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Unlocking Mental Well-being: iflow Psychology
Your Trusted Resource for Psychological Support

Your Sydney Psychologists, Australia.

Help: How to Improve My Relationship?

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

When we commit to a long-term relationship, partners expect to act together to realise mutual goals. Every couple, however, will experience relationship difficulties.

Couples will be confronted, and sometimes overwhelmed, by challenges. Most couples can deal with these challenges and move forward. Sometimes these challenges, however, leave each partner feeling alienated, alone and unable to resolve issues. As time passes, one or both individuals might consider separation.

Separation and divorce statistics are high. Many of the difficulties that threaten the survival of relationships, however, can be addressed and resolved. Good outcomes can be achieved if relationship issues are addressed early.

Relationship counselling can assist couples resolve difficulties and enhance the relationship. Attending relationship counselling is not just about resolving issues. Couple therapy is also about evolving the relationship. Relationship therapy can help couples learn how to rekindle the relationship.

It is recommended couples seek relationship counselling before issues arise. It is best to address relationship issues before they become entrenched.

Sometimes, relationship counselling is about helping two people separate. Where reunification is not an option, couple counselling can help a couple achieve a more amicable separation.

Sometimes the outcome of therapy is that couples need support to separate. This is the outcome when either both, or one party, see the damage to a relationship as irreparable. Separation can also result where differences are so significant, the relationship can no longer work. Counselling can help the separation process be smoother.

Family counselling is also beneficial where children are involved, to help all parties optimise relationships to ensure ongoing support for them.

Couple Therapy with a psychologist

What causes relationship problems? There are many factors that can contribute to problems in a relationship including:

Neglecting the relationship: The foundation of a happy relationship is friendship. This simply means: enjoying each other's company and sharing: values, interests, friends and extended family. It also relates to mutual care, support, understanding and ‘being there' for each other, working together as a team.

This friendship needs to be nurtured to grow, and not deteriorate. Life demands such as: work pressures, parenting and other personal issues can impact on a relationships. Such life issues can result in spending less time together and drifting apart with time, losing connection. Couples need to spend time together regularly, engaged in shared activities, talk and make plans.

Conflict: Unresolved and ongoing conflict leaves us feeling angry, disappointed, frustrated and/or hurt. Conflict needs to be managed effectively to avoid driving your partner away or leaving them feeling resentful.

We often expect our partners to change. We can change. We are less likely to consider changing, however, if we feel we are being: misunderstood, misjudged or attacked. Especially if we feel judged for: who we are, how we behave, or what we want, or need.

When one partner's request for change is perceived as criticism, the other partner is likely to be defensive. When conflict grows, criticism can cause contempt resulting in the partner blocking or ‘stonewalling'. These behaviours are detrimental to the relationship. Strategies to manage issues leading to conflict are needed.

The distress that accompanies arguments can bring out the worst in us and results in poor behaviours being displayed. This is counterproductive. When we are angry, we do not think clearly. We can say or do things we later regret and cause growing damage to the relationship.

It is important to calm down before tackling difficult situations. Attending psychological counselling can provide a neutral environment to work through sensitive issues. The counselling psychologist can act as an objective third party. The relationship psycholgist will also assist you to regulate emotions, clarify communications, and learn new ways of communicating and relating.

Poor management of differences: Differences between partners always exist. We are individuals with different values, priorities and ways of dealing with issues.

Couples might have different attitudes towards such day to day issues as:

  • Management of money,

  • Choice of holidays,

  • How much time we spend with family and friends,

  • How much time we spend together or alone,

  • How we express or show our love,

  • How to discipline children,

  • Where we send our children to school,

  • How we drive,

  • How tidy we are,

  • How much effort goes into buying presents, and so on.

We tend to see our way as the right way and our partner as wrong. We expect them to change. It is more sensible to find a way to manage these differences, rather than remove them.

Withdrawing: Determined to have our own way, we might let our partner know they are wrong by telling them. When that does not work, we might withdraw contributions from the relationship that our partner values. A man, for example, might stop discussing issues with his partner. A woman might stop showing interest in sex. This could also be the other way around. As talking and sex are important elements for feeling close to each other, both might feel misunderstood, despair, rejected and lonely.

Loss of compassion: We all want to be understood. Understanding does not mean agreeing. We do not want to be judged.

Being in a relationship requires us to tolerate differences to understand and empathise with our partner. We want to feel valued. Understanding and empathising are important for a relationship to develop mutual care and love.

If we do not obtain support from our relationship, we might look for support elsewhere. We might spend more time at work, spend time on the internet, etc. When a relationship is under stress, we might also rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms. Unhealthy coping mechanisms include: being moody, drinking alcohol, drug use, eating disorders and gambling. These behaviours can exacerbate the relationship difficulties.

Times of crisis: Understanding, compassion and friendship are particularly important when we experience a crisis.

Individuals act differently to life situations, including crises. Such issues might include:

  • Being retrenched from work,

  • The death of a parent,

  • Infertility or a miscarriage,

  • A child's disability,

  • Fire or drought, and so on.

These differences need to be understood.

Couples that work together as a team can work through and recover from life problems. When couples show mutual care and support they strengthen their relationship.

All relationships face difficulties, and most are resolved over time. Couples should consider seeking relationship counseling even before problems arise. This is to learn good communication. It also helps you to identify and understand each others needs. At least attend relationship counselling when issues first present. Don't wait until relationship issues become entrenched and harder to resolve.

On average, couples wait six years before seeking help after recognising a problem. Even then, only a small percentage seek professional help from a psychologist. Half of all marriages that end, do so in the first seven years.

It is best to seek professional help as soon as possible. The longer you ignore issues the more damage can be done to the relationship.

Happy couple after relationship counselling

Tips for a loving relationship Keep your love alive by valuing and nurturing your relationship in the following ways:

  1. Invest in your relationship: Plan regular time together doing something you both enjoy.

  2. Regulate emotions: When conflict arises, calm yourselves and take time out. Discuss issues later when you are both relaxed, rested and have time to talk.

  3. Manage conflict: Learn to recognise challenging dynamics in your relationship that result in arguments spiraling out of control and remaining unresolved.

  4. Improve communication and listening: Listen to what your partner is saying and acknowledge what you have heard. Learn to express your needs in a constructive way.

  5. Improve empathy and understanding: Step into your partner's shoes to understand their position. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst. Be curious and seek to understand why your partner is acting the way they are?

  6. Teamwork: When there are difficulties, talk about what ‘we' can to do about the issues. Look for a mutually satisfactory, win/win outcome.

  7. Be supportive: Support your partner in difficult times. Encourage them in work, friendships and leisure activities. Also, accept support from your partner when needed.

  8. Be positive: Keep your sense of humour and have fun. Ensure positive experiences in the relationship outweigh negative experiences by five-to-one.

  9. Accept responsibility and apologise: When mistakes are made, admit it (own it!), accept your contribution to ruptures and work to repair the damage.

  10. Express gratitude and appreciation: Show appreciation for your partner's caring actions, skills, abilities and personal attributes.

  11. Maintain respect and standards: Always be respectful. Be prepared to be influenced by what is important to your partner. Your partner also needs to be prepared to be influenced by you. Maintain your partner's trust through treating them as you would like to be treated, and by being honest with them.

Seeking professional assistance Ideally, both partners will agree assistance is required. Each individual will want to gain a new perspective, try something different, and remove barriers to mend the relationship.

Men are often more reluctant. It does take courage to address your relationship issues but it is not something that should be avoided.

If your partner is reluctant or unwilling to seek help, then it can be helpful for you to seek help first. You cannot make your partner change, but changes you make can influence the dynamic in your relationship.

How can a Counselling Psychologist help? At iflow psychology, we start by meeting with a couple first, if both are willing to attend. Each individual is then seen for one session. This individual session explores the individual's history. It also considers any personal matters that might be impacting on the relationship. Therapy then continues with the couple together.

It up to four sessions to identify the issues. Most couples start seeing benefits before six sessions. While weekly sessions are recommended, initially couples can reduce the frequency of their sessions to fortnightly or monthly as therapy progresses.

Therapy is about encouraging open communication, understanding and empathy, as well as problem solving. During therapy, each member of the couple is encouraged to focus on changing the way they communicate. The dynamics or interactions between the two are also observed. The couple are assisted to understand how their relationship dynamic maintains the issues they experience. Relationship dynamics that are impacting negatively are challenged. While therapy can be challenging it should also be a positive growth experience.

When to seek professional help It is best to seek counselling early. This allows you to optimise your communication. Couple counselling can help prevent further ruptures in the relationship. Ruptures in a relationship can escalate with time. This can lead to further damage to the relationship, making it harder to repair. Seeking relationship counselling early helps make it a much more positive and enjoyable experience.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing difficulty with relationship or marriage issues, support is available. If you need further assistance please contact iflow psychology or book an appointment. You can book an appointments online, or by calling my friendly admin staff on 02 6061 1144.

iflow psychology offers in-person (face-to-face), telehealth and telephone counselling. We are registered psychologists. We also offer Medicare Rebates when you have a doctors referral and Mental Health Plan. We would love to be part of your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Location Details: iflow psychology is located in Leichhardt Inner West Sydney NSW Australia

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article are suggestions only. It is always advisable to speak with your treating doctor and health professionals before making changes. This is particularly important if you have health concerns or have existing medical conditions.

(c) 2021 Dean Harrison

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