The Perils Of Co-Habiting With Your Hobby

Beautiful Landscape With Tree Silhouette And Reflection At Sunset With Alone Girl And Bike Under The Tree

“Well, there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the famous (or perhaps infamous) Panorama interview that Princess Diana gave to Martin Bashir and that answer, in response to his question about whether she felt Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage.

Relationships can be crowded enough with just two people in them, never mind an unwanted interloper who sucks love and mutual respect from them. But it’s not always other people who overcrowd a marriage or long-term relationship.

Sometimes it’s obsession.

We all know someone who’s discovered a new passion. Their enthusiasm for whatever diversion they’ve stumbled across converts them into instant experts – crusading evangelists for whom every road leads to Damascus and the conversion of others.

They are the animated, gushing advocates for their new-found hobby who seem to harness more power than the most tyrannical of fire and brimstone preachers. We might even have been that person ourselves.

We probably admire their dedication, but we wouldn’t want to live with them because the thought of having to live with an apparently unending dialogue about fishing or cycling or macramé is just too awful to contemplate. Yet if that person is in a relationship, that’s the fate that befalls their significant other.

Now, for most people a new hobby becomes all-consuming (and, let’s be honest, really irritating) for short time and then it relaxes into something more considered and reasonable and that person is once again able to find a balance between the interest they have and the need to be able to engage more broadly with life.

But for some people, the obsession grows until it dwarfs – and then obliterates – everything around it. In this sense, the hobby becomes an addiction which can be every bit as destructive to a relationship as alcohol or drugs. 

Personal fitness and sports are common examples, largely because of the naturally addictive ‘drug’ – endorphins – exercise produces. The more people exercise, the more they need to exercise in order to get the natural ‘high’ that comes with it.

But there are others – golf, music, travel … anything that captures the imagination has the potential to become an obsession. And when this happens, there’s a danger that we’re entering into a new relationship – only this time the relationship is with a hobby rather than a person.

This is time and energy we could be potentially taking away from the ’emotional bank account’, a term coined by renowned couples’ therapists John and Julie Gottman which describes the daily moments when we connect with our romantic partner, talk about our day, express affection.

Adding a hobby into the relationship mix – one from which the other person is excluded (whether intentionally or through their own lack of interest) – we can end up generating unresolved feelings of resentment, of being left out and of jealousy.

If these feelings are left unexpressed, they can potentially wreak havoc in a relationship as resentment and the pain of exclusion builds up over time.

What follows is a domino effect. We end up arguing over who used the last bit of milk, or who left the toilet seat up (or down) or who didn’t put the bins out, when really it’s got nothing to do with those things at all.

Ultimately that turns into regular conflict and the creation of distance in the relationship. The more we fail get to the root issue, the more likely it is that the conflict increases or the distance and sense of leading separate lives grows.

But what is it that causes us to develop an excessive relationship with a hobby? There are a few possible reasons.

First, it feels good – like when we release endorphins during exercise. We’re spending time doing something we enjoy and that gives us a sense of achievement.

But if we begin to indulge a hobby to the exclusion of other parts of our lives, it’s a sign that unconsciously we may be avoiding intimacy. We may be using our hobby as a distraction from what’s really going on.

There could be underlying issues in the relationship that need to be spoken about but we don’t know how to approach those issues or start the conversations we need to have in order to resolve them. This is where seeking support and advice could be the essential next steps in moving forward in your relationship. 

One option to find a way forward is to take some time alone or with someone we trust to talk and reflect on what it is we may be avoiding or distracting ourselves from.

Did we already feel the relationship was faltering, making us want to spend more time outside of it? Were we experiencing an increase in conflict that was not being addressed or resolved? Maybe we felt our partner was also spending time and energy elsewhere and so we felt forced to do the same thing and develop our own hobby? 

We can look at creating the time and space when their partner is in a good space to listen and talk things through.

That means letting our partner know there’s something important we want to talk about and then creating the right context for that conversation – no distractions, phones off, kids in bed, both feeling as prepared as possible to have an important discussion free from interruptions. 

If you initiate a conversation without warning it can lead to defensiveness and the person feeling like they are under attack. And when we feel like we are being attacked, our decision-making, logical-thinking pre frontal cortex brain literally goes offline. So, at this point it will be very difficult to have an adult, calm and respectful conversation. 

Then there’s the actual process having the conversation. Communicating with each other. Giving space to each other and when the partner is sharing what’s going on for them – allowing them to share freely without reacting immediately to what’s being said.

The conversation is an opportunity for both people to share how the hobby is impacting on the relationship and also for the person with the hobby to share any underlying issues they feel might have contributed to their excessive relationship with the hobby.

Sometimes it can be really difficult to have these conversations, and this is where working with someone such as our Love, Relationship & Sexuality Coach Emma Spiegler, can not only be the provision of a safe space to explore the issues lurking behind the conscious or unconscious avoidance of intimacy, but also a good place to discover how to resolve these issues and turn towards their partner with openness and love and invest into the emotional bank account.   


No, really…. it’s absolutely OK to love who you are

Red Heart

The ego can be a thing of terrible beauty – rampantly cocksure one moment, fragile as parchment the next.

It is capable of inspiring and propelling us to moments of true greatness, leaving others around us lost in the backwash of its afterburners. And then, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instant, it can plunge us into self-doubt and self-loathing.

Ego defines our emotional and psychological essence, a wild animal that paces the cage we lock it in. We feed it and it grows. We starve it and it shrinks. We neglect it and it becomes savage.

Often, its food of choice – or, perhaps more accurately at least, the diet we choose to feed it – is the approval and love of others. Our daily interactions with other humans – and machines, actually – can be boiled down into simple transactions of approval and disapproval, an ongoing exercise in the mutual business of validation, judgement, recognition and acknowledgement.

For the most part, these things are largely trivial. It’s the smile from the barista when they hand us a skinny white decaf. It’s the grateful flash of headlights from another driver when you stop to let them through. It’s recognition from a slight acquaintance who remembers you. It’s when someone likes your Facebook post or retweets you.

Other elements of our transactional relationships have more weight: praise and emotional or financial reward at work, the spontaneous show of unconditional and unsolicited affection from a partner, the return of romantic interest from someone we find attractive, the pride of a parent.

And just as this apparent positive validation of our worth to society feeds our ego, fattening it that it might grow, a lack of validation or, worse, active disapproval of our sense of being and value brings self-doubt and, in extremis, self-loathing when we are not anchored by a healthy foundation of self love.

If the essence of who we are – the ego – really is a wild animal, then it’s in our own self-interest to tame it.

But we also need to understand that ego can never be truly housetrained, because there are emotions as volatile as quicksilver that inherently make up its DNA – anger, passion and love, for example – and these are not only an intrinsic part of who we are but are also, in moderation, part of a healthy psyche.

So, what does it take to temper, if not wholly tame, the beast? Ultimately, it comes down to understanding that the most important validation we receive is the validation we give ourselves.

In short, it’s about realising – and then accepting – that it’s absolutely all right to love ourselves.

We are conditioned by society to believe that self-appreciation is ill-disguised vanity, a character trait more deserving of scorn than respect.

But there is a fundamental difference between self-validation and vainglory. The quiet self-reassurance that confirms our own worth and value and integrity as a human being is the polar opposite of wanton boastfulness that is the progenitor of envy.

Like all things, we need to practise self-love daily in order to turn it into habit. We do that by choosing not to beat ourselves up, by not abandoning ourselves through the choices we make and by removing ourselves with dignity from harmful or toxic situations and people.

Self-love is about having the strength of character, psychologically and emotionally, so that the positive view of yourself is unaffected – or, at the very least, less affected – when someone in your orbit decides to be a dick about who or what you are.

And in turn, we find we can recover from painful situations more quickly because we don’t become lost in their afterburners.

An absence of self-love leaves us horribly vulnerable to the ego’s swings in response to validation or disapproval.

That makes for a rocky road through life, one paved with a corrosive and submissive need to please everyone in the pursuit of their love and appreciation. It is the road upon which we develop an anodyne and vanilla mask behind which our true self hides.

With self-love we understand and accept we can’t please all the people all the time, that we will piss people off and that the world beyond the parapet is sometimes an unforgiving place in which we absolutely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

It’s about allowing your self-belief and self-respect to be absolutely unshakeable despite the fact someone else might not see you for who and what you really are.

It’s about not letting someone tell you that you can’t do something.

It’s about learning to trust yourself and always listening to your intuition above all else no matter how experienced or demonstrative the person giving you advice.

Above all, loving yourself for being you doesn’t mean others will also see you as you see yourself. It doesn’t mean your boss or your colleague or your lover or the barista will treat you as you deserve to be treated. Bottom line? It won’t stop that dick being a dick.

You won’t suddenly be without flaws. You won’t find yourself exalted to a pedestal or adored, Kardashian-style, on social media. You won’t necessarily be everyone’s must-have friend.

Self-love doesn’t make you exempt from criticism and it doesn’t mean you won’t experience toxic behaviour.

But it does mean you won’t tolerate that, and the effects of others’ behaviour and actions won’t be something you stick in your emotional suitcase and wheel around with you for evermore.

Self-love isn’t about being perfect (and what the hell is that even, anyway?) It’s about being good enough for yourself to live with, and strong enough to choose not to live around the people who’d prefer to see you as something less than that.

The festive season is almost upon us, so do yourself a favour this Christmas and give yourself the gift of self-acceptance. Walk tall and proud and relax, knowing you’re already enough, regardless of how much you might want to still improve.

Be you. It’s the most exquisite gift you’ll unwrap this year.


Are You Dating From Defecit?

Um...no Picnic

In a shade over six months the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. Whatever your view of that in principle, the matter of Britain’s membership is a debate that has long since been obsolete. Our love affair with Europe is in its death throes and come next March the political equivalent of a decree absolute will formally be signed by all parties.

Our departure is no longer about the financial terms of the divorce, either. 

Events over the weekend (which largely unfolded in The Daily Mail at the pen of Boris Johnson) and this morning, as it was revealed that at least 80 Conservative MPs will vote against Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ deal, have ensured that the immediate post-referendum arguments over whether or not the NHS would get another £350m a week are also now entirely moot.

The big question today is whether we will have any sort of formal relationship with the rest of Europe at all. 

And as we career toward the increasingly likely reality of crashing out of Europe without a deal, there is a growing clamour from the cheap seats to suggest the Prime Minister finds herself in the uncomfortable position of trying to broker a new relationship with Europe from a position of total weakness.

There will be a relationship of some sort simply because there must be. Our economy is not built to allow us to be a Bridget Jones-style singleton restricted solely to slightly grubby one-night stands behind a skip with the US or China. We need the love of Europe if only because so much of our economy relies on her.

So, what has all that got to do with love and romance? Well, quite a lot as it happens, because people who are dating from deficit – where one person believes they have nothing to bring to the relationship but requires a lot in return – is something we see a lot.

What this boils down to in effect is that people can see a potential relationship as the be-all and end-all answer for not feeling good about themselves or as a substitute for whatever they think might be missing in their life – and the result is that they begin to outsource their self-esteem, passing responsibility for their emotional wellbeing to someone else. While that may be the easiest option – subconsciously or otherwise – looking after your emotional wellbeing isn’t someone else’s job.

And anyway, your self-esteem is far too precious to entrust to someone else. The start, or even whiff, of a new relationship can be like getting a regular dose of laughing gas. It can numb the pain you feel and can make you feel invincible. For a while. 

But it’s always a temporary respite and given how you value yourself affects your perception of yourself and others, your self-respect and your basic judgement, there’s a highly rational argument to say the last thing you should be doing is making yourself available and, therefore, vulnerable at the very moment you really need all those attributes to be fully functional.

As Natalie Lue, the queen of all things self-esteem, says:  If you can’t date with your self-esteem in tow, wait until you can

Natalie is essential reading for anyone struggling with self-esteem in relationships and has written an incredible blog on the subject. 

In the end, there isn’t actually a short cut to loving ourselves. We see plenty of people in unhappy relationships with themselves and significant others as evidence of this.

When we take shortcuts, we have to accept the fact there will be consequences every time we abandon the loyalty and responsibility we have for our emotional wellbeing. Those consequences manifest themselves in how we feel, how things go and what happens in the future.

Occasionally it’s quite liberating to damn the consequences and not do due diligence during the dating process, but if that becomes the default solution to every situation life throws at you and you’re not ultimately true to who you are and need to be, then eventually the wheels are going to come off in the howl of tearing emotional metal that will leave you broken at the side of life’s busy highway.

As therapists we’re fond of saying that the best relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. If it sounds like it’s a cliché then that’s probably because it is – in the same way that every truism is, by definition, a cliché. 

But when you understand you’re the only person you can rely on to love you for who you’re meant to be, and then live that reality, you’ll find other people will love you for exactly the same reasons. And if they don’t love you, they’ll certainly respect you for it.

In contrast, when you set out to please others before you satisfy your own emotional needs you’re more likely to find your self-esteem is the doormat on which they start to wipe their feet – even if they want to cross the threshold into an intimate relationship with you in the first place

It may be that you’re sitting there thinking, it’s all very well saying I need to love myself, but I don’t like who I am! If that’s the case, then guess what? You got it – you need to change your belief system so that you can give yourself fully to you.

When you create boundaries for yourself and can see the value in who you are and what you stand for, the sketchy behaviour that defines the way other people treat us and behave around us also changes positively. And the reason’s simple: in the first place, we’re far less likely to put up with rubbish behaviour from others. If we have good boundaries, and if we’re used to feeling good about ourselves, we’ll recognise when the person we are dating does the opposite; but if we’re used to feeling bad about ourselves then being treated badly by someone will feel incredibly familiar.   

You know that anyway, right? Because most of us have had those moments when we discovered the best things arrive when we’re not trying for them. The way we think and feel about ourselves is not only highly visible – it’s also highly infectious. When we have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to tolerate sketchy behaviour. And the reverse is also true.

If we always arrive at a potential relationship with our self-worth in the red, the chances are we’ll only inspire the person on the opposite side of the candlelit dinner to do one of two things: either they’ll call it a day after the first date; or take emotional advantage of us in a relationship that to all intents and purposes looks normal from the outside but on the inside boasts all the attributes you’d normally associate with a snake pit. 

At worst, we’ll end up spending – and wasting – a significant part of our lives with someone who matches who we are, because nothing creates deficit more effectively than unhelpful narratives about ourselves or the opposite sex.

Those narratives are very popular, and they become self-fulfilling and include:

There are no men/women left for you;

All women/men are psychos;

Men only like young women 

All men cheat;

You can’t meet anyone over your own age;

All women are money grabbers / emotionally unstable  

You only ever attract narcissists

You always get hurt 

You’re doomed to be single forever

These limiting beliefs will do a fabulous job of keeping your victim story alive and kicking, give your first dates the tightest screening outside of airport security, fortify your walls like nothing else, and continue attracting all the negative things out there that there are to attract (yes, these negatives definitely exist, but it’s about learning to see the signs and avoid them).

Insistence creates investment. More than that, what we fear we unconsciously attract, what we resist (getting hurt) persists, what we focus on we get more of – and these beliefs either make you feel terrible about yourself or paint the opposite sex as utter monsters – neither of which will bring you the healthy relationship you desire.

When we believe negative things about ourselves we are also much more likely to be subject to what I call scarcity thinking – and then you end up accepting much less then you truly deserve.

If we don’t think we are lovable (remembering that flawed human traits can still very much be lovable) why would we expect anyone else to?   If we can’t ‘live’ with ourselves why would we expect to find someone who can?  

The good news is that no matter how estranged you and your self-esteem have become, your relationship with yourself is always salvageable. It takes work and effort and, often, the support of a professional therapist – but nothing is ever irretrievable.

Relationships are a mirror of our relationship with ourselves so the most worthwhile thing you can do before going out dating is create a really solid foundation of self-love for yourself, which you do by challenging all the outdated toxic harmful beliefs you have about yourself, relationships, love and the opposite sex and changing them to neutral or positive beliefs that support and uphold you. 

If you don’t, you might just find you’re forced to come up with a relationship plan that even you can’t vote for.


5 Good Reasons To Stop Calling Your Ex A Narcissist

Reserved Ii

The more I read and hear about narcissism these days, the more I think that it is to contemporary emotional psychology what the Atkins Diet was to weight loss in the Nineties: everyone’s got an opinion about it, but no one seems to quite understand how it works.

Google my ex is a narcissist and you’ll get 2,650,000 results. Which is a crazy number. Though arguably not as crazy as some of the advice they contain.

The pearls of largely uninformed wisdom I found in the first dozen or so pages of search results included advice on how to break up with a narcissist, the signs to look for in a narcissist, the three phases of a narcissistic relationship and, most worrying of all, how to win back your narcissistic ex.

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The Path Is Not The Punishment

Lovcen Mountains National Park At Sunset Montenegro

I have a friend whose favourite theory is that Hell isn’t a place you go to when you die, it’s the place you go to live. And you get to do it over and over again, until you become a decent human being.

He’s fond of arguing that reincarnation is simply the re-taking of life’s exams. Then again, he’s also fond of arguing that the people who learn the fewest lessons in life are destined to live in Middlesbrough, so I’m not sure how much credence we can attach to his ramblings.

But if you ignore the religious context for a moment, there’s something of truth in the notion that life will continue to give you the same lesson until you finally learn it.

Giving in to human nature and casting ourselves as victims of life ‘continually’ might elicit more sympathetic hugs on Facebook, but it’s also a sure-fire way to guarantee missing the key lessons we should be learning.

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Is Your Love Story A B-Movie?

Posterini 574196252839 (1)

As a concept, it’s a fantastic script. Two star crossed lovers wounded by a past littered with one failed relationship after another. Life gives them one last battle to fight: the battle to find each other.

It’s a sweeping, soaring, tear-fest of two people hampered by fate and shackled to a future they can’t yet see but which they both know lies somewhere just beyond their immediate reach. It’s Gable and Leigh, Bogart and Bergman, Tracy and Hepburn. It’s Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln in that scene in Love Actually. Except in your version, Keira doesn’t let him walk away.

You have the script and, because this is your love story, you have a ready-made cast. It’s an epic romantic blockbuster destined to smash all box office records.

The only problem is that your subconscious has been tasked with job of directing it.

As the director of your personal movie, your subconscious is more Quentin Tarantino than, say, Steven Spielberg. It’s opinionated and often comes with its own agenda, drawing on your past experiences to inform your present and future. If you grew up in a house of drama, your subconscious is more likely to push you toward dramatic love and tempestuous hit-and-run run hook-ups. 

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Anxiety Isn’t Love

Red Bondage

I have a question for you, but before I ask it, I want you to picture the scene.

Imagine that every evening at 7pm you leave your house and take a 30-minute walk into town to the same bar. You sit in the same chair at the same table and you order the same drink, because it’s your favourite and it’s the only place for miles where you can buy it.

But the problem is that every night, at 9pm, a well-dressed and apparently normal guy walks into the bar, comes over to your table and punches you in the face.

This happens every night, every week, every month. Without fail.

My question is, would you stop going to the bar? Or would you keep going, but ask your doctor to prescribe something to help you cope with the pain you know you’ll be dealing with every night?

You’d stop going to the bar, wouldn’t you? Forget the fact it’s the only place where you can get your favourite drink, it’s not worth the pain. So, it’s a stupid question, right?

Well, not really.

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Relationships, Boundaries & The Power Of ‘No’

Relationships, Boundaries & The Power Of 'No'

The greatest way to nourish your heart is to discover the power and beauty of honouring your own boundaries. To do this well, you have to be clear enough in your own awareness to know who you really are and what you truly want. Have you ever said yes to someone when it was really a no? It doesn’t feel good. When we abandon ourselves like that we tend to retract a little from the world. Our spirit pulls back, we are likely to resent the person that has asked us and we lose faith in ourselves a little bit. In some small we have betrayed ourselves and the knock on affect overtime means we are not fully safe or self-expressed.

That is why there is great beauty to be found in deepening your capacity to lovingly say “no”.  By being clear about what feels good and right for you in the moment is a fundamental part of loving yourself and living a life that feels good. This means it is likely you will be able to trust yourself more and it also means that other people will feel a greater depth of confidence from you. Continue reading…


Why Meeting Yourself With Love Is So Important

Why Meeting Yourself With Love Is So Important

Nourishing your heart involves making a practice of loving every aspect of yourself. This is about embracing all of your inner world too. This includes those parts of you that are responsible for some of your greatest challenges. Many people have parts of themselves that are closed down to love, push away opportunity and sabotage their best attempts to make positive changes in their lives. It can be tempting to attack these parts of your mind, making them wrong and blaming them for everything that is difficult in your life.  Unfortunately that only makes matters worse. If you do have parts of yourself that seem set against you, they are working on some level to serve you. They always are. Yes, those parts may be serving you in wholly destructive ways, underpinning any number of terribly limiting behaviours and beliefs but those parts will be doing that with your best interests at heart. Somewhere in the middle of their motivation is a desire to keep you safe.

Changing behaviour only works in a real and lasting way if we can get every aspect of ourselves into alignment. It is about negotiating with yourself so that every part of you comes into agreement. Then it no longer involves any will power. Will power is when one part of you wants one thing and another wants something else and you go to war against an aspect of yourself.  True transformation comes from realising on a deep level what truly serves you. This is not a chore, a duty or a loss. It is a gift of love. From there, there is no more struggle or effort required. So, how do you bring those parts of you into agreement? Continue reading…


The Problem With Getting Swept Off Your Feet (Is That You Can Land Up On Your Head)

The Problem With Getting Swept Off Your Feet (Is That You Can Land Up On Your Head)

I’ve come to realise that we’re all living with a terrible affliction, a curse of the modern age that infects almost every walk of life. It’s called The Lure Of The Instant. In the words of the immortal Freddie Mercury, we want it all … and we want it now.

If it isn’t delivered today, we’re not interested. We want music now. Books now. Films now. Our favourite TV shows now. Download speeds must be superfast, fast food faster and a quick buck easier to make.

The days when we sent our photos off to Boots and waited a week for them to come back seem almost prehistoric. Getting online through a dial-up connection that took ten minutes to deliver the world to our screen ridiculous. Using mail order to get a CD delivered preposterous (and what the hell is a CD anyway, right?)

And this malaise, this creeping and often malevolent virus also contaminates our romantic lives. Think not? Two words: speed dating.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.