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Relationship & Marriage Counselling in Melbourne

Relationship Counselling Melbourne

Relationship & Marriage Counselling in Melbourne

Learn how to be better together

Relationships can often be confusing, especially in times of stress and conflict. Luckily, there are things that can be learnt which enable each partner to make a positive contribution to the relationship and increase relationship and overall life satisfaction.

There are four main “activities” that people in satisfying relationships are constantly working towards. These are:

  1. Joining: connecting with your partner through expressing, sharing etc.
  2. Supporting and Caring: being there for your partner when they need you
  3. Allowing vulnerability: showing sides of yourself that you might not chose to show anyone
  4. Boundary setting: sometimes saying “no”, or “too much”, or “not enough”

 

The following article gives an overview of what helps…

 

What Makes Satisfying Relationships (written by Dr Russell Deighton & Shelley Bird)

A close or intimate relationships is a central pillar of life, as so much of our life satisfaction can depend on it. Although life stressors can affect how we feel in our relationship, if our relationship is satisfying and healthy, it can act as a buffer against stress, creating a place of comfort where we can relax and be ourselves. Importantly, research shows that people can learn healthy relationship behaviour to increase their life satisfaction.

Maintaining a healthy relationship has many facets, including things that can be done verbally (e.g. paying your partner a compliment, telling you partner your you feel) and things that can be done non-verbally (hugging, facial expression).

Research has shown that improving communication and other behaviours can lead to better relationship satisfaction, and there are some simple ways to improve these things, which lead to stronger bonds and more meaningful experiences with your partner.

General principles

The things people in satisfied relationships do (both with and without words) can be summarized as:

  1. Joining
  2. Supporting and Caring
  3. Allowing vulnerability
  4. Boundary setting

Joining involves allowing connection with your partner, which involves both partners sharing how they feel, what they think, what your needs, wants and likes/dislikes are, as well as sharing life experiences and enjoyment together, including sensual and sexual experiences. All of these things together are what makes up feel close to our partner.

Supporting and Caring involves acts of loving attention towards one’s partner with the intention of meeting / supporting their needs. It often involves putting one’s own needs temporarily to the side in order to attend to one’s partner’s needs. This could be simply listening to one’s partner when they had a bad day at work, encouraging them in difficult times, making them their favourite breakfast, or giving them a massage when they’re tired and stressed. It stems from a commitment to the other person.

A prerequisite for both of these principles is Allowing vulnerability and to showing your vulnerable sides to your partner. Joining isn’t fully possible if a partner doesn’t feel safe or comfortable sharing (at least some of) their fears, or sad feelings - sometimes, these will be relevant to what is happening in the relationship. Likewise, caring isn’t possible if the person who is being cared for is too uncomfortable with showing the vulnerable part of themselves that needs care. This doesn’t mean that we always have to be vulnerable or show it, but to have the ability to be when it is helpful to us or others.

Another principle, which is particularly relevant to joining, is Boundary setting. This means signalling that something is too much / not enough for you. For example, while it is vital to try to be a good listener to your partner, sometimes listening can be a burden, and it may be unhelpful to act like a compassionate listener when you actually feel overburdened by what your hearing or its timing. In that case, it is better to communicate that it feels like too much right now. Boundaries could also concern what one finds acceptable about the other’s behaviour. When setting boundaries, it is often very helpful to express it as information about oneself (the person expressing it), rather than about the partner. In other words, “I was hurt by your comment about…” is generally better than “You were being inconsiderate…”.

All of these things need to be done in the spirit of Reciprocity and Equality: both partner’s need to do both expressing and listening; both you and your partner’s needs will have to be attended to. Imbalances can build resentment.

It is also important to note that it has been found that people in satisfying relationships do not aim to change the other. Instead, when people focus on what they themselves can do individually to contribute positively to the relationship, that’s when both people start to feel more satisfied. This also means that conflicts are generally not able to be successfully managed by repeated efforts to convince your partner that you are right (and they are wrong). Although explaining one’s way of thinking may be needed, it is helpful to own this as your own perspective and be open to your partner having a different perspective. After all, many things that happen between people are not about absolute truths where only one person can be right. Pursuing this aim can become the trigger for repetitive argument patterns. Differing perspectives between partners may be due to a different way of thinking, personality, or simply differing needs in a given situation). Accepting your partner’s differences is vital.  So instead of “winning arguments”, making conversations about sharing one’s perspective, but even more importantly, truly trying to understand and enter into your partner’s perspective has been found to be an important ingredient in satisfying relationships.

 

With these principles in mind, people can focus on specific behaviours which have been found to be important in influencing relationship satisfaction, summarized below:

 

 

What helps

I-statements: Expressing your own feelings, beliefs and values by using the word "I"; this ensures that it is non-judgmental, keeping to one’s own perspective, rather than stating something in an absolute way. E.g. “I found your tone quite harsh” as opposed to “You were screaming at me”.

Feeling statements (verbal emotional expression): This involves acknowledging, describing, and owning your emotions towards your partner. This is best done as an I-statement. E.g. “I know it might be irrational, but I felt really scared you would leave me when you said you were angry”.

Behaviour requests: Generally, we cannot demand that your partner changes what they are doing, as your partner needs to be respected as an adult who can decide for themselves (apart from in the case of a clear violation of rights). However, there will be things that make us uncomfortable or even distressed, and simply making an I statement or feeling statement may not be enough. In such situations, making a respectful request is important. A very helpful way of asking is: “It would help me if..”, e.g. “It would help me if you would let me find my own solution” (As opposed to “Stop making smart suggestions!”)

Active Listening: All of the above-mentioned statements will only work if the person being spoken to listens well. This needs to be done with true openness, putting one’s own needs temporarily to the side and making a genuine effort to understand the other’s perspective.  This can be done by:

  • Giving the other time to talk, being silent, showing you’re listening
  • Tentatively paraphrasing or asking questions that help understand the other’s perspective: E.g. “So you’re saying that you’re annoyed at what I said as you took it as a criticism? Why did you think it was a criticism?”

Acknowledgement, Thankfulness, and Compliments: These are ways of joining and expressing care at the same time, as they share appreciation of the other, and show care by expressing that appreciation. Relationships with this kind of positive communication have not surprisingly been found to be more satisfying. These can be simple statements, but they can be hard to express in times of conflict of emotional distance. Breaking through this barrier by “saying it anyway” can bring rich rewards of improved relationship satisfaction levels.

Showing affection: Appreciation, love and positive feelings also need to be shown non-verbally, such as in kisses, hugs, smiling eye contact etc.

Showing Feelings: Of course feelings too are not just talked about but also shown. Allowing oneself to cry in front of one’s partner is an example.

What doesn’t help

You-statements / Accusations: The opposite of an I-statement, this type of statement involves “finger pointing” towards the partner involving the word “you”, often in an accusatory or critical way, and often as a generalization (“you’re always…”). Examples are: “You need to stop acting this way”, “You’re always trying to get the upper hand”, “You said that because you were feeling hurt”.

There may be a place for you-statements in some cases (e.g. clear boundary violations), however, often they lead to conflict escalation - as they encourage more you-statements and less I statements, so less perspective sharing and more “trying to win the argument”.

Hostile / aggressive communication: This happens when one partner communicates with a domineering or demanding demeanour. It may have the intent of hurting the listener.

Distancing Gestures: Verbal or non-verbal communication that intentionally separates yourself, emotionally or physically, from your partner.

Avoidance: Engaging in communication behaviours that intentionally steer clear of certain events, topics of conversation or the person, generally. For example, if you are avoiding your partner, you might communicate avoidance by leaving the room as they enter or if you wish to avoid discussing something important you might abruptly change the topic of conversation. Unsurprisingly, this has been found to be very unhelpful in relationships.

 

Finally…

Getting to know your own individual patterns of behaviours in relationships can be an important way of developing positively within the relationship. A good way of doing this is logging one’s own behaviour, as one is required is reflect back over how one behaved, which is a common and very effective strategy in many psychological interventions. The study you are being asked to take part in will ask you to log your own relationship behaviours based on the above lists of helpful and unhelpful behaviours.

 

If you wish to discover what helps and hinders your relationship, you may like to examine participating in a study being conducted by VCPS Psychologist, Dr Russell Deighton. This study study asks you and your partner to log your relationship activities based on the above lists of helpful and unhelpful behaviours. If you are interested in participating, please click here for more information:

 

If you are struggling with your relationships, click here or phone (03) 9419 7172 to make an appointment with one of our experienced practitioners. We’ll get your relationship back on track!