• Couples often come to relationship counselling when their level of conflict, or lack of connection, becomes severe and unmanageable. Couples who come to counselling earlier benefit sooner and often have better outcomes.
  • Couples counselling can help a you learn better conflict management skills. We can teach you how to express your true needs and feelings and how to listen to each other. Couples counselling can help reignite lost intimacy in a relationship.
  • As Sydney’s leading network of privately practicing couple counsellors we can connect you with a professional in your area.
Couple counselling

Couple counselling is a way to resolve the conflicts that have arisen between you and your partner. Marriage or couples counsellors teach their clients how to improve their communication skills for healthier exchanges and a clearer expression of thoughts and feelings. Counsellors also help couples to restore lost or diminished intimacy.

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How does counselling help with conflict?

Very often, a couple fight because they are experiencing stress and frustration. Poor communication skills add to the frustration, because often when we fight we do not feel we are being heard. Instead, we feel like our partner is so focused on what they have to say that they are not hearing us at all.

Counselling provides a safe, protected space where a couple can talk in the presence of a counsellor/mediator who will allow both of you to express their feelings and point of view without being interrupted, or being diverted from the issue that they want to discuss.

Counsellors make an effort not to take sides between the couple, although a counsellor may challenge a client’s perceptions that contrast with observed behaviours. The counsellor may act as a role model by enacting healthy communication skills. That is, a counsellor, psychologist or therapist will listen intently, without interrupting, and then may rephrase the information that was expressed so that the client feels that they have been understood. They will also teach and train you and your partner in better listening and communication skills. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

One of the very simple but foundational aspects of couples counseling, often includes working on communication skills and self responsibility for emotions. Counsellors work with clients to make “I” statements in which they identify feelings they are experiencing, rather than place the responsibility for those feelings on their partner. For example:

Carry: I wish you would not go over to Rick’s for poker tonight. I wanted to spend some time with you talking about how to set up our self-managed super fund.

Jeff: This is the only night I have to do something fun. Why can’t you leave me alone for one night so that I can do something just for me?

Carry: I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I just think this is important and something we should spend some time working on together. I’m feeling like this is something we need to talk about and I do not want to make these decisions all by myself.

Jeff: Fine. How about this – we’ll talk about the super fund for an hour, but then at 7, I’m going over to Rick’s so I can play poker.

Carry: Okay. At least we can start talking about it. Maybe we can plan on another time later this week when we can talk about it more?

By accepting the disagreement, and talking to each other without blame, Jeff and Carry are able to come to an acceptable outcome without escalating into an argument. They are both able to clearly communicate, and take responsibility for, their needs and wants in this situation. This type of communication is precisely the kind of skill that relationship counselling helps couples accomplish. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Couples also develop patterns of behaviour or miscommunication that often trigger their arguments and dissatisfaction. These may relate to underlying unresolved issues that need addressing, or may be entrenched misunderstandings that, once examined, simply don’t play out. These often display over the most simple and everyday events. For example:

Tom: Can you pass the salt please?

Janine: You always complain about my cooking! Nothing is ever good enough for you. I’ve been at home all day with the kids, I prepare a nice meal for you, and all you do is whinge.

Tom’s request for salt may have been just that, and innocent request for salt. But Janine is obviously feeling undervalued by Tom at some level. However, Janine’s lack of good communication skills (her inability to accept responsibility for her emotions and perhaps her failure to have addressed an underlying issue with Tom in the past) leads her to behave irrationally and start an unnecessary argument. Tom might just let it go, and address it with her when she is calmer, or he might respond with frustration and anger – and a fight is born over salt! Couples counselling can aid couples to regulate communication and avoid irrelevant fights.

What types of couples benefit from counselling?

Couples who are experiencing high levels of conflict can benefit tremendously from seeing a relationship or marriage counsellor. Not only does each partner have the opportunity to voice their perspective and viewpoint in a mediated and safe setting, but they have the chance to learn about conflict management skills, and how to have a dispute with their spouse or partner without damaging the relationship in the process.

Couples who are in need of improving their communication skills also benefit from going to relationship counselling. Very often, frustration and anger result when we feel that we are not being truly heard. At the same time, it is important for us to learn how to listen intently, just as it is important to learn how to communicate our thoughts and feelings effectively.

Finally, couples who are on the verge of separation, sometimes benefit from seeing a relationship or marriage counsellor, because this may help them decide if the relationship is salvageable. In other instances, working with a counsellor to evaluate the relationship and to find a reasonable and civil way in which to end things can be the best solution for the couple.

Are there reasons for a couple to come in for a “tune up?”

Yes, there are definitely reasons for couples to occasionally return to relationship counselling as a way to reconnect and refresh their communication and conflict management skills. Even couples who have strong relationships can benefit from a “tune up” during times of stress or difficult life transitions, such as impending retirement, when children leave for school or begin their own adult lives, or other periods that may result in higher levels of stress or difficulty. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Jeff and Carry’s story

Jeff and Carry married five years ago and have been together for almost 10 years. They have two children, Jessica, who is 18 months old, and Greogry, who is 4 years old. Lately Jeff and Carry have been fighting more and more often and they just cannot seem to get along. Tired of the fighting and nights spent without any displays of affection or intimacy, Carry suggests that they see a couples counsellor for relationship counselling to help improve, if not save, their marriage.

During the first session, the counsellor describes her approach to working with couples. She makes clear that she will not take sides, but that she will encourage them both to talk about their feelings and perceptions and that she will help mediate the conversation between them.

After several sessions, it becomes clear that both Jeff and Carry are frustrated with a number of things in the relationship. They are both worried about money. Further, tension arises in their relationship because Jeff wants to have more children, but Carry feels like she carries the burden of raising the children, having set aside her own career in order to do so. Another issue which surfaces, is that Carry feels like Jeff spends most of his free time with his friends, instead of spending time with her and the kids. Jeff expresses his feelings that Carry smothers him and he just wants to spend some quiet time without any pressure, especially after a hard week at work.

As the therapy progresses, both Carry and Jeff find themselves able to express their feelings without being interrupted and without feeling as if they need to edit what they say. The counsellor takes care to clarify anything that is ambiguous and makes sure that her clients are using good communication skills. In the process, she teaches Carry and Jeff improved communication methods and that they are each responsible for their own emotions. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Another important lesson that the counsellor teaches both Carry and Jeff is that fighting between couples is natural, but that there are ways in which they can fight, and express feelings of frustration and anger, without hurting each other in the process. After 8 weeks of counselling, both Jeff and Carry begin to realise that they are fighting less often and are feeling as if they are hearing and understanding each other better. They are enjoying each other more and their relationship is back on track.

How can we get relationship counselling help?

If you and your partner would like some help improving your relationship, or ot book a consultation with a qualified psychologist or couples counsellor, or to obtain further advice, please contact Associated Counselors & Psychologists Sydney

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