Couples Therapy and Marriage Counselling Services in Sydney
Our Sydney based practice specialises in couples counselling and marriage counselling. We have helped many couples to improve their relationships and respond to problems and difficulties in ways that bring them closer together, rather than drive them apart. Relationship counselling can also help partners to clarify uncertainty or ambivalence about their relationship, to heal wounds, and to better function together as a couple.
Most couples experience conflict and difficulty. It is normal to argue from time to time, and excessive avoidance of conflict can be a problem in itself. However, recurrent unresolved conflict is unproductive, and many couples experience significantly more conflict and distress than they need to.
Equally, rather than experiencing excessive conflict, some couples experience a drifting apart over time. Without meaning to, they can find themselves feeling disconnected from one another, which can be lonely and isolating. It can also lead to a sense of the relationship having lost its spark or of being "out of love". Couples counselling or marriage counselling can help couples to re-connect and revive their bond.
In terms of issues that couples differ over, many experience disagreement about:
- Housework / chores / responsibilities
- Time / quality time / lack of time
- Mis-matched expectations of each other and the relationship
- Differences in values / wishes / interests or preferences
Often, however, it is not these differences that pose the biggest problem: it is the couple’s approach to dealing with their differences that becomes the more major issue. There are a number of unhelpful tactics that couples often adopt when attempting to resolve their underlying disagreements. Some common unhelpful approaches include:
A demand / withdraw pattern, where one partner attempts to get their needs met by instructing their partner to change, while the other partner reacts by switching off or shutting down. The more one withdraws, the more the other demands, and the more the other withdraws, in an ever escalating spiral that drives the couple further apart.
Avoidance of addressing issues in the hopes that they will go away. A related pitfall is assuming that your partner knows, or should know, how you are feeling and what you want. Avoidance can be driven by fear of conflict, difficulty dealing with your own or others’ negative emotions, fear of alienating your partner, lack of assertiveness, or difficulty identifying and expressing the underlying problem. In the long run, avoidance leaves legitimate problems unaddressed, often causing them to grow more problematic and entrenched over time. Avoidance can also lead to passive aggressive behaviour, confusion, misunderstanding, and resentment.
Attack and counterattack. In this approach, couples point out each other’s perceived shortcomings, and each person copes by striking back. This can leave both partners hurt, and with a sense of injustice, reducing their willingness to compromise and negotiate.
Attack and defend. This is similar to attack and counterattack, except that one member of the pair repeatedly defends themselves against perceived or actual criticism. In the end, one person feels berated and put down, and the other feels that their partner is not listening or taking their concerns seriously.
Labelling and blaming, in which couples frame issues in terms of the other person's character rather than their behaviour. For example, one person calls the other lazy or selfish rather than pointing out that the dishes are dirty. Labelling and blaming increases defensiveness, anger, and hurt, and reduces the chances that each partner will engage constructively with the other.
Mindreading and personalising, in which one partner makes assumptions and inferences about what their partner's behaviour means, e.g. "if he/she really loved me he/she would..." The trouble with this is that such assumptions are very often unfounded and misguided. This kind of reasoning can turn manageable problems into larger issues than they need to be, and can exacerbate a couple's feeling that they don't understand one another.
Overgeneralising, which involves thinking - and saying - that something is more frequent or pervasive than it really is. Overgeneralising statements often start with "You always" or "You never". One outcome can be that the partner on the receiving end feels unfairly accused and unappreciated, and is more likely to "give up" or stop trying, and to take their partners concerns less seriously.
Colouring the relationship black. This occurs when one or both members of a couple see problems in the relationship as a sign that the whole partnership is flawed, rather than viewing problems as contained issues that can be addressed while the rest of the relationship remains intact. Such thinking can make problems seem more threatening and overwhelming than they need to be, leading to reactions and approaches that are out of proportion to the issue at hand.
Our approach to couples or marriage counselling is informed by therapies shown by research to be effective even for couples who are in significant distress, on the verge of separation, or who have been experiencing problems for a long time, as well as for couples who are less distressed or with less entrenched problems, but would like to enhance their relationship.
All of our psychologists work with same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples. One of our psychologists, Michelle Chesno, has a special interest in GLBT issues for both individuals and couples.