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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
Songs for Sound Minds #24 – ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ by Brian Kennedy
Our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series could very well have been written specifically for January. An antidote if you will to a month spent grappling with our extra ‘holiday weight’, body image angst and post-Christmas diets.
Celebrity awards season is in full swing and between the Grammys and the Oscars there are plenty of opportunities feel bad about ourselves compared to the ‘beautiful people’.
Many of us will have fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon and simultaneously wondered why our waistline isn’t shrinking. All in all it is not difficult to find reasons to be unhappy about who we are at this time of year.
Why do you have to waste time on your waistline?
Instead of committing to another fad diet or dropping your hard-earned cash on yet more clothes, we have another suggestion.
Listen to one of Ireland’s most under-rated singer songwriters, Brian Kennedy and his simple advice: get on with your short life.
You know you’re only dreaming
Accompanied by one of the catchiest of catchy tunes, ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ is a worthwhile reminder of how we tend to focus on the wrong things in life.
Clothes, looking younger and the aspiration to be like those on the red carpet can dominate our thinking. We end up tied in knots trying to be the version of ourselves we think will bring the most happiness.
The tragedy of it all is that we miss out on ‘this sweet precious time’ that is life. The time we spend pursuing the right shoes, new clothes and the ‘perfect’ waistline cannot be recovered.
It is time with loved ones, experiencing the joy and security of good relationships that is lost forever.
Stop daydreaming and get on with your short life
As Brian suggests, stop the ‘if only’ daydreaming and get on with enjoying this short life. You’ll be glad you did.
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.
‘We do talk about our feelings – just about a year after we’ve had them’
A particular highlight from the conference was the presentation by James Docherty from Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.
James offered up one of the most memorable quotes from the day: ‘In Scotland we do talk about our feelings – just about a year after we’ve had them.’
This brought a laugh of recognition from the audience. Unsurprisingly we still have some way to go in Scotland when it comes to feelings and emotions.
The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences
James talked about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) which are a key area of focus for those working with the excluded. Troubled family relationships lead to troubled children at home, school and in the community.
Those children with ACEs of neglect, household adversity and overt abuse have been shown to have a greatly increased likelihood of health harming behaviours in later life.
These significantly impact on the behaviours we exhibit towards others, subsequently undermining family and community cohesion and leading to a wide range of societal problems.
The Spark’s Tackling Violence programme
The Spark operates the ‘Tackling Violence’ programme in schools and evaluations regularly demonstrate the effectiveness of the course. Developing awareness of the damaging impact of violence on personal, family and community relationships is the objective of the programme.
Typically 90% or more of participating young people have a greater awareness and understanding of:
the impact violence can have on their community
the consequences of being in a gang and
the impact their choices have on their future.
This awareness of the impact of feelings on behaviour ties in with the main theme of the SCCR conference.
Conflict and the Emotional Homunculus
Dr Sara Watkin, SCCR Medical Advisor, introduced us to the Emotional Homunculus – the part of the brain that uses feelings and emotions to decide how we will act and react.
This included a whistle stop tour of the brain and an overview of the five primary emotional states we experience. These states along with the associated chemicals released in the body (the ‘Drugs Cabinet of your Mind’) impact upon our behaviour and responses during conflict situations:
Anxious and Afraid
Fight or Flight
Freeze and Shutdown
Rest and Digest and
Alert and Engaged.
In using the Emotional Homunculus model SCCR is ultimately aiming to help us cope better with conflict situations by understanding how thoughts and feelings impact upon our behaviour.
Tackling conflict through emotional resilience
The Spark has made a commitment to utilise the resources and information created by SCCR.
By sharing with our counsellors working schools we intend to help children and young people improve their understanding of how their emotions and bodies work to influence their well-being.
The Spark – counselling and relationship support for all
Songs for Sound Minds #23 – ‘This Will Be Our Year’ by The Zombies
So, have you made your New Year Resolutions? Have you been inspired by a healthy eating blog to change your bad eating habits? Maybe you were in the local gym on January 3 planning to go from ‘Couch to 5k’.
‘What is the point?’ you might say. According to BUPA, 80 per cent of people do not make it to the end of March before going back to their old ways.
Research from the University of Bristol found that 88% of us will not keep our resolution.
Nothing much is achieve without the resolve to achieve something
But before you get too cynical it is worthwhile remembering that nothing much is achieved without the resolve to achieve something.
There is much to be said for the 1960s slogan, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ It speaks of putting past failures and disappointments behind us. It encourages positivity and looking ahead with anticipation instead of dread.
Another gem from the same period – the song ‘This Will Be Our Year’ – has the same feel to it. Compared to some of the starry-eyed hits from the time, it is a pretty down-to-earth and pragmatic song.
And I won’t forget
The way you helped me
Up when I was down
And I won’t forget
The way you said
Darling I love you
You gave me faith to go on
Now we’re there
And we’ve only just begun
This will be our year
Took a long time to come
Getting through tough times
Whether you have experienced a period of poor mental health or just a tough time in general, there are few feelings better than the relief when it is over.
Often our optimism for the future comes from knowing we can rely on those who helped us through tough times – for the first time or once again.
For those in the know, the song was the soundtrack to Don Draper’s daughter bringing him light at the end of his dark tunnel in the acclaimed TV series Mad Men by telling him, ‘I love you.’
One of the greatest albums of all time
The Zombies’ track, ‘This Will Be Our Year’ was from their 1968 album with the misspelled title, ‘Odessey and Oracle’. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it 100 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Their keyboard player, Rod Argent, is perhaps one of the less well-known artists of the era. He did go on to form the eponymous band, Argent, which had hits with ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’. The latter track was covered by Kiss and featured in the film ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ in the late 1980s.
As you listen to our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series, why not take a look at our article ‘6 Ways to Keep a New Year Resolution’ for some practical tips on making positive change this year.
There is no reason why this can’t be our year.
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.
You might have spent time over Christmas and New Year listening to children play with their family’s new ‘Alexa’. The Alexa in question – if you are not into your gadgets – is the name of the personal assistant service (and ‘wake word’) on Amazon’s range of Echo intelligent speakers.
Along with Google’s equivalent ‘Home’, intelligent speakers are set to become a permanent fixture in our homes. With basic voice commands they can complete an ever increasing range of tasks.
Alexa? Play ‘Let It Go’…
Watching and listening to young kids play with Alexa recently was fascinating.
At first it started with wide-eyed disbelief at being able to play ‘Let it Go’ from Disney’s Frozen by just asking. Excitement reached fever pitch as Alexa told jokes, named all the Disney princesses and offered to book tickets for Paddington 2 at the cinema.
At the time a few of the parents joked that once the kids realised Alexa could order pizza and new IPads they would be in trouble (more on that later).
Gradually the kids started asking more challenging questions of Alexa. Of course, with the system connected to the constantly expanding body of knowledge that is the Internet, there was little it could not answer.
Alexa knew everything. And that concerned me.
Why would I ask mum or dad? I can ask Alexa…
Back in the dark ages before the Internet we would go to our parents or grandparents for answers.
They would impart their own knowledge or find a book in the library that could do the same. Though neither understood it at the time, this represented an important bonding experience between child and parent.
The importance of parent child bonding
Here at The Spark we talk a lot about the importance of parent and child bonding from birth.
The importance of the invisible bond between parent and child does not however end when they, for example, can ask Alexa to read them a bedtime story.
Throughout the journey from childhood to adulthood, maintaining that bond is vital in shaping confident, resilient and happy adults.
Parents with older children will attest to the huge challenge in keeping any opportunities to bond intact.
Education is one of the few constants in this regard and as far as The Spark is concerned, we believe these opportunities need to be protected and encouraged.
The downsides of Alexa and the Internet
There are already concerns that children are learning about relationships, sex, self-worth and self-image via the Internet and often in potentially harmful ways.
Child development specialists have, in particular, reservations about the nature of the artificial intelligence that smart speakers use to ‘learn’.
Questions posed to Alexa and Home need to be formed using limited vocabulary and required only limited language skills. Their concerns are what this could do to the development of communication skills among younger children.
Furthermore none of the relationship nuances and social skills required in human to human contact are needed when using intelligent services.
In short, the child demands and the system provides with no questions or limitations.
When introducing new technology to the home set rules on how kids are and are not allowed to use it. For example, explaining the difference between asking Alexa for something and how they would ask another adult or child for something.
2 Get them reading books
Try to avoid allowing kids to solely learn via the Internet. Get back to reading encyclopaedias and atlases, and taking the occasional trip to your local library.
3 Use your own knowledge
Explain and educate them with the knowledge you have. Enjoy the opportunity to spend time and bond with them.
4 Learn together on the Internet
Where the Internet is the best or only option for learning, sit with them and be available to answer other questions. Discuss what they have learned and what else they might want to find out about.
5 Limit time
Limit use of intelligent systems by younger children, particularly when they are developing their language and communication skills.
6 Use parental controls
Update parental controls on your web browsers and intelligent speakers. Unless you have controls in place – for example, turning off voice purchases in Alexa – your kids could be ordering toys galore and enough pizza to feed the whole street.
If you have music and/or video streaming services check there are restrictions on explicit lyrics/adult content. You don’t want your 5 year-old singing the original version of Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’.
Artificial intelligence and therefore artificial relationships are going to become part and parcel of our lives. It is important that children use such technology safely and don’t lose opportunities to bond with their parents.
After all we don’t want to get to a point when our kids ask: “Alexa? Why do I need parents?”
Specialist support for parents, children and families
The relationships we have as parents and families are the most important in life. Even without new technology they can at times be very challenging.
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.
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.
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.
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
Equally important is for individual families – parents and kids – to spend time together during the holidays.
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’.
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.
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.