6 Tips to Make Couple Counselling Work For You

Woman-Mad-At-Her-Husband-Against-A-White-A-Background-by-David-Castillo-DominiciOne of the most frequently asked questions I hear from couples when enquiring about Couple Counselling is ‘will couple counselling work us?’ As much as I want to say ‘absolutely’, the answer is rarely that black and white because as human beings, each of us is ultimately responsible for our own action and behaviour and has a direct impact on the outcome. It is possible however, to identify some of the factors that are likely to guarantee a better outcome for a couple engaging in counselling together.

Here are 6 tips to make Couple Counselling work for you:

1. Make couple counselling your first option for relationship repair

It is in the nature of human beings to put off the things that feel difficult and/or frightening and require effort. How do you deal with issues in your relationship? Do you have a conversation and find a way to resolve the issue or do you resort to a different way of coping; denial, distraction and delay are well worn strategies that couples often use to avoid confrontation and discomfit. You tell yourself that you can live with it if you ignore it or that it will go away if you don’t talk about it, but you are deceiving yourself. Over time, unresolved issues in your relationship cause more conflict, distrust and pain leading to disconnection.

The earlier you go to couple counselling, the more likely your couple relationship can be successful repaired.

 2. Choose a Couple Counsellor that you both feel comfortable with

For a successful outcome to your couple counselling, it is important that both partners feel comfortable with the Counsellor, heard and understood. A Couple Counsellor’s priority is your relationship, making every effort to direct interventions towards promoting and building your couple connection. Unlike individual counselling, a skilled Couples Counsellor will be careful not to align more strongly with one partner rather than the other. This can be tricky and it can be a partner’s experience that they feel they are being ‘ganged up on’. In my experience, where you feel comfortable enough to talk to the Couple Counsellor about any negative perception without feeling judged or misunderstood, the therapeutic connection can grow stronger.

Feeling comfortable with your Couples Counsellor is about being able to trust their judgement and having belief and respect for their skill as a Couple Counsellor.

 3. Have an agreed couple agenda

What do you want the outcome of couples counselling to be?

What would a ‘successful outcome’ look like?

These are the initial questions your Couple Counsellor will ask you both. Where a couple are in disagreement about the aims and goals of your relationship counselling, the process will lack direction because you are pulling in different directions. A Couples Counsellor will ensure that there is an agreed agenda for the counselling process, even if the initial agenda is to come to a shared agreement about what you want to achieve. It could be the case that as your couple counselling continues you choose to revisit this conversation to further clarify or even reset you agenda.

Talk about where you want your couple counselling to take you both.

 4. Have a Mutual Commitment to Couple Counselling

It is not uncommon for one partner to be the initiator of couple counselling and the other partner coming out of a need to appease. Where this is the case, a Couples Counsellor will have a conversation with you about the underlying motivation for coming, seeking to clarify and understand each position before encouraging both partners to give their full commitment. For a successful outcome, Couples Counselling is more likely to be a lengthy process, ensuring that couples have integrated their new skills and behaviour into their relationship. Unfortunately, many couples choose to disengage before this happens, consequently falling back into old patterns of behaviour over time.

Successful Couple Counselling demands that both partners are prepared to be open and vulnerable, honest about themselves and each other and tolerant of the process.

 5. Be deliberate about working on your couple relationship between each session

Couple work does not stop at the end of a couple’s session. In fact, the best work occurs between sessions as you carry out the ‘homework’ tasks your Counsellor may set, personally reflect upon the content of the previous session and your learnings from it, talk as a couple about the previous session with your observations and insights and generally keep practicing the skills you are learning.

Where a couple is both deliberately working on their relationship between sessions, you are more likely to have a successful outcome.

6. Be prepared to do your own individual work

Relationship repair involves two people being prepared to reflect upon their own beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Where you both have a degree of self-awareness, the Couple Counsellor will often choose to address your personal issues within the couple session. On occasion, it is necessary for one or both partners to do individual sessions where there are unresolved personal issues that are hampering the couple process. It is a Couple Counsellors personal preference as to whether they will see you individually between couple sessions or refer you elsewhere to do the individual counselling.

Doing your own individual work is more likely to contribute towards a more successful outcome to your couple counselling.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to repair your relationship and have a strong, happy and enduring couple relationship then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.

6 Tips For Transitioning Into Marriage

6 Tips for transtioning Into Marriage

Introducing Guest Blogger, Anna Kosmanovski

Anna is a gifted and passionate writer and a delightful young woman. As a newly-wed, Anna is eminently qualified to write on the subject of transitioning into  married life. If you would like to read more of her work you will find it at http://www.annakosmanovski.com

 

Having just recently got married, my husband and I joke that we are “marriage babies”, happily waddling around together in our diapers. We have our own experience on how to do married life but considering we’ve just celebrated the three month mark, I feel understandably inadequate to write on that.

 

What I can give my thoughts on, however, is the transition process from being single to being engaged, and then from being engaged to being married.

 

1. Get pre-marriage counselling

We did a five week course with two other couples. This included a dazzling array of desserts and complete privacy as a couple for the group conversation time. We went over common issues like household chores – who does what – as well as gave us insight into important issues we hadn’t even thought of yet!
For us, this represented a conversation, or series of ongoing conversations, on how we were planning, and wanting, to do life together after the wedding.

Looking back, this counselling was so important to our relationship.

It helped us both recognise how we naturally respond to situations and what our personality types were. Personally, I realised that I tended to naturally bottle some things up and needed to work on my confrontational skills. I also realised my husband-to-be was unable to read my mind. Even just recognizing these things is helpful and gives you consideration as you go into marriage, as well as areas to “work on.”

 

2. Talk about expectations

We naturally talked about our hopes and dreams but it was very useful to also directly discuss what each other’s individual expectations were for our marriage and then our collective vision for this. Doing so brought about compromise … which they say marriage is all about. So doing this exercise – and working out what’s non-negotiable and what needs to be compromised – you can meet in the middle.

Talking about this can involve expectations big and small, with no topic big or small.

For instance, would one spouse expect the other spouse to do most of the cleaning? Do you both expect to share the cooking and cleaning? What kind of expectations do you have in parenting? Even talking about how you would both like to do the holiday season with children – if you are planning on having them – is a valuable expectation to discuss.

For us, even talking about how we envisioned Christmas to look in our household was a point of differing expectations with one issue. I am so glad we found this out before we were married – and worked out a compromise – otherwise one of us may have been surprised!

Relating to having children down the track, does one spouse expect the other spouse to be a stay-at-home parent, get back to work after six months or do whatever felt right to them? These are good questions to ponder for your future together, even if the future seems very distant!

 

3. Make a plan for finances

As well as the pre-marriage counseling, we also did a three week budgeting course. We were not yet engaged at this stage but both knew that it would be a good thing individually and as a couple.

We spent late nights working on Excel spreadsheets and figuring out the structure of our finances, as well as discussing our thoughts on giving and saving. The reward for that comes into play after you are married. It saves you from having arguments when both parties naturally want to structure finances the way they’ve always done it when that may not simply work now life has changed from one to two.

So much tension in a relationship can revolve around money: how to use it, how you save it, etc. Some couples like to pay themselves a “pocket money” into their personal account and have a main joint transaction and savings account. Others like to have just the joint account. Some spouses need tight organisation in this area to feel at ease while others are just happy to go with the flow. Whatever your thoughts are on money and marriage, make sure you are both at peace with this.

 

4. Do your homework – learn from other people

We all need people to look up to and learn from; people to inspire us. In getting married, it’s no different. We need to learn from those who have strong relationships. These couples could be in their mid twenties or late sixties.

We gratefully accepted dinner dates, afternoon teas and the opportunity to meet with other couples we respected. We found these couples happy to speak into our lives and give advice and experiences and answer questions. We observed how these couples communicated, noticed how they valued their spouse in public and heard wisdom and tips on marriage. Simply speaking, we were lucky enough to see how other people, “did life together” and learnt from them.

In this way, we saw practically what we aspired to, which helped build our own unique relationship, as well as vision for it. This was a privilege to see healthy marriages and be inspired for our own relationship.

 

5.  Put up boundaries to protect your relationship

This is a really important one and will look different for every couple. It’s an exercise in both protection and safeguarding your relationship. What was good, helpful and supportive from family and friends when you were single may have the opposite effect when you are married.
For us, we put our faith in God first, then each other, then family. By identifying our priorities, we cut through some ambiguities which could have potentially lead to boundaries being crossed.

So much heartache comes from unhealthy relationships and lack of respect about boundary issues. The television show, Everyone Loves Raymond, paints a hilarious picture of this. When we were dating, my husband joked that he watched that show with the intention of learning “not to do” in our marriage.

We all need to be in community with our family and friends, but in a healthy way. Particularly in your first year of marriage, you need lots of space to well, just be with each other and be able to make mistakes and learn together how life is best for you both. Plus, it takes time to simply get used to being married and even living together for those who did not live together before being married.

Use the transition period to find out your boundary issues. Your spouses, too. Counselling will help with this. Consider if there are any minor – or major – relationship adjustments which need to happen.

If you can help it, this is not the time to move in with your inlaws or even live in a share house with other people. You are forming your own household, physically speaking, and need the freedom to do this just you too. Emotionally speaking, some – or perhaps more – relationships with friends and family need to change. The relationship is still there, it just needs to be tinkered slightly.

 

6. Learn – and celebrate – your differences

The thing is, opposites attract. You can’t tell when you’re dating and engaged because it’s so exciting but there’s a good chance your partner is opposite to you in a lot of ways!

You might be surprised to learn that your spouse is naturally introverted. Or perhaps you’re an introvert who has been pretending to be an extrovert during the dating/engagement period. You get married, life settles down to normalcy and your secret is revealed: you don’t want to have dinner parties every weekend! Or, maybe it’s the opposite!
Whatever your natural tendencies, it’s helpful to be aware of this and share it with your spouse or spouse to be!

This will give you both more understanding about each other, not to mention yourselves. Are you energized by people or energized by the solace of reading a book by yourself? By finding out how you are naturally wired, you can save time and tension in your marriage. Again, the compromise word comes into play! I’ll add another one too: respect. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to lean towards. Extrovert spouses can learn from more introvert partners and introverts are challenged by their more outgoing partners. Celebrate your differences and respect how the other person is naturally made, although don’t put them in a box either. People change and grow all the time: expect that will happen too!

 

7. It’s not about the wedding, it’s about what comes after

Some people thinks weddings are spelt “stress” not “wedding”, and with good reason too. Anyone who has been closely involved – parent, bridesmaid, groom, bride, sister, etc. – in a wedding knows exactly how stressful weddings CAN be. Table setting planning, costs involved, not being able to invite everyone you would like, civil wars within extended families: the list goes on!
Sadly, some couples have even separated during the engagement process because of the sheer stress of wedding planning, interference from others and other wedding related issues alone.

Two new families, two sets of values, a whole lot of differing expectations coming together and all of a sudden you have a wedding which is bigger than Ben Hur and nowhere near as noble.

In the busyness of this time, it’s a good idea for you and your spouse to take a step back and ask yourselves – are you even happy with how things are going ahead?

We needed to do this. Somewhere down the track, I realised that we had fallen into the trap of planning a wedding to please other people, the expense being ourselves (and our bank accounts.)

Tip: if you find yourselves constantly “joking” about how much easier it would be if you just eloped, you need to revisit your wedding planning with a very good tip which my husband’s aunty gave me.

It’s quite catchy, really: your day, your way!

If you need assistance to to navigate your present transition experience or need support as you experience your own transition contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or go to www.watersedgecounselling.com to book an appointment.

 

 

How To Build a Happier Relationship

How To Build A Happier RelationshipWhen was the last time you told your partner that you appreciate them?

It is a pertinent question for anyone in a couple relationship because one of the most frequent complaints I hear from couples coming for counselling is, ‘He doesn’t appreciate all I do for him’ or ‘She doesn’t appreciate all I do for us’.

If you do so and on a regular basis, your relationship is likely to be in good health. If you cannot remember let me ask you another question: when did you start forgetting to tell your partner how grateful you all for all the 101 things and more that they do on a daily basis? You see, it is easy to notice the big things, the things that call attention to, but it is in the small every day acts that a relationship is nurtured and grown, or congruently, is slowly eroded and destroyed. Which direction is your relationship heading?

We all have a need to feel valued and appreciated in our relationships. When you receive a compliment, a ‘heart felt’ thanks or a warm embrace it makes you feel good about yourself. When your partner notices the things you do and expresses gratitude you feel happier and more content. In fact, research conducted by Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at the University of California, has shown that couples who focus on the positive aspects of their relationship are the ones who are happiest in their relationship(1).

The 3 Things Exercise (2)

Sitting with a couple recently, I invited them to tell each other three things that they had noticed their partner do in the past week that they appreciated. That they were ‘out of practice’ was obvious by the lengthy silence until he mused that his partner had cooked dinner but that was her role in the household and therefore did not need to be acknowledged. At once, she let out an irritated sigh and her resentment was apparent. You see, he missed the point that it is in these very mundane and daily tasks that we each need to know we are appreciated and not taken for granted. In that moment he had the opportunity to create a closer connection however his failure to understand her need to be appreciated in the small insignificant things, reinforced the distance between them.

Research also tells us that being grateful can improve our own health and wellbeing. When you make a habit of noticing and expressing gratitude for the things your partner does, your relationship will improve. Gratitude and appreciation will always invite a closer connection.

Why not start practicing telling your partner what it is you are grateful for right now? To get you started, write down 3 things that you appreciate about them and then find a time when you are both able to sit down, have a cuppa together and talk. Perhaps you could make it your intention as a couple, to do this exercise every day or on a regular basis. I would love to hear how you progress on the comments below.

 

  1. J.K.McNulty & B.RKarney  2001 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol 27, no 8
  2. J.Aitken & A.Leigh Making Couples Happy 2013

 

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to repair your relationship and reach toward your full relational potential then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245  for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.

Mental health: 6 Tips On What To Do When Your Partner Has Stopped Taking Their Medication But Refuses To Acknowledge That They Are Becoming Unwell.

As a partner of someone who has been dependent upon medication for good mental health, it can be challenging if not ‘scary', to be a witness to their choice to withdraw from that same medication. This is more so the case when your partner has come to this decision without consulting their professional health practitioner . You have  experienced the ‘roller-coaster' ride of their declining mental health; your partner's unpredictable behaviour, the accompanying decline of their physical health, the negative impact on their employment, the additional pressure upon your couple relationship and the negative impact upon other family members. You are  familiar with the feeling of relief  when your partner's mental health has improved, due at least in part, to the introduction of a particular medication.

All of these memories come flooding back as you observe your partner's withdrawal from the very medication that had once been ‘the Hero' of the situation. The doubt, uncertainty and helplessness you feel is reinforced by the small but undeniable signs you observe, of your partner's deteriorating mental health. Your partner's denial of such symptoms I_love_green_blossom____by_captivatedimagesfurther exacerbates  your anxiety, effectively positioning you as caretaker in your relationship.

Here are 6 tips on what to do when your partner has stopped taking their medication but refuses to acknowledge that they are becoming unwell.

1. Assess their level of suicidality

Often people do not disclose that they are experiencing thoughts of suicidality unless they are asked directly. If your partner admits to having such thoughts, it is important that they talk to a health professional about what they are experiencing. If your partner has a trusted health professional, a doctor, counsellor, or psychiatrist, encourage them to check in with that professional. Remind your partner that talking  to their health professional does not mean they have to go back on the medication (though that may be an outcome) but is in itself a therapeutic intervention to cope with what they are experiencing.
 If your partner acknowledges that they are having thoughts of suicide, check out the following:
– do they have a plan as to how they would suicide?
– do they have the means at their disposal?
– have they made other suicide attempts?
– has someone close to them suicided?
– are they at risk to themselves or others?
If they answer ‘yes' to at least 2 of these questions, it is important that they see a health professional as soon as possible.

2.  Calmly share your concerns and invite them to talk about their own concerns

Often when an individual goes off their medication without consulting their health practitioner, they are unlikely to notice the minor changes to their thoughts and behaviour. Talking to them about your concerns and encouraging your partner to become more familiar with, and able to acknowledge the consequences of being unwell may serve to raise their level of awareness. Some of the consequences might include their unavailability to your children or being unable to work. Write these down as future reference. (If your partner remains in denial, be kind and gentle and encourage them to remain open to the conversation)

3. Make a ‘contract' with your partner

Make a written Contract or agreement with your partner to identify the point at which they agree to take personal responsibility to seek out their health professional.
This conversation would include:
  • early warning symptoms that your partner might experience ( as point above)
  • identifying the point at which these symptoms are no longer tolerable for themselves and/or for others.

 4. Encourage your partner to use self care strategies 

Learning to put into practice those activities that soothe and calm a person is one of the keys to maintaining good mental health. When considering what soothes your partner, encourage them to explore with all 5 senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Finding something small that they can carry with them so that they can access at any time (e.g. a grandmother's scented handkerchief) is a  great way to self soothe when needed.

5. Be encouraging

It is very easy to project your anxiety and /or frustration upon your partner. This can have the affect of your partner developing negative mental health symptoms that might otherwise fail to emerge.
For instance, when your anxiety tells you that your partner is undoubtedly going to regress rapidly, failing to get out of bed on time one morning because they are feeling tired, can be misinterpreted  by you as a sign that they are becoming depressed again. This may or may not be the case. The important thing to note is that by anticipating the worst scenario, your partner is more likely to ‘collude' by accepting your statement rather than acknowledging other possibilities (eg. ‘I just feel tired this morning'; ‘I didn't sleep well and need a catch up'; ‘self-care for me includes the occasional sleep in')

6. Deal with your own anxiety

If you have followed all these suggestions and remain anxious, seek out a professional counsellor to talk about your own concerns.

If you would like to know more about how to support someone experiencing mental health issues or need personal support in coping with a partner with mental health issues  contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or go to www.watersedgecounselling.com to book an appointment.

After The Affair: 6 Principles To Heal Your Marriage

Couple having argument Two people sit silently, the air heavy with  angry emotion and recrimination. There are no words to describe the devastation of   being betrayed by one's partner. Questions assault the mind; How did I not know? Why did I choose to not see it? How could he/she do it to me, to us? Why am I not enough? Could I have done anything differently?
When you have betrayed your partner by having an affair, you have undeniably wounded them and traumatised  your marriage. Now you want to make things right but everything you say or do is misunderstood and met with rejection by your partner. If you are prepared to give 100% commitment to your marriage relationship then with sustained hard work, healing, repair and recovery is very possible.

Here are 6 principles to heal your marriage after the affair. They are tough but absolutely necessary for repair, healing and recovery.

1.  Be honest with yourself.

Look at yourself from the third person position. Call the act for what it is – a betrayal of your partner's trust. You are responsible for your actions.

2.  Apologize to your partner.

Accept responsibility for your actions and resist the urge to want to blame your partner for your betrayal. Often, infidelity is a symptom of unmet need within your marriage relationship and you will be eager to address this, however now is not the time. Your partner is feeling deeply hurt and distrustful of you. Your first task is to acknowledge your deceit and betrayal and begin to repair  broken trust.

3. Be honest with your partner.

Leaving out the details to ‘protect my partner's feelings' sounds noble but is not noble in practice. Your partner will want to know the details inspite of how deeply it hurts. By being honest in your response, your partner can process the facts of the affair and begin to move forward.

4.  Work at building your partner's trust.

There is a consequence to betrayal. Broken trust is not easily repairable and takes months, sometimes years to repair. The process can be accelerated by being prepared to accept the level of vulnerability that your partner needs from you.  Access to your social media passwords, emails and knowledge of where you expect to be each day, feels enormously intrusive however consider this  the trade-off for your partner's newly forged trust. When you are prepared to be totally honest with nothing to hide, your partner's trust is a likely to be restored in a shorter period of time and the couple bond will grow stronger.

5. Disconnect from that other person.

100% commitment to your marriage requires a deliberate decision to distance your self from the other person.

 If you are the one who has backed away, the other person may choose to pursue you. Whilst this is flattering to the ego, it is a temptation that is easy to give in to and will continue to destabilise your marriage. Do what ever you have to do to put an end to the affair completely – change your email address, block your Facebook account, change your phone number.

If the other person works alongside  you, talk with your partner about your options as a couple: changing jobs, relocating. These are huge life choices that sound extreme. However, if your marriage  is the priority, I urge you to consider these options. The other person may still pursue you if they choose, but you are saying to your partner, “I will do whatever it takes to save our marriage” and sending out a clear message to the other person that you have made a choice for your marriage.

6. Seek professional help.

Marriage counselling is essential to the process of healing, repair and recovery. A marriage counsellor will facilitate dialogue for you as a couple that will promote understanding, healing, change and growth. You may also be helped by individual counselling in order to understand yourself, your needs, and personal changes you need to make to restore a level of personal happiness and well being.

If you want to heal, recover and grow in your couple relationship, experience wellness and reach toward your full couple potential then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245  for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or you can make an appointment to see Colleen by booking online now.

Couple Relationships and Gender Roles

What role do you fulfill in your couple relationship? Are you provider, home-maker, care-giver, house-keeper, disciplinarian, care-taker, handy-person, peace-keeper? You might be able to add your own titles to this list. How did you come to that role? What influences informed your own beliefs about your role? Have you thought about how your identity as male or female, the expectations you hold for yourself and your partner as male and female influence the roles you have in your couple relationship? Misunderstanding and conflict arise when we fail to appreciate how our gender identity impacts our couple relationship.

I am part of the Baby Boomer generation. My mum was home-maker, house-keeper and chief care-giver. My dad was family provider. I don't recall dad being home much in my first 8 years of life. I have strong memories of spending time with my mother- going to ‘town', visiting my Nana, watching my mum play Badminton at the local YWCA. I lived in the land of my imagination – my dolls were real people, I played ‘Mothers and Fathers', watched T.V. shows such as ‘Bewitched','I Dream of Jeannie' and ‘Little House on the Prairie' and dreamed of the ‘ideal life' of wife and mother, happily ensconced at home whilst my husband went off to work each day.
It is not surprising that when I got married, I took on the role of homemaker, ‘chief cook and bottle washer', cleaner, laundry lady and eventually chief care-giver to our 2 children. By that stage, the 60's and 70's had challenged my traditional beliefs around women's roles and so I maintained my career throughout those early years of marriage, taking just 6 weeks off when my twin daughters were born before going back to work (I wouldn't recommend that to anyone- take all the time you can!)
My husband had his own version of what a couple relationship should look like. In fact, in many ways it was quite close to my own version so we agreed that we would work well together as a couple. It was a shock to discover that the expectations we had of each other were often conflictual and for a number of years our couple relationship struggled under the weight of misunderstandings, disappointment and anger.
Much of this conflict was about our gender identity, that is who we are and what we expected of each other as male and female. Much of this knowledge is deeply embedded in your unconscious self. You don't talk about it because you assume that your partner already knows what you expect. There in lies your first mistake!! Never assume that your partner knows what you expect or is able (or even wants) to meet your expectations.
To read more about how you and your partner can:

  • learn to identify your own gender beliefs
  • increase awareness as to how these gender beliefs and expectations impact your couple relationship
  • grow a stronger and more satisfying couple relationship
Go to http://www.australiacounselling.com.au/gender-issues-couple-relationships and read my article  Gender Issues in Couple Relationships.
If you want to grow in your couple relationship, experience wellness and reach toward your full couple potential then here’s what you need to do: contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you .