Valentine's Day gift

When Valentine’s Day comes around we are reminded it is time to focus on that special someone. For a day it is all about demonstrating our love for our spouse or partner.

Soppy cards, flowers and chocolates are all great of course. But the fact we need a prompt is a pretty sad reflection on our efforts for the other 364 days of the year.

Valentine's Day gift

Which – for me anyway – raised a disconcerting thought: why do we often need a reminder to show love to the person we share our life with?

I just don’t have the headspace right now…


On Valentine’s we are encouraged to show our love with gestures and efforts – a special home cooked meal, a small gift or a ‘date night’ perhaps.

Inherent to all of those things is the necessity of time. Space to think about what to do and time to make it happen.

Modern life however has a habit of crowding out those opportunities.

Work, families, kids, bills and the like get in the way. Even having the head space to think “what would he/she enjoy on Valentine’s Day?” can be rare. Hence the need for a reminder on 14 February to find some sliver of time to come up with what is often a rushed and poorly chosen gesture.

Or worse still, nothing at all.

No more passion ‘til next Valentine’s Day


Undoubtedly the daily grind drains the spontaneity that makes a gesture romantic. Amongst emails, insurance renewals and getting the kids to bed the natural desire to express our love for one another gets buried.

Valentine's Day hectic life

But the hectic pace of life is not the only hindrance to expressing our devotion more than once a year.

To love at all is to be vulnerable


Showing our love for someone, expressing how important and vital they are to our own life makes us vulnerable. Committing to another human in this way leaves us exposed to the risk of being hurt. A risk we might naturally try to avoid.

CS Lewis summed it up best in his book The Four Loves when he wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

Not exactly the objective any of us would set for ourselves, is it? Not to mention the fact you will be hard pushed to find a Valentine’s Day card featuring that particular quote.

A greater truth about love


If you are familiar with this quote you will already know that Lewis was writing about a far greater truth concerning relationships and love:

“If you want to make sure of keeping it (your heart) intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

A risk worth taking


To demonstrate our love for another is a risk worth taking. It is good for us – though we might initially fear it – compared to the cold, harsh alternative.

To quote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone gives you courage.”

Valentine's Day

Enjoy Valentine’s Day and lavish as much love and affection upon your partner as you can. But more importantly, when you wake up on 15 February try to remember that it is just as crucial to do the same today as it was yesterday.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

At The Spark we have been supporting couples navigate the ups and downs of life for over 50 years. We can do the same for you.

Find out more about couple counselling or marriage counselling.

Locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre or contact us to discuss your needs.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

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Valentine's Day

It might be the time of year to celebrate love but that does not mean Valentine’s Day is filled with excitement for everyone. Some will be approaching February 14 with one particular thought: do I break up with her/him before or after Valentine’s Day?

Valentine's Day

I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy on Valentine’s Day…


Society has evolved a sort of unwritten list of “no-no’s” over time. Things like not liking puppies or ignoring queuing etiquette are examples that will raise more than just a Roger Moore-esque eyebrow.

Splitting up with someone at any time around Valentine’s Day is on that same list.

Valentine's Day
You’re breaking up with me… on Valentine’s Day?

From time to time we have all laughed about the guy or girl we know who broke up with their partner before Valentine’s just to save having to buy a gift. Or discussed how we could never be ‘that guy’ (or girl) who dumped someone before Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day and relationships


Joking aside, Valentine’s Day can create genuine anxieties and raise questions about relationships. The kinds of concerns that are more legitimate than simply trying to avoid paying for a nice meal.

It is not uncommon, for example, that Valentine’s Day can bring with it fears about commitment.

Thanks to shrewd marketing by jewellers and the advertising industry, Valentine’s Day tends to be an occasion when relationships achieve new levels of commitment. Marriage proposals are part and parcel of the day, and requests to move in are becoming ever more common.

Peer pressure and the weight of expectation can be problematic. If you are not ready for such a step and think your partner absolutely is, you might feel like calling time on your relationship is the only option.

Valentine’s Day marks the end of ‘cuffing season’


The aftereffects of the Christmas ‘cuffing season’ can also come in to play around this time of year.

The prospect of spending winter nights and the Christmas holiday (party) season alone drives some singletons to ‘cuff’ themselves to a partner.  There is no guarantee however that both parties understand that this might only be a short term thing.

valentine's day holding hands

February can be when the ‘need’ for coupling ends for one half of the relationship as spring approaches and the prospect of a care-free summer rises on the horizon.

Do we still love each other?


At a deeper level Valentine’s Day can bring with it a worrying realisation for some couples.

While ‘other couples’ are excited about picking cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day, you are not. This can trigger plenty of difficult questions: what does that mean for our relationship? Do I still love her/him as much? Does she/he still love me?

What is common to all these scenarios is that to navigate them we need to talk. Not to girlfriends or the lads down the pub, but to our partners.

Talk about it


Too often in relationships we avoid discussing important issues with each other. Instead we allow our own assumptions – he/she is going to propose – to direct our actions.

Frequently these can be inaccurate or incomplete and based on interpretations of what our partner has done or said. Without open and honest dialogue, we can end up causing ourselves and our partners much emotional pain.

Don’t assume, ask!


Your partner may be thinking about a proposal around Valentine’s Day. But if you speak to them about where your relationship is you may find they love you enough to wait until you are both ready.

Or they may be under the impression this is what you want from them and they are not quite ready for the commitment either!

valentine's day talk about it

All relationships move at different speeds. Better communication can help you both understand that you are ultimately heading in the same direction but at slightly different speeds.

There is no right or wrong time to break up with your partner. There are however good and bad reasons to separate.

Make sure this Valentine’s that any decision you take only comes after spending time talking about it.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work. If you are feeling unsure about a relationship, we can help.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work.

Follow The Spark on social media

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perfect Christmas present

Well we’ve come to the end of our countdown to a stress free Christmas as we reach tip 21 and perhaps the most important one: forget about the perfect Christmas and enjoy the day. 


Enjoy Christmas Day and forget about perfect!

When it comes to Christmas Day this year enjoy the special moments and give yourself permission to ditch the pursuit (if you haven’t already) of a ‘perfect’ Christmas.

The tree might be tilting to one side more than the leaning Tower of Pisa and the turkey might be overdone; but that’s not what is important today.

What is important is to savour the smiles, the laughter and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Relish the imperfections of the day and remember that it really is the thought that counts when it comes to presents that might fall short of our expectations.

Laugh at how bad the Christmas cracker jokes are. Ignore the sea of wrapping paper now covering the living room floor. End up in hysterics as Gran tries to guess ‘twerking’ during Charades.

Merry Christmas!


Support this Christmas

Stress, anxiety, depression and relationship issues are very common at Christmas and during the festive season. The Spark offers counselling and support for individuals, couples, young people and families across Scotland.

To find out more or enquire about a counselling appointment, freephone 0808 802 0050.

The Spark Counselling – Christmas opening times

The Spark Counselling (enquiries team, appointments and office) will observe the following opening times during the 2017 Christmas and New Year holidays.

20 December 2017: 9am – 9pm

21 December 2017: 9am – 10am

22 December 2017 to 2 January 2018: closed

Services return to normal hours on 3 January 2018.

For immediate support over the Christmas and New Year break contact Breathing Space or Samaritans.

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Tip 20 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is an important one for couples and families: have some ‘just us time’.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Spending time with family is probably what most people look forward to at Christmas.

Modern life is so hectic that Christmas can end up being one of the few occasions when the whole extended family can get together.

just us time at Christmas

However, that does not mean we need to spend all of our time with them.

Christmas should be a time to recharge and unwind. An opportunity to consider the year that is coming to an end and our hopes and dreams for the one to come.

For couples, particularly those with children, it is important to carve out some time for just the two of you at Christmas. We like to call it ‘just us time’.

Spending time together just as a couple – not as parents – is a great way to keep your relationship strong and to celebrate the love that exists between you (and existed long before you became mum or dad).

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Equally important is for individual families – parents and kids – to spend time together during the holidays.

Check out tip 18 and spend the day enjoying some low-cost activities as a family without in-laws or siblings and their families.

It is great to get the whole family together at Christmas. But there is nothing wrong with setting some time aside to devote exclusively to the people who mean the most to you and enjoy some ‘us time’.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

get some rest

Tip 19 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is really simple: get some rest!

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Get some rest

Christmas offers up a perfect storm of late nights and early starts. Which means getting a good night’s sleep can be almost impossible.

In the build-up to Christmas we tend to run around like headless chickens in an attempt to get everything done in time.

We are up early to avoid the queues at the shops or trying to calm down over-excited children. We then spend late nights getting decorations down from the loft and writing Christmas cards.

Get some rest at Christmas

The Christmas holidays then become a series of late nights and early starts, especially if you have kids with boundless reserves of energy. Sleep often gets forgotten about, leaving us exhausted and in need of another holiday to get over Christmas.

Missing out on even a few hours’ sleep can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

Making sure that we get enough shut eye is important at any time of the year but particularly so when we are busy with trips to see family or hosting friends over the holidays.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

stress free Christmas

Trying to achieve a stress free Christmas can feel like an impossible task.

Everything will be busy, last minute and crammed into time we simply do not have.

At The Spark, however, we disagree and believe that a stress free Christmas is possible!

21 tips for a stress free Christmas


To help you de stress this year we have put together 21 tips for an enjoyable Christmas from start to finish.

stress free Christmas

Starting on 27 November The Spark will be posting a tip a day to help you enjoy the festive season instead of feeling like it is something to survive.

From advice on handling relationships and budgeting, to low-cost way to entertain the family The Spark wants to help you relax this Christmas.

Follow our 21 tips here or on Twitter and Facebook.

Stress free Christmas tips


Christmas tip 1: Get a plan

Christmas tip 2: Do a bit at a time

Christmas tip 3: Stick to a Christmas budget

Christmas tip 4: The Christmas ‘to do’ list

Christmas tip 5: Give gifts because you want to

Christmas tip 6: Switch off Christmas TV ads

Christmas tip 7: Ditch the pursuit of a ‘perfect’ Christmas

Christmas tip 8: Enjoy the build up to Christmas Day

Christmas tip 9: Dear Santa… share you own Christmas list

Christmas tip 10: Enjoy the simple things

Christmas tip 11: Get some exercise with a winter walk

Christmas tip 12: Dark nights don’t need to mean no fun

Christmas tip 13: Help others this Christmas

Christmas tip 14: Spend time with people

Christmas tip 15: Get some Christmas helpers (aka you don’t have to do it all yourself)

Christmas tip 16: Talk about ghosts of Christmas past

Christmas tip 17: Say please and thank you this Christmas

Christmas tip 18: Christmas family fun doesn’t have to cost a lot

Christmas tip 19: Get some rest!

Christmas budget credit cards

Christmas is an expensive time of year for all of us as we buy presents, decorate our homes and enjoy nights out. Costs can soon add up and Christmas debt is a significant problem with 1 in 4 adults in the UK feeling pressured into overspending at Christmas.

Loans, credit cards and Christmas debt


Christmas debt credit cards

Many of us can be left feeling we have no choice but to spread the costs of Christmas across loans or credit cards. If we are not careful about where we source credit from, we can end up left with a financial hangover in the New Year.

High interest costs and long repayments – a common feature of many high cost lenders – can leave us with serious financial worries many months after Christmas.

Our friends at Scotcash – a not-for-profit community finance lender – have put together some hints and tips on how to keep on top of your finances this year and avoid Christmas debt.

Take control of your budget


To take control of your Christmas spending the first thing to do is to plan your budget and then stick to it.

The Christmas Calculator tool from Independent Age Scotland lets you see exactly how much money you will need for your Christmas expenses.

Christmas debt food and drink shopping

The calculator breaks down all the usual Christmas spending – for gifts, food and drink, going out – to give you a clear idea of what you can afford.

With a set budget in mind you will be a big step closer to avoiding Christmas debt this year.

Avoid high interest rate borrowing


Wherever possible try to avoid borrowing to finance Christmas so you can start the New Year with as little Christmas debt as possible.

Should you need to spread the cost of Christmas, do a bit of research on the options available to you first. Avoid high cost options such as door step loans and pay day lenders.

Christmas debt

Both will include high interest rates that will leave you paying much more back than you originally borrowed.

By contrast community finance lenders such as Scotcash can provide borrowing at a much lower rate of interest.

What if I’ve run up Christmas debt already?


If you do find yourself in debt, please be assured that there is advice and help available to you.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with information on benefits, grants and money management advice. Organisations such as Step Change Debt Charity can provide over the phone advice and support if you are struggling with debt.

Affordable alternatives to Christmas debt


Community lenders like Scotcash can provide advice and access to affordable loans and other financial products and services. These organisations want to make sure you do not feel trapped in a spiral of high cost credit.

Christmas debt

By providing affordable alternatives and helping individuals and families manage their money better, they are a great way to get your finances back on track.

Find out more about Scotcash and their services.

Counselling and support


Financial worries can be a source of stress and anxiety. Unsecured debts like credit cards and pay-day loans are a common cause of relationship problems and relationship breakdown.

Counselling support for individuals, couples and families struggling with debt cannot provide practical ways to manage and improve your financial situation. It can however help you explore why debt has become an issue, the motivations behind it and ways to tackle those issues.

Find out more about counselling or locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre.

To enquire about counselling freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

change in relationships

There is nothing permanent except change’. Heraclitus

This particular Greek philosopher had life pegged some 2,500 years ago: change is inevitable.

The world around us changes, as do we as life progresses. Aside from the physical aspects of ageing, over time we evolve in our attitudes, beliefs and priorities.

Change can lead to new opportunities, experiences and personal self-improvement. When it is considered in the context of relationships however it can be perceived as a threat.

change in relationships

‘But I don’t want them to change’

In the midst of a happy, contented relationship the prospect of a partner changing – for example, their outlook on life – is capable of instilling fear.

Thoughts race through our minds at the prospect: ‘I love him/her as they are now’, ‘I don’t want our relationship to change’ or ‘I want them to stay the same’.

The idea that they might be losing interest in shared activities or their attitude to work (why they do it and who for) can feel like the beginning of the end. Or result in us forcing our loved one to stay as they are, leading almost inevitably to resentment and anger.

Change is scary

Naturally we are averse to change and have been since our earliest years.

As children we are reluctant to sleep in our own beds, relinquish the comfort blanket and sleep with the light off.

Those strong emotions never really leave us completely once we reach adulthood, like loss, sadness or anxiety.

From our experience counselling couples for over 50 years, almost all long-term relationships experience multiple periods of change.

During that time we have also determined that it does not need to be a frightening or divisive process.

Change creates powerful emotions

The first step in dealing with change in a relationship is to accept that change naturally creates powerful emotions.

It takes time to come to terms with them and to rationalise the impact they are having on you and your partner. Being patient with yourself and each other is important as such emotions rarely normalise in a short period of time.

Recognise the sacrifices that need to be made

Relationships are built on compromise and recognising sacrifices that are willingly made. Therefore during periods of change, recognition becomes even more important.

change

It is all too easy to forget the sacrifice made by a partner in our quest for personal change.

Conversely it is common for the individual making sacrifices to keep their feelings hidden, instead of communicating their concerns and emotions. In either case resentment and bitterness can soon follow.

Embrace it as a couple

Perspective is important in coping with change as a couple, as is the understanding that your relationship is an entity in its own right.

We need to view any period of change as an evolution in our relationship and not something happening to one individual.

change

Couples that embrace this concept of relationship thrive compared to those that do not. Instead of allowing the fear of change to overwhelm, they explore what it could mean for them.

This comes from an acceptance that both perspectives are valid and require appropriate consideration. Similarly it requires both individuals to embrace aspects of the other’s interests.

There is nothing permanent. Accept change

We all change over time. Our perspectives on life, our priorities and how we want to live out our time on this planet will evolve.

It need not be a reason to fear the end of a relationship.

Instead it is an opportunity to deepen existing relationships and form even stronger bonds with each other.


Counselling and support for couples

Navigating periods of change in a relationship can be a challenging process. The support and guidance of a professional couples or marriage counsellor can offer a stability and impartiality that smooths the process.

At The Spark we have been supporting couples navigate the ups and downs of life for over 50 years. We can do the same for you.

Find out more about couple counselling or marriage counselling.

Locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre or contact us to discuss your needs.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

male infertility

Men are in general pretty bad at talking about their feelings. They are taught from their earliest years – both explicitly and implicitly – to hold emotions in.

Never cry, get on with it and barely whisper about what is upsetting you. When it comes to male infertility, the whisper typically fades to complete silence.

male infertility

For many men with diagnoses ranging from low sperm counts to poor sperm mobility, infertility can become a hidden source of mental health problems.

Male infertility and the impact on mental health


Fertility problems can leave men with intense feelings of anger, shame, resentment and confusion. But their default setting is to stay silent about how infertility makes them feel.

This unwillingness to talk about problems is not however only down to childhood conditioning. Men struggle to open up about the gut wrenching emotions of infertility for many reasons.

unhappy men

A system set up for female infertility


From a practical perspective it is difficult for men because society is geared towards dealing with female infertility.  Consequently the support structures for men are very limited.

It is not uncommon to hear of a man being given a blunt diagnosis, handed a pamphlet about sperm donation and sent back in to the world to ‘get on with it’.

Apart from being a completely unsympathetic way to deal with earth-shaking news, it is probably the worst way to deal with a group so disinclined to deal with their emotions in the first place.

Don’t question his virility


Another significant barrier is the importance and symbolism of male virility.

The ability to procreate can be considered the essence of what it means to be male. Like childbirth for women it is something that remains no matter how gender roles and societal norms shift over time.

To have that questioned or even rendered void is a fundamental challenge to his sense of self. Only sufferers can truly understand the impact.

Here’s some more bad news…


The problem of male infertility is not going away and in fact, it is getting worse.

Couples in western society are delaying procreation until well in to their 30s and early 40s, bringing with it a host of age-related challenges.

male infertility

Worse still, recent studies have shown that male fertility rates have dropped by over 50% since the 1970s.

With little support and advice out there it can feel almost impossible for wives and partners to know how to help. Thankfully there are some straightforward steps you can take to support your loved one.

Encourage him to talk about infertility. And then keep encouraging him.


And then encourage him some more.

There are hundreds of chat boards, forums and support groups aimed at women. On them they are sharing experiences, encouraging and helping each other deal with fertility challenges.

By contrast there is very little for men. Therefore wives, partners, friends and family need to research, prompt, cajole and support men as they begin to access help to share their own emotions.

Search online for male infertility support groups and online forums. Speak to your fertility clinic or consultant about support groups for men in your area and search for them online as well.

Speak to a counsellor


Opening up about infertility to a partner, friends or family can be daunting for many men. In the first instance, talking to a partner can bring up intense feelings of failure for not ‘coming up with the goods’ or ‘not being a man’.

With mates it can be impossible to even admit there is a problem in testosterone-fueled environments like the pub or Saturday morning five-a-side football. Family can simply feel too close and brings with it similar anxieties about expectations and opinions.

An objective, independent counsellor – particularly with experience in the area of male infertility – can provide the gentle guidance needed to help men come to terms with their diagnoses.

Counselling provides ‘head space’ and an environment free from the heavy burden of expectations and opinion.

Do not place blame


The medical profession treats infertility as two separate issues: female fertility and male fertility.

As a result either the man or women comes under the magnifying glass as ‘the problem’. Cue the apportioning of blame.

Many couples that have successfully navigated infertility often talk about ‘our problem’. Irrespective of whether a physical issue resides with the male or female, getting pregnant is ultimately a team effort.

It is vital that partners are as supportive as possible and do not place ‘blame’. No matter whether it is – in medical terms at least – a male or female problem.

Avoid pressure


A poor fertility report can often create a frenzied sense of urgency to do anything to improve chances of conception. But be mindful of the magnitude of the diagnosis. Time and space is needed for anyone – male or female – to process such devastating news.

Pressure to start trying herbal remedies, consuming supplements and changing habits could negatively impact your chances of conceiving.

Stress is a significant contributor to male fertility problems across the board. So you could end up undoing all the benefits of having a supplement consuming, veg-eating, non-pants-wearing partner.


Are you dealing with male infertility issues?

 

Our counsellors have extensive experience helping couples and individuals deal with infertility and the strain it places on relationships.

From our local centres around Scotland we provide support to couples and families coming to terms with infertility or fertility issues.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

You can also search for your nearest counselling centre.

emotional first aid guy winch

When we experience aches, pains or a chesty cough where do we head? Straight to our local doctor of course. When it comes to emotional pain – guilt, loss, loneliness – what do we do? Most of the time we try to sort it ourselves.

We (try to) keep calm and carry on. Instead of seeking the help of a professional – as we do for physical health problems – we soldier on. Often with wildly varying degrees of success or failure.

The concept of emotional first aid


It is this preference for dealing with mental health challenges on our own that has inspired the concept of emotional first aid. In this thought-provoking talk, psychologist Guy Winch encourages us to stop trying to cope on our own and practice emotional first aid instead.

Based on an attitude that views physical, emotional and mental pain in exactly the same way, Winch suggests we treat all these ailments with professional help.



The Spark Counselling

Are you dealing with emotional or relationship issues at the moment? The Spark’s counselling and relationship support services offer the opportunity  to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing right now.

We provide counselling services to individuals, couples, children and young people, and families. To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.