Communication problems and their causes

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Communication problems | Counselling Brisbane In the last blog post I described a theory that attempts to explain why men  communicate differently to women.  Please keep in mind that this a theory but it rings true. For many women you gauge if you are ok by the conversations you have, the company you keep and the friendships you have with other women. It should come as no surprise however that men are often very different. When men are together talk always turns to: rugby, cars, mechanics, jobs, just pick one. We need a project with an outcome, a problem looking for a solution and fixing stuff tells us we are ok. No wonder we have communication problems. He is always giving you sage advice about relationships at work, friendships and siblings? He is always coming up with a solid solution to your ‘problems’. That’s what we do. Action is equal to adequacy! We are real comfortable in this space because we look like we are competent. From the outside we have our stuff together.

Men are generally are more interested in things. How things work, what things do etc. The energy you put towards emotional connection is the same way we put energy towards things. Here’s an example. If you get the chance, stand next to a man who is enthusiastic about cars as he looks under the bonnet of a finely crafted custom car for the first time. Watch him stare in awe the pristine engine, listen to him making admiring hmm’s and ah’s, with a comment here and a comment there. Watch him stand back in awe as the V8 engine purrs. Most of us are inspired by this kind of stuff. It could equally be a new software program, computer game or a football game.

Men recognise and respect that whoever put the effort into building this machine had to plan well, design well, he had to make challenging decisions and often tricky ones. He had to overcome obstacles and fight with the possibility of failure along the way. But in the end, he triumphed and succeeded in building a thing of beauty. We as men celebrate that, and recognise the effort and hard work gone into such an endeavor. In a word it is respect.

Now, what is the key word in that last paragraph? You might be surprised to hear that it is ‘END’. There is a starting point, an objective and an outcome, an end. When the objective is clear, a man can set about achieving that objective. And this is the point I am trying to make here. When  conversations with our partners, including relationship conflict and talks that require an emotional engagement are required we fear they will be open-ended and unsolvable and then we panic and relationship dread kicks in. And this often leads to communication problems.

And this is why it is called male relational dread. Because men often believe that if we engage with our partner in an emotionally charged conversation that has no end there’s no telling what might happen. Any conversation with charged emotions has the potential to bring up vulnerabilities and shame.

And it is worth keeping in mind that because we instinctively feel you, as a woman, have a clear advantage over us men in this department we are less likely to want to stay there long. To us it looks like a game with a winner and loser. And we will be the loser. Next time we look at how you can both have deep and meaningful’s and constructive arguments at the same time

Attitude of Gratitude

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An attitude of Gratitude

Attitude of Gratitude | Couples counselling BrisbaneSee the first and second posts here. Nothing beats feelings of depression, loneliness and a sense of low self-worth than having an Attitude of Gratitude. Don’t believe me! When was the last time you stopped and just gave thanks for someone or something in your life. You are reading this post so being grateful for sight might be a start. Not to mention all the other things like cognitive reasoning, being able to contemplate what you are reading and so on. We often forget the small miraculous events and everyday happenings that make up our worlds so much so that we can begin to complain about the most useless things to complain about.

Did you know that there is now a branch of psychology dedicated solely to understanding the role of gratitude in our lives? Amazing really. Gratitude has shown to alleviate depression and anxiety. It has proved to enhance and improve relationships and even mend them.

Gratitude make the other course correction tips like apologies and appreciation much, much easier. Try it and see. When we are grateful we project ourselves into the world of others, not withdraw and build walls. Gratitude keeps you grounded in the here and now and you are less likely to want to seek fault in others.

With Gratitude you are more likely to take responsibility, be more resourceful and become more attractive. So why not try a little gratefulness to start your day. Many people write short lists of the things they are grateful for and read them throughout the day. Some people will start their day by being thankful they are alive, have a bed, can smell coffee and have a partner to share live with. Start by being grateful for the things you have, like health, and then start thinking of all the things your partner has and does that you are grateful for. Be generous and tell them, be kind and encourage them to see their need for gratefulness too. Blaming, criticising and other non-productive behaviours only drain the relationship not help. Which one is more attractive to you?

The now departed, full on, God fearing, funny, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar puts it somewhat like this: “There is no prize for finding fault”



Here is why you have communication problems with him

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Communication problems and the Theory of Male Relational Dread

Communication problems | Couples counselling Brisbane

When asked to describe communication problems a couple will almost always say something like, “We don’t communicate well”, she will say “our communication sucks” and one I hear a lot is “He doesn’t know how to communicate”. It will come as no surprise to you that women often complain that their partner is unable, unwilling or just plain devoid of any ability to make an emotional connection. Of course, there are plenty of men out there who do a wonderful job of connecting with their partners but equally so there are men who seemly can’t.

Emotionally charged conversations and communication problems

Because of this perceived inability for him to connect many women feel isolated in their relationship. There are probably countless reasons why he can’t or won’t connect but one well researched theory suggests, for a large number of males at least, that it is about the difficulty in holding the space in the emotionally charged conversation. It is not so much about having the conversation but what to say and do in the conversation. This should help you move away from our communication sucks to something different.

This theory is called Male relational dread and it goes along way to explaining the sometimes strange behaviour he might display when talking to you. But before we go there a little background is necessary. From the very moment we are born we at connected with our mothers. We are cuddled by her, nurtured by her, fed by her and bathed by her to name just a few things. All the while she is talking to us. This connection with our mother is vital to our wellbeing. Early in our development it is believed that we think that us and our mum are one person.

Various theories, including Male Relational Dread, suggest that as little boys we start to differentiate ourselves from our mums at about age 3. Somehow, we recognise that we as boys are different from our mothers and we start the process of identifying with the significant male in our life. As we distance ourselves from our mother the emotional connections that were so strong in the early years get weaker and weaker until they are almost lost.

For the most part girls generally stay connected and learn to master the intricate world of emotions and relationships with others because of this continued connection with their mother. Therefore, you may have a distinct advantage over us males when it comes to communication and emotional connection. As a women you understand empathy, you get emotional connection, you connect with feelings and you engage well in community with others.

So, what seems natural to you is often terrifying to us. That is because as men we forgot our first language and started speaking ‘guy speak’. This new language is often foreign to you. On the way to becoming men we have watched you, listened to you and generally observed you, then got on with building stuff, breaking crap, making things and, in effect, being busy creating and doing.

So, it is not so much the communication that is the problem but the terrain. The emotional terrain. What might look like a beautiful open field to you often looks like a cliff face to us. Next week we will look at why he wants to solve problems and generally do stuff but in the meantime if you are in a committed relationship ask your man what it feels like to be in a conversation that appears to have no end and see what his response is.

Appreciation is a course correction

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  1. Showing Appreciation is a Course correction

Appreciation counselling BrisbaneLast week we looked at saying sorry. Click here to read that post. Another course correction is appreciation. This can work particularly well in defusing an argument. Those well versed in showing appreciation will often start a discussion that has the potential to go badly with an appreciation statement. They may thank their partner for mopping the floors in the morning or getting the kids lunches ready before they head into the discussion about the overdraft.

Of course, you can show appreciation with almost anything. Think about what the other person does that you are grateful for. How can you show them appreciation for the things they do around the home? Or perhaps for the way they interact with your parents or friends. Appreciation need not be given for just big things either. A smile, a touch, a kind word of thanks can mean all the difference to the other person. Showing appreciation gets you out of your head and into the life of your partner. Giving a well-timed compliment or gentle praise can lift the spirits of the other person and make them feel that they are loved and cared for by you.

You might want to remind yourself to voice your appreciation to those you love. Don’t hold back either. Say it out loud and mean it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the other person will get a big head or start showing off or rubbing it in your face. When appreciation is well placed and genuinely meant, it is appreciated. And remember, if you don’t show appreciation to those who deserve they will learn to stop doing the things you appreciate.

Take a moment to think about all the things you can express appreciation to your partner for. This list could potentially be endless but don’t overdo it. There is plenty to appreciate them for. Let them know as well because being appreciated equals respect and we all want that. As H.Jackson Brown Jr. once said “Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated”.

Next week we will look at the biggest personal course correction you can take.


Course Corrections for Marriage

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The Big Three Course Corrections in Marriage.

course correction Marriage counselling BrisbaneIn this series we are looking at three time tested ways to make a course correction in your relationship. A course correction is simply changing the direction you are going. Consider an ocean liner for a moment. If it finds itself off course it will take action to change that course and get back on track. But with the ship, as in relationships, that change is not instantaneous. By small degrees it will turn and reset for the proper destination. In other words, the effects will not be felt immediately. That needs to be kept in mind.

The first course correction is probably the hardest but also the one with the biggest impact on the course of the ship, ah I mean the relationship.

  1. An apology is a course correction

While you might not see the need to apologise in/during/after an argument it is considered a course correction. Just because someone else may have been wrong doesn’t mean that you don’t need to apologise for the part you played in the argument. If you have hurt your partner’s feelings, if you have said something that you later regret then these are opportunities for a course correction.

An apology has the power to stop an argument in its tracks. An apology can change the direction of an argument and even lead to resolution. In fact, when an apology is used correctly it has the power to bring about the change you were fighting for. If you are in the habit of digging your heals in, or stonewalling and waiting for your partner to make the first move then you could be waiting a long time, and when an apology does come it is often weak and without real meaning. Nobody believes it.

Apologies are best said as soon as you recognise that you have overstepped the mark. Apologies are hard particularly in an argument. They are not impossible however. A well placed apology can soften your partner and help restart the discussion. Apologies have a lot of power if they are used genuinely. A sincere apology can often mean the difference between the breakdown of the relationship or its rebuilding. One thing is certain, without apologies all relationships deteriorate to where they cannot be rescued.

Apologise for your part in the argument. Taking responsibility for your part kills the blame game and an apology is one way of doing that. If an apology is a course correction then having to apologise means you somehow got off track. Admit it, own it and move back into constructive conversation by apologising. The only people who really truly find it hard to apologise and mean it are kids. Are you kid? Perhaps you have been behaving like one. Adults apologise and as you are an adult you can apologise.

An apology is a course correction forcing you to take a detour from the road you were on. That road was going where it always goes. To a dead end and a broken relationship. An apology is a course correction getting you back on track. Use the apology as a course correction to build and safeguard your relationship.









How to sell counselling so he will buy

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Coaching that is good enough so he will play

relationship counsellingSo just to recap, men are more likely to respond to an invitation to marriage or relationship counselling when it is described in terms of marriage coaching. Men will also behave differently if they know that they will not be shamed for sharing their vulnerability. You can go to the last three posts, here, here and here

Your partner is more likely to avoid the counselling room if it looks like he is the one responsible for all the trouble you are both experiencing. Here are a couple of ways you can encourage him to consider the option of seeing a relationship coach. Remind him that with most things nothing is permanent. If the experience of sitting down and talking to a relationship coach or counsellor doesn’t work after a couple of tries then you can try something else, or someone else.

The truth is that the more the situation presents as unknowable the more likely we are to want to control it. In this instance, it is a good idea to give him some options so he feels that he has a reasonable amount of control over what is happening. You can start by giving him a list of counsellors in the area and ones that have been recommended by others. Ask if he would feel more comfortable with a male or female counsellor.

You can sell the idea of couples counselling a number of ways including changing the wording. For example, suggest that you go to coaching to get ‘match fit’. Suggest that the relationship could do with a tune up. Try a ‘relationship management class, or engaging with a relationship coach. Some of these descriptors will roll off his tongue lightly and come across nice and easy to the ears of his friends and family. Remember it is the relationship that you are both trying to fix, not him.

You might ask him what he wants to see changed. You may have a very different parenting style than him and he wants it discussed. You can tell him that counselling provides that opportunity to discuss it openly and without argument. You can appeal to his sense of commitment to his kids and suggest that working things out in counselling will help eliminate the fighting between you.

At this stage do not threaten to leave unless it is crucial. Threats can have the reverse effect on the relationship and derail any attempts to get to counselling. And as research has shown, the man’s attitude and action can weigh heavily on the success or failure of the relationship. Think about that…

Quest for a long-term commitment

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Slow love and establishing a long-term commitment– the case for a slow relationship in a fast-paced world

Long-term commitment | Couples counselling Brisbane You’ve heard of the slow food movement – the belief that food grown slowly and handled with care will be altogether more nutritious and delicious. Well, the same could be said for relationships – slowing down in the quest for a long-term commitment will produce a better outcome every time.

These days people are so quick to hook up, so quick to go “she’s hot” or “he’s hot” without bothering to find a deeper connection. I see a lot of couple’s who have met online and are trying to keep their relationship from turning to mud in their first year together.

Young people want to race into things so quickly and they can’t see the heartache awaiting them when they do. What often happens is that they’ll say ‘‘well I’m living here, you’re living there, let’s live together… Now we’re a couple….  let’s make our home a bit better and buy some furniture …and let’s get a pet.”

So they’ve bought all these things and they’re sailing along pretending (“it must be good because ’we’ve got a dog and a cat together!”) but they haven’t actually spent any time at all working on their relationship or their expectations about going forward.  What happens is a lot of people get trapped in that and they don’t know how to get out of it.

So it’s worth investing that precious time in the early stages – date someone first, get to know them slowly, work on the relationship because it might save heartbreak in the future. People need to ask themselves: “Is there a long-term commitment required here”? A mistake many people make is that they are looking for a partner on the surface, especially on dating apps “– it’s all he’s hot, she’s hot… she’s having a great life so she must be fun …”

Sure, that person might look good but hey the proof’s in the pudding. There has to be something deeper. How do you find that deeper level with someone – go on dates, talk, go back to conversation. You go home from the date and think about that person. Stay off social media and invest the time to talk with each other.

You want to make sure that that person you’re investing your time into is the right person – because 10 or 15 years is a long time in the wrong relationship. I see couples who’ve met online a lot and I often see people in the first 12 months of a relationship where the wheels are starting to come off. When they meet online, more often than not, they haven’t taken the time to talk to that person, or gotten to know that person.

There are online success stories, definitely, but for every success there’s at least a dozen that’s a failure. Value time, don’t waste it, because it will save a lot of heartache in the long run. Ask yourself the question: “Am I prepared to make a long-term commitment with this person”?  If the answer is no then respectful tell them and move on. And for those who want to know how to meet the right person in the first place; Be a nice person. Because if you’re superficial, that’s what you’re going to attract.

Why Relationship Coaching has more appeal

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Relationship CoachingYour new Team through Relationship Coaching

The last couple of posts have introduced you to why men find it hard to commence with relationship counselling and what often prevents them from doing so. You can get to part 1 here and part 2 here. Right now I want to introduce you to a new term. One that is a better descriptor of the couples counselling environment. The first post talked about how games are played and the rules around them. This is very appealing to a lot of men. And as well as that every boy knows, the best teams have the best coaches. The term I want you to familiarise yourself with is Relationship Coaching because it has a broader more inviting appeal to men but it really helps explain what is actually going on in the therapy room. Or perhaps more importantly what should be going on.

You see, ‘counselling’ suggests there is something wrong with me. Something I need to fix. Relationship Coaching on the other hand… well.. Just ask your man what he thinks. In the team environment, we all know our role and the expectations of others. We don’t want to let the team down. We are in this together and it is an equal partnership. The whole team, (the marriage partners), are responsible for the success of the team.

So, for many men, relationship coaching is a better descriptor for what should take place in the relationship counselling environment. It also has the added benefit of reducing the feelings around vulnerability and the experience of shame. Relationship coaching is exactly what it says it is. It is coaching the relationship. The way the language is used here is far more appealing to us men simply because it means that the relationship needs work, not me and not you but our relationship.

It also suggests that improvements can be made and a better relationship happens as a result. This is how you explain relationship counselling to your man. There is a game plan in place with an outcome in mind and rules to get you there. Contrary to popular belief, men have feelings too. We are just as emotionally available as women but without the experience of expressing them safely. We find it hard to put our feelings and emotions into words that articulate what we are experiencing in the moment.

To do so we risk becoming vulnerable to the person, you, that we care for and love the most. Just like in the team, we don’t want to let you down so we often shutdown. Don’t ask your man what he is scared of, ask him what vulnerable feels like. I am not going to tell you how scared I am but I might just tell you how vulnerable I feeling at this moment.


Until next time…

From a game of Footy to Relationship Counselling

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relationship counselling BrisbaneFrom a game of Footy to Relationship Counselling


We kicked off this series by using the analogy of a game, what the rules are and how to play. We also saw that relationship counselling aims to create winners: period! You can click here to read last week’s blog. 

Imagine for a moment playing a game and not being sure of the rules. That is going to cause some confusion for everyone. This is where the dumb looks and the finger pointing come in. And it’s where yelling and screaming starts and communication stops.

But I digress! Now this may be a huge generalisation but if us men don’t know the rules then we are unlikely to play the game well and in some cases, in fact, in a lot of cases, we just take the shutdown option. It is considered a male phenomenon, it is found frequently in male/female relationships and it’s called stonewalling! More on this later. You could say we have a Guy code. What it means to be a man. A real male in a male’s world. Well the only problem with that is we actually don’t know, who wrote those rules and who, if anyone enforces them.

So, to avoid any confusion and avoid the vulnerability bug, rather than look to our relationship to determine how we should act and behave we look to other males. And of course, there are men out there who do the man thing very well and then there are those who don’t. Unfortunately, we often put ourselves in the ‘those who don’t’ basket and this is really a comparison that is unhelpful and unnecessary. As boys, we are often told ‘what NOT to do’ rather than what to do. Don’t be a sissy, don’t cry etc. Boys rarely ever hear things like: “Explore your emotions”, “Get in touch with your softer side” and “Just allow yourself to be vulnerable”

But to have a really fulfilling relationship that is where we must go. To be more specific men need to allow themselves to be vulnerable. You see, men cannot, and I am generalising here again, allow themselves to become vulnerable because this looks like weakness. So, in many cases it is not that he is unwilling or uncaring, it’s just that he is unsure. The couples counselling environment, where you talk to a third person like myself is wrought with the potential to experience vulnerability and that is what he is avoiding.

Next week we will look at ways to help him see that relationship counselling is actually a good thing for you both and that there is ample opportunities to find his voice. Until then…


Getting him to Couples Counselling

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What does a game of footy have to do with Couples Counselling


couples counselling | Counselling BrisbaneSo hurray the footy season is over. That probably comes as a relief to many of you reading this. Not much of a fan myself but I do understand and appreciate the attraction to sports. The AFL played their final on Saturday followed by the NFL in Sydney on Sunday. Whatever your code I am sure you enjoyed the spectacle. Now you can get on with engaging your partner in meaningful conversation and perhaps even finally persuade him to come to couples counselling with you.

Getting your other half to counselling or therapy or coaching, whatever the case may be, is easier said than done. This brings me to a question.While thinking of him, answer this: “What is the difference between counselling and a game of footy”? Whatever code you, or he follows.It’s really quite simple actually, games have rules, logical rules, clear concise rules. Men are more comfortable and more willing to engage when they know the rules. And more importantly they know there is an end. Open ended discussions represent a mine field for a lot of men.

In footy you have a start and a finish. Whether its 80 minutes, 90 minutes or 2 hours, there is an end. There is an outcome. In most cases there is a winner. There are rules, regulations, penalties and tries and behinds depending on your code.All the team members, and the spectators, know the players part and position and how to play. There is really only one unanswered question in this space. Who will be the victor?

Granted there are uncertainties and ambiguous calls, golden points and replays, punch ups and sin-bins but by and large they fall within the rules and more importantly the expectations of each player on the field.However, the one glaringly obvious difference between the analogy of a game and the counselling room is that in the relationship counselling space the aim is that each partner, and the relationship to be the winners.

As a rule, we men love sports and particularly team sports. We are comfortable here because we know the rules and more importantly we know the expectations. Counselling on the other hand looks far more scarier and way, way, way unpredictable.In this series, we are going to look at why he is reluctant to talk about his relationship, what are some of the traps and misconceptions he might have and how to show him that, like a game of footy, there are rules and ways to play a better game.

But playing a better game means understanding ourselves better. Until next time…