Did I hear you right?


  • To recognise that when you listen you might not be hearing what is being said
  • To learn to reply based on what you hear rather than your fixed agenda about what you want to say.
  • To develop a collaborative and mutual way to communicate with your partner.

‘Did I hear you right’

You will need less than 15 minutes, or 2 lots of 10 mins might be preferable. Find a quiet space without any distractions.

Part 1- Listening

  • One of you is invited to talk for 2-3 minutes. The subject can be anything but to start with I suggest something non-provocative, your day at work, time at the gym.
  • The other listens without interrupting.

Part 2- Checking how much you heard through recall

  • The other then recalls as much of what was said as possible, trying to avoid any interpretation, or additions.

Part 3- The speaker identifies omissions and interpretations

It is much more useful if this is light hearted. There will be omissions and interpretations. The aim of this exercise is to improve communication, not to judge or ridicule.

  • The talker  gives feedback. The purpose of feedback is to help the listener learn about there own listening competence.
  • Feedback to include omissions, any interpretations, any altered meaning/mistakes from the original but aim to be light hearted.

Part 4- What was that like?

  • Share the experiences of having to listen with full attention, was it hard, easy, anything surprise you?
  • As a listener were you aware of your own thoughts getting in the way of being able to pay full attention?
  • What did it feel like to be heard? Describe how you felt, any surprises, did you feel able to tell more, be more chatty?
  • What was the effect of the removal of distractions?

Swap roles-either now of another day.

You may wish to try this with harder subject matter after you have each had a turn.

Did I hear you right’ in action

Practising summarising to your partner what they have just said before you take your turn in a conversation.

Do you recognise that this has an influence on how you respond to your partner?

Relationships- Is Mine Normal?

Relationships-Is mine normal?

This blog is for anyone wanting to touch base with their relationship. I aim to cover some data on relationships. To identify common problems that can occur in even the most fairy-tale union and to provide a reality check about sex in relationships. In doing this I hope to provide a little nudge to nourish and sustain your own partnership.

A little bit about me

As well as writing from a theoretical perspective I have personal experiences of the ups and downs of relationships. I am a trained couple therapist, and also have had my share of relationships long term, medium term and short term. I recognise, generally, if relationships are not nurtured or attended to, they fail. This is not through intent but because of lack of foresight, experience, time, skills, desire, fear (and occasionally self interest- as manifest in abusive relationships).

Why write a blog ?- ‘Sharing is caring’

As a species we are tribal, we like to belong to a group, we feel safe when we share characteristics of group members. This is also true for our relationships. But couples tend to only present the good side of their relationship so we don’t often experience the reassurance that our relationship is actually quite similar to everyone else’s.

Kirsten Neff, who writes on Self Compassion, describes one of the elements of compassion as ‘common humanity’. The  two others are kindness and mindfulness. When we recognise we are similar to others it can be  reassuring: ‘this is ok’. Neff calls this ‘common humanity’. Conversely, when we feel different we might want to withdraw, feeling something is wrong with us; that we are different. This can be similar in relationships.

If as a couple you feel you are not doing very well it can be reassuring to know that many of the negative experiences in relationships are had by most couples. They are caused by similar things, very often our attachment history, or  miscommunication. By writing about some of the things that are often ‘behind closed door’ I hope to reassure you that your relationship is normal, and to empower you to make positive changes.  These can both nourish you, your partner and your relationship.

Quite Interesting

2021 ONS data

  • 57.8% of adults over 16 years are living as a couple
  • Of these 75.7% in a marriage or registered civil partnership.
  • Since the last 2021 census there is a trend for more cohabitation and fewer civil arrangement

What are relationships like?

I suspect those in good relationship, feeling happy, and fulfilled are not reading this. This is what relationships can be like ‘happy and fulfilled’

Many factors impact on how likely we are to have a totally fulfilling relationship. Examples include our own ‘attachment blueprint’; how, as a child we experienced love, giving and receiving love and conditions that might be attached to love.


In 2021 (Meyer and Sledge) identified some of the main areas of conflict in relationships. Unsurprisingly these included-communication, personal habits, household chores, finances, parenting, decision making, quality time together, sex, screen time, role expectations, time management and finally, ‘the in-laws’.


Some of these we have less ability to influence than others. Individuals can take personal responsibility for strategies to manage emotions arising from things they cannot change. If your partner bites their nails, the control is with you to manage the feelings that arise. If you expect them to change ‘because they love you’ there is a big risk of failure, muddled with an irrational belief your partner doesn’t love you because they haven’t stopped biting their nails! It can be these tiny things that fester and grow and may cause a disproportionate level of annoyance towards a partner.

Very few relationships are perfect all the time. Below I have tried to enable you to see your relationship with some clarity and hope. It is likely that most of your difficulties are common amongst many couples. I first address the question of sex, how often ‘should’ we have it (it varies!)

How much sex should we be having?

  •  From International Society of Sexual Medicine

    • This society would suggest there is no normal frequency for sexual intimacy in a relationship providing everyone in the relationship is happy.
  • Research from USA

    • 50-57% heterosexuals men and women engage in weekly sexual activity (18-44 year olds over 18 year period)
    • 1.3 % no sexual activity
    • 5.2 % once or twice a year (data 2016-2018)
    • 32% 1-3 times a month
    • 57% weekly
  • 2022 Post Pandemic

    • In the UK during the pandemic  married people had a more active sex life which has continued post lockdown
  • The Good enough Sex Model

Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy 2010 described 5 recognisable purposes for sex in a relationship. These are pleasure, intimacy, reproduction, stress reduction, self esteem. Metz and McCarthy in their Good Enough Model encouraged a moving away from the aspirational ‘perfect’ sexual experience, where the fear of failure could easily result in being turned off sex, or not being able to ‘perform’.

They spoke of pleasure, for pleasures sake being a good enough reason for sex, so often the pressure of procreation or orgasm can detract from the overall pleasure of the complete experience.

    • Talk to each other!

I would also encourage talking about beliefs and attitudes around sex and intimacy. It might be through talking that you realise your ability to enjoy sex is stifled by preconceptions, different moral values, false beliefs. One of you might feel shame or guilt about certain aspects of sex, masturbation, use of ‘sex toys’ or anal sex for example, whilst the other has no inhibitions. This can create unacknowledged emotions around feeling pressurized, feeling needs not met, feeling anxious, rejection which you might blame your partner for.

As an exercise you could write down all the perceptions or beliefs you and your partner know of, or have, about one aspect of your sexual relationship that causes difficulties, and have a discussion about them. The discussion can be very helpful both in connecting to each other but also providing a neutral, non judgmental space to talk about a difficult subject.

Finally using different ways to achieve arousal can provide inspiration and flexibility. Arousal can be achieved through contact and intimacy with your partner, intimacy, self arousal through masturbation and through creative, imaginative role enactment. It does not have to end in orgasm.


Sex plays an important part in a relationship. It is also is a source of problems-insecurity, shame, different needs and expectations. Talking about sex, even to your partner may be difficult. However, the majority of these issues can be resolved by beginning a conversation and recognising your differences as well as your similarities.

Remember sex can be for-pleasure, self esteem, connection, procreation and stress relief. Enjoy.

Ways to enhance your relationship

  • Communication

Many of us believe we communicate well, we are able to express ourselves, or we purposefully put aside time to talk to our partner. Communication is 2-way. How many of us can say we listen to our partner, not to respond, not with thoughts in our head about a counter argument, but to deeply hear and attend to the meaning and emotion of what they are sharing.

To recognise that what they say is as important to them, as what you say is as important to you.

If you would like to improve your communication a short exercise to do with your partner can be found here.

  • Acknowledging Problems

There are problems in a relationship that will not go away. It can be useful to  acknowledge these and recognise that they impact on your relationship, but they do not mean the relationship is bad, failing or threatened. One of you may have an important relationship with an individual your partner does not like. Each of you are entitled to have these feelings, but it is not helpful to try and change the others mind. The problem is how to allow this person to be part of your ‘relationship’ without causing disruption.

Problems may manifest when there is a change in circumstances, for example illness or redundancy. The change can impact on the relationship and on each partner differently. Being able to talk about this without blame can be hard but very rewarding.

Some problems, when faced honestly may result in the ending of a relationship. The choice to have children or not, for example. This can be one of the most courageous things to do, ending a relationship that is working but you both want different things and therefore unsustainable in the long term.

  • Feeding the relationship

    • Spending quality time together-The ability to do this can vary depending on your circumstances. It is hard with young children, yet just as important. Many relationships fail because ‘we just grew apart when the children came along’. Having a date night is a popular concept. If you can find another couple with children offering to babysit in turns. Or choosing something you both want to watch on TV and both committing to watching it together, no popping off to do something else. Having a joint hobby, maybe something to try, even better if you want to both learn from scratch.
    • Supporting each other-relationships work best when attachment feels secure and unconditional. When making decisions it should be your partner who you seek support/encouragement from, not your friend or parent, they are secondary. Being there for your partner when they are tired, stressed, ill, angry, confused, anxious, sad; NOT needing to fix it, being alongside, understanding and compassionate. This may mean putting your own ‘stuff’ to one-side for a short period of time.
    • Collaboration-you are in this together. Having an intention that focuses on what is best for your relationship rather than what is in it for me. Collaboration and consistency supports a healthy environment for growing children.
    • Looking after your mental and physical health. Supporting and facilitating your partner to do the things they enjoy. Noticing when your partner is not able to do these and encouraging them.
  • Recognising Differences

Differences may be obvious, your sex, ethnicity, religion, less obvious include social class, politics, beliefs, even less obvious but equally significant include character traits, for example tidy, common sense, playful, hard working. Because of these differences you and your partner may have different ways of viewing the world and your experiences. Neither of you is right or wrong but it is extremely useful to explore each other’s view of the world to understand why attitudes and behaviours may appear to you to be completely weird. This level of understanding can ease frustrations and misunderstandings. Differences that might arise from your upbringing such as the importance given to ‘good manners’ or the attention given to days such as Fathers Day or Valentine’s day can be useful to explore, but more relevant is the awareness that these differences exist and may need to be negotiated.

Finally-The Negative Cycle

This is one of the most common reasons couples attend therapy. If you and your partner find yourselves acting out in similar ways after most disagreements you are likely to be caught up in ‘your negative cycle’

A simplistic description might be;

A   ‘Why didn’t you ….’

 ‘ sorry, I forgot’

A   ‘ How could you forget..’

B   ‘ I can’t help forgetting’

A   ‘ But I told you …’

B   ‘I can’t cope when you are like this’ B takes themselves out of the room to end the argument

A    Following B ‘You can’t just leave it like this I need to know what you  expect me to do’

B   Silence.

A   Shouting/crying/stamping

This pattern of behaviour often originates in childhood, or other past intimate relationships NOT what is happening there and then. This is why it can be difficult to change without a third person to help interpret the deeper emotions that are going on in the interaction.

  • Interpretation

A- A is likely to feel let down.  They might describe feelings of not being important enough, or not valued, even unloved, irrelevant ‘invisible’. A defence of anger is the response. A is making themselves visible, important to get the attention that they feel they deserve.

B-B possible feels a failure, they have not done what was asked, emotions of inadequacy, shame, guilt may arise so they want to disappear because they possibly feel undeserving or not good enough.

A- The act of B moving away reinforces the idea for A that they are not important

B- as A continues to challenge their forgetfulness, B feels further shame. B might at this point become very defensive and shout back, or even remove themselves from the house

A- might at this point become completely confused as to B’s dramatic behaviour, after all B was in the wrong!

A and B are now feeling their relationship is on the line.

Does this feel familiar?

  • Learning from the negative cycle

The emotions that arise in a ‘negative cycle’ are from past attachment history and not from what is happening in the here and now. It takes time and self awareness to move away from habitual attachment behaviours.

A and B might have managed this differently

A   ‘Why didn’t you ….’  becomes ‘ I notice you have forgotten something and I feel as if I am not important to you’ (offering a solution ‘we can manage for the time being, its OK’)

 ‘ sorry, I forgot’   becomes ‘ You are important to me, I hate forgetting things it makes me feel a failure, ( and also able to offer a solution- can we do anything now to remedy the situation? ‘)

NOTE- Both parties are able to acknowledge and say out loud what they are feeling. They do not react to their emotions. This also opens opportunity for the couple to show empathy and care for the other as they struggle with powerful emotions.

My Summary

When we commit to a long term relationship we do not to know what the journey will entail. It will reveal aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed and things that might have been endearing become annoying. There will be unexpected bumps and disappointments, as well as joyful times. Manging the rough with the smooth as a team helps.

As with long term projects continue to review, modify and reflect, life and people are dynamic, we change. Be mindful of your love and intention. Be honest.

If you want further support in your relationship couple therapy is available.








Counselling can be for anyone.

It is interesting how counselling is associated with mental ill health. Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrats conference (2014) promised to increase spending on mental health, and there is frequent debate about putting mental health spending on a parity with that of physical health. I however, am not debating whether your mental health is sub-optimal and you ‘need’ treatment, I am proposing that just like we indulge our body, we should perhaps be a little more attentive to our mind/soul/spirituality.

I could google the cost of a spa break, or how much we spend on wasted gym membership. Or I could start on the cost of teeth whitening, facials, liposuction, a touch of Botox, these are accepted behaviours, which incidentally, are not inexpensive, that are used to help us ‘feel good’ about ourselves. Behaviours which we do regularly and then need to do them more frequently for the same benefit and then up-grade, and repeat the cycle.

We attend to the body, the shell, our physical form. This is how we see ourselves in the mirror, and it is important. Our acceptance of this picture in the mirror, is often conditioned by a view that society gives us regarding what is aesthetically pleasing. Some of us our more bound by this view than others, and constantly need to pay attention to how we look in order to feel ‘acceptable’ and ‘accepted’ to others and ourselves.

I recently was introduced a group ‘Health at Every Size’ one article caught my eye, Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift . This article demonstrates how powerful non-health based influencers have been on defining what a ‘healthy weight’ is. This has not been challenged enough by scientists and health professionals.

The general dissatisfaction of our ‘form’ that many of us have is not a ‘mental illness’ and yet it impacts on our relationships, our ability to get satisfaction from social events, our enjoyment of holidays, because it results in us  carrying an anxiety about how we see ourselves and also how others see us.

Then there are those of us who despite having a good quality of life, the family we aspired to, the regular work promotions good physical health who feel guilty that despite this they do not feel satisfied/happy. We wonder ‘what is the point’. This is not ‘mental illness’ yet impacts on our relationships our potential to do well, and our overall enjoyment of what we have.

Another group of us carry a sadness (which may be experienced as anger or frustration), it is associated with an aspect of the world, people, society, animal or human welfare, our environment, things that are ‘not good’, for example war, pollution, famine, global warming. Often we have little control of this as an individual but feel as a race/ species uniting we can have greater influence, so endeavour to put energy into this. This sadness can be overwhelming, it has a moral or ethical feeling and is hard to ignore. This is not a ‘mental illness’ yet impacts on our relationships, and our satisfaction with our own life journey.

These issues can slip from being motivators to de-motivators, we may feel like a failure, or unlovable, or even worthless, or insignificant. Not a mental health problem, but nevertheless leads to low mood.

Many of us with strong social networks, good communication skills, and who trust those that love us and are close to us, can share these doubts well enough to grow through them and understand themselves better.

Those that are not so fortunate may find their support through counselling. Counselling provides an unconditional space to explore what is that makes us who we are, counsellors generally believe that we are all ok, exploring the things we don’t like about ourselves can be done safely and without fear of judgment. Allowing reflection and opportunity to see things from a fresh perspective.

The benefit of doing this is often felt immediately; having the space to be who we truly are and explore our defences and anxieties in a contained consultation with a stranger who has no vested interest is liberating.

You may even want to try counselling just for the experience!



A Brief Demonstration of how Neuroscience Substantiates Counselling Practice

Emma Dunn Counselling and psychotherapy

Eye contact in counselling;  An example of  when it might be one sided.

Eye contact is often highlighted as an important part of engagement with an other. When I am counselling others my gaze is focused on the eyes of the person sitting in the other chair; ‘my client’. This is regardless of whether they are looking at me. It is as if I am saying to them I am here, ready, attentive and available for you.

However it is more usual for them, in times of deep reflection to have their eyes averted, almost glazed over.

I noticed myself doing the same, glazing over, when trying to describe to a friend, how I might feel if I could sail. I was trying to describe the sensation of being at one with the boat optimising the energy of the wind. I was disengaged from eye contact but became aware of this only after I had formed the words and understood what it was that I was wanting to express. It was then that I was reminded of the work of John Kounios and Mark Beeman, on the neuroscience of insight and why I believe so passionately about listening to our own experiences, and facilitating insightful moments. Picture Blog 2

Neuroscience is tending to indicate that insightful solutions to problems occur when the right hemisphere of the brain, notable the anterior superior temporal gyrus, is active, working creativity, and the left brain becomes less active- not working at interpreting external, in particular visual stimuli. This is seen clearly when my clients look away and appear ‘vacant’. This is why holding silence can be so powerful, it allows the right hemisphere priority to act on stimuli from the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system where emotion, non-verbal activity is shown to occur. Getting in touch with our feelings and experiences. Then, once some sense has been made, the left hemisphere, logic and language come into play and the state of introspection returns to engagement and ideas are articulated and a clarity follows. Client’s and counsellor’s eyes then meet, as if to provide assurance that the experiences are valid.

It is during the silence, when I as a counsellor have been fully available, I too have been using the right side of my brain. Activity of mirror neurones in the here and now, combined with personal experiences based on my attachment history will inform me in a way that enables me to show empathy. When my client articulates her reflections I too am in tune with the implications and emotions that these generated and our counselling relationship deepens and work progresses.

photo Blog (1)


I believe, psychotherapists who practice reverie and/or use  the impact of clients on their sense of self, either as countertransference or somatic experiences, even in dreams or in the supervision process are demonstrating how powerful it can be to allow our right-sided creative, emotional brain to speak to us. The antithesis of active problem solving, where we consciously piece the clues together, reverie allows the insights to suddenly arise within the process of being in relationship.


It continues to surprise me when counsellors are fearful of the work of neuroscience which is helping us to understand the work we know can happen in counselling. This brief exploration of insight, demonstrates how concepts from other models for example reverie, relational depth, empathy, dream work and Gestalt ideas can all be substantiated at least in part by science, this is a wonderful truth that endorses psychotherapy and counselling as an effective means of helping people to understand themselves, come to terms with this and make use of experience to reach whatever goals they are aiming for.