Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day balloonsThe cards are in the shops. The adverts for champagne and chocolates are on the TV. Pink love hearts are popping up everywhere. We cannot fail to notice it is Valentine’s Day very soon.

The annual celebration of love puts high value on grand ideas and romance. Couples that have been together for a long time can naturally feel a bit removed from this. Life gets in the way and spontaneity can begin to decline. Grand gestures make way for a simple exchange of cards and little else.

Does that mean Valentine’s Day is unimportant when you have been together a long time? Definitely not.

Valentine’s Day is still important

Everyone has an opinion on 14th February. Some think it is romantic and a date to be strictly observed and never missed. Couples can spend hundreds of pounds on gifts, a romantic meal or getaway. Others are horrified at the commercialism of your favourite restaurant charging double for the same meal you had last week. Whatever your opinion on Valentine’s it is important to ask whether it is the same as your partner’s perspective?

Valentine’s is only for ‘young love’

It is not unusual to meet couples who have been together for a while saying that they “don’t celebrate Valentine’s” and that it is “only for young love”. But behind the seeming disapproval of its commercialisation and contentment not to be involved there can be an individual who is secretly coveting a bit of attention.

On this one day of the year they might actually be desperate to get a surprise or enjoy a day that is not just like every other Tuesday. The bottom line is this: ask and do not assume, even if you have been together for 20 or 30 years.

Valentine's Day cuddly toyRemind them how valuable they are

Just because Valentine’s Day has not been a big deal for you and your partner in the past couple of years does not mean that is still the case. Where an individual has experienced a difficult time – perhaps due to the loss of a parent or loved one – they might really need a day of being reminded how valuable they are.

That of course is not to say that valuing your partner equates to how much you spend. Despite what jewellers, restaurants and travel websites tell us, a genuine demonstration of love is far more precious. Simple things mean the most like preparing a meal on Valentine’s Day at home or booking him/her in to a local spa for a massage.

In making an effort to celebrate your love as a couple, it is the little gestures that mean the most. A kiss, a hug, a rose picked from the garden are the kinds gestures that hold our partners close and keep the spark alive. Whether it’s your 1st, your 15th or your 30th anniversary this year, celebrate your love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.


Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love and relationships. For couples just starting out in a relationship it can end up feeling like an obstacle course full of opportunities for misunderstandings, overblown efforts and underwhelming gifts.

To help couples navigate that first Valentine’s Day we have 3 simple tips to help you both enjoy your day.

1. Talk about Valentine’s Day in advance


Valentine's Day heartTalk to your new partner about what you should do as a couple for Valentine’s Day. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship no matter how long or short it has been. In the build up to Valentine’s Day, particularly for new relationships, it is essential.

The 14th February is a potential banana-skin for any relationship. It is loaded with expectations and often, assumptions. Not to mention the peer pressure of what his/her friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend did for them/bought for them being broadcast on social media.

If you like your new partner a lot but are not quite madly in love yet you might feel a card is sufficient. When you turn up to your work to a bouquet of roses, a giant novelty card, cuddly toy and an invite to dinner at the priciest restaurant in town, you might wish you had talked about it beforehand.

Valentine's Day -James Nesbitt Cold Feet Rose
James Nesbitt’s Adam serenades Rachel (uncomfortably) in Cold Feet.

2. Romantic gestures in the movies and TV rarely translate well into real life

Whether it was Adam wearing nothing but a single red rose for Rachel in Cold Feet or Colin Firth proposing to Aurelia in Love Actually, we love sweeping, romantic gestures. But in real life they can sometimes be, at best, embarrassing or, at worst, a relationship breaker.

If you have had a discussion with your new partner in advance you should be clear on where they stand. For some a grand romantic gesture on your first Valentine’s Day would bring them nothing but joy. For others it will be mortifying. Knowing how you both feel about the day and your relationship will avoid any potentially painful (the thorns on that rose – ouch!) embarrassment.

Few relationships blossom or whither on the basis of a single Valentine’s Day so really think about what your new partner would enjoy most.

3. Agree on gifts or no gifts (and no surprises)


The question of gifts and their value is another minefield for that first Valentine’s Day together. Initially there is the stomach churning awkwardness of saying “you shouldn’t have” as you exchange your £1.50 card for a bracelet and a first edition of the Velveteen Rabbit. Then comes confusion and hurt from a complete misunderstanding of the status of your relationship and its perceived value.

Agreeing whether to get gifts or not and a price limit is a great idea. For that first Valentine’s Day agreeing no gifts but to share a night out/night in is a good starting point. If one of you is excited to give a gift (“I’ve seen something you will really like!”) then agree a realistic price limit. Once that is agreed, stick to the agreement! Do not ‘just get something anyway’. Instead of your partner feeling great they are likely to end up feeling guilty for not surprising you.


These conversations might feel awkward at the time but they are a good way of avoiding more difficult ones later. And they can go a long way to helping keep expectations in check and avoid the hurt of Valentine’s Day disappointment.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.

Marriage counselling

marriage counsellingThe first month or so of the year can feel like a really challenging period for many couples. A sort of post-Christmas hangover sets in. Credit card bills and the unsettled arguments that were put on hold for Christmas rear their ugly heads. But often a difficult Christmas and New Year is the symptom of more significant underlying issues.

Marriage counselling case study

In this blog we are looking at a real life case study from a couple who sought help from The Spark. Before starting marriage counselling towards the end of 2016, Lucy felt at times that her marriage to Stevie was all but over. Both of them were under great pressure and faced the prospect of an extremely challenging New Year.

At work today everyone appears to have the ‘winter blues’.  Although I’m glad to get through January, I feel thankful that the Christmas break was a good time. The normal family rows were noisy, but we coped and managed to deal with them, with lots of laughter and fun around.  It feels like quite a change since, over the last year, there were times I thought my marriage was ending. 

Related article: 10 ways to beat the winter blues

Looking back with the knowledge Stevie and I now have, we realise there were lots of events that affected us without us realising.  As a couple we were hardly functioning; rows would erupt over the silliest things such as who did the most housework. We’d be trying to justify ourselves to each other.  At times we were indifferent to each other.

Facing separation and divorce

marriage counselling to avoid divorceAs a last gasp I contacted a free helpline run by The Spark. Just talking about what had been happening and having someone with expertise listen gave me the courage to open up with Stevie. In what became a last ditch attempt to save our marriage we decided to try marriage counselling.

Related content: The Relationship Helpline

The counsellor was warm and friendly. She must at times have thought we were the worst couple she had ever worked with! Arguing in front of her with voices raised and angry comments, I half expected her to say we had no hope. But she never judged us or criticised us. It became clear very quickly that she simply wanted to help us.

Love and sex turned to familiarity and schedules

We attended 6 marriage counselling sessions and discussed events over probably the past 8 years of our marriage. Early on we had had trouble getting pregnant. It sounds like a cliché – I guess it is – but love had settled into having sex at the dictate of a hormonal cycle. I was surprised that discussing this seemed to make us both emotional and we realised that we both experienced an intense emotional strain during that process.

Stevie had tried to cope alone and in the session said he really wanted to support me but the disappointments were distressing and really hard on him. Thinking back I had been completely caught up in the process of trying to get pregnant and completely unaware of what Stevie had been experiencing.

During the counselling we talked about what happened following on from those struggles. We eventually fell pregnant and had two beautiful children. We both thought our lives would then feel ‘complete’.

When marriage starts to feel like a trudge

But I experienced a brief period of depression and our children did not sleep for the first two years.  Combined with childcare concerns and trying to cope with work our life was feeling like a never ending slog.

Our parents too were struggling. Stevie’s dad was ill and that was tough. He’s a big guy who never seemed to ever be ill but ended up having a major heart attack. It was a body blow for Stevie because he had always been close to his dad.  His mum struggled to cope with the aftermath and my parents had their own worries.

Without realising what had happened our roles seemed to have changed and we were now supporting our parents. Counselling helped us to talk through those experiences. I will not lie – it was an emotional process. But we really found our connection again by sharing and discussing the feelings we had had during those difficult times. Feelings we had never properly communicated to each other at the time.

We laughed and at times we were furious with each other. Marriage counselling helped us to understand that this all boiled down to something common to many couples: each of us felt justified in being angry for whatever reason but thought it was dismissed by the other. At times we had to own up to our share of responsibility for what had upset us at times. It was hard and a bit uncomfortable but really worth it.

Drifting apart

Marriage counselling helped us to understand that over time we had drifted apart. We were both  seething under the surface and at times lonely.  With our counsellor we developed strategies to listen to each other and spend time together. We would arrange a sneaky coffee at lunchtime so we could meet up. Sometimes we’d put the kids in nursery, take the day off work but tell no one we were free. We felt like naughty school kids!

Going in to 2017 we are going to monitor for when life becomes a trudge. We have learned to talk about our emotions. We’ve learned its ok to cry or be angry because we understand we will still love each other through it. We understand the value of talking and saying thank you for the little things that show how much we appreciate each other.

Counselling and support

The early months of a new year can be a difficult time for couples and families. Relationship issues, financial worries and depression are common at this time.

We provide private marriage counselling, couple counselling and support across Scotland. Our BACP and COSCA accredited counsellors are based in 17 locations and are ready to help your marriage.

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

counselling session

Deciding to try counselling usually comes after a lengthy period trying to solve problems by yourself or as a couple. Depending on what type of person you are, the idea of talking to a ‘stranger’ about deeply personal issues in a counselling session can create anything between ‘a little’ to ‘off the scale’ levels of anxiety.

One of the biggest challenges is not knowing what to expect. Popular misconceptions (often found online) could put anyone off so to challenge them, we are going to look at what actually happens in a counselling session.

Why might I need counselling?

counselling session for stressA popular misconception is that seeing a counsellor must mean you are ‘sick’, mentally ill or ‘weak’ (because you should be able to ‘sort yourself out’). Counselling can support people suffering from specific mental health problems like depression.

But in the main counselling is about helping people work through the challenges we all face in life – like managing stress, difficult relationships, affairs, anxiety or coping with bereavement.

Where relationship concerns are at the heart of the issue, there can be a stigma around having a ‘bad relationship’ because you are seeking counselling. It is easy but wrong to equate a couple in counselling as ‘a relationship on the rocks’. Often that can lead to one partner seeking couple or marriage counselling on behalf of both parties. Understandably this comes with nervousness around telling/bringing their partner, fearing further damage might be done.

But counselling aims to create a safe, confidential environment in which you can explore difficult issues. This can be as an individual, couple or family unit. The objective being to help you – the client – understand how those issues impact upon you and ways to manage them. That is what we do here at The Spark.

Are all counsellors the same?

One common element bonds all counsellors – that is the duty of care to their client and the confidentiality that exists between counsellor and client. Counsellors are accredited and work to professional standards set down by governing bodies like BACP or COSCA. Like doctors they may have areas of specialism or use different therapeutic approaches to help clients.

Find out more about different approaches.

How do I find a counsellor who is right for me?

Relationship MOT counselling session
Related link: The Relationship MOT

One of the advantages of counselling with an organisation like The Spark is that we have a team of counsellors working across our counselling centres. We can find someone who will be best suited to help you with the issues you are facing, instead of having to contact several individual counsellors.

It is quite common for clients to be unsure of what is troubling them, creating difficulties in other areas of their lives and relationships.

Please do not worry if you are not sure what you are struggling with. The Spark has counsellors to help with your specific needs. If you are not sure what is troubling you our free, confidential Relationship MOT is a good place to start.

What is a counselling session like?

The first counselling session is an opportunity to talk about all the issues that have been distressing you. If you are attending with a partner or family member the neutral space allows you both to share your worries respectfully. Even if there has been considerable conflict in a relationship to begin with, counselling can assist in developing a mutual understanding.

A counsellor will never judge you or criticise you. What you say will be held in the strictest of confidence and not disclosed. Anything you feel you need or want to say is fine to be discussed in counselling.

How can counselling help me?

Counselling involves working with your counsellor to understand where issues come from and why they are upsetting you.

For instance in a difficult relationship we may express our distress by arguing all the time. Typical issues might range from the important – how we parent our children – to the relatively trivial (who takes out the bins). A counsellor can help you to understand why these arguments occur and pinpoint patterns of repetition.

Repeated arguments can be a way of avoiding dealing with difficult issues. Under the surface the verbal battles might really be saying something like ‘I need you to listen’ or ‘I need you to show you care for me’.  Counselling can help identify these issues and develop strategies to use at home such as scheduling peaceful timeslots with no distractions to talk and reconnect. A counsellor will often help clients understand the stages that lead up to ‘losing it’. With that knowledge clients can learn to express themselves in a constructive way.

So I just go to the sessions and I’ll feel better?

Effective counselling is as much about what you do after the counselling session as what happens during it. A solution to your current situation might involve some kind of behaviour change. That of course will be more effective the more you practice it outside of your counselling appointments.

For example couples with children setting aside a dedicated time to talk and be with each other, with no distractions and no children.

counselling sessionsIf a counselling session is just about talking, why not talk to a friend?

Talking to friends is important if you are facing a specific life challenge. Having support around you is very important. However counselling is completely unique because you can talk with complete honesty.

When speaking to a friend or family member it can often be hard to be completely honest. There is a fear of fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them too. Speaking to a counsellor frees you from this. They are an impartial individual who sits completely out with your circle of family and friends.

Will a counsellor tell me what to do?

No. A counsellor is not there to tell you what to do or how to approach your life. A counsellor helps you work through important issues so that you can determine what is the best approach for you.

Counselling is about helping you to understand the issues challenging you in life and work out how to tackle them.

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

A recent TV series on mediation for separating couples reminded me how distressing the breakup of a relationship can be. The person you planned to spend your whole life with has become someone you do not know. Sometimes you are left wondering if you ever knew them.

Who am I now?

Counselling and mediation in divorceA break up is a time when you analyse who you are. Personal identity and perhaps even status change as you move from being part of a couple to being single. Even if there is a sense of relief at the ending of a relationship, there is inevitably a sense of loss. When we lose something we love or have worked so hard for we need to grieve. The bitter irony of separation is that in such a moment of great loss we would usually turn to our partner for comfort.

The break up process creates a time of hyper-arousal. It means we are sensitive to every trigger; a comment, a look, even the inflection in someone’s voice can create distressing feelings. If you have experienced this or know someone who has, you will be familiar with feelings of bitterness, anger and frustration.

Mediation for separating couples

However for many of the couples in the TV series mediation on its own was ineffective.

Mediation tries to avoid what can be costly and often bitter legal battles between separating couples. Determining the division of financial assets and custody of children through mediation can help settle arrangements out of court.

Related post: Divorce is not the only option

The effectiveness of mediation relies on the couple reaching a stage where negotiation is possible. The animosity that comes from the emotional hurt, distrust and hyper-arousal can stymie the mediation process. Combining couple counselling with the mediation process can facilitate a more effective negotiation.

Counselling at the end of a relationship

Combining counselling with mediation can be highly effective for 3 particular reasons:

1. Separating amicably

Counselling can help couples to stop, listen and talk about their distress. Acknowledging the joint sadness that their relationship has ended helps each individual create an emotional connection with the other that is not driven by negative emotions.

By jointly analysing and taking responsibility for the relationship breakdown, counselling can help can take the animosity out of the separation and help the couple to begin to end the relationship on better terms.

2. Parenting apart

Mediation and counselling for divorcing parentsParticularly where there are children involved, partners can develop such a narrow focus that everything else is out with their perspective.  Separating couples often talk about their children but they can be very angry (though of course behind that anger is huge hurt). For some, this can stop them being ‘there’ for their children. Others want to cling to their children and keep them safe, shutting the other parent out: “They left me and the children! How can they be any good”?

For couples with children it is important to jointly parent their children. Deepening their understanding of themselves and their ex-partner through counselling begins this process. Animosity that remains following the separation/divorce will make the process of parenting apart incredibly difficult for each parent and most importantly, for their children.

3. Future relationships

Couples who undergo counselling at the end of their relationship often find that the issues that contributed to the separation date back many years. Counselling aims to pinpoint such issues and help couples properly understand them.

Working with a counsellor can lead to a better understanding of how those issues negatively impacted upon their current relationship. In doing so couples can prepare to make the best of their future relationships with a new partner, their former partner and their children.

Combining counselling and mediation

Mediation is a useful intervention to steer a couple through the immediate arrangements to settle the ending of their relationship. The effectiveness of mediation however can be determined by the ability of the couple to negotiate amicably.

Counselling for separating couples can help them build communication and empathy to smooth the end of a relationship. Thus helping to get the best out of the mediation process. In addition, counselling can enhance personal development for each party, therefore supporting future separated parenting stability and successful relationships in the future.

Counselling and mediation

If you are in or about to enter in to mediation and feel that counselling could be of help, The Spark is able to help.  We provide expert private counselling for couples working through mediation and help achieve an amicable separation.

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

Back to school

Exam roomOne positive thing about January is that feeling of getting back to a normal routine – the calm after the hectic Christmas and New Year storm. For a lot of young people, however, this marks the beginning of six months of non-stop exam pressure.

Prelims run January to February and then there is just over two months of preparation for Highers, Advanced Highers, Intermediates (stages 1 and 2), Higher National Certificates, Higher National Diplomas, Check Behind Your Ears, Poke It With A Stick, Turn Your Head And Cough and whatever other tests can be contrived to make them feel as though they are a suspect product on a quality control conveyer belt.

Quiet please – exam in progress

Exams are, of course, important. It is essential to encourage, badger and harass your teens into doing their best at school. The key is to make them see that exam results are important, but not life defining.

Many young people see this as the moment when they have to decide what they will do with their lives. Then they need to go about attaining the results to make it happen. It is not difficult for them wrongly believe a bad decision or poor results will stick with them forever.

In short they may well feel high school exams and exam results present a decision and assessment which will determine whether they have a life of success and fulfilment or one of failure and misery.

When I grow up…

Damon Hill
There can only be one… Damon Hill

I can recall the day I explained to my mum that, when I grew up, I was going to be Damon Hill. Nor will I forget the crushing disappointment when she explained to me that Damon Hill is Damon Hill.

It turns out it is just like Highlander: ‘there can only be one’ Damon Hill. Given the spirit crushing response to my first choice career I decided to keep number two – to be a car racing spy who flies fighter jets on the weekends and just happens to be an Olympic decathlete – to myself.

Unsurprisingly the ‘racing driver spy who flies fighter jets for fun in between Olympic Games’ thing never worked out. Aspirations change and the job you start out with is not necessarily the one you will end up in. The important thing to know is, if things do not work out on your first try, there is usually scope for another go.

The hopes and aspirations of future generations

In addition to making the decision and attaining the grades, young people now face a much less hopeful environment.  The Youth Index 2017, an annual research report based on the wellbeing of people aged 16 – 25 in the UK says:

‘… the current political climate is taking a toll on young people, who feel more anxious about their future in the wake of recent world events. Concerns about these and the possible effect on the economy appear to have had a detrimental impact on the hopes and aspirations of young people – with traditional life goals such as owning a house feeling out of reach – and many are now expecting to be worse off than their parents’

Our country’s ‘youth’ get a lot of stick. Lazy and entitled are two ways they are often described. In reality they are facing a more complex, challenging and at times depressing time than previous generations did.

Mental Health First Aid for Young People

The stress young people face has gradually and rightly become a national government issue at Holyrood and Westminster. Recently British PM Theresa May stated her aims for England:

‘… make mental health an everyday concern for every bit of the system, helping ensure that no one affected by mental ill-health goes unattended. It includes new support for schools with every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training’

Mental Health First Aid for Young People

Mental Health First Aid for Young People training does not teach people to be mental health workers. Instead it offers basic general information about mental health problems. Giving participants the knowledge and understanding to remove stigma and to give confidence in approaching a young person in distress. Take a look at one of our Mental Health First Aid courses as a great example.

Young people are under an awful lot of stress and many of their worries about the future will be coming to a head in the next few months. Exam results are of course just one issue but a significant one. The more clued up teachers and other school staff are to the mental health issues young people experience the better.

In the meantime the rest of us should remember to rate our young people’s health, relationships and wellbeing on a par with their exam results. If they do make a bad decision or fail to make the grade, good mental health and strong, supportive relationships will give them the resilience to turn things around.

As The Divine Comedy wisely wrote in ‘Songs of Love’ (which also happens to be the theme tune to classic comedy Father Ted):

Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice

Fortune depends on the tone of your voice

So sing while you have time

Let the sun shine down from above

And fill you with songs of love

Youth counselling and support

The Spark provides dedicated youth counselling services in Scotland. We offer a combination of private youth counselling sessions and in-school counselling support services.

Read about youth counselling in our Glasgow, Edinburgh and Paisley locations, complete an enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050.

Songs for Sound Minds #9 – ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty

Our series on music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health is heading over the Atlantic for a signature track by Tom Petty.

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

Not many artists can get George Harrison and Ringo Starr to perform as their backing band. Tom Petty can. Fewer still can get half of The Beatles to appear on a song written about an unsuccessful attempt on their life. Tom Petty can.

I Won’t Back Down is a song about not backing down. On the surface the lyrics seem to make it easy to determine the meaning – angry song writer writes about not getting his or her way. It might even seem a bit vacuous. Just another bit of disposable pop music. But I Won’t Back Down is much more than that and far more powerful and important.

Music stars complain about their ‘problems’ a lot in their songs. These days it tends to be about badly behaved partners, inadequately sized private jets or being ‘direspected’. Instead Petty’s classic is about something really serious – an act of arson that nearly killed him.

Out of the ashes

Tom Petty I Won't Back DownPrior to recording his debut solo album Full Moon Fever, an arsonist burned down Petty’s house while he was in it with his family and their housekeeper. Thankfully everyone escaped the blaze but the house was severely damaged.

For a period of several months the family lived between hotel rooms and rented houses. Out of the ashes of Petty’s house came a song about defiance in the face of real trauma – especially as the arsonist was never caught.

During an interview with Harp in 2006 Petty talked about the song: “That song frightened me when I wrote it. I didn’t embrace it at all. I thought it wasn’t that good because it was so naked. So I had a lot of second thoughts about recording that song.”

Connecting to a song

Despite his reservations the song was recorded: “everyone around me liked the song and said it was really good and it turns out everyone was right – more people connect to that song than anything I ever wrote.” Since the song was released in 1989 it has become a personal anthem for thousands going through tough times: “I’ve had so many people tell me that it helped them through this or it helped them through that. I’m still continually amazed by the power a little 3-minute song has.”

Even amongst a back-catalogue of hits featuring American Girl and Free-Fallin, I Won’t Back Down remains the most important. Written out of real pain, fear and anger, I Won’t Back Down is a song for anyone needing a reminder why it is important to stand your ground and act on what you believe in. Even if that means there is no easy way out.

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

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

primal scream

Songs for Sound Minds #8 – ‘Movin on Up’ by Primal Scream

Continuing our series of music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health this week’s pick is from the inimitable Primal Scream.

Movin on Up – Primal Scream

primal-screamCreated to be a “slow gospel ballad” Movin on Up by Primal Scream just oozes energy and positivity. An anthem of the 1990s the song soars on lyrics by Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie and that now familiar ‘Bo Diddley’ guitar style given to the track by co-writer Andrew Innes.

I’m movin’ on up now
Getting out of the darkness
My light shines on
My light shines on
My light shines on

In an interview for NME’s Song Storys series Bobby Gillespie explained the lyrics as “simple and direct” and “in a language anyone can understand”.

“It’s about not being beaten. It’s about fighting back. Maybe its about finding someone or something that you believe in to help you get through this life”. Bobby Gillespie.

What might be regarded as Primal Scream’s signature tune, Movin on Up may seem like a simple rock n roll song. But the simplicity of the lyrics are part of its universal appeal and resonance.

Everyone has experienced a time of darkness. Moments when we need something to help us get back up and take on life again. Something to hold on to and to motivate us to come back with bravery and courage and keep going. Movin on Up is a song that captures that perfectly. And it offers up a cracking piece of ‘turn it up to 11’ rock n roll to celebrate when we do move out of the darkness.

Perhaps the best way and certainly the simplest way to describe Movin on Up can be left to Mr Gillespie: ‘Don’t let the b*****ds grind you down’.

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

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

january blues

The January blues or winter blues are something we are all familiar with. Gone is the colour and excitement of Christmas leaving behind credit card bills, cold weather and long, dark nights.

Here at The Spark we are saying ‘no’ to the January blues in 2017. We want to help you make the most of January!

Beat the January blues this year!

We have put together 10 great ways to help you beat the January blues. Each day we will be posting a new tip to help make the best of the first month of the New Year.

January blues messy kitchenDay 1: Expect a lull after Christmas and New Year

Even though we know it is coming we still go in to January unprepared and almost shocked by its lack of fun. After the excitement of Christmas and New Year, returning to the mundane aspects of everyday life – washing dishes, paying bills, going back to work – catches us by surprise and lays the foundations for the January blues.

Instead of wallowing, accept that January will be less fun than the festive period. Look at January as an opportunity for some self-reflection and take advantage of a quieter few weeks.

Use that extra time to consider what you would like to do, learn or achieve in 2017. Think about a New Year resolution – read our blog on how to set and keep a New Year resolution – or consider what you want to make 2017 like for you.

hug-cuddle-winterDay 2: Consider what you have right now instead of focusing on what you don’t

Even if we did get what we wanted for Christmas, in our era of consumerism the chances are we will still end up wanting more. There can be a sort of ‘Christmas present hangover’ when we realise someone else got a bigger, faster or more expensive version of whatever we received.

Try going back to basics and consider what you have right now. And not just in terms of ‘stuff’. What about your health, your family, good relationships with friends or your steady job? Consider how much you enjoyed the Christmas break and what you have to look forward to in 2017.

A different mind-set can go a long way to tackling the January blues.

Day 3: Have a realistic New Year resolution or resolutions january blues motivation

We have all fallen victim to making bold New Year resolutions that evaporate by the end of the first week in January. Consequently we add more negative energy to the January blues by using our failure as a stick to beat ourselves with.

Take some time to decide on your New Year resolution. There is no law that states it has to be sorted before midnight on 31 December!  Read our article on sticking to your New Year resolutions and set a resolution or resolutions that are realistic in terms of time, finances and other commitments.

For example, setting out to ‘join a gym, work out 3 times a week and lose half a stone in weight by February’ is likely to fail. For starters that 1 resolution actually incorporates about 8 pretty tough resolutions within it:

  1. Join a gym
  2. Get in to a habit of going to the gym at least once a week
  3. Don’t quit the gym after 2 weeks like most people do
  4. Create enough space in my week to go to the gym 3 times per week
  5. Build up to going to the gym consistently 3 times per week
  6. Get a healthy eating plan
  7. Start the healthy eating plan
  8. Stick to the healthy eating plan for more than 2 weeks
  9. Cut out sweets, chocolate and sugar.

Be realistic and consider setting out smaller, more achievable goals to get you started towards your ultimate goal.

january blues divorce-papersDay 4: Don’t give up on relationships

Sadly January is the peak month for couples beginning divorce proceedings. Often the pressure of Christmas and New Year leaves one or both parties to a marriage waving the white flag.

Before Christmas we encouraged couples with relationship problems to seek marriage counselling/ couple counselling in advance. In January we ask that couples consider counselling as a way to heal their relationship wounds before opting for separation.

The emotional, mental and financial cost of divorce or separation is immense – more so when children are involved. Counselling is a genuine alternative to accepting divorce is the only outcome. All too often couples will try to resolve issues privately but counselling is a better alternative. Working with a professional counsellor can provide couples with the opportunity to work through their problems instead of heading straight to court.

Day 5: Commit to an exercise planjanuary blues beat them with exercise

Exercise is good for us, plain and simple. The endorphins and other chemicals released by exercise are the body’s natural way of making us feel good. Beyond that exercise can help with weight management, reduce our risk of serious illness like heart disease and can be a great way to socialise.

Banish the usual ‘it’s too cold, wet and dark outside’ January excuses and get some back up plans in place. Swimming, gym classes or yoga are perfect indoor activities for colder months when a brisk walk or jog is less appealing.

talking-coffeeDay 6: Which relationships do you want to improve in the New Year?

Scientific research is piling up every week to confirm that good, healthy relationships are key to our happiness. More than wealth or status, strong long-lasting relationships are the key to good mental and emotional wellbeing.


In January consider which relationships you want to improve or enjoy more of. Instead of dwelling on how those relationships might be in a bad place or have been neglected, consider talking to a relationship counsellor about how to approach key issues in those important relationships. Then you will be able to take some positive and proactive steps towards improving them.

Day 7: Get some daylightjanuary blues beaten with a winter-walk

Though it might not feel like it, from around 22/23 December the days actually started getting longer. Admittedly by only a few seconds at first but by the time we reach late January the days are nearly 4 minutes longer (and lengthening!).

Instead of staying indoors from January to April, plan in a regular lunchtime walk during work or get out at the weekend while the sun is up. Even low intensity winter sunlight can positively impact our mood and January tends to be drier than November and December too! (we didn’t quite believe it either but its true!)

As Billy Connolly always says: “In Scotland there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Wrap up and get out there.

whats-next-blackboard-schoolDay 8: Work on one aspect of your life at a time

Self-reflection at the start of a new year is a valuable thing to do. But it can often become a stick (or several) with which we beat ourselves with. We can end up analysing all aspects of our life and come to the depressing conclusion that everything needs attention. Overwhelmed we do nothing and feel even worse about ourselves.


Pick one area of your life and focus on that. Is it your relationship with your partner? Is it a desire to spend more time with your kids? Do you want to get more exercise or learn a new skill? Do you want to socialise more with friends? Pick one area and work on that.

Once you see positive signs of progress, consider adding one other aspect of your life you would like to work on but remember the principles of our Day 3 advice on setting resolutions and goals.

Day 9: Take a look at your jobjanuary blues at work

Few people head back to work in January with a spring in their step. Most of us would happily spend a few more weeks chilling out in our Christmas pyjamas watching our favourite movies. But if you are genuinely unhappy at the prospect of going back, it might be worth taking a look at your job.

It might be time to look for a new opportunity elsewhere. But also consider what you do like about your current job. Are there ways to do more of that? Similarly are there any ways you can think to make your day more enjoyable or interesting?

Alternatively could you move to a different team or department within your organisation? Could you learn new skills to broaden opportunities in your workplace?

You might be surprised how many options are available that could mean you do not need to find a completely new job to get more satisfaction.

Family beach walkingDay 10: Plan a holiday

Getting a holiday booked and in the diary is a great way to tackle the January blues.  And it does not have to be an expensive trip overseas.

Planning a few days off or a ‘staycation’ give us something to look forward to as much as a trip to the sun. The excitement and anticipation of the holiday is believed to release endorphins in a similar way to exercise.

While the January credit card bill might not allow you to book a trip away, there is nothing to stop you getting some ideas and starting planning. When the January blues start to kick in get yourself loaded up with travel brochures and start planning!

Counselling and support

January can be a difficult time for any of us. Relationship issues, financial worries and the winter blues are common at this time of year.

We provide expert private counselling and support for individuals, couples and families across Scotland.

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

January is the busiest month of the year for couples beginning divorce proceedings. But by choosing to turn to counselling first your marriage does not have to become just another New Year statistic.

Peak season for divorce

divorce-papersWithin legal circles January is widely regarded as the peak season for divorce. Statistics vary but the initiation of divorce proceedings in January is typically higher than any other month. The increase can range from 60% to a startling 300% according to some surveys.

Indeed many legal firms have narrowed the January ‘divorce month’ phenomenon down to a specific day – D-Day or ‘Divorce Day’. The Monday of the first full working week after New Year is generally regarded as D-Day in the profession. Christmas stress, January credit card bills, ongoing arguments come to a head during the festive season and January inevitably becomes a release valve for the pressure.

Divorce Day

The prospect of a marriage splitting up is a heart breaking one. As providers of marriage counselling and relationship counselling, The Spark work to help couples avoid reaching the stage of believing separation is the only answer. Amongst the media coverage of celebrity ‘quickie’ divorces and aggressive advertising strategies by legal firms, it is completely understandable why many couples think relationship problems can only be resolved by divorce.

Couple separate divorceDivorce is not the only option

When a couple is facing relationship problems and the very real risk of relationship breakdown, counselling is a realistic and practical solution. Relationship counsellors work with both individuals to discover the underlying issues behind their marriage problems.

By discovering those core issues a couple are then able to work through them with their counsellor. The journey of self-examination and self-discovery often leads to not only a better but vastly improved relationship.  This is quite different from couples simply building up their defences ahead of a divorce battle or attending mediation.

Mediation is becoming an increasingly familiar concept.  It is however important to understand the very specific role mediation plays.

The difference between relationship counselling and mediation

Meditation does not help a relationship normalise nor deal with the underlying problems. Instead mediation is about negotiating the overall terms of a separation in order to avoid legal battles over issues like child custody and financial settlements. Mediation can be vital for many couples but it is still ultimately a choice that signifies separation is considered inevitable.

Relationship counselling to help your marriage


At The Spark we see a considerable spike in couples seeking marriage counselling in January. In the context of divorce day this is broadly a good thing; these are couples that have not gone straight down the road of divorce or mediation.

Sometimes separation is the only option for a couple. In many cases relationship counselling can still benefit couples by helpling them to divorce amicably. When children are involved the opportunity to cease hostilities through counselling can help to lay a strong foundation for future co-parenting.

On the cusp of ‘Divorce Day’ please consider that if you are experiencing relationship problems, divorce is not the only option. Speak to us and use the extensive knowledge and expertise of our counsellors to help your relationship.

Marriage counselling

The Spark has been providing relationship and marriage counselling for 50 years. Our team of BACP and COSCA accredited relationship counsellors are specialists in helping couples tackle marriage problems.

With 17 counselling centres across Scotland The Spark is ready and waiting to help your marriage get back on track.

To make an enquiry freephone our enquiries team on 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.