Overwhelmed by hurt, disappointment and worry? Going through difficulties in your relationship can be agonisingly painful, and even more so because of the contrast it gives us from when we were so in love and everything felt so wonderful, safe, and positive. And as well, it often has an upsetting contagion effect on so many other areas of our lives.
There’s not a person alive who hasn’t suffered through relationship troubles. They are part of being human, but we now have ways to make the understanding and recovery of these so much faster.
This is our specialty at the Hart Centre – helping you move from devastation to relationship happiness with some added insight so that you reduce the chance of this particular kind of problem happening again.
So here is the simplest process you might want to follow:
You will speak to our caring receptionists Libby, Caroline or Michele about how we can help. Usually an in-person counselling appointment with one of our trained relationship psychologists near you will be your best bet, and they can help you choose the best one for you by asking you a few questions and then setting you up with an appointment as soon as possible. Occasionally a Skype appointment may be better for you, if you can’t get to an in-person appointment.
Step 2 Confirming all the details
We’ll then send you a confirmation email with your appointment time, address and directions if you need them; So let your partner know these details too.
Step 3 Get your head together (optional)
If, individually, you have the time and energy before your appointment, it can be helpful to go over in your mind what are the major problems for you, so you can get clearer about the priorities to talk about with your psychologist. He/she will be keen to have each of you talk about the particular problems you are experiencing.
If you don’t have the time or can’t get your head together enough to do this step, don’t worry as your Psychologist can help you get clear about all the things going on in your mind.
Step 4 Go to your First appointment
It can be comforting to know that your Psychologist is very experienced in relationship difficulties and you will find him/her very caring about you and your unique situation.
He /she will want to really hear from each of you. We are trained listeners, so we don’t take sides and we won’t make judgements. By the end of the session he/she will be able to give you an insight and summary of what your problems are and get you started with some specific strategies for how to improve things.
We also make sure to keep a positive approach to help counteract the negativity that often is created when relationship problems are present. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it may take 6 to 8 sessions for most couples to completely overcome their problems, but you will start by understanding what’s been going on, and feel better and better as you make the changes over the following weeks.
Step 5 Book your next appointments
Make sure you keep up the momentum of positive change by putting time into each making the necessary changes. You’ll find that if both of you put in the effort, amazing improvements will happen the fastest.
We know the art and science of how to create awesome relationships, and we look forward to helping you get started in turning yours around and back into a positive direction.
Peter’s passion is Relationship and Marriage Counselling in his Adelaide clinic. Peter’s services are available in his own dedicated, personal, and homely counselling consulting room, or by Skype or telephone. Expert relationship counselling Adelaide.
What has made you interested in helping couples with their relationships?
Relationships make people happy. Happy people are sociable. Good relationships raise the potential for very happy couples. Relationships with our partner helps define our lives, along with our other relationships with our colleagues, children, parents, close friends. When relationships are glowing, so are we. We can make relationships glow, because we can decide the terms of our relationships. Improving our relationship with one person increases our potential to improve other relationships. Counselling for relationships helps people become happier.
What do you find are the most common relationships problems that you see in couples coming in to see you?
I see five categories of relationship problems:
(1) when a relationship isn’t working, it may be that one or both people is not feeling secure. Someone is not safe being who they are. Living through positive values and beliefs helps people transcend problems and allows relationships to flourish;
(2) People need to be mentally, emotionally, and physically fit to make relationships work. Energy is important. It encourages thinking and reduces impulsivity, making assumptions, and increases and maintains effort. Self-regulation and managing energy are powerful forces for healthy relationships;
(3) A relationship is a system. It has many interconnecting parts, a Kabbalah of interacting aspects of relational life which create a unique culture built of knowledge, experience, and creativity, which fills all members with confidence. Relationships are about activity, decision-making, problem solving, building trust, and weeding out toxicity. Conceiving a relationship as a system develops patience and tolerance, and helps people make the right call at difficult moments;
(4) Adaptability. Over time in a relationship people play many parts from friend, through lover, to partner, husband/wife, mother/father, maybe business partner, aged parent, ex-husband/wife and so on. These mental, emotional, and behavioural shifts require different ways of meeting our needs and wants and meeting our intentions and expectations while remaining authentic and allowing new versions of the people in the relationship to develop;
(5) Making choices rather than falling into habits. We always have choices, and making choices creates personal power and control, and also develops responsibility. We are responsible for our relationships.
What are the most common problems for women and men individually in relationships?
Relationships prosper when the above factors start to operate freely. Problems in these five areas affect men and women equally, but sometimes differently, in relationships, and I find it a useful template for seeking out the nature of problems. Marriage counselling Adelaide services.
What would you like couple clients to know about the couple counselling process before they come in?
People will be given support and practical guidance to develop confidence and skills to develop their relationship their own way and deal with relational stress, so they find the pathway they are looking for to take them from their present sate to the one they desire.
What has been the couple you remember who has made the biggest turnaround, from being in severe trouble to transforming their relationship into a happy loving one?
A couple who separated on the birth of their child, because the father did not want a child, and believed he was talked into having the child, who later in the year re-united and the husband became a very loving and happy father and husband with a very contented and loving wife in a great relationship, and who are now contemplating a second child together.
If you had one word of advice for couples with children, what would it be?
Happy parents = happy children — refer to Q1
What advice would you give to couples trying to rebuild their relationship after an affair?
Respect and accept the pain of the faithful partner to help rebuild trust, be open and disclosive to reduce distress in this partner and in the relationship, acknowledge the pain of your faithful partner to open the gateway for healing, take responsibility, avoid defensiveness, and both partners should expect setbacks and painful feelings, should maintain boundaries and avoid anything that creates risk, and he non-faithful partner must close off the affair, while both should e mindful of meaning about what happened and live in the present, and realise there will be pain on both sides so both people need to face fears, grief, losses, and need to examine the personal decision making in the relationship, as per Q2.
What, for you, are the most important things that couples need to remember if they want their relationship to thrive, instead of just survive?
The information in Q2 is relevant here. Couples need to be relationship ready, with their mind, brain, body system in the right place, and know that coming together as a couple requires skills and learning each can acquire, so it becomes important for couples to take up the tools, techniques, and strategies to create and build lasting relationships. Relationships incur trouble spots and
disagreements, which means also acquiring the means to deal with them, which refers to all aspects of effective communication, understanding, and appreciation. Finally, if you find yourself in a rut, throw away the shovels. If you keep on doing what you have always done, you will dig deeper and get what you’ve always had. Change, and some new beginnings are called for.
What proportion of your couple clients manage, with your help, to successfully recreate a happy relationship from the difficult one that they came in with?
It depends how success is judged. Some relationships end in counselling, and sometimes only one walks away happy, sometimes both have sense of happiness and relief. Occasionally, one person is attempting to use the counselling process against another, and find when they cannot do this, they exit the process. Often the other person stays! At times, a person can uncover the nature of the personality of the other, and change the way they process through counselling with greater empowerment. At other times couples work systematically through problems to happiness.
What do you find is the most satisfying and fulfilling part of this work that you do?
The new beginnings people create. Personal power, growth of personality, growth in knowledge and skills, and development of creativity is like money in the bank for couples. It can be saved and spent wisely and becomes useful and enriching, optimising the relationship. New insights can be created and the relational Kabbalah enriched. Seeing couples using their growth and energy to make changes can be personally satisfying. Seeing life together through new and different eyes, seeing people create new and significant options for themselves, watching couples grow and work towards their dream, while developing resilience, relapse prevention, and preparing for difficulties, all as part of core competencies, is satisfying and fulfilling, as you see what they have achieved.
List 3 qualities that your friends and family would describe you as having.
My Wife tells me I have good interpersonal skills, and I express myself well, and I am intuitive, warm, and accepting, empathic, and focused on the client, encouraging them to do the work. I will leave it at that.
List 3 strengths that you have as a Psychologist.
It is said I am helpful, mindful, effective, and that I reduce distress and promote good mental health while encouraging prevention through the work I do. It is for others to say.
How many years’ experience do you have practicing/helping clients?
The APS sent me a 20 year membership award at the start of last year. The two years before that 20 years commenced I worked in a community health centre. The five years prior to that I worked as a Lecturer in Psychology, following a stint as a student counsellor. Marriage counselling Adelaide.
In a relationship, trust is based on two distinct aspects:
Your own personal integrity as a person, and being there emotionally for your partner.
For each one of us, personal integrity is based on our willingness to do the right thing even when no one is watching. Are you this kind of person? Can you rely on yourself to come through in this way?
For couples, trust is about coming through for your partner. It’s something you both need to be able to count on: that in that moment your partner feels he (or she) most needs you, you’ll be there. Every time. And that your partner will be there for you in your moment of pain or crisis.
John Gottman’s recent research has shown without a shadow of a doubt that when relationships become distressed, the central missing ingredient is the ability to build and maintain this trust with one another. On this issue, there’s really no compromise. As human beings in relationship with others, trust is the most fundamental need we have — to know that when we’re in trouble, hurting, or having difficulties, that our partner will respond empathetically. That we’re not alone.
Many unhappy couples feel their partners simply can’t be counted on to “be there” for them in these essential moments. Emotional injuries from a lack of trust over time create a deep, wide gulf of emotional distance between them. This leads to eventual betrayal or the quiet dying of their love.
Trust Builds a Bond
On the other hand, for happier relationships where trust between the two is present or has built up over time, its emotional presence creates safety, security, and openness for both partners. It deepens their love beyond its first passionate infatuations. As years roll by and love matures, trust ripens to a sense of mutual nurturance and moral responsibility for building a life together. In healthy relationships, love and trust are intertwined, growing together to form a lasting and powerful bond.
What are the exact ingredients of trust between a couple?
Here they are, couched in questions so that each of you can ask yourself of each other, discuss, and see whether there are any elements you might need to work on.
1. The Trustworthiness of My Partner as a Person:
Can I count on you to be a truthful person?
Are you as you appear to be?
Do you keep promises you make, and follow through on what you say you’ll do?
Are you transparent as a person?
Are you secretive? Do you hide aspects of your life from me?
Are you a good person who treats other people kindly?
Do you show goodwill towards others?
2. Your Couple Trust and Loyalty:
Can I count on you to be there for me when I really need it?*
(*This is an incredibly important question. If the answer is NEVER or OCCASIONALLY, stop and discuss it together until you are clear what you need to change to make this happen.)
Do I come first in comparison to others or to your goals?
Do others (or other things) take priority over me?
Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
Can I trust you to choose my interests over those of your parents?
Can I trust you to care more about our relationship than about just yourself?
Can I trust you to be home when you say you will be?
Can I trust you to be motivated to earn money and create wealth for our family?
Can I trust you not to follow up on other sexual interests you might have?
Can I trust you to keep me as your closest friend?
An integral part of a healthy relationship is a sense of equality and consideration and empathy for each other. In fact no relationship can feel rewarding and supportive if either partner is mostly self-absorbed.
It was once joked that “a Narcissist is someone who after taking the trash out gives the impression he just cleaned the whole house”.
If you have ever felt that your partner feels superior to others, or more entitled to things than others, then this may mean that he or she may have more than their fair share of Narcissistic tendencies. Perhaps he/she finds a host of ways to devalue you or ignore you, or perhaps try to control you?
Or perhaps, if you are honest with yourself, it might be you who has many of these characteristics?
If you are in a relationship with a Narcissist, it will feel like a very one-sided relationship.
Narcissism is considered a spectrum Disorder, which means that there are degrees of manifestation of the characteristics, so a person could have a couple of Narcissistic traits, which is considered fairly normal, or have many and be considered to have a full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as defined in the DSMV, or sit anywhere in between.
To discover where you or your partner sit in relation to these characteristics, here are the 9 Essential Characteristics of the Narcissistic Spectrum.
The 9 Characteristics of Narcissism
1. An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance that isn’t supported by reality. He/she believes that his/her priorities, interests, opinions and beliefs are better than or more important than others and as a result, they feel entitled to dominate and control those around them. He/she can even seem quite modest in public about these views, but usually at home these are evident.
2. A preoccupation with fantasies of extraordinary success, power, beauty or love. He/she lives more in a fantasy world of their own making, rather than the reality of both successes and recognised failures.
3. A belief that he/she is special and unique and can only be understood by other special people. He/she sees himself/herself as more special than others, whether it be more accomplished, more feeling, more giving, more ethical, more long suffering, more insightful, etc.
4. An intense need for admiration. When in conversation, he/she can’t listen attentively and will bring the conversation back around to him/her. Often partners of a Narcissist will refer to the one thing they have in common with their Narcissist partner is that they both love him/her.
5. A delusional sense of entitlement. He/she feels that rules, regulations and normal standards don’t apply to them, and also may find hard work, working toward a goal, illness and injury difficult to cope with, as they believe themselves to be above these kind of common things.
6. A tendency to exploit others without guilt and remorse. He/she is a “user” who may manipulate situations such that others end up doing all the work (and the Narcissist often gets the glory), or may end up losing their money. He/she will also promise things that they never deliver on.
7. An absence of meaningful empathy for others. This is almost a universal trait with all Narcissists. He/she is so caught up in their own grandiose fantasy life that they pay no real attention to others in
any genuine way. In the courting stage, he/she will use “fake empathy”, but beyond this stage, partners of Narcissists feel completely unsupported and not understood.
8. A tendency to be envious or to assume that he/she is the object of others envy. He/she will be very envious if others close by have more than him/her, and will usually express this as contempt, distain and belittling towards them.
9. An arrogant attitude. He/she will often be judgemental and condescending toward anyone who they feel is not up to their high standards and will regularly “put down” others to bolster their own self esteem.
Now that you know the overall characteristics of Narcissism, here is a list of the many specific and subtle characteristics. The more you find in your partner (or yourself) the closer they (or you) are to a Narcissistic Personality Disorder end of the spectrum, which means the more difficult (or impossible) they will be to live with, or to maintain a healthy relationship with.
Research has shown that approximately 75% of those with Narcissistic traits are male and 25% are female.
How Can I tell if my partner is Narcissistic?
Our 100 point Narcissist Profile:
1. One minute he/she appears loving and appreciative, the next minute he/she is putting you down, punishing you or giving you the silent treatment.
2. He/she feels entitled to special or preferential treatment because of who he/she is.
3. He/she lacks humility and will avoid admitting that he/she is wrong or to blame for anything.
4. You get the sense that he/she is always trying to gain the upper hand with you and others.
5. He/she always talks of himself/herself in glowing grandiose terms.
6. He/she never admits his/her problems or insecurities.
7. He/she says words with such conviction, but you get the strange feeling that they don’t represent the real or whole truth or are a distortion of the truth.
8. It’s hard to feel completely relaxed and good in his/her presence.
9. He/she seems very agitated and angry when you are happy of your own accord, unless he/she has been the source of your happiness.
10. He/she often feels misunderstood by others.
11. He/she appears wonderful to outsiders but is often very mean at home to you and the children. (street angel/home devil)
12. He/she doesn’t seem to have any real presence or depth to him/her.
13. He/she is most happy and delightful when you are admiring or adoring him/her.
14. He/she is not honest or truthful. He/she will bend the truth to suit his/her own ends.
15. He/she doesn’t understand you well at all.
16. He/she has no real empathy or compassion for you when you are distressed, or for any of your feelings.
17. You are starting to question your own truth and reality as you are being told how bad or wrong you are with such authority.
18. You are starting to believe his/her criticisms that you are no good as a person.
19. You notice that when you are away from him/her and with other people you feel so much better, happier and can have fun and relax.
20. He/she tells you untruths that torment you.
21. You find yourself in discussions that are so twisted that it feels like you are losing your mind
22. You often find you are trying to justify yourself and explain what you think reasonable people already know.
23. He/she says cruel, uncaring and dismissive things without any empathy for the hurt he/she is causing
24. He/she makes agreements that he/she doesn’t keep, and then does not acknowledge ever making them.
25. You often feel he/she wants it all his/her own way, and is not really interested in finding a win-win solution.
26. You often feel that he/she is against you, and that you are being cast as the enemy.
27. He/she doesn’t take any of your expressed needs into account
28. You are blamed by him/her for problems.
29. He/she undervalues contributions you have made, and overvalues his own.
30. He/she never or rarely apologises for anything he/she has done.
31. He/she is not accountable for his/her actions on many occasions.
32. He/she will rubbish and blame you to others, behind your back.
33. He/she will regularly bring in allies (family and friends) to back up his/her view that you are to blame.
34. He/she will pathologize you to others, family and friends saying that you are not psychologically stable.
35. He/she will use sensitive information you have disclosed to him/her when you were vulnerable and trusting of him/her as a weapon against you.
36. He/she doesn’t follow through on promises.
37. He/she has no tolerance for even the slightest criticism, or even constructive advice.
38. When you need help, he/she gets depressed, angry or abusive.
39. His/her behaviour vacillates between very delightful and very mean and nasty.
40. To gleam praise from others he/she will appear helpful and generous.
41. You often get the sense that his/her criticisms of you are exactly what he/she is doing himself/herself.
42. He/she doesn’t seem to know or care how his/her behaviour hurts others.
43. No matter how much you do for him/her, it never seems enough to make him/her contented or happy.
44. He/she often refuses to play by the rules.
45. He/she is intensely jealous when there is no justification.
46. He/she is a pathological liar, and does not like to be pinned down.
47. He/she overestimates who he/she is and what he/she has achieved in his life in the past.
48. He/she is often erratic and unpredictable.
49. He/she tries to limit your contact with and enjoyment of others.
50. He/she doesn’t like it when people other than him/her are receiving attention and praise.
51. He/she is extremely defensive when confronted or questioned and will often attack.
52. He/she uses guilt and manipulation to try to influence you.
53. He/she has little or no sense of conscience.
54. He/she believes he/she knows what you are thinking and feeling, and will inform you what that is.
55. He/she often interrupts you when you are talking, changing the subject.
56. He/she will inform you that the matter is resolved without you feeling it is for you.
57. He/she will refuse to discuss a problem you have brought up.
58. He/she doesn’t sustain many close friendships.
59. He/she cannot work co-operatively or in teams.
60. You have noticed that he/she exploits other people
61. He/she doesn’t admit he/she may have a problem, or ask for help. He/she is above treatment.
62. He/she avoids any real intimacy with you.
63. You don’t get the sense that he/she has a genuine commitment to your welfare.
64. When you act with independence and autonomy, he/she is not happy, and tries to stifle this.
65. He/she rages when you disagree with him/her.
66. After he/she has tortured or belittled you, he/she will act with empathy to soothe you.
67. He/she never talks with you, he/she talks at you or lectures you.
68. You usually feel he/she is emotionally absent, and never fully there.
69. He/she cannot delay gratification. He/she believes himself/herself to be deserving, and doesn’t want to put the time into persisting.
70. He/she tells you in subtle or not so subtle ways that your perception of reality is wrong or that your feelings are wrong.
71. He/she seems irritated or angry with you often, even though you haven’t done anything that you know of to upset him/her.
72. You often feel that issues don’t get fully resolved so that you can feel happy and relieved.
73. You frequently feel confused, sad, frustrated or outraged because you can’t get him/her to understand your intentions.
74. You are upset not so much about concrete issues, but about the communication – what he/she thinks you said and what you heard him/her say.
75. He/she rarely wants to share his/her thoughts or plans with you.
76. He/she often denies things that you know he/she did or said.
77. He/she seems to take the opposite view from you on many things you mention, but the way he/she says it, your view is wrong and his/hers is right.
78. You often feel unseen or unheard, and sometimes wonder if he/she perceives you as a separate person.
79. He/she is either angry or has no idea what you are talking about when you try to discuss an issue with him/her.
80. You feel abused or negated by him/her, but he/she insists how much he/she loves you.
81. When you try to communicate how you feel about something, you feel no empathy from him/her, or he/she negates your feelings.
82. He/she often frightens you with rage to silence you.
83. You often feel no empathy from him/her when you are describing how you feel about something.
84. He/she often manipulates you by ignoring you or withholding affection.
85. You feel diminished by the time he/she finishes his/her conversation with you.
86. He/she always needs to be one up or right.
87. He/she attempts to define you eg ”You’re only doing that for attention”.
88. He/she blames, accuses, judges or criticises you.
89. He/she counters, blocks or diverts your conversation.
90. He/she confabulates, ie makes up something negative about you and speaks it as if it is the truth.
91. He/she often is well behaved in public, but abusive in private.
92. He/she will not ask for what he/she wants, so that you can negotiate fairly.
93. He/she will not respond at all to your requests, or will respond with frustration, or will only seem to respond but not follow through.
94. Your attempts to enhance the relationship, improve communication, and find some happiness all lead to difficulties.
95. Whenever you try to explain that you are not thinking what he/she is saying you are thinking or doing, he/she will not hear or understand, or negates you in some way.
96. He/she behaves well towards you when you are of one mind with him/her, but the trouble starts when you express either different views from him/her or your own feelings.
97. He/she can’t have fun banter with you. The only way he/she has fun with people is if he is having fun at another’s expense.
98. The way he/she treats you has deteriorated radically since you became more settled together (move in together, got married, started having children)
99. You feel like you are doing all the work in your relationship.
100. You feel energetically drained when with him/her, and energised when not with him/her.
How partners feel when they are attempting to have a relationship with a Narcissist.
– In a way that you often can’t exactly identify clearly you can feel:
– Very disappointed and disillusioned about who he/she seems to be now, compared with who he/she was in the beginning stages of the relationship
– Confused because of the lies and half-truths he/she continually feeds you
– Hurt and shell shocked because of the myriad of ways he/she belittles, criticises and blames you
– The relationship feels unrewarding because it never feels that he/she is really there, and it is not possible to share any real intimacy with him/her
– Unhappy because he/she always tries to undermine the happiness you create for yourself
– Untrusting of yourself because you don’t know what to trust anymore, wanting a real and happy relationship but always feeling that it is not available to you
– Intensely frustrating when he/she can’t be reasonable or honour agreements or work with you for a win-win solution
– Utter perplexity at how he/she can be so sweet and nice one minute, and so mean and callous the next
– Despair at the dawning realisation that he/she doesn’t really care about you or how you feel
Continue discovering about Narcissism by checking out our other videos:
Relationship and Individual Counselling is available by our trained Psychologists in 70 locations Australia wide, either In-house, by Phone or Skype Sessions – 50 mins. Phone 1300 830 552 to enquire or make an appointment. Private Health Insurance Rebates apply and Medicare Rebates may apply (please check for details).
For some people, the thought of having to discuss their relationship problems with someone other than their partner is akin to having all your teeth pulled. Sometimes it’s even hard to talk with your partner about the difficulties between you, let alone a stranger. Your relationship is a private affair, right? And anyway, it’s not easy to understand what’s going on, both in your head, in your partner’s head or in the in-between.
However, our relationship with our partner is arguably the most important thing in our lives and actually forms the foundation of the rest of our life. Most of us build our whole life, family, home, friends and holidays around our relationship.
And the crazy thing is that despite how central our relationship is to our life, for most people no-one has actually taught us how to have a good one! Most of us are either doing what we’ve seen modelled by our parents, or quite the opposite as we don’t want to be like them.
So when our relationship starts to go wrong, due to ignorance on our part (we don’t know what we’re doing that’s causing it to deteriorate) we can be grabbing in the dark to find out how to improve things.
And with 25 years of experience in helping people with their relationship difficulties, unfortunately I also know that the longer you leave your relationship difficulties usually the worse they get.
So being proactive tends to be the best approach.
When you have problems with your car, house, physical health, finances and legal matters you see a trained and experienced professional to help assist you in fixing the problem.
We find some people have hesitations about relationship counselling because they think we will take one person’s side over another. It is important to note that our number 1 goal is to be fair, equal and considerate of both people.
What we do as trained and experienced relationship Psychologists is help you identify the exact unique problem, or combination of problems that you and your partner are having, and then we help educate you on how to change these patterns so that you can get back to having the great relationship you started with in the first place and deserve to have from here on in.
And as a couple when you are both on board with these, and working together on them, often it doesn’t take long to start feeling a whole lot better and more loving towards each other, with the spark coming back again too.
If you are wondering what we do in your session, firstly we take your confidentiality very seriously. In our sessions, we take time to really listen to each of you without taking sides or making any judgements, and from there we give you insight into what patterns you may be inadvertently playing out, and then the specific skills you both need over the next few sessions.
It’s important for us to always work toward win/win solutions as that is what is needed for any of us to have a happy, healthy relationship. We are also there to help, if you have any difficulties along the way. It’s both a very caring and efficient process.
So I’d like to urge you to consider giving us a try. We know how to create awesome relationships and we can help you create one too. That’s our mission.
One way of understanding the driving forces behind common relationship problems such as high conflict, communication difficulties and lack of intimacy is to ask what is arguably the most fundamental question of all: ‘Why are we together?’
It seems almost too obvious to ask, doesn’t it? However it is striking how few people who seek relationship counselling have ever asked themselves or their partner that question. People are often unable to easily answer that question for themselves or predict how their partner would answer and sometimes people are afraid to ask.
Two further complications exist here. Firstly, people’s true reasons for being in the relationship are not necessarily their stated ones. Secondly, each person’s perception of why their partner is with them does not necessarily match their partner’s stated reasons. It can, understandably, be a very delicate topic. Nevertheless, open exploration of the answers to this big question can reveal a great deal about why people behave as they do in their relationships and also which insecurities or sensitivities may be present in the relationship.
There could be a range of reasons why two people choose to be in a relationship with each other, including love, attraction, convenience, practical considerations, personal val
ues, cultural or religious practices, etc. Most people would probably think that there are no universally right or good reasons. However, it is important for each person to understand them because they can influence each person’s emotional state and, accordingly, the overall tone or atmosphere of the relationship.
There are two dimensions involved in the question, ‘Why are you together?’ Firstly, how you feel about why you are with your partner and secondly, how you feel about why your partner is with you.
Here are a few reasons that are commonly expressed in counselling. Consider how closely these match either your reasons or what you imagine your partner’s to be:
• We are soul mates.
• We made the commitment of marriage.
• He or she is special to me.
• We’ve been together for a long time.
• I wouldn’t want to be alone or single.
• I’m not sure there is anyone else out there for me.
• For the children’s sakes.
• I don’t like to give up on things easily.
• My partner or I would have to leave the country if we separated.
• I haven’t the strength/courage to end it.
• We used to be so in love.
• He or she has such a lovely family.
• He or she really needs me.
Obligation and desire
The above reasons could be arranged into two categories fitting the two primary types of motivation: desire (attraction to something positive) or obligation (avoidance of some sort of negative consequence). So you could ask yourself if you have an overall sense of being motivated to be with your partner out of desire, obligation or perhaps a bit of both. If you had to choose only one reason for the two of you to be together, what would it be?
When I explore this issue in counselling, most people report that many of their reasons for being in the relationship are to do with obligations. However, people also often add that they would hope that they are with their partner due to desire, due to their partner having a special or unique quality that they hold dear. Similarly, they hope that their partner is also with them primarily due to desire rather than obligation. A lack of desire – or the perception of it – can strike at the heart of a relationship and can lead to hypersensitivity, defensiveness, insecurity and misunderstanding.
What to do if obligation outweighs desire
If you or your partner is in your relationship primarily due to obligation and if you are uncomfortable with this, can you influence the relationship so that you are more motivated by desire? Perhaps you need to remind yourself of what attracted you both to each other when you first met – before the trials and tribulations of life complicated things or before you disappointed each other one too many times. What would you need to do to create or recapture some of the conditions that allow desire to flourish? What would each of you regard as quality time together? What expression of love would you and your partner value the most? If both people are willing and able to make the right sort of behavioural changes, it may be possible to restore the missing element of desire.
If you’re looking for help with your relationship from one of our experienced psychologists across Australia, please contact us.
Sometimes one or both people in a relationship struggle to come to terms with the conditions under which it was formed.
Common examples are where:
• trust breaches occurred
• one or both people were already in a committed relationship
• one or both people were in a dysfunctional state such as drug-affected, unwell, or in some sort of crisis
• there was an unplanned pregnancy
• there were some other difficult situational factors such as an illness, injury or a death.
In such circumstances, meeting one another could have been experienced as fraught, upsetting, complex, controversial or shameful in some way, contributing to a sense of the relationship being somehow sullied or spoiled before it had the chance to develop. The memories or perceived impact of these beginnings could seem to be ‘hanging over’ the relationship creating a negative atmosphere and the potential for further damage to be caused.
Regret about the way the relationship was formed can be heightened by a wish that you and your partner had some version of a normal or acceptable beginning, or perhaps even a ‘fairytale’ one that you might have encountered in novels or movies – the type that many people grow up believing or at least hoping will happen to them. These sorts of regrets and fantasies are understandable as it is the nature of the mind to dwell on the past and create idyllic alternative scenarios.
What to do about it
Couples who feel that they missed out on a normal or fairytale beginning to their relationship, yet who seem to have come to terms with it do at least two things well. Firstly, they fa
ce the issue head on. As with so many relationship problems, the key is to develop insights into your own and the other person’s experience. It’s a good idea to encourage each other to tell the story, uninterrupted, of how your relationship was formed. This way each person can develop their understanding of what their partner is carrying with them. There’s no need to try to persu
ade your partner that it wasn’t that bad, only to let them know that you are trying to understand how it might have been for them.
Secondly, these couples give careful thought to how they present the beginnings of the relationship to people outside it. There are three options. The first is to keep the
story completely private. The second is to tell everyone the whole story ‘warts and all’. The third is to agree upon a story that is somewhere between these two options.
An alternative approach is to tell different stories to different people depending on how well you think they’ll understand and not judge you. The important thing here is that each of you is comfortable with how your relationship is being portrayed to others and that your story is consistent with your partners.
A narrative therapy technique
A narrative therapy technique that can be beneficial to couples who are grappling with perceived difficult beginnings to their relationship is known as ‘re-writing the narrative’ or ‘re-storying the relationship’. This is a creative exercise that involves partners expressing how they wished they had met. You can make it as long and elaborate as you like. Just have fun with it. What happens for some couples is that these invented narratives can sit alongside the actual narrative. Over time, especially if you keep embellishing the story with each re-telling, the invented memories may become as compelling and important as your actual ones. I mean, memories are just constructions anyway!
‘I’d like to think we were secret childhood sweethearts and when we finally ‘came out’, we resisted all comers who tried to break us up.’
‘We actually met at the Beijing Olympic Village after we’d both won gold in the gymnastics. We then retired and spent the next six months as professional dancers on a cruise ship in the Pacific before eloping in Vanuatu.’
Remember, just as many fairytales have tragic endings, many relationships that have a non-fairytale beginning end up being fantastic and fulfilling, perhaps even more so as a result of your overcoming the initial adversity together.
If you’re looking for help with your relationship from one of our experienced psychologists across Australia, please contact us.
At the Hart Centre we ask our clients to give us feedback on how helpful their sessions have been for them.
As of 2nd September 2016, 94% of our respondents have told us that their counselling has been helpful and worthwhile for them and their relationship.
Here’s some other things couples have told us that they have found they liked about their sessions with our Psychologists:
They appreciate being able to get clear about, and speak about what has been bothering them, in an environment that is listening and caring and non judgmental.
They also find it very helpful to get insight and a fuller understanding about the dynamics that are operating in their relationship that they weren’t aware of.
They like having the opportunity to communicate in a healthier manner, and to better understand where their partner is coming from.
They appreciate finally being able to resolve long standing issues that they didn’t know how to resolve.
They like coming to someone who won’t not let the power balance get out of hand.
They find it helpful to be held accountable for making positive changes to the relationship.
They like being able to learn new things about how to make their relationship good, and to create hope for having an even better relationship than they have ever had before.
They appreciate having the opportunity to learn new relationship skills that they have never had the opportunity to learn before.
They love the renewed feelings of love they now feel for their partner that they thought were lost forever.
There are occasions where each partner of a couple comes to counselling with differing wants from the process, for example, one partner may want to work on the relationship and the other wants to leave it.
On these occasions, we do our best to honour both needs while also exploring what deeper needs there may be, and encouraging partners to explore all possibilities before ending the relationship.
So there is real hope for improvements in your relationship if you can just take the first step. We will help you explore the full potential of your relationship, beyond what you have known to date, no matter how difficult it might seem at the moment.
Nicole and Michael came in a quickly scheduled appointment. They looked worn and beaten.
It was only a matter of seconds before Nicole burst into tears and claimed she really did not want to leave the relationship but she felt she had no choice, it was, in her words “unbearable”. The fights, the misunderstandings and the brooding resentments had gone on too long and she felt she had to do something.
We need to do something
The point where “we need to do something” comes at different points in a relationship for different couples and often precipitates a visit to a relationship therapist.
It would be easy enough if you knew in your heart that you didn’t want to continue with the relationship. That you were convinced you should cut your losses.
But many people can still see the potential in the relationship and fundamentally value their partner and the potential in the relationship.
Of course sometimes we do stay on too long for other reasons: fear of loneliness, pride, financial reasons amongst others. Knowing when to stay and when to go, when to invest and when to pull out is a fine art in relationships as well as business.
Often the crisis is reached when the bickering, the sniping and the feelings of aggrievement reach boiling point with both partners.
The peace tent
When you both feel like you are the victimand your partner is the villainwar is likely to continue for a long time. Coming to relationship therapist is a bit like agreeing to come to the peace tent. It is the first step in what hopefully will be a long truce followed by prosperity.
One of the first things a relationship therapist will do, as I did with Nicole and Michael, was to encourage them to share their feelings and explore the experience of both parties.
Often there is so much hurt and so much pain all each party can do is to focus on this. Getting the feelings recognized clears the air and allows both parties to feel they are ‘validated’ , that is that they matter and their perspective is appreciated.
The next step is to stop the hurting. Like two fighters who are bruised and bloodied and keep landing punches the warring parties need to be protected and each party needs to gain a sense of emotional safety. Emotional safety means the capacity to be honest without being attacked. Emotional safety is vital for trust to grow and the negative cycle of attack and defend to desist.
The temptation to “have the last word” is often very strong but needs to be resisted.
At this point some people think that expressing their needs necessarily involves a complaint/attack against the other.
Thankfully there are ways of talking about our needs without them being an attack or a demand on our partners. We can discuss our feelings and what we perceive to be a need while taking responsibility for them. Each of us has a choice as to how we behave in a relationship and these choices are usually informed by a knowledge of how the other party feels, what he or she likes and so on.
When anger is there
Sometimes – as is the case with Nicole and Michael, one person’s expression of feelings seemed to invoke a strong anger response in them.
What to do in these circumstances?
First we need to get clear that we can’t control our thoughts or our feelings but we can control our behaviour and we routinely do. Your behaviour, including speech should be as conscious and as “chosen” as possible.
Anger can arise and we can, for various reasons choose not to express it at a particular time. This is not emotional dishonesty but wisdom. Sometimes it is not helpful to express a feeling.
However a relationship is a place where we can feel safe to share our feelings and we can trust that our partner is willing to share their feelings as well. The time and place of that sharing may need to be chosen carefully.
This part of was Nicole and Michael’s problem – they were sharing their feelings in destructive ways woven into the negative cycle of attacking and defending. Feelings had become weapons.
There are communication strategies and many other things that will be needed to get their rocky “relation-ship” back on an even keel and not smash into the break up rocks.
As an immediate measure I suggested that as this new decorum will need to time to be established, they commit to a four week period where we will put their relationship in “intensive care” and just the same way we would with a patient whose life supporting systems were at risk, we would not expect them to be jogging along like normal but establish an intravenous drips of caution, calm, respect whilst undergoing an intensive period of therapy for four weeks.
From that time better choices may be made about whether they do really want to invest in the relationship or turn off the relationship life support.
More from David Indermaur our Relationship Psychologist in Perth in our next blog.
“Oh my God – this place is a pig sty!” “You always leave your wet towels on the floor – I can’t stand it any more!”
How many fights start over household tidiness? It often appears to relationship counsellors that couples are more concerned with hygiene than they are with the state of their relationship. If only they could be as concerned with the state of their relationship as the state of the house living might be a lot easier.
But where do you start with relationship hygiene?
Have a clearing house session each week
First, just as in household tidiness, start with the big things and move to the details.
The big factors that support relationship harmony concern the rules of engagement and some basic principles to ensure emotional safety.
As a general guide to cleaning up your relationship consider establishing a regular routine to ensure any unfinished business or resentments are cleared on a weekly basis – call this your clearing house session.
Choose a regular time of the week – sit down over a coffee or a tea and lay out your log of “issues” – do it in good faith, with good will accepting that resolutions might not be agreed upon but assured that both parties have got their issues off their chests.
Remember RESPECT at all times
Between these times engage with your partner in a disciplined manner ruled by the cardinal virtue/principle of respect. Show at least as much respect to your partner as you do to your work colleagues. See if you can be the one leading the growth to more respect, more consideration, more goodwill, more generosity and more conciliation.
Some people think this is false because it is not how we feel and is therefore false and not genuine. This is an understandable but unhelpful idea.
In so many aspects of our life we don’t “let it all hang out” and shout before we think. Why would we think this is a good thing to do in a relationship?
Part of the answer is that in a relationship we think its OK to let all our “defenses” down and just say the first thing that comes to mind, even if it is an insult. We allow ourselves to become like children. This might be OK as long as we could play nicely – but all too often the positive play of the honeymoon period morphs into vicious haranguing of the power battle.
For a mature relationship we need to attend to good relationship hygiene or our play pen will become very messy indeed.
Your relationship is always voluntary
Start with the rules of engagement: You are two adults in a voluntary association.
You both have different needs, wants and perspectives on the world, and you also want to make an effective partnership.
Knowing these aims and challenges you transact the space between you with the diplomacy of a French diplomat: always be gracious and even when this fails ensure that respect rules the day.
You don’t have to agree with your partner, you don’t always even have to like your partner but you can ensure that you treat him/her with respect. If you don’t think your partner is worthy of respect you might need to question your relationship or your capacity to maintain a healthy relationship. Respect forms the fundamental building block of a healthy adult relationship. It signifies a willingness to create a zone of emotional safety.
It is this emotional safety that is fostered in a “clean” relationship house.