Keys to a Happy Relationship: Effective Repairs During Conflict


Married At First Sight, Australia’s most recent reality show, has been declared a ratings success in spite of the controversy that the show attracted prior to being aired. It is little wonder, given that human beings are ‘wired’ for relationship and as such, long for and pursue the relationship that will meet their need for a life time of love and happiness. So it is with fascination that we watch the relational dynamics between each of the four couples, no doubt overlaying our own commentary and judgement about what we witness on our screens.

My attention has been particularly drawn to the unpredictable and frequently volatile relationship that is the ‘beautiful and feisty’ Clare and the ‘grounded and more laid back’ Lachlan. I am intrigued to observe how readily conflict erupts and what repair attempts, if any, are made to de-escalate and resolve their issues. Try as they might, Lachlan spends the night alone on the couch with his dog for company- which is not what he signed up for when he put up his hand for the arranged marriage.

A repair attempt can be any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Dr Gottman says that even if someone says, “Uggh, I need a break,” it can be an attempt by that person to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight. When we don’t know how to calm ourselves, conflicts can easily escalate out of control, and result in an emotional state that Gottman calls ‘flooding.’ As the word suggests, conflict has the potential of overwhelming or flooding the ‘river banks’ that normally contain your emotion, so that feelings of anger, fear or sadness take centre stage. Your threat system is activated, your breathing becomes constricted, your muscles tense, your heart beats rapidly, and when upon reaching 95-l00 beats per minute, your adrenal glands are activated delivering a rush of increased excitement, so listening and the understanding needed to re-establish trust and intimacy is near impossible until the flood has receded. With so much going on internally, is it any wonder that couples find themselves locked into perpetual conflict? Given that Clare and Lachlan do not know each other well, it is a difficult ask for them to navigate their conflict without some guidance.

So what, I wonder, would I be suggesting to Clare and Lachlan that might assist to effectively repair a conflict and avoid another night on the couch for Lachlan?

One of my favourite repair attempts is the use of humour. My husband, Duncan, used to be easily angered whenever he felt frustrated or irritated or tired, which often became a precursor to our conflicts. Holidaying in New Zealand, we were driving a long, narrow, windy road somewhere on the Coromandel Peninsula. Uncertain as to whether it was the correct road to our destination, night had long since fallen and we were both tired, making the odds for conflict fairly high. As I was the map reader, it was easy enough for my husband to take his frustration about the situation out on me. Aware that our conversation was escalating I took inspiration from Duncan’s best mate Rob (who shared their own invented language from their early childhood years together) and said, “In the words of Rob, ‘Get moogied’ Duncan.” I can’t really give you a definition for the word ‘moogied’ but it worked; Duncan broke out in laughter and we were okay once more.

In John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work he describes a number of repair attempts that couples can try. He acknowledges that these can feel forced at first, but as you and your partner learn some ‘damage control language,’ you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. Here are some of them:

  1. “Please say that more gently.”
  2. “That felt like an insult.”
  3. Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.
  4. “Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”
  5. “Can you kiss me?”
  6. “Can we take a break?”
  7. “Let me try again.”
  8. “How can I make things better?”
  9. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
  10. “I agree with part of what you are saying.”
  11. Reach your hand out gently to touch theirs.
  12. “One thing I admire about you is…”
  13. “We are getting off track.”
  14. “That’s a good point.”
  15. “I love you.”

Of course, when one person makes a repair attempt, the responsibility is upon the other to respond by graciously accepting their attempt to repair the conflict.

As for Clare and Lachlan, Lachlan most certainly has been putting some of these repair attempts into practice but will Clare respond? We can only stay tuned to find out.

Do you want to take your relationship to a new level? Would you like to discuss how cultivate a healthy connection?  Here’s what you need to do: contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our 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.

Secrets: When A Place To Call Home Is No Longer Safe

Set in 1953, A Place Called Home is the insightful portrayal of a wealthy, pastoral Australian family and the impact that the changing times have upon family relationships. The drama examines the costliness of keeping family secrets: Elizabeth Bligh, the family matriarch is the
keeper of a family secret that Sarah Adams, a nurse sharing passage on board ship traveling from England to Australia, unwittingly discovers. The drama unfolds as over a series of events, the secret threatens to unravel in spite of Elizabeth's best efforts to keep Sarah Adams away. As more secrets are exposed, like a stone cast into a pool of water that sends out ripples far beyond the stones original size, family relationships are tested and fragmented.
A Place To Call Home  provides an insight into human behaviour and the extraordinary lengths we will go to in order to hide things that, if exposed, will threaten our safety and security. We witness the negative impact that a family secret in one generation can have upon the generations to come when perpetuated. the On the other hand, courage to expose a family secret carries with it the risk of hurting the people you love, family conflict and rejection.
If you are in a position of colluding with a family secret, I invite you to consider the impact that that secret has had upon family members (including yourself) and family relationships, past and present. Secrets are perpetuated as long as we collude with the secret-keeper to remain silent. The decision to separate oneself and speak the ‘truth' into the situation is likely to be a formidable task and will be met with powerful resistance however the long term impact will far outweigh the initial cost.
If the place you call home is no longer safe by virtue of the fact that you are no longer prepared to keep a family secret, and as a consequence you have angered or offended another family member, the risk of family fragmentation is high. Speaking your truth respectfully, without becoming belligerent or condescending is no easy task in the face of strong resistance.
Here are 4 steps that will guide you through the process:

1. Seek a professional counsellor to do your own inner work

Blaming others and ruminating over hurts, past and present, feels justified but have you noticed that your anxiety, anger and pain demand 24/7 attention from you? These feelings are harsh task masters, requiring 100% commitment from you; you can't eat, sleep or think clearly, your mind so absorbed by the family crisis at hand. The overwhelming nature of these feelings spills out on to others as you ‘recruit' other people to be ‘allies' whose role is to listen to the retelling of your story of anger and hurt and share their shock and sympathy – offering you a moment of comfort and self-justification. More importantly, the retelling of your story reinforces and escalates the distress you feel as your mind continues to look for further evidence to justify your feelings. Remaining in that state creates  ‘stuckness', ongoing conflict and health problems.
Being separate from your family context, a professional counsellor is able to  respond to your story with empathy and compassion without reinforcing the distress you feel. A professional counsellor's role is to help you to clarify your feelings and understand how your particular family dynamics have informed your own perspective. Your ‘different' position in the family can be ‘reframed' from a developmental perspective that views  movement away from ‘sameness to difference' as differentiation and therefore a healthy movement, but at the same time a movement that inevitably upsets the family equilibrium and therefore initially invites a negative response.

 2. State your ‘position' respectfully and without blame

Your counsellor can coach you in how to communicate in a manner that is respectful and maintains your own identity and dignity.

3. Remain connected with the other wherever possible

Remaining connected wherever possible is a statement about the value you give, not only to this relationship but also family connectedness. To achieve this you speak and act towards the other with kindness and care. This behaviour goes against your basic biological fight/flight response already triggered by the perceived threat to your safety. Remaining connected is a counter-intuitive response that will have the effect of breaking the negative cycle of interaction that your now changed behaviour has initiated. By refusing to counter-attack with something equally hurtful, the energy that fuels the negative interaction dissipates and the other party is forced to choose how they respond. Responding kindly and calmly allows you to ‘let go and move on'. It is an incredibly mature position requiring courage and humility. Are you up to the challenge?

4. Remain connected with the extended family

Where two family members are in conflict, extended family members are ‘invited'  to align with a particular party. By implication, an alliance with one person is also a choice to be ‘cut off' from the other. When you choose to remain ‘separate but connected' with the family member who has made the choice to be offended, you also prevent the extended family from fragmenting. Make a point to communicate with the other significant people in your family from a position of compassion and humility, recognising the inevitable distress that they will be experiencing, in order to prevent further misunderstanding or untruths.
By being brave enough to speak your own truth, you give other family members permission to do the same as they feel ready.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your family relationships and need direction and support to repair and heal your family relationships  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.

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.