life hacks for better mental health - eat well

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Most of the time we try to keep our bodies healthy because we know it makes us feel better about ourselves and helps lower the risk of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Whilst we are busy pursuing the body beautiful our mental health can be something of an afterthought (or no thought at all).

In part 1 of a 3 part series we are offering up some practical life hacks you can use to boost your mental health. First up we are looking at how slowing things down, opening up about your feelings and eating well can help.

Life hacks number 1 – Slow things down

Modern life is fast. Simply keeping up can feel like an exhausting and endless task. We are encouraged to multi-task, work on the move and squeeze something out of every minute of every day.

life hacks for mental healthWith lots to do and lots to remember it is no surprise that our minds can feel like they are overloaded and overwhelmed. Many of us talk about ‘spinning plates’ and having ‘no head space’ to deal with anything new.

Our minds, just like our bodies, need to slow down from time to time. No one can sprint at their fastest indefinitely and neither can our minds. Ideally we need to set aside time to stop and rest our minds. By reading, meditating, going for a walk/exercising or just listening to music.

If you feel like you do not have time to stop and rest, try to slow things down. Focus on one task at a time and do it slowly and deliberately, taking your time. Commit to considering other thoughts only once you have finished the task in hand.  You will end up more productive and your mind will thank you for the chance to run at a slower pace.

Life hacks number 2 – Talk to someone about your feelings

It seems an obvious piece of advice but in practice it is a tricky thing to do. We are surrounded by images and messages about sucking it up, getting on with it and people pretending to play the world’s tinniest violin. Saying to someone that you are not feeling great mentally is a big challenge.

life hacks for good mental healthThe idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is based in truth and fact. Sharing with someone opens up the chance to learn from their experiences and receive an empathetic response. Often it can lead to offers of help and support in the issue you are struggling with. Research has shown that the simple act of talking to someone about a problem reduces stress levels in the body.

Here at The Spark we can help by providing opportunities to talk about your feelings and the issues that are troubling you. Sometimes it is not possible or wise to discuss them with a friend or loved one. A counsellor is an impartial and skilled professional that is able to support individuals, couples and families through difficult times.

Find out more about counselling for individuals, couples and families. Make a counselling enquiry online or telephone 0808 802 0050.

Life hacks number 3 – Eat healthily

You are what you eat as the saying goes and this is definitely the case for mental health. Eating well is often overlooked as a way to help improve mental health. Research has shown that nutrition is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health.

Life hacks for good mental healthIt is easy when we are stressed, busy, tired or just struggling a bit to fill up on snacks and sugary ‘treats’. Compared with eating a healthy, balanced diet this leads to temporary sugar ‘shocks’ to our bodies. Thus follows a short term boost before a sudden drop in blood sugar levels leaving us feeling all the same feelings again.

Whilst eating well is not a single solution for mental health issues it can be a practical way to enhance our mood. Particularly when used in conjunction with other things like counselling and regular exercise. So ditch the chocolate and fizzy drinks in favour of fruit, vegetables and proper meals. Read more about healthy eating and nutrition.

In part 2 of our Life hacks for better mental health we will be looking at how being active, putting the cork back in the booze and looking out for others can boost our mental health.

You've Got a Friend

Songs for Sound Minds #15 – ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King

Friendships lie at the heart of our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series, Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.

On the Mental Health Foundation’s website one of their tools to help us all achieve good emotional and mental wellbeing is ‘10 practical ways to look after your mental health’. Many of them seem like good, common sense.

You’ve got a friend

For example we all instinctively know that we should talk about feelings that are troubling us. The same too can be said for seeking help from a friend, counsellor or doctor (whether we do talk about our problems or seek help is of course a different matter!). In short, suggestions 1 to 9 all seem logical. The tenth and final recommendation may come as more of a surprise: care for others.

This seems to be counter-intuitive.  If we are not feeling great surely someone should be caring for us, not the other way round? The safety guide on an aircraft prompts us to fit our own oxygen mask before helping others, not the reverse. So what are our friends at the Mental Health Foundation getting at? Well if we dig a little deeper we find the proposal that ‘supporting them uplifts me’.

Supporting them uplifts me

You've Got a Friend
Carole King

Caring for others can have a profoundly positive effect on our own mental health. Some psychologists believe that recognising the suffering in a friend helps us relate more strongly to them. Thus counteracting the feelings of isolation experienced during period of poor mental health. It also talks to our common humanity and the need to support each other.

Research published last month highlighted the importance of friendships in helping us get through tough times and big life changes. Being a friend who gives as well as receives can actually make you both feel better.

Which is a lovely segue in to this week’s pick for our Songs For Sound Minds series: Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.

From Fire and Rain to You’ve Got a Friend

King allegedly wrote You’ve Got Friend in response to a lyric in a song by her friend, James Taylor. In Taylor’s Fire and Rain the song goes: I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. Written as a positive reply You’ve Got a Friend is also a perfect summary of the friendship between King and Taylor which stretches back to the early 1970’s. In fact it was Taylor’s encouragement that prompted King to start recording her own songs.

Carole King’s music career reads like one long list of hit after hit. One of the most successful female songwriters ever she has written, according to the Billboard Hot 100, a staggering 118 hit songs.  She became the ‘voice of bedsitter generation’ in the 1970s as well as the archetype for female singer songwriters.

Don’t worry, you’ve got a friend

You’ve Got a Friend is a powerfully emotional song. It encourages us not to worry, even when times are really tough, because our friend will be there to support us.  Or to take another viewpoint, we are saying to others that when they are struggling we will be there to support them.  And we can be confident that in taking this approach we are not only helping a friend in need. We are helping ourselves too.

‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love you

Songs for Sound Minds #14 – ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ by Stevie Wonder

A little known story about a classroom and a mouse is the origin for our latest featured track in the Songs For Sound Minds series. Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’.

The story goes something like this. A teacher in Detroit was looking for help to find the class mouse that had escaped from its cage.  She enlisted the help of one of her pupils, Steven Morris. Morris had remarkable hearing. The teacher knew it would enable him to hear the mouse and catch it before any of the other children could. Young Steven credited this as a turning point in his life; when he received the appreciation and encouragement of his teacher for an innate talent rather than criticism for something that he lacked.  You may of course know him better as Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love youWe want to be thriving, not just surviving

During Mental Health Week we are highlighting attitudes and behaviours that will help us thrive in spite of the pressures of modern life.  As part of the theme for this year – surviving or thriving – we think Stevie Wonder is the ultimate Songs For Sound Minds writer.

Blind at birth Wonder has never let his disability affect his positive attitude to life.  Instead he has relied on his incredible hearing and musicianship to become one of the most successful performers and musicians of the 20th century.  Wonder has had 30 top ten hits in the USA, received 25 Grammy awards and has sold over 100 million records worldwide.  His success is not only based on his popularity.  Much of his considerable body of work has been critically acclaimed too.  Four of his 1970s albums are in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Records of All Time.

The life affirming songs of Stevie Wonder

When you listen to Wonder’s tracks it is hard not to be struck by their life-affirming qualities and infectiously upbeat attitude.  We have mentioned ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ in one of our previous Songs For Sound Minds posts, a song that recounts the unalloyed joy at the birth of his daughter.  ‘Happy Birthday’ was written as a celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr who did so much to champion the rights of black people. His sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself was highlighted recently in James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke where he attempted to drive the car despite his visual impairment.

‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ is one of Wonder’s most well known tracks and undoubtedly cultivates a sound mind. This is an example of good mental health and positive relationships in action. A huge hit in the 1980s it featured in the 1984 film, ‘Lady in Red’ (which Wonder wrote the soundtrack for) as well as the Carpool Karaoke feature with James Corden.  As the song’s lyrics state, the reason for the phone call is not to celebrate any particular occasion.  It is not Christmas or New Year. It is not even Halloween.  The reason he is calling on this ‘ordinary day’ is simply to tell the person this: ‘I love you, I care for you and I mean it.’

The message that comes across is that we all need to value our relationships. Unlike the often superficial tone and meaning of ‘I love you’ in many top 10 hits, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ emphasises that happiness can be gained (and given) as part of a loving relationship.

‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ by Stevie Wonder

Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

have it all

As part of Mental Health Awareness week we are considering this year’s theme: surviving or thriving? 21st century society leads us to believe that we can ‘have it all’. Where all is defined loosely as everything an individual might desire at some point in their life. The reality – and whether we end up surving or thriving in life – is somewhat different.

How to have it all in the 21st century

Rather unfairly society encourages us to believe – via social media, magazines, TV and more – we can ‘have it all’. Generally it goes something like this…

A successful career coupled with happy, adorable and well behaved children. A beach-body combined with age-defying looks. Enough spare time to do our bit for charity whilst crafting our own greetings cards sold in boutique shops. Living in a home straight out of an interior design magazine bought and furnished with the kind of financial frugality that would make Martin Lewis proud. Weekends are spent with a wide and loyal base of friends and family whose only concern is which fabulous party to attend with us. All the while supported by our devoted partner who confidently asserts that our relationship ‘could not be better’.

Stressed, depressed and in debt

have it allReality is of course far removed from the picture that is often painted. Worryingly the desire and drive to ‘have it all’ is taking its toll on our mental health. As a nation we are stressed out, depressed and worried about rising debt and falling incomes. Four in ten of our marriages will end in divorce whilst our kids are becoming increasingly anxious and fearful. Meanwhile the car in the driveway is too expensive for us to afford and the monthly repayments keep us awake at night along with a multitude of other concerns.

When it comes to the concept of ‘you can have it all’ it seems clear that many of us are surviving, not thriving.

Can we have it all and good mental health?

Is it possible to have it all and maintain good mental health? Yes but that is the wrong perspective. Like landing on the moon, it is possible but it is also incredibly difficult. Much like becoming an Olympian, it is possible but it also takes sacrifice and being very particular about what ‘all’ is.

Aspiring Olympians know that in pursuit of excellence, other things they might wish to do or achieve need to be put on hold or dropped. Ambitions in other areas of their lives such as starting a family are put firmly on the back burner. They demonstrate sacrifice and control in relatively mundane things too. Like eating only the healthiest food instead of stuffing themselves with pizza and chocolate.

Have it all but narrowly define it

have it all - narrowly define what your 'all' isElite athletes also provide a stark illustration of the need to narrowly define what your ‘all’ is. Time with family and friends is reduced in favour of punishing training regimes. Why? Because in their minds they have a crystal clear vision of what they want: a chance to qualify for and compete at the Olympic Games. Adding more things to the ‘all’ reduces its chances, dilutes focus and creates inevitable incompatibilities.

The pressure to subscribe to and ‘live’ the ‘have it all’ life takes its toll on our relationships and mental health. At The Spark we regularly help couples and individuals who, for example, find that spending long hours at work and less time with their partner damages that relationship. In a similar vein the stress of debt from over-ambitious spending can cause marital breakdown and/or stress, anxiety and depression.

We live in a world where we believe the ‘have it all’ Instagram personas of celebrities. But we gloss over the fact their relationships, marriages, health and more regularly end up damaged in the process of trying to have it all.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This Mental Health Awareness Week we encourage you to think about whether you are on the having it all rollercoaster. Are the things you want to have, be or achieve in life compatible and realistic? Is the pursuit of having it all causing problems in your relationships with your partner, family, kids or friends?

If you need someone to talk to about how you are feeling or issues in your relationships past or present, The Spark can provide confidential counselling and support services.

To find out more complete an online enquiry or freephone us on 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find out more about our services for couples, individuals, parents and families.

relationship issues

Holidays are important. Especially since we only get a few each year. They can be fabulous times packed with great memories we will cherish forever. Whether we get to enjoy some family fun over Easter or a summer vacation, holidays are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) motivation for working 9 to 5.

But at the end of them, The Spark often sees an increase in demand for counselling and support services. Why? In modern society holidays highlight relationship issues. It’s that simple.

Relationships, holidays and unrealistic expectations

exhausted by relationship issuesTo start with we often have unrealistic expectations. We pack everything we want to accomplish in to our time off whether it is a realistic ‘to do’ list or not. Important things are put on hold until time off in the hope of finding time or even just headspace to deal with them. We do DIY, daytrips, visit family, try to broaden our minds, get some sun and keep the kids occupied. Basically we compete to see who can be the busiest or do the most with our time off.

Related article – Can we ‘cram’ our relationships?

On top of all of this we are bombarded with messages and images that suggest everyone is having a great time during Easter/summer/Christmas and so should we. Is it any wonder that come the end of our time off we are exhausted, disappointed and angry?

Our relationships take a battering as a result. Couples feel the tension, families fight and tempers flare. Unrealistic expectations do their damage but holidays tend to highlight something more significant: underlying relationship issues that have been left unchecked.

Relationship issues rarely fix themselves

relationship issues fighting in front of the children

There is often a common thread running through the backgrounds of couples reaching out to us for help. Specifically that they had ‘put off’ having difficult conversations. Conversations about starting a family, finances or what they wanted from the relationship never took place. Instead many couples simply crossed their fingers and hoped time off work together or a vacation would ‘fix’ their relationship problems somehow.

Many of the really important relationship issues in life are highly emotional. As a result we naturally tend to avoid them. But they do not go away when we take time off. Strangely we often know this deep down but still find it difficult to start that conversation.

Sometimes a vacation or dedicated time together can fix things in a relationship but underlying problems rarely sort themselves. Leaving them unchecked can lead to further problems with resentment and bitterness. Ultimately eating away at a relationship that is already under strain.

Take action to address relationship issues

There will be underlying relationship issues for any couple. The key is to avoid putting them on hold. Instead take time to reflect upon where you and your partner stand on those issues. Naturally there is a reticence in raising the subject for fear of upsetting or even scaring our loved one away. But talking about it honestly and calmly can represent a big step towards a solution. Only when a couple are communicating on these key issues can they find a way forward.

The alternative option – to leave them to grow and fester – is, in our experience, a far worse option.

Relationship help from The Spark

If you feel like starting that conversation is too difficult on your own, The Spark can help. Our whole purpose is to help individuals, couples and families make their relationships work. Talk to us on freephone 0808 802 0050 or make an enquiry online to find out how we can help.

And when it comes to planning what to do during the Easter, summer or Christmas holidays remember that it is ok to leave time unallocated. The house and garden – much like the Forth Rail Bridge – will always need maintaining no matter how much you do. By contrast we have precious few holidays each year to do the things we love with the ones we love.

you got the love candi staton

Songs for Sound Minds #13 – ‘You Got the Love’ by Candi Staton

You Got the Love is the next track in our #SongsForSoundMinds series. A gospel/soul/disco classic from the First Lady of Southern Soul, Candi Staton dedicated to never giving up.

You know ‘You Got the Love’ but who sang it first?

you got the love candi statonIt would be difficult to find someone who has never heard Candi Staton’s ‘You Got the Love’. From the original 1986 release to recent covers by Florence and the Machine and the 1991 The Source remix that propelled it to new audiences, one thing is clear: this is a powerful and much loved song.

The track started out as a soul/gospel track written by Anthony B. Stephens, Arnecia Michelle Harris and John Bellamy. The writers could not afford to pay Staton for her vocals so gave her half the royalties and copyright instead. Through the 1960s Staton had become known as the ‘First Lady of Southern Soul’ before transforming in to a disco diva in the 1970s and 1980s.

Gospel music is close to Staton’s heart – having sung gospel music exclusively for twenty years after her disco heyday. Recording a track like You Got the Love is a perfect fit. The themes of reliance on a higher power for survival through the tribulations of life chime with Staton’s own past.

The life behind the musical success

Staton suffered abuse in her childhood and marriages, subsequently bringing up 5 children as a single parent. Despite a successful music career her own life was littered with bad choices and bad relationships. Overcoming such significant problems makes her vocals on You Got the Love even more poignant. Even now at the age of 77, Staton continues to write and record gospel music.

No matter your perspective on the lyrics for You Got the Love, it is an inspiring track. You may or may not believe in the same higher power as the writers and Staton. Either way, the song reminds us never to give up. Even when it feels like life is just too much.

You Got the Love – The Source featuring Candi Staton


#SongsForSoundMinds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

life transitions death and taxes

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Change is an inevitable part of life. It is as inescapable as the passage of time and is often the precursor to a significant life transition.

Life transitions - Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin: obsessed with death & taxes. Died, ended up on the $100 bill.

Life transitions are typically the most significant milestones in our lives. As a result they often become our greatest undertakings and may well figure in our lives forever.

Change can be something we excitedly look forward to, like getting married or deciding to move in together. Conversely it can be thrust upon us when we least expect it and be completely out with our control; like the redundancy or serious illness of our partner/spouse.

The one common feature of all life transitions is their ability to challenge, unsettle and sometimes unravel our relationships.

Life transitions and relationships

The emotional reactions to life transitions tend not to be black or white, despite what we might anticipate or believe. For example, a couple welcoming the arrival of their first child is expected to be a time of great joy, when an already loving relationship is strengthened and deepened.

But for many parents it actually places significant pressure and strain on their relationship. Post-natal depression, sleepless nights, financial burdens and a lack of time for mum and dad to spend together can damage relationships between them individually and their baby.

Counselling for life transitions

life transitions family
One of life’s biggest transitions: becoming a parent.

Usually we will work our way through these lifecycle changes with relationships remaining unharmed. Individually, as a couple or with the help of family and friends most of our life transitions will be successfully navigated. But in this increasingly pressured and stressful world it can be helpful to talk to a counsellor.

Working with a relationship counsellor can help with many of the common issues faced during difficult life transitions:

  • Understanding the situation and what has driven the emotional response(s)
  • Working on techniques and strategies to handle those responses and protect relationships
  • Techniques to cope with stress, anxiety and other physiological responses created by difficult life transitions.

Coping with big changes in your life

Relationship counselling can be a great support to individuals, couples and families going through difficult periods of change and transition. Counsellors offer a non-judgemental, neutral and professional perspective on the issues you are facing.

A clearer understanding of how you are feeling can make coping with changes in life easier. Resulting in a strengthening of the relationships many life transitions can damage.

The Spark provides counselling and support for couples, individuals and families across Scotland. Helping clients to work through life transitions is a major part of the work we do. We operate from 17 locations with a team of professional counsellors highly skilled in helping you cope with life’s changes.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team on  freephone 0808 802 0050.

social media

3 tips to stop social media wrecking relationships

Social media is becoming ever more intertwined in our lives and relationships. In an earlier blog we looked at the concept of the ‘digital shadow’ and the risk to relationships between parents and children. The conclusion being that parents who share every aspect of a child’s life on social media risk damage to their future relationship.

social mediaSocial media and relationships

Social media can of course enhance and advance good relationships. The opportunity to connect families living thousands of miles apart in shared experiences is just one example of the positive impact of platforms like Facebook. However social media has created a whole new type of risk to positive relationships amongst families and friends.

A virtual ‘sharing’ society has been created by social media. In that process we have all – willingly – opened up aspects of our lives that were previously hidden. Dates, family gatherings, nights out and the like are now all open to anyone who is interested. With that accessibility comes some risks.

I know what you did last Friday night

For example, recruiters are now using social media extensively to vet potential candidates. Suddenly that picture from last Friday night of your cousin, drunk as a skunk and fast asleep in the pub is not so funny or harmless.

It used to be a joke to say that families out for dinner do not talk as everyone is just scrolling through Instagram or Facebook on smartphones. Now it is a depressing reality; mum, dad, daughter and son wired to their social media feeds. Often son/daughter also have their headphones in – literally present in body but not mind.

Some words cannot be deleted

social mediaA distressing by-product of social media can be its power to create feelings of jealousy, envy and low self-esteem. As a friend or family member captures every moment of their ‘perfect’ life on Instagram, others genuinely struggle to get by.  It is not inconceivable that relationships might be irrevocably damaged because jealousy leads to hurt, anger and eventually boils over in to harmful words/actions that cannot be deleted as easily as a post or tweet.

Relationships are what make humans tick. The belief that they keep us happy and healthy is now a proven fact. They need to be protected and looked after (a bit like a Tamagotchi – remember them?!).

But social media is here to stay so how do we enjoy the benefits of what it has to offer without compromising our most important relationships? Here are 3 tips.

Social media tip 1: Be in the room

It will sound ridiculously simple but spend time with the people you are physically in the same space with. When you are visiting family or spending time with friends, be present. Leave phones at the door or put them on flight-safe mode.

Talk, enquire, respond, laugh and cry with the people in the room. Be ‘social’ with the people right in front of you. Make that network the one you focus on during your time with them. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will still be there when you head home after visiting your family.

Social media tip 2: Think before you post

A concept wasted on many people (high profile world leaders included). Before tapping the post button ask yourself: who might see this? In the context of work emails the aphorism has been ‘don’t send something you wouldn’t like your boss to see’. For the social media sphere we can adapt to ‘don’t tweet/post something you wouldn’t want… mum/dad/husband/wife/friends to see’.

It is not a call to censor what you do on social media. Consider it an opportunity to be empathetic and considerate to your network of friends. You may love your new-born baby and want to share pictures of them every day but what about your friend who is going through infertility treatment?

social media switch offSocial media tip 3: Do social media then switch off

A radical thought but set time aside to be social online and then switch off. Enjoy the opportunity to be social with the people around you as much as those you only know by their Instagram handle.

Social media has given us a severe case of FOMO – fear of missing out. What is he/she saying? Did you see her pics on Instagram? Why are people tweeting about Boaty McBoatface? The cure is of course to switch off and spend less time online. Occupy your mind (and those twitching thumbs) with a book, exercise, or – shock horror – actually using your smartphone to call your mum for a chat.

Soon you will realise that the world will not stop turning if you ignore Twitter and spend an hour having coffee with a friend. Donald Trump will still have offended a person/city/gender/country when you check in later.

Related article: Social media and celebrity

Making relationships work

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

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services or take a look at our free resources for couples, parents and families.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems. Find out more about the Relationship Helpline which offers telephone and online support.


Poor communication can be a starting point for relationship problems. Whether between married couples, parents and children, amongst friends or work colleagues, bad communication helps no one.

Even amidst the rise of social media our primary means of communication remains the same now as it was before the telephone (let alone the mobile phone) was invented: the humble conversation.

A conversation may seem like a simple thing to do. And therefore impossible to get wrong. I talk, you listen, then you talk and I listen. It is of course much more complicated than that, especially when it is an important one.

In this inspiring talk, Celeste Headlee takes us through her top 10 tips on how to have a better conversation.

cram our relationships

Humans love to cram. We cram for exams, cram for interviews and cram before that big presentation at work. A whole 24-episode TV boxset gets crammed in to a weekend and we cram our plates at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Our modern lives are often described as ‘time poor’ leaving us more inclined, or feeling we have no option other than to cram. Which lays the foundation for an important question: can we cram our relationships?

Can we cram our relationships?

Cramming works in many situations. I recall university friends reciting the ‘C’s get degrees’ mantra as they crammed for exams after a semester of bunking off lectures. The ‘night before’ cram for an interview can often lead to a job offer. And it is nigh on impossible to find anyone who does not enjoy cramming ‘just one more episode’ of Game of Thrones or Homeland in before bed.

What does that mean for our relationships? Are they the next thing to be crammed?

Sadly the truth is that whether we made a conscious decision to or not, we are already guilty of cramming our relationships.

cram our relationships
Sometimes it feels like 6 hands are just not enough…

Get ready to cram some more

Britons are working longer hours than ever before due to economic uncertainty, the rising cost of living and falling incomes. The net result is a sense that we must cram domestic duties, leisure pursuits and relationships in to whatever time remains after work.

This is compounded by the messages we are bombarded with about self-improvement and how to ‘be happy’. Eat well, keep fit, expand your horizons, get up early, sleep for at least 7 hours a day, watch the latest show, read more, tweet, post, become an Instagram star and a lot more besides. Add that up and we inevitably cram our relationships.

Cramming sometimes works

Occasionally cramming for relationships can work. For example when a couple have both been working long hours for several weeks or hardly see each other, a night away can be an excellent relationship booster. But it is not a long term solution.

Why? Simply put, when we cram our relationships we send a message:  what I am doing when I’m not with you is more important.

Cramming couples

There is no way around it. Cramming relationships for any extended period of time sends out that message. Rarely is it intended but it gets through.

The Spark Counselling works with many couples who drift apart because their relationship has been crammed. In the majority of cases neither party has ever uttered the words ‘my time spent on [insert your particular relationship issue here] is more important than you’. But one or both have ended up feeling like it was said every single day.

For [insert your particular relationship issue here] there are an infinite number of possible problems. The one you placed there could be unique to you but it is just as important and worthy of discussion as the common ones like work, alcohol, drugs or other people.

cram our relationships
Could we squeeze in an extra hour?

So can we cram our relationships?

Of course we can. But hopefully in reading this post you will have realised the more appropriate question is this: should we cram our relationships? And the answer to that is a resounding no.

Instead we should focus on setting time aside every day to properly accommodate our relationships. To achieve that the first step for many individuals and couples is to examine what they do with their time.

We only get 24 hours each day to work, rest, play and spend time with those we care about. Contrary to what self-help books, life coaches and management gurus say, we cannot ‘make time’. We can only allocate time.

Does something need to drop off your priority list in order to make that time for your partner? Are you guilty of being a ‘cramming couple’? Perhaps tonight instead of cramming in ‘just one more episode’ it would be worth allocating that time to be with your loved one.

Making relationships work

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

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems plus our free Relationship MOT quiz.