Talk to each other - sometimes it's that simple!
I provide relationship counselling for all types of traditional and non-traditional relationships, including heterosexual or homosexual couples, accommodating all genders and sexual orientations.
Strong relationships have many advantages, they can enhance physical and emotional health, provide you with life meaning and a feeling of belonging, improve self-knowledge and self-esteem, broaden your horizons and teach life-skills. However, with these advantages may come challenges for you, new roles and responsibilities to define, pressure to reveal your vulnerabilities and increased obligations.
This page provides you with information on some of the key causes of relationship difficulties including behaviour, communication and conflict patterns, followed by how counselling could help you.
I also offer a targeted 'Relationship Success' couples counselling package which will cut to the root cause of your relationship difficulties, provide skills to strengthen the relationship and more effectively resolve conflict, and allow you to regain emotional stability and happiness.
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One of the major causes of relationship problems is the development of each partner's role and their transition through life stages. When a relationship is being established, roles are negotiated based on existing knowledge and interactions between partners, prior experiences, and the values and beliefs of each party. These roles will often change over the course of a relationship.
People are shaped not only by their pasts and current interactions, but also by the personal challenges of adjusting to life cycles. For example, new parents need to shift from focusing on themselves as a couple to the roles and responsibilities of child-rearing, while older couples may be making the change from being largely preoccupied as parents to once again focusing on themselves as a couple.
These changes and evolution over the course of relationships can cause disagreements between you if one or both of you are unhappy in your role or feel that your needs are no longer being met.
A second and frequent cause of relationship problems is linked to communication and behaviour patterns and how the couple interact with each other:
Problematic Behavioural Patterns:
- Aggressive - physical or verbal behaviour intended to intimidate and bully into a particular outcome;
- Passive - ignoring personal needs and feelings, giving in. Combining aggressive and passive partners risks the passive partner being abused;
- Passive-aggressive - an indirect and sometimes manipulative expression of feelings rather than directly trying to resolve the problem;
- Withdrawal - avoiding conflict and discussion due to fear of what may happen or judgement.
These patterns are not uncommon and can also be observed in healthy relationships however if unchallenged can lead to power imbalances and abusive, controlling or obsessive behaviour.
Problematic Communication Patterns:
- Isolation - refusing to communicate to avoid conflict;
- Alienation - creating distance to avoid conflict, such as through the use of joking, or making excuses;
- Verbal abuse - aggressive communication such as yelling, or more covert such as criticism and taunting;
- Blame - avoiding taking any personal responsibility for the problem, often resulting in retaliatory blame and a blame-cycle;
- Defensiveness - proving oneself, perhaps feeling inferior or fearing rejection.
Every relationship is unique and will require some adjustments in communication for partners to work together. However, if dysfunctional patterns are unaddressed they may escalate risking the relationship.
Your behaviour and communication styles are often learned from family or society through observing patterns and 'rules' in others, or defensive patterns used to mask your underlying emotions. Negative patterns can result in relationship conflict which may result in the break-down of your relationship. However, the fact that these patterns are learned shows that they can also be unlearned and through relationship counselling you can replace them with new, more productive behaviours and communication.
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Life experiences, transitions and crises, role changes, problematic communication styles and behavioural patterns, and differences in values and opinions can all cause conflict within a relationship. Conflict itself is not necessarily a problem; some conflict can be healthy, increasing trust and intimacy, and improving problem-solving.
Conflict styles tend to follow patterns set through upbringing and parental behaviour. Most people will have a preferred style but may choose alternate styles based on the circumstances.
- Withdrawal - Avoiding conflict through leaving, changing the subject or using humour. The conflict is unresolved therefore is likely to resurface in the future;
- Accommodating - Agreement and surrender regardless of personal needs. This aims to have quick resolution but will likely leave the accommodating partner unsatisfied;
- Competing - Conflict is competitive and considered a win-lose situation, potentially aggressive or abusive. The competing partner may 'win', leaving the other party unsatisfied and increased tension in the relationship;
- Compromising - A practical approach to resolve problems to mutual, part satisfaction of both partners. Both will likely have to give up some of their needs in favour of the other's needs;
- Collaborating - The conflict is considered a mutual issue and both cooperate to reach a solution which minimises the losses and maximises gains for both and the relationship. Encourages honesty and increases trust.
Where relationship conflict continues unresolved, couples risk drawing a third party or external factor into the conflict to diffuse the tension, referred to as triangulation. This is an avoidance strategy and can include other family members or friends, infidelity, excessive work, socialising or substance abuse.
One common pattern is using another person as scapegoat rather than addressing the issues directly, for example a child, boss or parent. A second common pattern is engaging in an affair which allows emotional needs to be met elsewhere.
Anger in a relationship is a clear sign that needs are not being met, that the person is hurt or scared, or something is simply not right. Anger itself is not a concern except where it is expressed inappropriately or unproductively. It can be used as a defence, to avoid other feelings, or to punish, however can also used productively to motivate trying to meet personal needs, or to deal with deeper emotional issues such as pain, disappointment, or fear. Expression of anger is often a learned behaviour from family and other relationships, and the constructive release of anger can be taught to couples so that they can resolve conflict effectively.
Opposing Conflict Patterns
Some relationships show patterns which can be identified and replaced with more productive behaviour. Examples of common patterns include:
- Pursuer-Distancer: The Pursuer initiates relationship discussions, plans their partner's life, chases, and over-communicates. The Distancer avoids and withdraws, and makes excuses. This pattern can result in a lack of trust, frustration, and blame.
- Reminder-Procrastinator: The Reminder takes the role of the responsible one, with the Procrastinator retreating from responsibilities until reminded repeatedly. The Procrastinator becomes dependent and under-functions however becomes frustrated with the nagging. This can result in resentment and anxiety.
- Blamer-Placater: The Blamer places responsibility on their partner and may have a competitive conflict style. The Placater avoids conflict, therefore agrees to the Blamer's requests. This pattern is likely to increase resentment and tension.
- Attack-Defend: This is similar to the Blamer-Placater with attack and blame from one side, and defensiveness from the other. Neither party takes responsibility for problems.
- Parent-Child: The Parent role is typically angry, criticises and sets out demands as to what is expected of their partner. The Child may withdraw or rebel rather than take equal responsibility. Similar to the other patterns, one or both parties must actively seek to change their role in order to break the pattern.
From reading this, you may instantly recognise on of these patterns in your relationship. Couples counselling can help you explore and identify patterns and work closely with you to change your roles and learn new habits.
The information above shows many relationship problems are related to the interaction between you rather than you as individuals. When patterns develop and continue they become progressively harder to break.
Relationship counselling can help to identify patterns and enable more productive communication and behaviour The key goal is for both of you to become more concerned with what YOU are doing rather than your partner, and to increase openness and honesty.
Behavioural and communication changes can be experimented with outside of counselling to develop new skills and create new patterns to use to resolve conflict. The more positive emotions these experiments create, the more likely you are to develop new habits.
Given that many patterns develop based on the past, observed and conditioned behaviours from parents, family and prior relationships, if progress is difficult it can be useful to delve further back than the present relationship to explore the root causes. This allows you to separate your current experiences from the prior experiences, to heal wounds and helps your needs in the present to be met.
Depending on the concerns in your relationship, I can provide many options for you both to explore and learn new skills to improve the relationship. Examples include:
- Conflict resolution, positive communication and assertiveness training, and problem-solving skills;
- Cognitive-behavioural approaches to reduce negative thoughts, address negative core beliefs, or reframe situations;
- Behavioural techniques such as experimenting with new patterns, and conditioned learning;
- Experiential approaches aimed at increasing emotional insight, self-awareness, and promoting personal and relationship growth;
- Systems approaches to address triangulation, boundaries and individuality.
For relationship counselling, my targeted 'Relationship Success' package, which includes both couples and individual counselling sessions, will help you get to the root of your difficulties, develop mutual relationship goals, and increase conflict resolution and problem-solving abilities. This will allow you to strengthen your relationship, regain emotional stability and happiness.
Change nothing and nothing will change
My training covers many different coaching and counselling techniques including: learning and personality theories, cognitive-behavioural, solution-focussed, narrative, Gestalt, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), emotionally-focussed or person-centred approaches, along with the Sherpa Coaching technique, the GROW model and the Co-active Coaching model.
If you have a preference we can certainly work with a specific approach, if not, I will tailor what works for your needs, rather than choosing a single method. I work best through open and honest discussion, from a strong analytical and objective perspective and a well-studied interest in people, psychology and the mind. This has allowed me to develop high awareness and problem-solving abilities which have been incredibly useful in making improvements in my own and others' lives.