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.

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.

Teenager mobile sexting

Raising children in the digital age brings with it a host of challenges previous generations never faced. One such high profile and extremely distressing issue – sexting – features in the final series of ITV’s Broadchurch drama.

Spoiler alert

Broadchurch series 3 features sexting(If you are yet to watch series 3 of Broadchurch and want to be kept in suspense, head back to our blog page!)

A significant sub-plot in series 3 has revolved around the difficult subjects of sexting and revenge porn. David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy is faced with a revelation that his daughter Daisy has been ‘sexting’. As a result she has been subject to an act of revenge porn: an explicit image of her has been shared without her permission online. Hardy’s reaction is what you would expect of any parent: anger, confusion and extreme concern.

Sexting is an issue that is fast becoming a common problem. As the lives of young people become ever more embedded in social media, its significance and the number of incidences will only increase. This is perhaps why the issue has been deftly woven in to the storyline of Broadchurch. All of which of course begs an important question: how can parents protect their kids from sexting?

Sexting advice for parents

Revenge porn typically – but not exclusively – occurs following the breakdown of a relationship. During that relationship ‘sexting’* – the sharing of explicit images/video/text via online messaging tools or apps – has occurred.  The content is then used against the former partner.

Online shaming is sadly becoming mainstream. Consequently new legislation in England and Wales has come in to force with Scotland following suit this year.

Sexting and how to protect your child

Best practice suggests that parents need to be taking a proactive approach. As with drugs and alcohol, the best form of defence is to proactively educate children about issues like sexting before they become a part of a child’s relationships.

1. Speak openly and as early as possible

Speak to your children openly about sexual issues, including sexting. Yes it is uncomfortable and awkward. Undoubtedly part of you will feel that your child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to such issues. Sadly if you do not educate them someone else will. Or they will turn to unfiltered sources on the Internet or their peer group for answers.

2. Never assume “it’ll never happen to them”

Be careful not to simply assume ‘my son/daughter’ would never do that. Peer pressure in particular can be immensely powerful. We can all remember the pressure to ‘fit in’ at school and sexting is now just another way for young people to experience that pressure.  Just as many parents assumed incorrectly that their children would never drink alcohol under age or take drugs, the same must apply to these emerging issues.

3. Talk about the emotional and legal implications of sexting

Teenager mobile sexting

Discuss the risks associated with sexting and revenge porn. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if an image of them was shared at school/ amongst their circle of friends. Ask them to consider whether the hurt and embarrassment of this happening is worth taking the risk in the first place.

It is important also to be clear about the legal implications of, for example, exchanging explicit images. Many 15 and 16 year olds today will be unaware that possessing explicit images of their boyfriend/girlfriend is illegal. The law is clear on this matter and it still applies even if the individual in possession of the image(s) is over 18 but their partner is not.

4. Do they know who they are sharing with online?

Talk about the importance of really knowing who they are sharing information with online. That goes for personal information about them as much as images. Again it will be a difficult subject to handle but it is important to talk openly and honestly about issues like grooming, sexual exploitation and paedophilia.

5. Give them someone to talk to

sextingSpecifically in terms of who the child can talk to about such issues. It may be that speaking to mum or dad regularly about these issues is too uncomfortable. In that case look for a suitable substitute like a trusted member of the family or an older cousin/family friend. It is critical however that they are fully aware of your perspective, educated about the risks and perhaps even able to offer cautionary stories from their own peer group.

Overarching all of these practical tips is a core belief about what makes a good relationship. As a society we want to give our children the understanding that a loving relationship does not require or depend upon the sharing of explicit content. We want to be instilling in them the belief that a good relationship is built upon self-respect and a respect and care for each other. Not the fear, power and control that can come from sharing explicit images.

My child has been sexting

If your child has been involved in sexting or sexting that has resulted in revenge porn/ threat of revenge porn, there is lots of additional advice online.

Young Scot, the NSPCC and ChildLine offer good online resources. Information includes how to get images removed if they have been shared on social network sites like Facebook or Twitter. Plus further advice on keeping children safe online.

*Sexting can also be known as ‘pic for pic’, ‘dirties’, ‘sending nudes’ or ‘trading nudes’.

Tips for parents during exams - a bit of mess is allowed

Exam time can be as stressful for parents as it is for students. The normal teenage angst that leads to tension in the household cranks up a few notches during exam preparation. Indeed many parents will recall attempts to ‘help’ their stressed-out teen that are interpreted as an act of war worthy of Michael Howard.

As we enter exam time for high school, college and university students, The Spark has pulled together our tips for parents during exams.

Tips for parents during exams

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Tips for parents during exams - a bit of mess is allowed

Consider the build-up to and during exams as an amnesty on issues that would typically cause some friction. Bedrooms might be messier than usual. Chores might be forgotten. But all of that is ok.

It is easy for parents during exams to revert back to the normal habit of badgering their teenager in to action. By easing off on the usual household duties you will however be giving your child more time and space to focus on exam revision. Once exams are out of the way the temporary suspension can lift and son or daughter can do a bit of catching up. After all, they will have the whole summer holidays to make up for it!

2. Talk about exam nerves and realistic expectations

Though it might seem akin to poking a caged tiger, gently encourage your daughter or son to talk, when ready, about exam nerves. How are they feeling? What pressure are they putting on themselves to deliver certain results? Emphasise that such feelings are completely normal and to be expected. Remind them of their hard work to date to build confidence and suggest they have a look at our exam stress tips for students.

3. Help make time for exercise during exam preparation

tips for parents during exams - help them get some exerciseParents during exams want their kids to do as well as they can. By definition that entails a commitment to revision, past papers and the like. A regime of eat-sleep-study-repeat is however counter-productive.

Physical exercise releases endorphins – the body’s natural mood lifter. This helps to clear their mind and take them out of the exam pressure cooker. Parents can play a vital role in encouraging and making exercise possible. For example by offering to take them to and from a sports venue or paying for them to take a night off studying to hit the gym. Help them put together a study schedule that includes regular breaks for exercise and encourage them to maintain attendance at sporting clubs or groups.

Find out more on ways for teens to exercise.

4. You get out what you put in

Along with exercise to help keep your child out of an eat-sleep-study-repeat cycle, play your part in terms of maintaining a good diet and chill out time. Focused time revising for exams is important but a cycle of study with few breaks and surviving on a diet of ‘at the desk’ snack food and energy drinks will compromise their health and exam preparations.

Check out this guide to healthy eating for teens.

5. What are you expecting from them during their exams?

tips for parents during exams - manage expectationsParents naturally want their children to do well in exams through school and further education. That is completely natural. Most kids place enough pressure upon themselves during study and exam preparation to make that outcome a reality. Additional expectations, demands or pressure from mum and dad can end up being more damaging than useful.

The application of additional pressure by mum and dad may be explicit, like telling them you want them to achieve certain grades. Or it can be more implicit, like how you talk about your expectations for exam success in front of their friends/parents of their friends.

Reassure them of your love and support no matter what the outcome of exams and emphasise that this is not the be all and end all for them. Why not encourage them to read our article ‘Do exam results define your future?’

Support and counselling from The Spark

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

If you feel exam stress is impacting on the relationships in your family, The Spark can offer support, advice and counselling to tackle difficult issues.

Find out more about private counselling – for parents and families – or freephone 0808 802 0050. You can also contact our Relationship Helpline for free support with relationship problems or check out our free parenting resources online.

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.

exam stress tips

It is not long until schools, colleges and universities across Scotland will put up their ‘Quiet! Exam in Progress’ signs. And with it comes the inevitable exam stress and worry.

To help you cope with pre-exam nerves, The Spark has prepared some top tips. We work in Scottish schools providing courses on how to cope with exam stress and nerves so you can be sure we know a thing or two about getting through exam season.  Here are our top 4 tips for coping with exam stress.

Exam stress tips #1: exam stress is totally normal

exam stress tipsFeeling a degree of stress and nerves about exams is a completely normal reaction. Exams are an important step in your life and you want to do your best. But keep in mind that you are not alone or ‘flaky’ or ‘weak’ for feeling this way.

Every person has a different tolerance for stress and a different way of responding to it. For some it can be – in manageable doses – a help to maintain focus and encourage them to study. Other people struggle to manage it effectively.

The key is to put your exams in perspective. They are one step in your life journey and your future is unlikely to be ‘wrecked’ by not doing as well as you might have hoped. Many people find other routes to their chosen career despite disappointing exam results. The process might take a little longer or be a bit harder but you can still get there. Do your best and see what happens.

Related article: Do exam results define your future? Thankfully, no. 

Exam stress tips #2: talk about how you are feeling

Preparing for exams can make you feel like it is ‘you versus the world’. It might seem like you have no support and long hours studying can leave you feeling isolated and under pressure. Talking about how you are coping with exam preparation is really beneficial.

Your friends are going through the same experience. Instead of bottling up your emotions or feeling like you just need to get through it, share how you are feeling with a trusted friend. Remember that your parents and older siblings have been there before and came out the other side. You might be surprised how helpful and reassuring talking to them can be on issues like exam prep, coping with nerves and dealing with results (good or bad).

Exam stress tips #3: take care of yourself

Stressing over exams can often lead us into negative behaviour, like cramming in as much revision as possible. Students can end up filling every waking hour (and a few when they should be sleeping) with past papers and course revision. None of that is healthy and can actually be counter-productive.

Performing well in your exams requires revision and preparation. But it also needs you to be in top form physically and mentally. That entails looking after your own wellbeing by sleeping well, eating healthily (not litres of Red Bull!) and exercising. Passing an exam is as much about how you slept, ate and exercised as how many hours revision you managed.

Find out more about health eating for your age group

exam stress tipsExam stress tips #4: it does not have to be revision 24/7

It is important to strike a balance between revision and having some fun. As a part of looking after yourself set time aside to do something you really enjoy and to chill out.

It will be tempting to forget about studying however! As a result it is important to be disciplined enough to limit that time. Put together a study schedule that includes an hour of revision followed by a 20 minute break watching your favourite TV comedy or listening to relaxing music. Feeling refreshed, you can then return to your studying and smash a few more hours of revision.

At the end of a good day of study, organise something fun to do as a reward for your efforts. Catch up with a friend or go to the gym as a little ‘well done’ to yourself for another day of exam prep.

Exam stress and relationships

Exam stress can be a real challenge for any young person. It can impact on your closest relationships – with friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, family – negatively. If you are struggling you can contact our free Relationship Helpline.

The Helpline offers help and advice via live web chat online or on freephone 0808 802 2088.

If you are aged 18 or over you can also talk to us about counselling and whether that could help you with the challenges you are facing. Contact our enquiries line free on 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry online.

How to keep the kids’ busy during the Easter school holiday

The Easter school holiday is nearly upon us. Parents can look forward to asking the same big question a dozen times: what do I do with the kids today? To help ease the pressure on stressed-out parents, here are our top 5 things to do for the Easter holiday.

1. Have your own bake off

Easter school holidayBaking is a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen and help them understand what goes in to preparing any kind of food. It is inevitably messy (which kids love), teaches them how to follow instructions and rewards patience (a much sought after character trait amongst the IPad generation!)

There are thousands of simple baking recipes available for free online. YouTube also offers helpful videos if you are not a natural Nigella or Mary Berry.

Plus baking with the kids is easy on the bank balance as ingredients are likely to be some of the cheapest on your weekly grocery shopping list.

Easter school holiday2. Use your local library

Libraries often provide free or low cost activities during the school holidays. They are also a great place to encourage and cultivate imagination. Amongst all the smartphones, YouTube and PS4 kids of any age love to sit down with a good book.

Local libraries often have a big selection of children’s titles to suit all reading abilities and interests. From kids classics and modern characters like Katie Morag and the Gruffalo, libraries are a brilliant way to spend a few mind-broadening hours.

Find your local library’s website or your local council website for details.

3. A (cheap) trip to the cinema

Easter school holidayTaking kids to the cinema can be a very costly affair. Thankfully, both ODEON and Cineworld offer morning screenings of top kids films during the Easter half-term holidays. Tickets start from as little as £2.00 and it is a great chance to catch up on some recent favourites.

Stock up on popcorn and drinks from your local shop to avoid paying premium prices at the cinema. Alternatively take along some homemade treats made earlier in the Easter holiday during your family ‘bake off’!

4. Create a fairy castle or superhero hideout


Easter school holidayNo doubt there will be loads of cardboard boxes in your garage or loft. And no doubt you’ll be keeping them because they will ‘come in handy’ one day. The Easter school holiday is that day!

Kids love nothing better than combining their amazing imagination with arts/crafts and creating their own wee space. Grab the boxes plus all the crafting bits and pieces you have (pens, pencils, glitter, paper) and build a castle or hideout with them.

Thanks to Frozen and Beauty and the Beast many kids would love a fairy-tale castle. Others a secret base for The Avengers or their own Batcave. The biggest problem you’ll have is trying to get Elsa or Bruce Wayne to leave their hideout for dinner!

Easter school holiday5. Take day trip by train

Thanks to Scotrail’s Kids Go Free ticket you can explore Scotland during the Easter school holiday at low cost. Two children aged between 5 and 15 can travel for free with 1 paying adult during off peak travel (and who wants to try and coral the kids somewhere during morning rush hour?!).

But the great value does not end there! The Kids Go Free package also offers discounted admission to some of Scotland’s top attractions. From the Aberdeen Science Centre to Culzean Castle, the Hampden Stadium Experience and the historic RRS Discovery in Dundee, great low cost days out are ready and waiting.

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.

Whether you need help with parenting, overcoming family issues or dealing with the normal pressures of being part of a family, The Spark can help.

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.

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.

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.

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