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Dr Stroma Macfarlane (MBCHB, MRCPsych), from Priory Wellbeing Centre Southampton, offers her unique insight into what she sees as the five toxic pressures on relationships and talks through some ‘immediate fix’ solutions.

'Time poverty’ caused by long hours at work, childcare worries, money, relationship issues and extended family issues are the top five worries Hampshire patients cite when it comes to relationship problems.

There are now more working women than ever before – a record 14 million, with 975,000 more women now in work than five years ago. And these women – whether they are millennials or working mums – are putting in significant hours.

Dr Macfarlane’s key advice is to “invest time in relationships now to save time later.”

“Relationships are one of the most common things to suffer when we have our work-life balance wrong” she said. “Speaking to Hampshire couples in my clinical practice in Southampton, I see a number of common themes emerge. 

“Lack of time together is the most common complaint from couples, where one or both partners is working long hours, as well as lack of energy to enjoy any time they do have together.

“Long hours and stress at work have an impact on our physical and mental health. Lack of intimacy, poor physical and mental health which impairs further on the relationship, and financial pressures and debt feature high on the list also.”

“Stress can manifest as physical ailments - headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, poor skin, anxiety, depression, and increasingly harmful use of substances can follow.

The most important thing to do if you find yourself in this position is to re-define your boundaries:

  • Be disciplined
  • Turn your phone and email off when at home at the end of the day
  • Make sure you are taking the breaks you are entitled to regularly
  • Have lunch away from work if possible 
  • Focus on the basics - eat well and regularly, keep hydrated and watch your caffeine intake, take early nights, keep regular sleeping hours, exercise, take time for yourself and set your weeks up so this is achievable

"I also recommend people who are struggling to cope with busy, pressured lives to incorporate some mindfulness into their day. Download a mindfulness app and start to build even just five minutes into your day. Once you have the hang of mindfulness you can start doing simple daily activities ‘mindfully’ e.g. chopping vegetables, hanging out the washing, having a shower.

“Decide what are rational money worries and what are anxieties based on unhelpful thought patterns or past experiences.

“The first thing to do when it comes to debt or financial problems is to face up to things and seek advice and support. Sometimes it can be as simple as talking things through with your partner and being honest, in order to work out a plan together.

“The most important strategy here is to make sure you are communicating. Stressful busy lives, lack of time together and fatigue can all get in the way of good communication in a partnership. This can breed underlying resentment and increase distance between couples. Women often tell me they feel they are doing it all - working, homemaker, mothering, and they get little help from the men in their life. Often, on further probing, they realise that they are struggling to ask for help and it is likely their partner is not always aware of the expectations being applied to them.

“Honest, frank conversations about each partner’s expectations, and plans to compromise should those expectations be wildly apart, can be helpful starting points.”

Top five toxic pressures on couples

  • Work - putting in longer and longer hours
  • Childcare issues and differing parenting styles
  • Finances
  • Expectations of one or both partners
  • Extended family - difficult relationships can add to pressures

Top five solutions

  • Make time for each other away from stresses
  • Communicate and work out solutions together; see yourself as a team
  • Compromise! Find a middle way that best suits your differing values or expectations
  • Recognise signs of stress, and seek support early whether that be from family and friends or professional intervention if things are getting out of control
  • Try to avoid being critical of each other or assigning blame. Use challenges and obstacles to draw you together, not push you apart

Dr Macfarlane added: “Alcohol can become a problem when coping with stress. This can put enormous strains on relationships, from being a mechanism for one partner to avoid the real issues and solutions, to risky behaviour or even violence. It can also compound anxiety and depression and affect overall coping. If alcohol or substances are becoming a problem and causing a degree of harm, then it is important to seek professional addiction help and support sooner rather than later."

The Priory Group has invested £150,000 in the Southampton centre which aims to treat up to 1,000 patients a year and is staffed by consultant psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists.

The centre is fully regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

NHS Public Health statistics show that Southampton GPs recorded 13,800 patients with depression, a prevalence rate of 6.6%, higher than the national figure of 5.8%.

In addition, 2015 research from Public Health England suggests Southampton hospitals admit higher than UK average numbers of adults for alcohol-related harm.

With the South East currently the UK region with the highest employment rate at 77.9%, workplace stress has become a pressing issue. Southampton’s two sectors with the highest employment include health and education. According to the Labour Force Survey, health professionals, teachers and nurses have the highest rates of workplace stress with rates of 2,500, 2,190 and 3,000 cases per 100,000 people employed, respectively.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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