Looking in the wrong places

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Looking in the wrong places

Looking in the wrong places | Brisbane counselling

If you are like me and often find yourself learning life lessons in the funniest and sometimes oddest ways, then this is a story for you. Alright, let me relay something that happened to me recently. This is about looking in the wrong places for the answer or perhaps finding the solution in a different direction. How does this relate to relationships? Well, let me tell you the story and we’ll see. Some years ago, we did a massive renovation on our current house.  As part of that renovation, we put in glass Bi-fold doors. Boy, are they impressive! They open the whole house to the back deck and pool. They’re sleek, easy to use, and a pleasant alternative to a sliding door.

However, not long after they were put in, they started playing up. Every time I would open the doors in the morning or close them in the evening the door would “catch” on the frame. Sometimes it felt as though the door was larger than the frame itself and slamming it was akin to shoving a sleeping bag back into its casing: frustrating and relentless. Trying to close the door would let out a god-awful screech that I’m convinced the whole neighbourhood could hear. It was deafening.

This wouldn’t do. So, I set about trying to fix it. I had friends over offering all kinds of advice.  We filed the door (Aluminium), whacked the Jam, blamed the summer heat for expanding the timber frame, the winter cold for dampening the wood and of course the builder for doing (what we assumed) a crap job. Still, no matter what: screech, screech, screech. I learned to live with it by simply either opening the door really quickly or painfully slow. Frustrating at the least. And even now I can imagine readers saying, “Why don’t you try this?” or “Duh, it’s simple. How about this…?”

Stop looking in the wrong places

Until one day it happened. After focusing for so long on the lockable, handled door itself and the (now filed and battered) frame it slammed against, I realised I had been looking in the wrong place. So, on this particular morning, as I opened the doors to let in the breeze, I saw it. Low and behold, here it was. The screech against the breeze, the wrestle in the morn and night, the slam against the wind: a broken hinge.

That’s right! The bottom hinge was broken! Snapped and useless. Tucked away between the folding doors and the other end of the wooden frame, out of sight, out of mind, almost as small as a packet of gum: a broken hinge. I immediately raced off to the makers and got myself a replacement hinge and peace was restored to the bi-fold doors. Do you have any idea how much a difference of 1-2 millimetres can make? It is purely amazing. And as it turns out, it’s quite a lot. Once I had replaced the hinge, a relatively simple job, the screeching stopped. I can swing on that door and not a hint of it catching. Not a simper of a screech.

So, the moral of this story is simple. Sometimes, when we are fully invested in blaming our partner, looking at problem behaviour or even addictions, the solution can and is often found in a completely different place. I spent all my time examining, studying and further damaging the leading bi-fold door, that I completely disregarded the smaller, simpler mechanics that could possibly contribute to the problem. It wasn’t until I had new perspective, took a step back and saw the whole picture that I was able to spot it.

So, I would encourage you, if you have a problem you are facing in your relationship and are unsure how to solve it, take a step back. Take two steps back. Take a look at your relationship and consider one thing. Could the solution to this problem lie somewhere else? Somewhere you haven’t looked. Perhaps somewhere obvious. Who knows? I get a great deal of satisfaction helping people look in other places for the solution to their relationship issues. Because that is where a lot of them are, in completely unexpected and different places.


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein.



Meeting the Expectations

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Unspoken expectations

Meeting the expectationsWhen it comes to meeting the expectations for each other one theme that constantly comes up in couples counselling are unspoken expectations. These always have the potential of wreaking even the strongest of relationships. To increase the likelihood of a successful partnership a couple should start talking about each other’s expectations. It never ceases to amaze me that so few couples talk about the expectations they of each other and the life they want to lead together. In this series we will look at four types of expectations that need not be part of your relationship. And the best way to do that is explore them.

The first cab off the rank is the ‘Unspoken Expectation’. This is where assumptions are make and casual remarks can become gospel. He says, “Yeah I’d like kids one day” and she hears “Ok, 3 kids in 5 years”. Finance is another potential minefield where she says “Ok, we live and love together and therefore we pool our money” and he is like “No way!, your money, my money”

The first requirement of each partner is to look at their own expectations for the relationship. Check to see if you are not asking the other partner to mind read, or that they should ‘just know’. If you don’t think you have talked about some expectations then you probably haven’t. It is time to start talking. It is good advice to talk about what each of you expect from the relationship including responsibilities, commitments, time together and the future. Talking means you discover if the expectations you both have are realistic, are they clear and, are they meeting the needs of each other and the relationship.

If they are unspoken then it is time to speak up. It is unfair on the other person if you have unspoken expectations and these ultimately lead to stress and miscommunication in the relationship.



Have constructive conversations

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Avoiding Male Relational Dread by having Constructive Conversations

Constructive conversations | Counselling Brisbane If you want to remind yourself what this series is about then go here, here and here. Male relational dread sounds like a disease. But thankfully its not. Improving communication and having constructive conversations with your husband or partner can be as simple as laying down some rules and having some agreed upon expectations. Here are a number of things you can do to increase the chances of having deep and meaningful’s or even having conversations.

Remember to start constructive conversations with a soft startup. Instead of launching into what he is not doing, what promises he is breaking, or even how he behaves, start by giving gentle strokes and suggestions. Men ain’t soft or need special sensitive treatment. You don’t need to treat them with kid gloves, but you do need to treat them with respect. If a conversation needs to be had then you both need to set some rules around that and agree to do them.

Just like women, men are looking for connection too. The intentions for men are meaningful and honest but when it feels like we are being cornered we push back and resist. Not intentionally but more instinctively. Its like a vortex opens up and we are at risk of getting sucked into the emotional and unpredictable (in our minds) world of the female world. One way of preventing him from falling back into old ways is tell him you want to discuss something important but then ask when is a good time to do so. It also helps to give him fair warning of what it is you want to raise. To many men it looks like you are asking for constructive conversations which is more appealing and safe.

Here is how constructive conversations might look. “Honey I know your mum wants to come and stay for Christmas and I wonder if we could find some time to talk about it. I know it can be a tricky topic but I would like to discuss some expectations around it, OK?” “When would be a good time?” When there is a clear path ahead and we know the topic, understand the reasons for the conversation and, most importantly, we see that it is not about us then we are more likely to come to the party.

Don’t mix up the conversation with other topics. This is a no-no for any couple that is having communication issues. Remind him that it is only a discussion and no solutions have to be found. At least not at that moment. You are both now in a position to hear each other and know the landscape. Remember if it looks like he is going to be reminded of his shortfalls then you are wasting yours and his time. Relationship counselling rooms are full of these stories.

If you do find that every conversation that has to be had ends in a fight then maybe its time to get some outside assistance. Having a third party present can and often does enable you to both have constructive and productive chats about serious stuff.




Men want connection

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Men want connection | Marriage counselling BrisbaneMen are wired differently to women. That is no secret! What is not widely accepted though is that men want the same thing as their partner, by and large. Men want connection, we want intimacy and not only the sexual kind. We want to share our lives and our thoughts fears and feelings. The woman’s world however often resembles a foreign country and a no-mans-land where only the brave or the foolish go. Or men who are considered by other men as ‘soft’ or ‘under the thumb’. Go here and here to read part 1 and 2.

Firstly men have feelings and emotions and we are pretty good at identifying them, most of the time anyway. When you ask us how we are feeling we go searching for the emotion but in the meantime you are moving on and asking us again. We are still formulating in our minds what feelings we have while you might think we are stalling. But the reality is now, we are starting to panic and dread is setting in. You often encounter ‘stonewalling’ at this stage.

According to author Stephen Bergman the process looks like this: When we reach a kind of impasse our immediate thought is disaster is inevitable and going into this discussion will only make matters worse. The second thought is that this will never end and time will cease to exist. The next outcome is irreparable damage. Anything we say or do at this point could spell the end of this relationship. And because we love her so much the closeness causes more dread.

The whole sense of things is precarious so we can’t trust that even a resolution won’t end up betraying me. Men now feel caught in a process where there are no landmarks, no footholds and nothing to grab onto. The fear now is that something uncontrollable will happen and all is lost. Women know this terrain and are familiar and comfortable in it. We are then racked with guilt for ‘not being enough’. Following this we fear aggression and deny it. It is not the aggression we fear but the fear and panic and losing of control. At this point we have lost the ability to engage in this conversation.

Incompetence and shame are now biting at our heals. I am now ashamed at my perceived ‘incompetence’ which leads me to paralysis and the dread just doubles down. Everything we were afraid would happen is now happening but it is bigger and scarier than we care to admit. Most men at this point do the one thing they know to do and that is run. But do not fear there is away to stop the overwhelming feeling of dread and learn to embrace the opportunity to communicate better.

Next week we will look a those ways we can connect and stayed connected.



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…