practice, accompanied by years of experience.
When should my family and I attend Family Therapy?
It is always helpful to seek family therapy early before the issue snowballs and becomes more difficult or complicated to manage at the later stage.
Who should attend Family Therapy?
Immediate Family members in a family nucleus should attend Family Therapy, i.e. couples, parents, children (includes teens and adult children) siblings.
Does my whole family need to attend? What happens if I am unable to get all my family members to attend Family Therapy?
It will be helpful if your family can attend therapy together. However, it is okay if not all family members can turn up for therapy. The family therapist will collaborate with the members who come for therapy sessions.
How do I prepare for Family Therapy?
Discuss with your family members about attending therapy together. Think and write down what you want to discuss before each session. Then, ask your family therapist how you want to improve the communication in the family.
Is there confidentiality?
Yes, the session is confidential under the Singapore Data Protection Act 2012 (“Act”).
I made an analysis of the 10 Rules of Marriage that I found on the internet recently and received several requests for proactive and positive rules that couples can abide by.
Based on what I understand and practise as a relationship expert, I came up withWinifred’s10 “rules” that I hope will encourage you to invest in your marriage or relationship.These rules are derived from the principles used in Gottman Method Couples Therapy as well as Applied Positive Psychology that I am skilled in.
While I call them “rules”, they are not cast in stone. Pick and decide with your partner on the rules that are most relevant to your current stage of relationship. Let’s dive in and look at each of them.
Be a safe harbour to each other
What this means is that you will be the person that your partner will turn to for connection, support, comfort and love. There is intimacy and closeness when you can be your real and authentic self. You also prioritise each other when you make decisions. For this safe harbour to be strong, you make effort to safeguard the relationship by setting clear boundaries on rules of engagement with the opposite sex. You don’t take the marriage for granted. For couples who share the same faith, pray and grow your faith together.
Adopt a growth mindset
Be willing to learn and change, recognising that there are skills that each of you can learn in order to deepen your relationship and connection. Instead of seeing your partner from your own perspective andforming your own conclusions, entertain the possibility of discovering new things about each other. Continue to work on being the best version of yourself for each other. Cultivate self-awareness so that you can continue to reveal your true self to your partner.
Listen, summarise and validate
The first rule in listening to each other is that you’re not both talking at the same time! Unfortunately, I observe thecontrary a lot in my couples. After a while, both persons are talking at the same time and no one is listening. Alwaystake turns to speak. To ensure that you are truly listening, make sure that you are able to summarise and validate the point or position of your partner to his/her satisfaction. Always check to see if you’ve heard each other’s side of the story correctly. This is the foundation of good communication.
Much research has shown the importance of gratitude not only in the formation of a new relationship but also in the successful maintenance of these intimate bonds. Additionally, the experience of gratitude enables you to feel closer to your partner thereby leading to a greater satisfaction in the relationship. When you are grateful for your relationship, you’re less likely to compare yourself or your partner with someone else. Learn to focus on what is good in your partner and the relationship will become stronger and deeper. Verbalise your gratitude to your partner frequently to minimise the feeling of being underappreciated.
Do small things often
It is more important to show your care and love through tangible actions frequently rather than doing a grand gesture once or twice a year on special occasions.You strengthen the emotional connection between the two of you when you do small acts of service and love to your partner by sending a message to encourage him or her on a challenging day or to share in the joy of small wins. Identify your partner’s love language and show your love accordingly in a way that he or she can receive and appreciate.Thank each other regularly, affirm the virtues you admire in one another and be willing to apologise first to repair any regrettable incidence.
Build a healthy love bank
A “love bank” is a collection of what makes you feel connected, cared for and valued by your partner. The concept is similar to a normal bank account where there are deposits and withdrawals. When you build more positive interactions with your partner, your emotional love bank account flourishes. You feel safe and secure. Even if you have a “withdrawal” (for example, a small argument), it doesn’t feel too threatening. You know that you have sufficient amount in that will not result in a deficit. When you notice that your partner or you are getting more annoyed and easily triggered,there is a danger that you may need an overdraft. For example, things that don’t usually bother you about your partner’s behaviour, irritate you now. Pay attention to it and put in effort to increase the emotional connection. Ways to increase your love bank include understanding your partner’s inner world, showing fondness and admiration, and turning towards his or her bids for connection. Repeat #3, #4 and #5. Be mindful not to turn this into a game of reciprocity where comparisons are made on who’s done more.
Approach conflict with curiosity
The ability to regulate conflicts is critical to the success of a relationship.When you address your differences adequately, they are less likely to snowball into a massive conflict. When you find yourself in a different position from that of your partner, be curious and ask questions about his or her position so that you can deepen your understanding of your partner. What happens more often than not is an assumption is made that your partner is making your life difficult bybeing oppositional or disagreeable. This perception is detrimental as you begin to assume the worst in each other. Those who are conflict-avoidant often find it challenging to regulate their own emotions and the emotions of their partner during conflicts. It’s important for them to learn the skill to call for a break so that they can self-soothe before continuing with the emotionally-charged conversation. When you are curious and re-frame your conflict as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of each other, the differences become less daunting.
Be playful and laugh a lot
Recall the time when you first got together: there were easy conversations, plenty of laughter and fun. As you progress to different stages of the relationship, responsibilities and burdens will increase. As such, it is easy to slip into a routine and forget about having fun together. Cultivate and utilise your sense of humour as it is a good way to connect with your partner and to lift the mood when the going gets tough. Watch comedies, share jokes and funny stories so that you can laugh together. If you have kids, laugh with them too. Life is hard and it will be harder when we take everything too seriously.
Support each other’s dreams
Couples who decide to be committed and marry each other usually have dreams in mind. When you are not intentional in having such an important conversation with your partnerabout their dreams, it is easy to be consumed by day-to-day tasks and activities that you forget the big picture. Take time to find outand revisit your partner’s dreams regularly. Initiate such conversations when you’d like to take a new direction in your life. You can enhance your relationship by creating shared meaning and dreams. Common ones include building a family and home together, finding a cause that’s meaningful for you to support, creating impact through the work that you do either professionally or in the community you serve. Discussion of such dreams is important as it will affect the decisions that you make as a couple and family.
Accept influence and compromise
It is impossible to always find agreement between two individuals. Therefore being able to accept influence and compromise is key to the success of the relationship.Accepting influence is about developing your ability to find a point of agreement in your partner’s position. It is not about insisting that you’re right or finding evidence that your partner is wrongall the time. In accepting influence, it doesn’t mean that you need to change into someone you are not. You need to have a good sense of who you are at your core, and be sure to protect it so that you are not coerced into becoming someone else. If you make the decision to be the person that your partner needs you to be, accept your responsibility for that decision rather than blaming it on your partner. The challenge in accepting influence is really about relinquishing your control and preferences some of the time to prioritise the needs of your partner.
I’d really love to hear what you think of these “rules” and which might be the ones that you will focus on cultivating and practicing. Feel free to email me your thoughts and questions.
If you find this blog post helpful, you have my permission to share it with your friends and family.
Relationship Advice from Relationship Therapist & Coach, Winifred Ling
Chelsea, a stunning flight attendant and her partner, Clayton, have been experiencing the Covid lockdown blues. Being in the early stages of their relationship, they both confessed to feeling the effects of being apart from each other – while they were somewhat used to incompatible schedules, the loss of physical intimacy that was at least within reach before amplified the tattoo of each pining heart.
They shared how they were managing to stay sane and close throughout the lockdown – by making use of technological advances, utilising Zoom to keep each other apprised of the happenings in their lives.
Winifred Ling, a Gottman Certified Relationship Therapist, featured in the Mothership vlog – gave this couple some tips on how to be “out of ‘touch’ but not out of love” and how to keep their relationships healthy. Love takes effort, and she relayed to her audience some suggestions that were remarkably common-sensical, like making sure to check in with your significant other with words of encouragement.