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.

3 Reasons You Might be Smothering Your Partner

couple Relationships and Gender Roles“Leave me alone. You’re smothering me!”

Have you ever wondered just how your desire to be close to your partner could possibly be interpreted as smothering? Most relationships operate with one person desiring closeness and the other, distance. In the early stages of a relationship, a couple (or at least one person) will accommodate for this, willingly tolerating the difference due to the ‘heady’ dose of the pleasure chemical dopamine that is being produced in mega amounts in the brain. However, as ‘being together’, becomes less of a novelty and more your daily experience, less dopamine is produced in the brain and the things you once were able to tolerate, you find you are no longer able to do so. In practice, this means that a couple begin to function less in a symbiotic (being as one) fashion and more as two people who identify as a couple but are also able to function as individuals with their own identities. It can be quite tricky for a couple to navigate this particular transition in a relationship. If you desire closeness, then you will feel that your partner is pushing you away, distancing themselves, becoming more private and less open. You may even feel rejected. How do you manage that feeling?

1. I become scared

Feeling ‘pushed away’ by your partner may feel scary. If you are being accused of ‘smothering’ your partner, it is probable that your anxiety has been aroused by the feeling of distance. This is a normal reaction that happens because we are biologically wired with an ‘inbuilt’ alarm system that lets us know when our personal safety and/or security, is under threat. Having your partner close alleviates the anxiety you experience because their presence soothes and calms a place within you. For your partner, your need for closeness is matched and balanced by their need for distance. Having you too close will activate their internal alarm, warning them that their safety and security is under threat. Your lesson then is to understand and accept that your partner’s distancing behaviour is less likely to be a rejection of you, but more likely a biological need that allows your partner to feel relaxed and safe.

2. I become distrustful

Before jumping to the conclusion that your partner is not being honest about their behaviour with you, check out what your distrust is about for you personally. If you are feeling scared, anxiety can become highly persuasive, suggesting any number of scenarios that invite you to collude with. The best ‘medication’ for this type of anxiety is to ensure that you remain calm and grounded: exercise, meditation, creative pursuits are all examples are pursuits that have that affect. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to pay attention to self-care strategies like these, as they will serve to give you clarity of mind and an inner peace. Learning to self-care and calm self has the additional advantage of increasing your own sense of security and self-effigy, so that you feel less needy and reliant upon your partner. There are times when distrust is warranted: your partner is behaving differently, secretively or deliberately avoiding you. Your partner may have a history that suggests the possibility of repeat behaviour. If this is the case, take steps sooner rather than later, in order to give your relationship the best chance of repairing.

3. I become nervous

Sometimes ‘suffocating’ behaviour is about the anxiety that my partner will not cope or will be unable to carry out certain tasks without my supervision. If you identify with that, I encourage you to reflect upon what you think will happen if your partner does not have your supervision. Will they do the task as well as you? Will they be able to do the task at all? If you are nervous about your partner’s ability to do certain tasks, deal with your own anxiety without making them responsible for it. Giving your partner respect by listening to their desire for space and allowing them to operate independent of you is necessary for their independence and self-confidence. You will also develop a healthier couple relationship.


Can you add your own answer to these 3 Reasons You Might be Smothering Your Partner? I would appreciate hearing your response in the comment section of this blog. Irrespective of the reason you are smothering your partner, I strongly urge you to talk to them about what you feel. This can be a challenging conversation to have if your couple communication style has not been developed sufficiently. Seeking professional help in the guise of a Professional Counsellor may be necessary for support at transitional times, giving support, understanding and learning how to communicate in ways more effective. Often couples ‘put off’ counselling in the belief that they can work out the issues alone or that going to a Counsellor is an admission of failure. The truth is that the chance of your relationship failing or at best only reaching a fraction of its’ best potential increases the longer you put Couple Counselling off. Think about it!

If you want to know how to improve your couple relationship and help it to reach its’ full potential, contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 for a free 10 minute consultation or go to and BOOK ONLINE NOW for an appointment.

3 Reasons People Don’t Ask For Help

My father loved to help people but he rarely asked for help himself.

In spite of deteriorating strength in the latter years of his life, my father steadfastly refused the help of others, often evoking a deal of distress and frustration for other family members. I frequently referred to my father’s behaviour as ‘stubbornness’ however I also knew that beneath this insistence on doing things without the help of others, there was a desperate need to be in control and an overwhelming fear of what letting go of control might mean for him. He lived his entire life that way however there was a physical and emotional cost that, had he been able to ask for help, may have had a less debilitating impact upon him as he aged.

Captivated Images;Girl & spider webIt is my experience that many people find it difficult to ask for help, even when they are not coping well. Can you identify with that experience? The beliefs you hold about yourself and who you are in relationship to others, will inform much of your behaviour including your willingness to ask for help.

Here are 3 reasons why people don’t ask for help and the underlying beliefs that might support each reason.


 1. I Don’t Need Help

Who Am I in Relationship To Others?

  • I am strong
  • I am right
  • I am independent
  • I cannot rely upon anyone else to do the job the way I want it to be done

The truth is that even the strongest among us can feel stressed, overwhelmed, time poor and fatigued. At times such as this, the failure to ask for help creates inner resentment, frustration and anger that, unattended to, is redirected to the people closest to you.

Consider this:

  • What is the emotional cost to you by not asking for the help you need?
  • What is it you fear when asking for help?
  • What would be the benefits to you and others, if you asked for help sometimes?

2. I Should Be Able To Do It Without Help

Who Am I in Relationship To Others?

  • I should be strong
  • I should be competent
  • I should be in control
  • I should be independent

‘Shoulds’ betray the false belief that you are only acceptable to others when you behave in a way that meets the expectation of others. Underneath those ‘shoulds’ you might be feeling inadequate, incompetent, indecisive, scared and isolated. The fear that you will be exposed and consequently embarrassed and/or rejected prevents you from asking for the help you need.

Consider this:

  • What is the physical and emotional cost when I comply with my ‘shoulds’?
  • Whose voice is it that keeps insisting I ‘should’ – is it a parent or some other significant person past or present?
  • What would it be like if you were able to find the help you need to cope with daily life and all that life requests of you?
  • What do you find most challenging about asking for help?

3.  Others Should Know That I Need Help

Who Am I in Relationship To Others?

  • I expect others to understand my feelings
  • I expect others to anticipate my needs
  • I expect others to take their responsibility to help seriously

Between what you expect of others and what others actually do for you, there lies a vast gap. You may be feeling tired, resentful, and easily irritated and undervalued.

The ‘expectations’ we have of others are seldom met unless we first have a conversation and find common agreement on those same expectations. It is my experience that people often fail to communicate their expectations well, believing that others ‘should know’.

Consider this:

  • What is the physical and emotional cost to me when I expect others to meet my needs yet never ask?
  • Why should others know what I expect – are they mind readers?
  • What do I find most challenging about asking people for help as opposed to expecting them to mind read?

Asking for help is:

  1. a sign of strength not weakness
  2. An acknowledgement of the resources that others (partner, family members, friends, wider community) possess and the contribution they can make to your own health and wellbeing.
  3. an opportunity for personal growth
  4. necessary for a healthy relationship
  5. a form of inclusion and encouragement to others

Is one or more of these reasons for not asking for help, familiar to you? Why not challenge yourself to ask for some help this week? It may be a matter of picking up your phone and contacting that friend or ringing a particular help-line. It may mean doing some research online to access the resource you need. It may simply mean sitting down with your partner or family member over a coffee and telling them what it is you need help with. It may also mean finding the professional help you need. I encourage you today to take the first step towards asking for help. The oft quoted phrase ‘No man is an island’ is so true for all of us, we need each other’s help but first of all, you have to ask.

If you experiencing difficulty and need help, direction and support  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.

3 principles to ensure strong, healthy boundaries in your relationships

As a person who has had to put significant effort into learning the art of strong, healthy boundaries in relationship with others, I have considerable empathy for individuals who struggle to maintain their personal boundaries and suffer as a consequence. I was reminded about the devastating impact that an absence of boundaries can have, when my friend, Sally (not her real name) shared her story on Facebook. Sally consented for me to share her story and photos with you. I have called it:

Jasper’s Ultimate Challenge for the Vegie Patch.

Cusworth 4Sally recently relocated and has been spending her weekends blissfully re-designing the backyard. Being a ‘green thumb’, she was very excited to discover the ‘remains’ of a once thriving but alas, now very neglected vegetable garden. The image of fresh vegetables on the dining table spurred her in to action and in no time, there were ‘posts’ on Facebook displaying a vegetable garden par excellence.


Cusworth Fence 3However like in all good fairy tales there must be a villain. The villain of this story is a likeable fellow – ‘puppy dog’ eyes, a long tongue that needs no invitation to lick your face whenever possible, a hyperactive tale, 4 hairy legs and comes to the name ‘Jasper’. Jasper means well of course, but he does get bored when the family are out, so ‘sampling’ the veggie patch wasn’t such a drama – until Sally arrived home to be confronted with the mess.


Not to be deCusworth Fence 1feated, Operation Dog-Proof-Vegetables commenced. A boundary fence needed to be made, and so a visit to Geelong's recycle renovation yards gleaned a gate, ironwork and finials which would become the new boundary. Within a fortnight, the fence was standing, and order was restored to Sally’s beautiful vegetable garden. The End

Postscript – Fortunately, Jasper still survives thanks to a sturdy and impenetrable boundary.

Who is your Jasper?

Do you have a ‘Jasper’ in your life? Partner, parent, child, employer, work colleague, friend or other; ‘Jasper’ is friendly, energetic, warm, enthusiastic and has the potential to overwhelm you by their easy, optimistic, encouraging and often manipulative ways. Most ‘Jasper’s are not conscious of the methods by which they manipulate; however they are intent on your co-operation and involvement. ‘Jasper’ is not good at listening, frequently fails to understand the needs of others and does not like or hear the word ‘no’. As a result, you feel perpetually frustrated, resentful and exhausted.

What to do? We can take a ‘leaf’ from Sally’s book.

Here are 3 principles  to ensure strong, healthy boundaries:

1. Give up trying to reason with ‘Jasper’ and expecting him to understand. This rarely works, so why keep doing it?

2. Take responsibility for your personal boundaries. No one can build those boundaries for you, it is your work and you need to own it.

3. Access the resources and support you need to build your boundary. You don't have to do it alone.These may include:

Further reading: I recommend a book by Dr Henry Cloud called ‘Boundaries’.

Talking to a Professional Counsellor who is skilled to: – facilitate dialogue that will promote self-knowledge – challenge beliefs that have prevented you from keeping strong, healthy boundaries (such as guilt, fear and/or the need to please) – coach you around self-assertive skills – support you as you put your personal boundaries in place.

Journaling: Writing allows you to reflect process and integrate your experience. By getting in touch with your thoughts and feelings, you will promote personal awareness and insight and feel more empowered to build strong boundaries.

A Family Therapist or Family Counsellor who is trained to work with two or more people, may be a resource when ‘Jasper’ is willing to talk about your relationship and how to improve it.

It can be hard, challenging work if you have not had experience building a strong, healthy boundary however it will be worth the effort. You will feel less vulnerable, more safe, respected and in control of your life.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and/or other relationships and need direction and support to restore communication and strong, healthy boundaries, 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.

8 Tips To ‘Jump-Start’ Communication Breakdown in Your Relationship

Caucasian couple arguing on sofaLike the majority of young people, my first car was, what you might affectionately call ‘a bomb’. It was a red Hillman Imp and  I relied upon it to get me from one side of Adelaide to the other every day over the long hot South Australian summer. Predictably my trusty ‘Imp’ would make it to the railway crossing just a kilometre from home, where it would inevitably breakdown. What do you do when you find yourself sitting at a railway crossing with a growing line of weary motorists behind you? 1.Panic!! 2. Attempt to get the car going again. With each turn of the ignition, I brought my car closer to the brink of ‘extinction’ –  the car battery expiring yet again! Mobile phones had not been invented yet (yes, I am that old!) so I walked home and my long-suffering father would come to the rescue with his jumper-leads to jump start the Imp back to life, and ready for the next journey across town.

This image of me sitting behind the wheel of my broken-down Hillman Imp, desperately turning that ignition over and over until it refused to respond at all is not dis-similar to the way couples often approach failing communication. You are stuck, repeating the same pattern over and over again, bringing your relationship inevitably closer to the brink of extinction. Communication breakdown is one of the most frequent complaints that couples bring to counselling. ‘He/she never listens!’ is a common catch cry that marks a relationship in crisis. When a couple fail to listen to each other, your needs go unmet within the relationship. In time, what might initially have felt like loneliness, anxiety and frustration turns into resentment, bitterness and anger. Your relationship, once so absorbing and satisfying, is reduced to constant bickering, lengthy silences and/or bitter arguments as you each desperately try to reach out and communicate your unmet needs to your partner.

Learning to listen effectively, when both of you feel ‘not heard’, is an incredibly difficult discipline to manage but not impossible. Called ‘active listening’, effective communication requires commitment, time and practice.

Here are  8  tips that will ‘jump-start’ communication again:

1. Take Turns. Each partner gets to be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Don’t give unsolicited advice. The major rule when helping your partner de-stress is that understanding must precede advice.

3. Show genuine interest. Don’t let your mind or eyes wander. Try to stay intently focused on your partner.

4. Communicate your understanding. Let your partner know that you can and are empathizing with what they are saying.

5. Take your partner’s side. This means being supportive, even if you think that part of his or her perspective is unreasonable. It's all about perspective! Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees – if your relationship is important to you, it is likely more important than your opinion about the intricacies of your mate's conversation with their boss. Again, understanding must precede advice.

6. Express a “we against others” attitude. Let him or her know that the two of you are in this together. That you are a team.

7. Express affection. Hold your partner, put an arm on his or her shoulder, and say, “I love you.”

8. Validate emotions. Let your partner know that his or her feelings make sense to you by telling them just that.


If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship and need direction and support to restore communication, 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.


Relationship Repair That Works

What makes a ‘successful couple relationship' is a question that every couple wants the answer to. Is it the absence of conflict that sets them apart? Is it the way the way a couple handles conflict? Is it their particular approach to relationship repair?

For many years Dr John Gottman has studied, what he coins, ‘the repair attempt'. In this video, Dr. John Gottman describes how the “masters” of relationships make repairing their relationship after an argument a priority.  But what makes some repair attempts succeed while others fail? Have a listen. You might be surprised!



A successful repair attempt doesn't rely on a ‘smooth' or ‘clever' delivery. What it does rely upon is  how good and kind you are to your partner on a daily basis, what Dr Gottman calls ‘ emotional money'.  When your partner experiences you as supportive, caring and safe within the relationship, they are more likely to respond positively to your repair attempt. It comes back to the underlying couple connection you have. Never minimize the impact of just being together, appreciating each others presence and those daily acts of kindness. These experiences build connection and create a ‘rich' emotional bank account.

How much 'emotional money' do you have in the bank? Perhaps this is your opportunity to begin to rebuild your emotional relationship bank account.



Have you ever wondered why your partner never agrees with your version of what happened?
Go to the following link to find out more:




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.

A Three-Fold Formula For Relationship Repair

A 3 fold formula for relationship repairAs I write this, I am enjoying a holiday in Western Australia. (‘Ahhh', you say with just a hint of envy,'I so need a holiday'). Whilst I appreciate the opportunity to have an extended break from routine now, it took some effort to leave work behind (can you believe it?). I feel very passionate and absorbed in my business which  drives me to keep pursuing growth and excellence. Now almost mid-way through my holiday break, I wonder why I found it so hard to come away from work. I feel relaxed, I am enjoying spending time with my husband and I am surrounded by the Australian bush landscape in all its vastness and beauty.

Holidays have always been an opportunity for my husband and I to reconnect with each other, creating happy memories to look back on and providing time to talk about our relationship, our dreams, our needs and the things that are precious to us. It is an opportunity to intentionally nurture our couple connection and reinforce the bond enjoy together. Be it brief or a more  extended period of time, deliberately putting aside time to relax together, will nurture your couple relationship and ensure ongoing health, growth and relationship longevity.
When a couple are experiencing difficulties, they have frequently neglected this all important practice, the issues in their relationship creating an impenetrable wall of blame, criticism, anger, frustration and sadness. It may feel easier and more comfortable to relax and take holiday interludes apart however this also reinforces the distance between you. 
Relationship repair begins at the place where, you turn towards each other again and recall your past relationship, reflect on your present relationship and reinforce your future relationship.

Recall your past relationship 

By sharing happy memories, the feelings you experienced at the time such as happiness, warmth and love, are evoked and experienced in the present, serving to reinforce your couple connection. These moments offer an invitation for you as a couple to revisit and reflect upon the goals you have achieved as a couple, acknowledging disappointments, grieving loss together and reminding each other of the challenging times that you overcame together.

Reflect on your present relationship  

Frequently as time progresses, couples become distant from each other due to the responsibilities and demands of life; children, ageing parents, heavy work loads, commitments to various community groups, financial concerns, and unexpected illness are just some examples of the numerous demands that compete for your attention. Couple relationships frequently lose their way as a result of neglect, making it  vulnerable to serious long-term damage. Having time to relax, have fun together and reconnecting around shared memories facilitates a safer and calmer space to share ‘who we are now'.
 If your couple connection has weakened over a period of time, it is easy for the conversation to take on a negative and blaming tone. Agree to reflect upon the strengths of your present relationship. Taking the time to write down and compare your priorities is a helpful way to stimulate conversation around individual needs verses shared needs and what each of you would choose to do differently to nurture the couple relationship. Make a pledge to listen respectfully to each other and explore how, as a couple, you could have a ‘win-win' situation. The answer may take time to emerge, so learn to be patient with the process and expect that you may have a number of conversations over this before you come to the solution.

Reinforce your future relationship

When was the last time you dreamed together? Remembering the dreams you once shared as a couple evokes feelings of hope, optimism and anticipation. This has the potential to be a fertile space for new possibilities to emerge, injecting renewed energy and hope into a formerly uninviting future together.
Intentionally choosing to schedule quality time and a ‘safe', inviting space where you can learn to ‘turn towards each other' underpins this three-fold formula for relationship repair. Regular weekly ‘dates', monthly day retreats, extended vacation periods; whatever your particular lifestyle allows, these are all opportunities, not only for relationship repair but also for ongoing growth and relationship wellbeing.
Have you ever wondered why your partner never agrees with your version of what happened?
Go to the following link to find out more:




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.

3 Secrets To Manage Conflict in Your Relationship

IMG_8311Are you in a relationship where your partner is quick to anger and insists on confronting the issue when you are not ready to? Do you struggle to understand why your partner ‘shuts down' refusing to speak', when you would prefer to deal with the issue immediately? Does your partner often take a certain course of action without consulting you, failing to understand why you get so upset about this? These scenarios are representative of some of the common complaints that couples bring to counselling. Our response to these dilemmas is something along the lines, ‘Why can't you be more like me?' In my recent article, ‘9 Keys to Strengthen and Improve Your Relationships' I gave 9 keys or statements that indicate what personality type a person is. Each of these keys fall into one of 3 centres: the head-centre, the heart – centre or the gut- centre. I invite you to read the description of each of these and tick the points  that apply to you. The centre with the most ticks is very likely to be the centre you predominantly operate from. You might like to invite your partner to do this same exercise and compare your responses.

The Head- Centred person or Thinker (Keys 5, 6 & 7)

* Predominant emotion is fear. * Gives ground. * Indecisive – processing, analysing and weighing up all the data, the thinker acknowledges that life is not black and white but all shades of gray and that every perspective holds its own truth. * Action centre is underdeveloped. * Relys on outer authority, comfortable with rules, structure and authority . * Basic life instinct is to be empathic, attuned to the situation. * Basic life question is ‘Where am I?'

The Gut-Centred person or Feeler (Keys 8, 9 & 1)

* Predominant emotion is anger but they have little control over it. * Have difficulty listening and absent-minded. * Holds their ground; planted;rooted. * Decisive – ‘yes means yes and no means no'. * Low value of perception, therefore least developed. * Relys on their own inner authority, having high expectations of self that is dictated by ‘shoulds' and ‘oughts'. * Basic life instinct is survival. * Basic life question is ‘ How safe am I ?'

The Heart-Centred person or Doer (2, 3 &4)

* Most in touch with their action centre, and have an instinct for imitation. * Feeling centre is underdeveloped, being most out of touch with anger. * They take ground, having a lack of psychic boundaries, moving in to the psychic space of others. * Their predominant emotion is anxiety. * Basic life instinct is relationships, understanding others through analysis. * Basic life question is ‘Who am I with?'

For your relationship to truly benefit from this knowledge, it is not enough to have insight into the differing way you each function. For change to occur, you must be willing to be more accepting of the way your partner functions and prepared to work on those aspects of your own functioning that have a negative impact in your relationship. This is never easy because it forces you to stretch yourself in ways that you will experience as uncomfortable and unfamiliar. When both people in a relationship choose to do this, change begins to heppen. I encourage you to seek the support of a professional counsellor who will help facilitate this growth process in your relationship.

If you  are experiencing conflict in your relationship, want to grow, experience wellness 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.