Festive Stress

“‘Tis the season to be jolly…” And indeed, there is much jollification to be had during the Christmas season. However, sometimes the wonder of this time gets lost in all the hustle bustle, and it ends up being a time that causes stress, rather than relieving it, as the end of year break is supposed to do.

While there are many things over the festive season that can cause stress, I’m going to touch on 2 main ones today: Family and finances.


    Christmas is synonymous with family. For most people, this day evokes images of Church attended together, opening gifts around the Christmas tree, roasts, swimming and maybe having a glass or two of champagne. The picture is an idyllic one, but often there are other factors at play too: Whose family do we spend Christmas with? How do we keep the other family from feeling bad? In the case of family relationships that are strained, how do we get on with each other? Some families travel from far to stay with their relatives. This can mean a house full of people to clean up after, prepare food for, and generally keep entertained. All in all, stressful times.

My advice? Plan time to be alone, without the extended family around. If you’re a couple without kids, make one of the Christmas meals a meal to be enjoyed alone – an easy one, that doesn’t take much time and effort to prepare, but that offers time to be alone together. If you have kids, the same applies. Maybe do your immediate family’s gift exchange alone in the morning, before the addition of all the extra family members. Sometimes this isn’t easy, especially if the extended family is staying with you, or you with them, but find a few moments in between the madness to spend quality time with those closest to you. Take a drive, steal a few moments outside while everyone else is in inside. Try not to get so caught up in all the activity that you forget to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the day for what it is.


The festive season posts a financial drain on most people. Not simply in terms of food and presents, but also because for many families with children, this extended holiday is the only time they can get away as a family. Being that this is the busiest season for this, prices are higher than normal, for both accommodation and groceries. Couple this with gifts and Christmas day expenses (as well as many other expenses that arise over the course of this time), and the fact that most people are paid early on in December, and it’s easy to understand why most people end up in a tizz at the end of December, with not much left to see them until payday.

My advice is simple: Don’t spend more than you can afford. Sit down before Christmastime and go through finances – plan how much to spend on food, pressies, etc, and then stick to this plan. Christmas has become very materialistic, but in fact, it’s the thought that counts. And it’s not worth getting yourself into financial trouble, when something homemade and thoughtful means just as much (if not more) to most people than expensive gifts do. Secret Santa is also a good idea to lessen financial pressure – names in a hat, each person draws one name and buys a gift of a predetermined value for the person whose name they drew. This takes that expectation of outrageously expensive gifts right off the table.


Take time for yourself, time to relax and take a load off. Read a book, watch a movie, have a glass of wine… After this holiday, work comes rushing back with a vengeance (as I’m sure you’ve already seen), so make the most of the time you have.


New Year, New Me – And why this hardly ever works.

I’m sure we have all, at one time or another, made the famous New Years Resolution/s…


With very little exceptions, these resolutions never work out. And while the picture above is meant to be humorous, it is in fact scarily accurate. These are the types of resolutions we like to make; life-changing, drastic ones that set us up for failure, because simply the beginning of a new year is not enough to motivate this level of change. Furthermore, these are changes that require long-term, sustained effort in order for progress to be seen. We work best when we can see the fruits of our labours, when we receive some kind of reward for the efforts we have put in – especially when we are externally motivated, rather than internally. Yet the resolutions we make tend to take time to come to fruition, and can leave us feeling hopeless and defeated if change is not encountered quickly.

Timing is everything

Another factor to consider is that the beginning of the year is a stressful time. Many people are still trying to recover from the financial strain the holidays have placed on them. Sleeping late, taking it easy, indulging in yummy holiday food and all the other goodies we might eschew during the year, is traded in for work clothes, early nights and early mornings, and hustle bustle as schools go back, traffic gets hectic, and work stress means skipped meals, and ‘end of the month’ impecunious fare. Holidays can also be stressful in terms of rushing around trying to fit in time with family, but that is a topic for another day.

So now, on the back of all these different factors, a new year is supposed to bring about a new life? It simply does not work out this way; thus the inspiration for hundreds of these ‘New year, new me’ memes:



Although, on the other hand, that most famous of all New Years Resolutions, ‘Lose weight’, is really often in response to the inevitable weight gain that comes with the combination of holidays, family and Christmas lunches…


How then, is change possible?

One of the first things I entreat of my clients is to refrain from any radical changes, on the basis that they are much like these new years resolution – they start off well, but don’t have enough substance to maintain the level of consistency needed to effect long-lasting change. Rather, changes should be made in an incremental fashion, and out of a true desire to do so, not merely because it is the dawn of a new year, and convention dictates – baby steps. Timing really is important – attempts at change will be most effective when you are at a stage in your life where you are ready to put the hard work in. This time is unique to each person, and so a fixed starting point cannot be attached to it. You are more likely to persevere with changes that you want to implement (internal motivation), and be strong in your resolve even in the face of difficulty and the absence of instant gratification, than with changes others want you to make (external motivation).

When it comes to change, don’t be too hard on yourself – you are only human after all. Set small, realistic subgoals, and allow a fair amount of time for these to be achieved. Being too hard on yourself will only end up making you feel even worse if things don’t go as planned, and can result in you simply giving up because it feels fruitless anyway. Don’t focus exclusively on the changes you’re attempting to make, to the point where you get tunnel vision and can’t focus on anything else – keep yourself busy, active and distracted with other things, too. This takes some of the pressure off.

Most importantly, however, be prepared for mistakes and weak moments from the get-go; have grace with yourself, acknowledge that you are attempting to break a pattern of behavior that is mostly likely ingrained due to repetition, and be aware that you will probably backslide. Then, when you do, pick yourself up and try again. Eventually it will be three steps forward, one back… And before long, this new pattern will become the norm, rather than the exception.

Change is as good as a holiday

Whoever came up with this old adage was most definitely on the right track – change is very good; it prevents stagnation and encourages growth. But us humans, we don’t generally like change much. We like our comfort zones because they are, well, comfortable. However, I challenge you: Take a step outside your comfort zone. Listen to a new genre of music, try a new cuisine… Try something new. Change is hard, but it’s worth it. I leave you with this beautiful quote by John A. Shedd:


Always make your own sunshine

In the times that we live in today, where social media has this insidious, persistent effect on our every day lives, we are so much more aware of the goings on of our fellow man than we ever were in the past. I have previously explored the effects of this comparison, and so I won’t go into detail again, but this does link up to another issue that arises – we start to place the responsibility for our own happiness, or own contentment, on those around us.

We live in a society that is increasingly individualistic, which means that the needs of the one is valued above the needs of the many. This is in contrast to a collectivistic culture, in which the good of the whole is more important that individual needs or desires. There is plenty room for debate in terms of how this ties in to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and self-actualisation in particular; this term refers to the ultimate realisation of the potential within an individual, and is assumed to be the highest level at which an individual can function. But, it also places emphasis on the self, and not on that self being someone who can actually do good for others. This, however, is an issue to be explored another day, in another post.

So, humans should set out to achieve this total self-sufficiency within themselves. While it is an elusive ideal to achieve, we all have the drive to achieve it, and we tend to engage in behaviours in order to make it happen. This brings me to the point of this entry – we place the responsibility on others to make us feel this way. We are externally motivated, and we need the approval of others in order to feel good. When others don’t place our happiness above their own, we feel rejected and angry. We give others so much power to make or break us.

We also tend expect things to make us happy. We let these external things determine our level of life satisfaction. Weather, clothes, food, movies and TV series, cars, houses … These things make us happy, and so have the power to make us unhappy. We compare and contrast, and then judge ourselves based on the conclusions we draw, which are really based on flawed data in the first place. We measure our success based on the material things we have acquired, and the more we have, the more successful and happy we expect to be. But this reality is fraught with trouble, in that when things go amiss, when hard times arise, our sense of self takes a dip as our material goods do; as what others think of us changes, our own perceptions of who we are and what we are worth change too.

The day that we realise that we are in charge of our own happiness, our own happiness will improve. We have the wherewithal to choose to do the things we like, the things that make us happy. We can choose who we want to spend time with, and we can choose people who make us laugh, people who love life, instead of people who are draining and choose only to complain about everything. We can choose where we want to go, why, when… We also have the capacity to choose to never be content with what we have, in which case we will aspire to something out of our reach. We can choose to focus on the negative things in our lives, or we can focus on the positive. We can look at our strengths and weaknesses and grow the former, while trying to turn the latter into something positive too.

As human beings, we have so much power for choice, but we tend to think of ourselves as helpless victims of our circumstances. Have-nots, rather than haves. We focus on what could have been, rather than what can be, or the reality of what is. My advice? Look on the bright side. Take what you need to from every situation, and grow from every experience. Be determined to keep your head up. There will be bad times, when it will be hard to live your life like this – give yourself a break. Allow yourself time to feel sad, to feel sorry, but make sure it’s a limited amount of time, followed by an activity, or a phone call with someone, that makes you feel good. Know the difference between people that add value, and those that don’t, and make sure you have more of the former; but more importantly, make sure that YOU are the former.


And then there were three

The addition of a tiny, red-faced bundle of joy is a momentous occasion in any relationship, indeed, in any family. From the moment the eyes of the new parents alight on the precious face of the child they made together, the bond is sealed, for life.

Thus begins an entire new chapter in the lives of the parents. Their previous roles as husband and wife now expand to include mom and dad. Parenthood is, of course, daunting, especially for a first-time parent. So many fears and concerns; there is little reason to believe these fears abate over time, but rather that they morph into different fears – where initially the fears encompass basic needs like whether the child is hungry, tired, ill, in need of a nappy change, eventually the concerns stretch further than that, to include fears about friends, schoolwork, peer pressure… Then career choices, choice of romantic partner… The basic needs concerns never really go away either (except for nappy changes, we hope) so all in all, parenthood is fraught with trials, tribulations, and ceaseless concern.

Why, then, do people make the decision to go ahead and have a baby?

Because all the negatives thrown in together are but in a drop in the ocean of the love, joy, laughter, the general wonderment, that a child brings with them. It is arguably the very most important thing any two people who love each other can do, and the blessing that this child represents increases exponentially with every year added to their precious lives. 

While this little gift is just that, an extraordinary boon, this new chapter does bring with it new challenges for the parents, not only in terms of their new child, but also in terms of the restructuring of their relationship that is synonymous with it. Things start to change. Mom may now be self-conscious of her body and the changes that pregnancy has wrought on it; this, coupled with lack of sleep, can lead to a decreased sex drive. Dad, having experienced none of these physical changes, possesses the same sex drive as before. So this can lead to frustration, fighting, and distance between mom and dad.

Now at this point is it important to note that the addition of baby does not downgrade ‘husband and wife’ to second position – it should still be the primary relationship, but practicalities must be observed too. Hubby can put himself to sleep, baby cannot. Hubby can take meds if he isn’t feeling well, baby cannot. Hubby can ablute without external help, baby cannot. Baby literally, physically, requires sustenance from his mother, hubby can make his own food. In light of the enormous stress that having a baby places on mom, specifically, it is entirely plausible that hubby may start to feel neglected. Fear not, there are ways to combat this. Dad, help out as much as possible. While you lack the necessary physical equipment to breastfeed, there are other ways you can provide aid:

Ask if you can assist.

Nice and easy, but effective.

Be kind.

Speak gently, be supportive. Surprise your wife with something she’s fond of, make her feel special and loved. There are certain things she hasn’t been allowed for 9 months – treat her with one of these.

Help with:

Things like sterilising; dummies, bottles, pumps… Washing, cooking, that kind of thing.

Check in

when you go to work. Just a phone call or a message to show you care. Ask about baby; there are so many weird conversations moms want to have about their babies – frequency of bowel movements, colour, consistency… Yes, it’s gross, but it’s your baby too. Showing (or even feigning, if you must) interest in this stuff will show your wife she’s not alone.

Take care of yourself.

Try to engage in things that will decrease your own stress levels (exercise is always a good option) so that you can be more patient and present with your wife and baby. However, this tip is mostly for you – it’s a trying time of your life too, so take a load off.

Now, moms…

It is very easy to get caught up in all the things that need doing for the little one, but make time, intentionally, to be alone with your husband. No one ever said leaving a baby alone with a sitter for the first time would be easy, but that is little comfort in the face of how tough it actually is; nevertheless, it’s not an excuse. Also, it does get easier… So plan a date night, and enlist someone you trust to take care of baby. Yes, in the back of your mind you will most likely be a bit stressed anyway, but be present in the moment, give your man your undivided attention. He will feel it, appreciate it, and feel loved and secure in response. Your sex-drive might well be low, or even non-existent, but plan a special night for your man, maybe even after your date night. Get dolled up, buy a new bedroom number that makes you feel sexy, and then show your husband that you find him sexy too. Remember, the changes that you see in your body, that make you feel unattractive, are something different in your husband’s eyes; they are evidence of the blessing that you bore him. Be as aware of your husbands needs as you are of your baby’s, it’s imperative.


A relationship is like a tree – if you don’t feed and water it, it’s going to die. Your life will never be the same again, but one day, the kids will be all grown up and gone. What remains, then, is the marriage you have watered and fed with the person you chose all those years ago. Make sure you prioritise this beloved, always and in every situation. Make them feel loved, appreciated, valued, special. Make sure your marriage is something to go back to, so that you and the one your soul loves can begin this brand new chapter together with no fear of the future.

Blood is thicker than water. Right?

This popular adage is one we all know, and have heard and applied to our own lives a multitude of times, I’m sure. However, the reality is not what this saying makes it out to be, especially within the context of romantic relationships. The adage in its fullness reads, ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’ – what does this mean for us? Well, it simply means that the relationships we form by choice are stronger, and to be valued above those that occur through mere incidence. We have no say in choosing those we share a genetic bond with, but we do have a say in those we choose to share our lives with.

Does this mean that our family relationships are any less important? Definitely not. These are the people we have spent so much of our lives with, have shared so many wonderful memories, and even trials with. But for most of us, that period of dependency and proximity ends around about 18. Our romantic relationships will, hopefully, last longer than that, right? We will share so many milestones, so many wonderful and so many difficult experiences together that we will inevitably be knit even closer together, and even the act of marriage symbolises this – each persons family candle contributes to the union, but ultimately, the lighting of the new candle is symbolic of the fact that this is a new union, separate from that of the bonds family represents. 

Expressed in our vows, even, are these words: ‘Forsaking all others…’. Ok, admittedly this language is a little bit dramatic, because we shouldn’t be casting off our families, but the principle remains that this relationship is now the primary one; even the Bible is clear on this front – that a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife (Genesis 2:24).

The starting of a new relationship brings with it the beginning of a brand new family; new traditions, new memories to be made, new trials to be shared and overcome together. Each of us brings into this relationship our own expectations and behaviours, most likely learned from our family of origin, and so it is impossible to recreate, perfectly, the environment in which we grew up. This means we create our own, new, family.

The addition of children changes things up, but even so, the primary relationship of husband and wife remains. I will, however,  explore this topic further in my next post.

Now, the role of in laws.


This is one of the largest issues I see facing couples, and I worry that the old misconception is some of the reason why. The distancing from family of origin that is required upon the commencement of a marital bond is very hard for some. It is understandable, of course, but no less problematic. Some couples are happily free of this issue, and more power to them! But others look upon this issue as the largest affecting their marriage.

In these relationships, there will inevitably come a time where one or more partner will be in the position of taking sides – choosing between their spouse and their family member. While it is my fervent wish that this day will never come for any of you, experience dictates it might. Now, the right course? Spouse comes first. This doesn’t have to be an ugly spectacle, but the outcome should be clear – ‘This is the person I have chosen, I have pledged my life to, and I will put them first.’ The marriage relationship is foremost, the priority, and each spouse in the relationship should rest assured that their spouse will choose them, everyday.

So why then, do in laws present a problem? No doubt they have what they think are the very best intentions for their children, but often their concern translates into boundaries crossed, and issues created. Sometimes, parents think their child would simply be better off with someone else. This misplaced concern manifests itself in the treatment of their new child-in-law, in relationships that are strained, at best. Conversations may be had, comments may be made (the sharp spikes of the ‘mother in laws tongue’ were not christened as such for nought), but ultimately, people are not good at keeping their feelings to themselves, and so spouses can be left feeling that their in laws simply don’t approve of them. Of course, spouses can be oversensitive too, and read too much into events or comments that really did not come from a negative space, but the fundamental truth is that the spouse is the priority, not the family members.

Where then, does this leave the person whose family and spouse do not get on? Of course, this is a tricky spot to be in, but I recommend every attempt at reconciliation be made. A good idea to accomplish this end may be facilitating a meeting of mediation between the affected parties, during which each can express their positions in the hopes of creating peace. Fundamentally, despite their differences, both in law and spouse share a love for their child/partner, and conflict like this ends up hurting this person most. Therefore every effort should be made to restore, or create, a relationship between in law and spouse.

Be all this as it may, prevention is always better than cure. Boundaries need to be put in place immediately, and maintained throughout the course of the marriage. These boundaries can be in the form of visitation (the in laws being overpresent is a big issue many couples face), seeking advice (many people will confide in their parents when there are marital issues – while this may seem helpful because they certainly have more marital experience than we do in most cases, no one is perfect, and this can lead to the in laws developing an unwarranted and unfair opinion of their child’s spouse), failure to distance from their parents (leaving the spouse feeling that their relationship with their spouse is secondary, or even inferior to, the one that their partner shares with their parent), and dependency (many parents become dependent on their children, especially as they age; this places pressure on the marital relationship both financially, and emotionally). It’s best to nip these issues in the bud, as far as possible.

 All told, the relationship with in laws can be a tough one, but parents are not savages, and fundamentally, most love their children, and only want the best for them. A dialogue in which their child is open with them regarding their new role as husband or wife, and clarifies their new priorities, while still assuring them of their love and regard for their parents, can be invaluable in showing them what is expected of them, easing them into their new roles as in laws and giving them the respect they deserve as parents.

Money, money, money

In times of yore, men went to work and brought home the bacon, while women stayed home and looked after the house and the kids. How wonderful those days must have been! Today, this is but a dream. It is no longer financially feasible for most women to choose ‘stay at home mom’ as a career, and furthermore, the fact that women are becoming more empowered means that we can choose to work and have career success, rather than just be designated to barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. In earlier times, getting married in community of property was the done thing, but changes have resulted in this no longer being a viable option. First of all, divorce rates are skyrocketing year by year, so couples married in community of property face sticky, messy divorces through this method. Further, community of property marriages leave both spouses vulnerable to any debts or liabilities the other may incur, especially in the case of insolvency, where both would now be declared as such. These are just some of the reasons for the movement toward antenups out of community of property, with accrual.

Right, so this may not seem particularly relevant to everyday life in general and relationships in particular, but the reality is that in more and more marriages, joint bank accounts are a thing of the past. The level of transparency that joint bank accounts provided have been clouded by separate accounts – what’s yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine. There are roles and responsibilities in terms of the everyday running of the household, and these are often split up according to who earns what, but other than that, each person is usually responsible for their own money matters.

Danger of finances

Research has shown that finances are one of the biggest issues couples fight about. Why is this? Well, the danger is that when it comes to personal finances, we don’t address the issue logically – it becomes an emotional discussion very quickly. Another big problem is the fact that we all see things differently, and so we may not always be in agreement on how to deal with financial issues. Sitting down and discussing it doesn’t always lead to resolution.

Tips for managing financial issues:

(adapted from KeyBank)

Rather than combining or separating all the finances from the get go, try having mine, yours, and ours. This provides just enough autonomy that each of you doesn’t feel dependent on the other, but ‘ours’ also means that you begin working towards a financial future together. It’s not important to commit to one way of thinking forever – reevaluate your financial situation periodically, and if a tweak is in order, don’t be afraid to try something new. There may come a day when it makes more sense to have a joint account – do it.

Draw up a budget. We are all different, and one partner may be a spender where one is saver – have a set plan for how to spend your money. Remember that it’s a plan, but don’t freak out if it gets deviated from once in a while. Keep to it as far as possible, but know that life also happens.

Invest, invest, invest! Speak to a financial adviser and get help on saving money for your future. If your car breaks down you won’t simply try fix it by hoping for the best; how much more important is your financial future/retirement?

The very most important aspect when it comes to finances is complete transparency. This includes debts incurred, any financial responsibilities outside of the immediate relationship, and even day-to-day spending. Secrets are the quickest way to cause destruction in a marriage.



Finally, plan for a rainy day. Bad things happen sometimes, so be prepared for them. Have enough saved up that should anything go wrong, you have at least a small respite.

If you and your spouse battle with finances, come and see me https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-cape-town/and let’s get you back on track.

Let’s talk about sex

I am beginning a new series in which I explore three problems that usually crop up at one point or another during the course of a marriage: sex, finances, and in laws.

This, the first post, explores sex and the issues that it can cause in relationships if it is not properly addressed and dealt with. One of the most important factors to bear in mind is that males and females are different. For men, sex is a mostly physical act, the absence of which has actual, physical consequences.

For women, however, the drive is not quite as physical, but rather has a large emotional component to it – so where men are simply interested in doing the deed, if you will, women are more likely to be influenced by their mood, the general mood of the relationship, chores, the presence or absence of children… Basically, women have a lot more thought processes going on when it comes to sex than what men do.

Now the unfortunate consequence of this is that it can lead to a disconnect, and to decreased levels of overall sexual satisfaction for both partners. The frequency and duration of sexual activity is, of course, variable from couple to couple, and as such there is no right or wrong, but sometimes we females tend to overthink things, and get into our own heads a little too much. What turns a man on is really simple; women are much more complicated.

On average, men think about sex more often than women do, and they have higher sex drives, but simply understanding the fact that men and women are different does not a better relationship make.

So, practically, what does this mean? Well, women, it’s important to remember that your man isn’t overthinking things, but that it is actually just a primitive drive sometimes, that is not subject to the emotional constraints to which yours is. So a good idea here is to have some kind of signal, a candle that is lit, for example, when either of you desire sex. This gives you time to work up to the idea, to get in the mood. Then take the chance to beautify yourself so that you feel good, and desirable.

…Men, remember that it’s not just a physical thing for women. Build up to it … Take time to ask what type of things she likes, and then listen to what she says. Make her feel good about her self, and she’ll be more likely to share it with you.


Sex can sometimes lose it’s spontaneity, especially in the Autumn years of a relationship, so it’s important to spice it up, make it interesting and exciting. Try new things, never stop growing together. When times get tough and busy, make time to be alone together, for intimacy. Make a point of experiencing this most intimate part of a union to the full, for both of you.

If you or your spouse are battling with any issues relating to your sex life, come and see me, and let’s make your sex life something fulfilling and exciting for both of you https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-cape-town/

Transactional Analysis and Fighting

One of the biggest issues I see in the course of couples counselling relates to the futility of fighting. Instead of discussions aimed at resolving an issue by coming to a compromise, fights end up being just that – conflict that leads to both parties feeling frustrated and angry, oftentimes having said things in the heat of the moment that they’ve cause to regret upon reflection.

Why do we fight?

The purpose of any kind of disagreement is to come to a resolution, to result in some kind of change. However, our human nature steps in when we get upset, and so our first instinct is to defend, rather than to listen, reflect, and then respond accordingly.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

TA is a theory that aims to explain behaviour and relationships based on early-life experiences, and it outlines three separate personas or ego states from which we engage when we get into conflicty situations;

The Parent persona tends to mimic those behaviours observed by the child in the parent during their upbringing. They tend to be more authoritarian and less flexible in their stances.

The Child ego state refers to behaviours replayed from childhood, and reactions that range from withdrawal to stubborn refusal to negotiate.

By contrast, the ideal state, the Adult, functions in the ‘here and now’ according to each unique situation.

Of course, acting in a way that is totally independent of our childhood experiences is incredibly difficult, because these experiences shaped who we are. So one piece of advice I always share is to take a timeout when emotions start running high, a little break where there is an opportunity to regroup, rethink and consider the situation from a place that isn’t totally controlled by emotion. The emotional center of the brain cannot function when the logical part is, so engaging in activities to activate this part is a great idea when it comes to taking a timeout – things like reciting the alphabet backwards, which requires focus. Emotions should start to abate, leaving space for a more objective view of things.

Having a good understanding of which ego state your partner is coming from when in a conflict situation can give you insight into processing their reactions better and responding to them more appropriately. This in turn will lead to them reevaluating their own responses and adapting accordingly. An ideal scenario is one where each party resolves to be present in the moment, listen actively, reflect and propose a solution to the presenting problem. If you require assistance with managing your arguments, contact me to make an appointment https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-cape-town/






All love is not equal

Love means so many different things to so many different people, and in the same way, applies totally differently in different contexts. We can usually distinguish between the love we have for friends, and the love we have family – if we are lucky, sometimes it is not easy to distinguish love of friends with love of family. However, these two are totally different to the love feelings involved in a romantic relationship. The Ancient Greeks had seven different words for love – each denoting and encapsulating different types of love. The aim of this post is to explore these types of love in some depth, while illustrating the importance of the presence of all seven in our lives.


This is the type of love we are probably most familiar with, and it describes love of a sexual nature. Passion is a key aspect involved in eros, and it is the one thing we usually associate with love – the sexual feelings we experience when in the presence of someone we find attractive.




‘Philia’ is the term used to indicate feelings of friendship that are usually platonic in nature. These feelings are often based on mutual interests and time spent together.






 This love refers to the familial bond, one forged through dependency, proximity and familiarity. This type of love usually sways in favour of the younger members of the family, those who need care the most.



Agape love is something that can be likened to altruism – is it love that is truly without bounds and conditions. Agape love is not really within the capacity of humans, but rather can be attributed to the unconditional and perfect love of  God. 


This kind of love is one too many people in this day and age aspire to – it is a fun, uncommitted, ‘no strings attached’ kind of love.






Self love is encompassed within this particular type of love. While self-love is healthy and, in fact, necessary, it can be unhealthy when it ventures to the extreme of arrogance or narcissism.





As the root of the word denotes, pragma involves dutiful love, that is committed to a long term future. Once the eros has burned out, and the hard times have come and gone, pragma is the love that remains – a love that is determined to make it work, and that involves compromise and weathering storms together.


So, these are the seven Greek words for love, but what is their relevance in our every day lives? Well, the role of  storge is rather important in terms of the type of love we receive from our parents, that we then translate into philia, philautia, and eventually pragma. This is a topic I will explore at a later stage, though. The ones I want to focus on for the remainder of this post are those of ludus, eros and pragma. In order for a relationship to flourish, all three need to be present; of course, philia also needs to be present, because it can lend a hand to the feelings of ludus not simply dwindling with time. Ok, so a relationship needs to develop on the basis of some mutual interest and desire to spend time together (philia), but is is coupled with feelings of sexual desire (eros). Here is where the decider comes in – should the interest from either party simply be based on the thrill of the chase (ludus), their future doesn’t hold too much hope of achieving the level of a committed, loving relationship that stands the test of time (pragma).

This said, the practical applications of these seemingly outdated words in our relationships serve as a reminder that romantic love needs many different aspects in order to function; there needs to be a fundamental friendship, with feelings of fun and sexual attraction attached, in order to contribute to our own self-love, as well as the love we will one day bestow on our children. However, when all the fun and excitement has ebbed, it comes down commitment, to the choice to stay and work on the relationship; the test of time.







Love Languages

One of the biggest issues I am faced with in the course of couples therapy is that of love being ineffectively expressed, and so inadequately received by each partner in the relationship. This disconnect can leave us feeling unloved and unappreciated, simply because our spouses are expressing their love for us in a way that is different from how we need to feel loved, and vice versa.

Gary Chapman first coined the concept of ‘Five Love Languages’, and I aim to explore what these are, and what they mean for us in our relationships, in this post.

Five Love Languages

The first, is Words of Affirmation. People for whom words are their primary love language express their love through them – words of comfort, compliments…

Acts of service is the second love language, one for whom love is expressed as deeds, as things they do for another.

The third love language is that of Receiving Gifts – presents and gifts given by their loved ones are most effective in showing love for these individuals.


The forth love language, Quality Time, involves uninterrupted, undivided time spent together. 





The fifth and final love language is Physical Touch – yes, hugs and kisses; meaningful, purposeful touch. 

So, what is the relevance of knowing anything about love languages? Well, the importance of it is twofold – being aware of one’s own love language goes a long way toward being self-aware, and having a comprehensive understanding of what love feels like for you, so that you can engage in behaviours in order to have this need met. The second, and most important, point regarding love languages is one that arises when two people in a relationship have two different love languages. Because we are all different people, this is to be expected; however, it can lead to either party feeling unsatisfied and unloved, simply because they are not getting their love needs met in the way that is most effective for them. They, in turn, are most likely attempting to meet their spouses love needs in a way that is familiar to them – which is not necessarily right for their spouse.

Ok, so imagine your love language is touch – you like holding hands and hugging and kissing, but your partner’s love language is receiving gifts. So whenever you touch them as an expression of your love, they do not respond the way you would like. You end up feeling rejected, or like you aren’t loved with the intensity with which you love. Now, your partner loves getting flowers, and so they often buy you gifts like chocolates. You accept the gift with grace and move on with your life, without giving it too much thought. Most likely, your spouse feels just as rejected as you did when they didn’t respond to your touch.

So if you show your partner love through touch, and they through gifts, there can be a disconnect which, as I mentioned earlier, can lead to issues that could really have been avoided if you just knew and understood the love language of your spouse. They like receiving gifts, so you buy them gifts to show them love in a way they can appreciate – in the same way, your spouse knows how much physical touch means to you, so they grab your hand first, or steal a kiss, in order to make you feel loved. Love goes both ways – showing love needs to involve using your own love language, but also speaking love to your partner in a way that they can understand.

If you’re keen, try this quiz and find out which love language you are: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/