Critical periods for an intimate relationship in relation to family systems changing

There are at least three phases that are seen as critical periods for an intimate relationship:

  • Having young children between the ages of 0-6 years old.
  • Having children in puberty.
  • Having children leaving the house.

Having said this, other life events or changes, of course will also be challenging times and critical phases for intimate relationships. However in this blog I will partly be focusing on the above phases. 

These phases are seen as years that are more challenging for a relationship, because there are changes on every fundamental theme in your life. 

Everyone and everything in the family system is changing:

  • Roles become different for yourself, your partner, the other family members (grandparents etc).
  • New balances in tasks
  • New work-life balances
  • Development of children 
  • Dynamics changing
  • Body transformations
  • Intimacy changes

What do we need in order to maintain a healthy relationship and rediscover each other in this vulnerable phase of life?

First of all; Reflect on yourself: intentionally making time to think about who you are, who you have become, what has contributed to that development, what you like about yourself, what you would like to develop more or less of, what triggers me, what past experiences can it be linked to in my youth. See the following quote: 

My primary relationship is with myself; all others are mirrors of it. As I learn to love myself, I automatically receive the love and appreciation that I desire from others. If I am committed to myself and to living my truth, I will attract others with equal commitment. My willingness to be intimate with my own deep feelings creates the space for intimacy with another. As I learn to love myself, I receive the love I desire from others. — Shakti Gawain

Second; communicate about each other’s underlying feelings and needs in a safe and respectful manner. This requires work around emotion awareness and regulation (being aware and in touch with your own underlying emotions and able to regulate your emotion). Realizing this is not about right or wrong/ partners fault or my fault. But this is about understanding and listening to each other’s needs and finding ways to meet each other’s needs. We can’t always know each other’s needs if the other person doesn’t communicate. Realizing that we will try to develop and meet each other’s needs, but also being realistic and understanding that 1 individual can’t always 100% fulfill some needs. Realizing that every relationship needs work to stay connected (reflections, small gestures, making time, effort, communication about emotions and needs). 

My colleague wrote a interesting blog related to communication in relationships “Communication builds intimacy in your relationship” – Joyce Ng (see our website:

Written By:
Flo Westendorp
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Communication builds intimacy in your relationship

Psychologist Dr. John Gottman said, “Relationships live and die not by the sword, but by the amount of discussion.” What Gottman meant is that the survival of our relationship depends on how well we communicate with each other. Married couples must find a way to communicate regularly, openly, and directly. Someone said that the minute we stop communicating, it is the death of the marriage. The failure to communicate with one another is the number one cause of marital conflict and divorce. However, many couples have shared with me that they have very few things to talk about after years of marriage with their spouses. In my opinion, one of the reasons couples talk less with each other is because one spouse feels the other spouse is not listening to them. They feel their spouse is either reactive or defensive especially when they do not share the same opinion or agree with them.

Research studies have shown that defensive listeners will be less likely to listen and hear well what another person is saying. Thus, the failure to understand what the other person is saying. In some cases, instead of listening, the person is thinking about why the person is responding in this way and at the same time is preparing a response to what the other person is saying. This is “The Fight or Flight” response. In this case, it is a “fight” response as one wants to win the argument.

Author Dave Maurer has said, “A great marriage is not when the perfect couple comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences, through kind and patient communication with each other.” Therefore, if two people learn to focus on what each other is saying in order to understand, clarify, and respond accordingly, the marriage will grow stronger and deeper. Non-threatening communication reduces the likelihood of distorted perceptions on the part of the listener. Hence, it will help strengthen their mutual love and trust. Therefore, I would like to suggest a few guidelines to help us improve our communication with our partner:

1.    Give each other a chance to speak – each partner is given a designated amount of time to express his or her thoughts and feelings. 

2.    Do not be tempted to give unsolicited advice; do not try to problem-solve or accommodate your spouse’s emotions for understanding must precede giving any advice or solution.

3.    Show genuine concern or interest, maintain eye contact, do not allow your mind or eyes to wonder.

4.    Stand on your spouse’s side, and be supportive even if you think that his or her perspective is unreasonable. Do not try to win every conversation.

5.    Cultivate a “we” concept. Let your spouse know that the two of you are in this together. We are a team and issues that we have should not come between us. 

6.    Show affection; intentionally create opportunities for a fun date, and spend quality time chatting with one another.

Research also shows that emotional connection will enhance physical intimacy and having great sex. If you feel emotionally rejected by your partner, chances are that you would not be in the mood to have sex with him or her. Try these guidelines in communicating with your spouse and see how they can affect the level of emotional attraction and trust you can build with each other. 

If you are struggling in communicating with your spouse or partner or having marital issues in your relationship that require more support. At SACAC Counselling, we have a group of professional therapists that can help you to resolve your conflicts, and learn better communication skills, and strategies to build a good relationship with each other in your marriage. Please do not hesitate to call for an appointment.   

Written By:
Joyce Ng
Clinical Psychologist
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
SACAC Counselling

What makes psychotherapy work?

With over 500 variations of psychotherapies, it can be a daunting task to find one that suits a client. Dr Steven Hayes has pointed out that list of evidence-based psychotherapy, maintained by scientific bodies and government agencies, do not require any knowledge of the processes of change, hence methods proliferated.

With his colleagues, Stefan Hofmann at Boston University / Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany; Joe Ciarrochi at Australian Catholic University; and our associates Baljinder Sahdra and Fred Chin, he set out to conduct a mediational study to identify the important pathways of change. 

Due to the size of all studies, 54,633 in total, they dubbed the project the “Deathstar”. This is in reference to the moon-sized space station with planetary destruction capabilities in Starwars movies. It took the team over 4 years to complete.

A few results I would like to highlight here. The result indicates that 55% of change is due to the skillset of psychological flexibility and mindfulness. And not the factors that people suspected such as self-esteem, or friends and family.

Psychological flexibility consists of 3 parts, awareness, openness and value-based engagement.

Awareness is the first pillar. It is our ability to notice what thoughts and feelings show up; What sensations we experience at each given moment. 

Openness is about being present with whatever we experience in a given moment; making room for it. This allows us to immerse ourselves in experience, without needing to avoid it or to engage with it. Instead, we learn to be with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, letting go of the internal resistance to what is painful or what we would like to control. Voluntarily opening up to what we do not like has an indirect result of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing less frequently and with diminished intensity.  As a result, we are more likely to be able to move in a more meaningful direction in life.

The third pillar of psychological flexibility is value-based engagement. It is about freely choosing what matters to you and aligning your choices and behaviours to your values. A value is a quality of ongoing action. This means that you become patient by doing acts of patience. Values are not a goal as they cannot be achieved. Instead, they are a direction to point you in the direction of what is meaningful to you. By aligning your behaviour to them, your life will become more meaningful.

Awareness and openness together form an approach to mindfulness and together with value-based engagement, you can develop the skillset of psychological flexibility. And with it have the single most important skill for mental and emotional well-being.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strohsahl, Kelly G. Wilson, 2016, 2nd edition

Written by:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

Cognition and learning assessments

Cognition and learning assessments identify an individual’s strengths and difficulties in relation to their learning. Cognitive abilities are likely to remain stable throughout an individual’s life, and these assessments provide a comprehensive idea of how an individual learns and their learning abilities.

Who is suitable for a cognition learning assessment?
Individuals between the ages of 4-25 commonly seek a cognition and learning assessment, however it would also be appropriate for children under 4 in certain circumstances.

Individuals who experience any of the following may benefit from an assessment:

  • Difficulties with verbal communication and language
  • Academic difficulties such as reading and /or writing
  • Difficulties with memory
  • Difficulties with processing visual information
  • Lack of attention and /or concentration
  • Exceeding expected academic progress
  • Not making expected academic progress
  • Requiring support with their organisation skills
  • Struggle with classroom demands
  • Struggles with following instructions
  • Suspected learning difficulty

    What are the benefits of a cognition and learning assessment?
    A cognition and learning assessment will identify areas of strengths and difficulties. This will be able to guide personalised learning, and ensures individuals are progressing academically by being challenged at the right level.

    Following a cognitive assessment, a report will be provided which will include recommendations for supporting the individual’s learning environment to ensure the individual is reaching their full potential. Further assessments or an intervention may also be recommended.

    What does a cognition and learning assessment involve?
    There are variations in the type of cognitive assessments used, but they all measure cognitive and learning abilities through various tasks, including puzzles, activities, and questions. The assessments can usually take up to 4 hours to complete. This is often split into two sessions, and the individual can take breaks as and when needed. The assessment will take place in a calm environment, and with minimal distractions to ensure a comprehensive assessment.

    Written by:
    Mitra Ben-Lamri
    SACAC Counselling