Couples Counselling and Marriage Counselling in Melbourne
Relationship Facts: Emotional distance, not conflict, destroys relationships and marriages; how couples fight is far more important than what they fight about; relationship and marital conflict occurs when one partner doesn’t see the other as reachable and responsive; severe breaches of trust can be repaired; being in a loving relationship helps us (particularly men) regulate stress and physical pain; humans never outgrow the need for a secure relationship.
We help repair relationships. If your relationship needs help, call us now on 0400 999 918.
Can Couples Counselling Or Marriage Counselling Help You?
Through the works of John Bowlby, Hazan & Shaver, and Dr Sue Johnson over the past 30 years, we now know how love works. To be in a close, intimate, emotionally connected relationship buffers us from stress, making us stronger in facing life’s many challenges. Touch and intimacy develops mirror neurons in our brain which enables empathy. A strong relationship IS the best recipe for happiness as well as good physical and mental health. And it is a potent antidote to ageing.
But relationships that start out so well can also go drastically wrong. While every relationship has its ups and downs, all too often partners end up hurting, exhausted, and no longer able to communicate.
Many issues can put strain on a relationship, and even more so when multiple problems arrive at once. For example, financial problems are a huge burden, as are differing expectations, hopes and views regarding money. The care of a sick relative or of a child with addtional needs may fall more heavily on one partner than on the other. Differing parenting styles can also cause conflict.
Listed below are some of the issues couples bring to counselling. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Sometimes it’s possible to resolve problems without outside help. However, more difficult problems can prove insurmountable, and that’s when professional help can prove essential. Couples issues are highly complex, but a specialist in couples counselling, who has in-depth experience and training in this field, can help repair your relationship.
Why Couples or Marriage Counselling Can Help
Counselling can help because there is a science behind love. It may sound strange for ‘love’ to be described that way but love really is about bonding or as it is known in psychology, ‘attachment.’ After 30 years of scientific research, clinical studies, laboratory experiments, and applied therapies into attachment and adult bonding, we now know that love is logical, practical and understandable. It is not mysterious or magical and it’s certainly not something we fall in and out of (apart from the honeymoon phase). ‘Chemistry,’ the term many use to describe attraction to their partner is really a specific, organised structure to optimise safety and the survival of our human species. It’s a strategy hard-wired into our brains. We now know that:
Humans never outgrow our need for a strong secure attachment bond – the certainty that our partner is on our side or has our back – especially in times of need.
Emotional distance – not conflict – destroys relationships and marriages.
How couples fight is far more important than what they fight about.
Relationship and marital conflict occurs when partners don’t see their partner as reachable and responsive.
Contented couples attribute 20% of their happiness to a satisfying sex life; while unhappy couples ascribe about 65% of their distress to sexual problems. In short, if couples have a satisfying relationship, sex life tends to be largely satisfying too.
Severe breaches in trust can be healed when partners can build or re-build the attachment bond to create emotional safety.
We are driven biologically to keep our loved one close. We can’t help it. It’s hard-wired in our brain. To know we can rely on our partner is not a matter of choice but a necessity. We want to know that in our moment of need, our need will matter to our partner. We want to feel secure that if we call, our partner will be there for us. This is not being needy or being immature, it is about safety, security and survival.
Our need to bond and attach begins at birth and lasts a lifetime; from cradle to grave. This primal need for a deep bond with a significant other is played out in an emotional dance of love/attachment in 5 basic steps, which are demonstrated in this short video about Attachment:
Step 1 – We call out to invite connection. If parent/caregiver/partner is responsive, attachment builds. But…
Step 2- If we don’t get a response….
Step 3 – We protest, push and call out again OR we shut down, turn away to protect ourselves from rejection
Step 4- We finally go into meltdown (panic expressed through clinginess, tears, anger) OR we shut down to protect ourselves from shock, hurt, rejection (expressed through withdrawing, retreating)
Step 5 – In a good relationship, we find a way to reconnect.
As Ed Tronik says in the video, ‘we need emotional response and loving contact like we need oxygen.’ This makes so much sense.
But what if you can’t reconnect with your partner? You try multiple ways and he/she doesn’t want to talk about it? You are left feeling frustrated, insecure, alone. You try again but he/she answers with the usual "I don't know" or minimise your worry and you feel dismissed. You keep trying but your partner withdraws or shuts down and is simply unresponsive? Or they become defensive and deflect the problem? You may end up feeling ignored, abandoned and fatigued.
Or what if you can’t respond out of feeling pressured, overwhelmed or blamed? Or you feel put down, criticised, anxious or not good enough? You are also frustrated your partner is bringing up stuff repeatedly. And you dislike conflict and try to shut it down to avoid fighting. Or the pressure becomes too much so you defend yourself, fight back and end up feeling horrible but you don't know what else to do.
When partners reach the above positions, the attachment bond is compromised. Partners are stuck at disconnection in a pursuer withdrawer cycle. Neither partner will have their emotional needs met. Disconnected partners feel insecure, inadequate and unsafe in the relationship. When we do not know how to navigate our way out of a negative interactional cycle, to safeguard our attachment bond with our partner, we experience an overwhelming fear neurologists call ‘primal panic’. In this state, we tend to simply react rather than thinking first about how to respond. Primal panic can show up as anxiety that makes us push our partner to provide what we need. Or primal panic can take the form of running away, withdrawing or freezing where we tune out or shut down from our partner.
A relationship in which partners cannot reconnect is a relationship that cannot last. This is why it can be so intense when couples fight—they are fighting for that primal bond that is necessary for the relationship to continue. The stakes are high, which makes this drama necessary. In every relationship, there are painful moments of disconnection. But when partners are able repair the disconnection and restore the emotional connection/bond, then the relationship becomes safe again.
Depending on your attachment style, you may either be the partner that protests, pushes for connection (the partner who usually experiences the meltdown) or the partner that withdraws, retreats or freezes to avoid conflict (the partner who usually experiences the shutdown). There is no right or wrong attachment style. As adults, we now have choices of how best we can seek our cradle to grave attachments needs met by our loved partner. Neither partner is at fault. We tend to either force our partner into responding through angry demands or simply withdrawing and hiding our needs. In both situations, we do so to feel less vulnerable.
Even in a good solid relationship, unresolved disconnections over the years can turn into major 'stuck points,' particularly if these disconnections occur during times of stress, illness, loss, or other challenging life events - which they inevitably do. This is when the fights start to feel repetitive - different details, same fight. As humans, we simply need to know we can reach our partner in times when we feel vulnerable. We need to know our partner will respond. We need to know that our partner has our back. Period. And if we cannot reach our partner and connect, the negative cycle of disconnection persists.
How Couples Counselling & Marriage Counselling Can Help
Do you recognise any of these patterns in your relationship? Sometimes when we don’t know what to do or are in emotional pain ourselves, we can hurt the one we love most. It can be better. At ARM our marriage counsellors and psychologists can help couples repair their relationship and help build closer, connected, intimate bonds.
Our preferred model of therapy is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT or EFT), one of only two approaches to marriage counselling and couples counselling that is endorsed by the American Psychological Association. It is the only evidence based model supported by 20 years of empirical research. 90% of couples report a significant improvement in their relationship, and 75% of couples move from painful disconnection and distress to recovery.
Relationship problems that are left unresolved will sooner or later lead to the breakdown of the relationship. Research has shown that couples wait an average of 6 years before seeking Marriage Counselling or Couples Counselling. Don't wait that long. Don't risk your relationship and happiness. Don’t wait for the secure and emotionally connected love you want for your life. Call us on 0400 999 918 for a confidential discussion or send us an email.