Friday 22 June 2012

Relationship - Part 2

A.     Conflict Management / Tolerance Level
Conflict was defined as dispute between parties – where communication breaks down or is not effectively channeled.  It was noted that couples failed to realise that the ways in which matters are handled in Africa, with access to domestic staff tasked with different chores, cannot generally be replicated in the Diaspora, except for a few lucky ones with enormous wealth who can afford domestic staff. In the Western world, most people would have to do almost everything by themselves.  There was the unanimous belief that not changing the mindset would lead an African man living in the Western world to make several seemingly unreasonable demands on the woman – a situation which evidently would lead to irreconcilable differences.  Another perspective was that if personal conflicts (as the mind has different facets of which emotion is one) have not been appropriately resolved, such unresolved issues would ultimately have negative impact on the relationship.   

It was observed that the African culture is gradually being eroded by the Western culture. In the African culture, the involvement of both families provides an avenue for conflict resolution, where the ‘head of the family’ of either party would be consulted for advice and adjudication.  The Jewish and Asian communities were cited as examples of cultures where, irrespective of their place of residence, try to maintain their sense of cultural identity and community spirit. A significant point highlighted was the fact that Africans who seek advice from Pastors, fail to realise that the Biblical principles quoted in resolving disputes were based on the Jewish culture – in which some aspects were irrelevant to the African culture.

B.   Anger Management
Anger was said to be the pinnacle of one’s emotion. To avoid a situation where one loses control, the other party in the relationship must endeavour to know the tell-tale signs.  Furthermore, the angry person must be aware when he or she was about to lose control. It was affirmed that couples should know how to complement each other – their likes and dislikes, personalities in terms of one being an extrovert and the other probably, an introvert.  Therefore, it is imperative to strike a balance in order to ensure that the relationship works. There was the general belief that the best approach to deal with anger was to remain calm and ‘talk to one’s inner self’.

C.   Coping with Loneliness within and outside a Relationship
Learning to live with loneliness was said to be crucial to one’s mental state of mind.  Women are believed to struggle with this aspect, even whilst in a relationship.  In a marriage, some women are said to be ‘business widows’ where the husbands are always away from home on  business trips, leaving their wives for lengthy periods of time.  The wives, especially the homely type, could find it extremely difficult to cope with the demands of maintaining a family by themselves (even when money was not a problem).  Ironically, few men were said to be ‘business widowers’ as they married women who were top professionals whose job responsibilities involved a lot of travelling, leaving the husbands to take care of the home.

Another dimension was that even though some people were alone, they were not lonely, as they enjoyed their solitude.  An individual must be able to ascertain their individuality – a state of ‘finding oneself’.  Some people were said to seek company of others because they are not at peace with themselves.   It was expressed that having a companion was not a guarantee for lifelong happiness, unless both parties were able to add value to each other’s life.  Otherwise, one party would be seen as a parasite or liability.

Suggested ways of coping with loneliness –

·       Networking – attending relevant functions, parties, etc.  so as to meet people;
·       Be active, volunteer for different charities;
·       Perform physical and mental exercises – go to the gym, read motivational books;
·       Get involved in local community projects;
·       Go on holiday;
·       Fulfil a passion such as writing, studying, painting, photography, etc.;
·       Join a social network (for all the right reasons);
·       Recreate – do something else.  Avoid boredom or routine living.

D. Warning Signals / Signs of Cry for help
Based on his professional experiences, the Psychiatrist advised that warning signals should be taken seriously to prevent someone from committing suicide.  He also suggested that people should be tactful when giving advice to those going through a traumatic period.  He recommended that one should be mindful of negative words such as ‘come on, get on with it’, ‘you are not the only one’, ‘pull yourself together’.  These words were said to be judgmental and depict the addressee as a ‘weakling’ who could not cope with the pressures of life. He emphasised the need to empathise with people and endeavour to seek help on their behalf. 

He further explained that when an individual use words like ‘what is the point in living?’, ‘I am fed up with everything!’, ‘why is it only me going through these problems?’, ‘I need to sort my life out now’, I can’t go on’, any interested party should not just listen, but act quickly as the individual under stress could be heading for a total mental breakdown, or worse, suicide.

Examples of Warning signs:

·         Self-neglect (unkempt appearance);
·         Constant crying or tearfulness;
·         Poor concentration;
·         Excessive drinking or eating;
·         Diminished / excessive sleep;
·         Physical tell tale signs (e.g. black eyes);
·         Feeling melancholic all the time (hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness);
·         ‘Anhedonia’ – reduced ability/complete inability to enjoy things or experience pleasure,   particularly as regards activities that an individual previously enjoyed;
·         De-motivation;
·         Fluctuation in eating habits;
·         Craving for sugary drinks;
·         Tiredness;
·         Absent-mindedness.

E.   Moving On
‘Moving on’ was said to be a cliché - an expression which could easily be misconstrued. In Relationship Part 1, ‘Moving on’ was defined as change in life-style (e.g. becoming more outgoing), location, career, change of wardrobe & hairstyle, and possibly, re-marriage. 

A guest, having been married four times, unequivocally stated that the most important aspect was to find out exactly what an individual was ‘moving on’ from?  He emphasised that without self-analysis and a real understanding of the cause of the unpleasant episode, the individual might just have implemented a superficial and temporary measure.  The psychological aspect, which is the mindset, would have to change so as not to repeat the mistake of the past.  An expert on Female Mutilation Genitalia (FMG) declared that it was a therapeutic exercise to want to change or explore other areas of one’s life which might have been dormant.

F.   Basis of a Good Relationship
·         Shared goal and agreement of what the relationship is about, in order to guard against false or unrealistic expectations;
·         Couple to know themselves (the enabling objective of coming together in the first place);
·         Not taking each other for granted;
·         Mutual trust and respect;
·         Open-mindedness;
·         Effective communication - no assumption of each other’s feelings or misconception of what was, or should have been, said.

G. Support Groups
It was the general belief that majority of the Support Groups based in the United Kingdom are not equipped to address matters specific to the Africans in Diaspora. Some Support Groups have since realised this deficiency and a representative from the Relate North West London Counselling Service specifically stated that they were currently in the process of revising their approach in order to accommodate aspects of the African culture, with a view to providing  the appropriate service to the African ethnic communities.

Useful Support Groups:

·         Family members (elderly role models usually respected by all);
·         Trusted Friends;
·         Local Faith Groups (Church, Mosque etc.) – without being judgemental and properly trained in Counselling;
·         Relate*;
·         GP;
·         Samaritans*
·         Heart 2 Heart*.

*amongst numerous Professional Support Groups based in the United Kingdom

The internet was said to be a good source of information on several Support Groups focused on specific areas of relationships.

Points to Note:

·         Effective communication is paramount in any relationship.

·         Mindset needs to be reviewed as life is dynamic.

·         Parties in the relationship should be prepared to adapt and be proactive in sustaining the relationship.

·         Avoid any threat of violence.

·         African Diaspora couples should learn how to manage the African and Western cultures effectively.

·         Do not take each other for granted, and work to understand your partner better.

·         When issues arise, it is best to deal with it decisively, immediately, and amicably.

·         Learn to control your anger and know your tolerance level.

·         Be engaged in hobbies of interest to you.

·         Find your own happiness within and outside of a relationship.

·         Be patient with your partner in any conflict situation, and work to understand his or her views.

·         Before committing to a relationship, it is imperative to understand your partner enough to feel that the relationship has a good chance of success.

·         Changing aspects of one’s life must have a valid reason and be mutually beneficial.

·         A cry for help should not be seen as a weakness.  Different people with different thresholds.

·         Do not be judgmental about people’s challenges.  Empathise and do not criticise.

·         Endeavour to discuss problems with trusted friends, family members and external Support Groups.

·         Do not let mistakes of the past overwhelm you; use them as lessons learned in ‘moving on’.

·         Know the reason for ‘moving on’ and remain focused on achieving your objectives.

·         Be honest with yourself and know what you want out of life.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Relationship - Part 1


To identify aspects of our lives that have been conditioned by our mindsets which have made it very difficult to change, even though there are situation which confirm the need to change and have better life enrichment.

·        To have an open forum/dialogue with the intent on improving relationships with partners.
·        To change mindsets and be more open with matters that seem challenging and seek timely and appropriate support before a situation disintegrates.
·        To help individuals gain confidence and greater sense of control as they learn to cope effectively with challenges.
·        To understand the nature of any relationship, have the motivation and the right mindset to effect positive change.
·        To assess individual character traits as a way of avoiding repeat mistakes.

·        Hopeful that there is life after a traumatic relationship.
·        To form new and healthy relationships with a new mindset.
·        Be focused on positive thinking.
·        To realise the need for and how to access relevant and appropriate level of support.
·        To learn how to communicate freely and openly in a relationship.

Both male and female, irrespective of marital status (single, married, divorced, separated, widowed)
Age Group – from 18 years and above

Summary of Discussions
The inaugural and unique pioneering approach to Renewing the African Mindset took place on Thursday 5 April 2012 at a business centre location at London Bridge, in London.
The audience constituted an experienced Psychiatrist, General Practitioner, Psychologist and professionals from various sectors.  The Opening Discussion segment gave the audience an opportunity to comment on various social aspects of what was perceived as the ‘African Mindset’. 
Comments ranged from how to deal with marital issues with a contingency plan in the event of a breakdown in a relationship, to parenting.  There was a general consensus that individuals got involved in relationships with different expectations but the effective management of those expectations could still lead to having a rewarding relationship.
The purpose of the Opening Discussion, from the standpoint of the Convener, was achieved in that it gauged the interaction of the audience and level of openness generated from the lively debate.
There was a gender balance amongst the audience which facilitated the discussion.  It was particularly encouraging that the men were very forthright with their comments, which was an indication that African men no longer perceive it as a ‘weakness’ to openly engage in such discussions.  The entire audience expressed themselves in a non-judgemental manner.
One of the highlights of the segment was that majority of the audience felt that there could be times when one or both parties might wish to engage the involvement of a third party (trusted friends, family members or other support groups – experienced enough to make unbiased contributions with the intention of resolving the situation between the warring couple in an amicable manner).
In summary, as no one is static, change is inevitable.  Therefore, a good self-appraisal (who you really are and your goals), taking into account the partner’s views and awareness of the situation in the relationship, are pivotal to a harmonious co-existence.

A.         The African Mindset was defined as follows:
1.      The man is the head of the household and whatever he says is final irrespective of whether he is living up to the expectations of the wife.
2.      There must be something wrong with a woman of a certain age who is unmarried and has no children.
3.      The married woman with no children is deemed to have a problem with infertility, even though it could later turn out to be the husband.

4.      Africans do not seek counselling from external support groups or agencies.  Family members are the only source of support as Africans should not be seen as ‘washing dirty linen in public’.
5.      An African married woman should strive to remain in the marriage no matter the level of unhappiness she is experiencing.
6.      Women must be solely dependent on Men.
7.      Men should always be responsible for all financial commitments in the home.
8.      Men are expected to pay when they take women out for meals.
9.      Men do not show their emotions.
10.  Most Men indulge in extra-conjugal activities whilst it is totally unacceptable for women.

*The above mindsets were based on a particular generation of Africans and still applicable to a minority of the current younger generation.

B.             Change
                Change was described as an evolving phenomenon and as a result, individuals should
            be ready to adapt to circumstances in which they find themselves. 

For the mindset to change, an individual must be prepared and determined to change, as per the ‘Alcoholic model’.

C.         Impact of Marital Breakdown
The Psychiatrist gave an in-depth perspective of what might happen if an individual was not in control of his or her emotions.  He cited real life examples of celebrities who had suffered as a result of marital breakdown - the impact of stress on an individual’s mental  and physical  health (where in some cases may be severe – in terms of irrecoverable mental illness, cancer or even death). 

Furthermore, he asserted that studies indicated that there was a higher increase of women-related cancer due to hormonal changes in the body.  The common related health issues were depression and bi-polar disorder. 

D.             Moving On
            ‘Moving on’ was defined as change of life-style (e.g. becoming more outgoing),
            location, career and re-marriage.  However, very few people realised the need to
change the mindset.  There was the belief that some African women living in the Diaspora, due to economic and financial empowerment, especially in the western world, were
            able to ‘move on’ with their lives, even if there was no contribution from the absent
Ironically, this aspect was also seen as a contributing factor to why some women were no
longer willing to work hard at their marriages.

There was the view that individuals should endeavour to strike a balance in both the African and Western cultures.  In other words, to emulate and adopt best practices in both cultures and apply appropriately, without disrupting the core values of the relationship.
***If you knew within your heart that you were dissatisfied with the type of life you were living and you knew it could be better, there must be a desire to change the mindset.  However, changing the mindset would be a matter of personal choice. 

Points to Note:
·        When you sign on the dotted line on the day of marriage, be ready to share each other’s burdens.
·        Communication is very important.  Mindset needs to be reviewed as life is dynamic.  Be adaptive and adoptive.
·        Expectations need to be managed effectively.
·        No one is going to make you happy, except yourself.  Be prepared to work on yourself if you want your relationship to work.
·        It is a personal choice to want to change your mindset.
·        Realise the reason for change and be ready to change.
·        It is insanity if you continue to repeat the same mistakes in every relationship and expect a different outcome.
·        Learn from past mistakes committed in a previous relationship.
·        Compromise with your partner without losing your integrity.  Do not lose yourself.
·        Happiness is eternal.  It radiates from within.
·        A lot of healing takes place when you are ‘in a good place’.
·        Every relationship is unique.  Check yourself, your partner’s attitudes and apply advice appropriately.
·        Divorce does not end a relationship, it re-defines it.
·        Even if you marry your soul-mate, it does not guarantee a perfect marriage or partnership.
·        Do not allow hatred or revenge to ruin your life.
·        You cannot apply the same solution to different problems.
·        A problem shared is a problem half-solved.