It’s a good question as the way we listen will determine the health of one of the most important aspects of the relationship – the type of dynamic in place. The dynamic is the way we listen, the tone of our talk, the way we perceive our partners, the way we negotiate our differences and resolve important issues.

So how do you listen to your partners? Do you do it to win, to fix or learn and understand. The latter is a very powerful way of communicating and so much more rewarding than the others, for the recipient and well as the deliverer. There will be a place for each way to listen though.

I’m sure you can envisage listening to win the argument by just presenting the facts. I mean you want to pass on some information to another person. How you do this with the right tone and choice of words matters. For instance, “What we have here is a difficult decision but as I see the facts are …..” which is better than, “Let’s face the facts this is a case of……..”

Next is the case where you listen to fix as you want to help and you can see the solution very quickly and easily. The problem with this is, fixing it is not always the answer and if you do this constantly the other person stays in the role of the victim, unable to solve their own problems. Also, when they don’t take your advice, you might deep down resent them for their inaction. What they really wanted was to get it all out on what they are going through. To feel heard and not shut down.

Then there is the gift of the case for listening to learn and understand. This is where curiosity provides a big opening up of the issue where there is no win/lose situation. For instance, he or she says, “I’ve got this lump on my elbow which is really bothering me.”

Listening to learn or understand is a reply of, “When did you notice this and how are you feeling about it?” He or she might say, “My boss is driving me mad as he never respects what I say or do and is critical of all the staff.” How would you answer this if you were listening to learn and understand? See I have just done this to you as I want to know what you would do rather than tell you what to do to fix it. I want to learn and understand you.

Being emotionally involved and connected with our partners involves being curious about what they are experiencing rather than showing them you know what they should do.

Most of us wants to be heard and questioned on how we are coping with issues and not told what to do. When an open ended conversation takes place creativity is released and validation felt.

With self-reflection we can all greatly improve our relationship dynamics by trying to listen to learn and understand.

Gerry North is a counsellor treating anxiety, depression, addictions and relationship issues.




Drugs and sex have been combined for centuries, take the example of alcohol and sex but there are warnings for us all using different classes of drugs today. I see clients who get lost using crystal methamphetamine, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) or mephedrone, also known as miaow miaow, which can be snorted or swallowed.

I mean lost because an addiction is at play where the drugs are in control and not the individual. And with chem. sex there is the addiction to the drug and the sex. The consequences of this addiction are profound; losing time off work, breaking contact with friends, only able to have sex using chems (with partner and strangers), mental illness of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, health deterioration and the need to practice a non-authentic life – holding multiple secrets.

Addiction is a feeling of being pulled towards behaviour like sirens calling sailors onto the rocks to wreck the ship. The mind has been high jacked where it seeks to repeat the behaviour at any time it is allowed. What would normally be a Friday night after work with friends turns into the beginning of a ritual to engage in chem. sex once more and this ritual will play out to the eventual come down at the end of the experience. Depression and feelings of not feeling connected to real life  arise. It can be a very personal painful time.

The pull to engage in chem. sex is the addiction and fighting these thoughts and feelings is going to be difficult. Some clients can use will power by saying NO every time the pull presents itself and the longer this is done the pull is more likely to fade. The trick is to catch the first thoughts leading to the ritual beginning to engage in chem. sex. Any distraction behaviour will help and having a written down plan of what to do when the pull comes will greatly help. Things like call a sponsor friend go out with non-drug using friends, visit the gym, see a film, etc.

This approach does not work for everyone. It is possible to work out if the chem. sex behaviour is just a bad habit and this usually can be the case for beginning users. The next stage is a compulsion or the pull when bored to engage in chem. sex and the final stage is true addiction where there is total lack of control.

One approach I use is to seek the values a client wants their life to be about, that is what they want to see in themselves and what they want others to see. Like a personal life epitaph, giving life meaning and pride. The addictive behaviour often contradicts what a client wants their true life to be about.

All addiction is complex and there are many, many stories of where it came from, what it hides, what is robs the user of, what it provides and what life would look like without it. Everyone is different.

Let’s take a look how our brains work with addiction. With any addiction our brains create pathways of behaviour. Imagine a highway that the same addictive behaviour travels along. What was once a one-way pathway slowly develops into a 4-lane highway with continual use. The good news is the longer you stop going down this highway, or pathway, the sooner it will diminish in size. If you create alternative things to do, new highways or pathways will develop in your brain and you will be less likely to reinforce the addictive pathway.

One thing is clear though, chem. sex can easily become a full on addiction and if you want to beat it you have a full fight on your hand to get your life back. Talking therapy has a place but for many users finding full on support services like Antidote in London are the best way to go. Having a sponsor is so helpful like that used in AA. Use any support services you can think of. You will need it.

That pull will subside the more you leave the addiction. That known pull is the addiction in control and not you. When that gets really uncomfortable seek help.

Gerry North Psychotherapist.


It is easy to become lonely in relationships when it is perceived the other no longer sees, listens or validates. The odd thing is that when you dig a bit deeper you usually find both partners feel lonely. Learning simple skills can do wonders to eradicate loneliness in couple domestic life. Ask this question often; “How is our relationship going do you think?” This simple question gives the other permission to say what they have previously been scared to bring up in conversation or there has not been a time or place to do so. Asking this question also suggest you care and it is also not threatening.

Being single can also be tough and feelings of being alone easily experienced. In big cities particularly if you don’t keep ringing friends for a night out nothing eventuates. It can be a constant effort to organize to see people and you sometimes get the feeling if you dropped off your perch no one would notice you at the bottom of the cage for a while. It is easy to feel friendless and that no one cares. But they do and they are waiting for someone to call them as well.

Maybe it is time to stop feeling sorry for our selves. We know a big city can be a tough gig unless you are a performing seal at most social functions and if not social anxiety is common. Being patient, using self-regulation and taking risks in social interaction will make you far less anxious. Ask someone a question or introduce yourself will result in a positive libido (life force). If you find yourself withdrawing the life force goes into negative libido.

Couples create environments that bring about emotional loneliness and single people living in fast paced urban cities experience staying social difficult. Taking either of these scenarios personally means you are bashing yourself up needlessly with negative libido. (Life force)

Also what about having a deeper relationship with your self. Listen to some new music, grab new books, see a movie, go to yoga, join a gym, visit exhibitions, ask to get on mailing lists, etc. Watching television too much will make you feel lonely but reading a book will not. Making your self do this is called self-regulation.

Those of you with partners and are feeling lonely break down those barriers by learning simple skills to feel heard and validated. Don’t be a victim to loneliness. Adopt emotional self-regulation leading to changes in personal behaviour. Wriggle around in life a bit more and loneliness will gently disappear.


Do you feel communication is failing in your relationship? Are you sometimes walking on eggshells not saying what you really want to? Are there major issues that have never been resolved? Do you feel stuck or lonely in the relationship? Well let us consider two factors that can change all of that. And you don’t need to take it personally nor does you partner. These two factors are the Environment the relationship is in and the Dynamic taking place, or that which has developed over time as it does change.


If one of you has a very stressful job, if one of you travels a lot and is away, if there are challenging family issues to deal with, if there are financial problems or a Grindr factor – then this is the environment the relationship is in. Change the environment and positive relationship changes can happen with the free air created. How exciting!

By taking a helicopter view of the environment factors in the relationship a couple is able to see what needs to change, without taking it too personally. Be brave. Maybe that job really has to go primarily because a couple with little time together can’t build a relationship together.


The other factor to think about is the dynamic that exists in the relationship. The dynamic operating in any relationship takes many forms. It can be the way each partner perceives the other. For instance a perception that the partner cannot organise anything well and is hopeless with money. If that perception is embedded then that filter is in place to see that behaviour repeated all the time. Change the perception to, “he is such a loyal and trusting friend and  he truly loves me “, and the dominant previous perception fades.

The dynamic factors can also take the form of casual financial bullying (asking the price of everything), uneven power in making decisions, the tone used when discussing issues, the way couples argue (fighting fair is a skill), the absence of love language or a lost sense of respect for each other.

Couples taking an analytical look at the dynamic in place – what works and what does not, allow changes to begin without taking it personally. Changing the dynamic even slightly breathes fresh air into what was a stuck relationship.

When two important relationship factors, environment and dynamic, are challenged new things happen. Employing creativity with a positive sense of “What Else” is an exciting place to be and wonderful to witness in couples prepared to take new risks. After all life without risk is no life at all.



So you are single gay and you have really tried to find a hunky partner but now you have concluded it is never going to happen. It is very natural to commence the blame game and take the whole thing personally, beating your self up with thoughts like, “I am not interesting or sexy enough” or “I can pick them up but they don’t come back for more, so it must be me.”

No it is not you it is a case of pure statistics. Okay let us look at the facts. If you accept 10% of the male population is gay that excludes 90% of men. Of that 10% of gay men, half are in relationships leaving 5% and half of those do not want a relationship so that leaves 2.5%. So out of that 2.5% of the population your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to find someone that you really would like to share your life with.


Now say luck is on your side and finally there he is in his sexy underwear, appearing out of nowhere, bathed in golden sunshine on your very doorstep. (This is what normally happens – truly. I wouldn’t lie to you.) Now once you have snared that someone special please work on keeping him.


It saddens me when gay couples split up without trying to find the answers to their relationship problems. It appears easy for some; to throw away essentially good relationships over problems that with healthy adult discussion can be worked out.


Anyway back to the singles. Make sure you look after yourself mentally, as unlike heterosexual males you only have a small sample of the population to find your ideal partner. If you take not finding HIM too personally you are mentally going to bash yourself up and that is unattractive. There is someone out there that wants what you want, trust me.


Looking after you means having a good relationship with you first. Get to know your loves of – music, film, theatre, books, art, work, exercise, cooking, travel, and enjoy time with family and friends. Having a positive emotional relationship with your self will make you feel better connected to the world. It will also make you more attractive to the very man you are looking for.


So maybe have a think about if what you are presently doing is helping you find the partner you want. Can you make life changes to improve your relationship with yourself by getting healthier, mentally and physically? Good luck and happy hunting!

Alcohol and Depression

When we drink alcohol the party gets going and it all seems great but the ending is not always so. When we begin to drink we get an instant celebratory high but if we keep drinking, drinking and drinking the night can become weird.

We can end up having: forgettable sex, shameful behaviours, feelings of emotional anger plus experiencing a horror day afterwards with feelings of guilt, depression and loneliness. What a bummer when the night started off so well.

Depression brought on by alcohol use is a medical fact but the great thing is if we stop drinking the depression will lift in no time at all. There is a cycle that goes like this: love a drink, love another, and another, then drunk, then depressed, then loneliness. This is especially the case if we drink alone at home.

When we drink our pre-frontal cortex, which controls the regulation of our emotions is disabled, making us less able to manage our free-floating thoughts. Emotions and feelings come and go in our minds throughout the day and our pre-frontal cortex deals with them rationally. But if we drink a lot – bingo – we experience little control of these same negative emotions. That is why alcohol violence is so prevalent. When the person becomes sober again they find it hard to understand who that other person was – who behaved so badly. I have had clients who have ruined weddings, thrown wine in peoples faces, smashed up houses, attempted to drown them selves, hit their best friends, blah, blah, and blah.

Then there is the home drinker who drinks excessively every night (with a bottle of wine or more) and feels constantly depressed (because that amount of alcohol does that chemically) and then feels isolated, lost and lonely. That is a horrible habit to get into and experience.

But as I said before a lot of depression can be chemically eradicated instantly by giving up alcohol. To test this research, have a go yourself. If you drink every day stop for 2 days a week and see how much better you feel the following days. You will sleep better for a start, have more energy and your brain will function clearer. If you feel you are really out of control with drinking give it up for a month. You will lose weight, feel great, greatly reduce depression and be so much richer. You will love yourself so much more as well.

Most of all my clients prefer to manage alcohol better rather than give up completely. This means them coming up with a program of better management like: 2 days off a week, half filling wine glasses, drinking water between drinks, not having alcohol at home, etc. Everyone’s program is different.

I also ask my clients to give the person who gets drunk and out of control (them) another name. They then write stories about what this other person did under the influence of excessive alcohol. This really helps as the brain easily forgets these bad shameful memories.

What advice can you give to others about controlling alcohol consumption to relieve the symptoms of depression and loneliness? Or what are your experiences or thoughts about managing drinking?