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Couples Counselling

Seek Relationship Help

Although in fairy tales, the prince and princess live happily ever after, those of us in the real world know that relationships are actually hard work. It is no surprise that couples often seek professional help when the going gets tough. Some common reasons people present for couple counseling include:


  • Communication break down

  • Money pressures

  • Sexual incompatibility

  • Lost the 'spark'

  • Infidelity

  • Imbalance of power

  • Lack of trust

  • Living separate lives

  • Problems with extended family

  • Empty nest and adjusting to major change

  • Adjusting to parenthood

  • Different ideas on child rearing, lifestyle, friends, finances, etc

Often, relationship problems occur when the couple's communication has broken down, or, an event (such as an affair, the birth of a child, or when children leave home) has occurred which throws the relationship out of balance. Learning how to live harmoniously with your partner is a skill which can be taught.

Couples Therapy: CBT and ACT

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a specific approach to psychological treatment which has been shown to be highly effective for many different types of issues. CBT helps you to examine the negative patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving which can become habitual and lead to unhappiness. In couples’ therapy, this means identifying your negative patterns of interacting with your partner and learning how to challenge and adjust them back into more helpful ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.


CBT for couples also emphasises the importance of behaviour change. Many couples realise that their relationship has somehow become 'last priority' in their lives. Your therapist will suggest specific techniques to redress this and help you to learn how to put the relationship higher up the priority list, for good. Couples CBT also helps people to learn how to communicate more effectively, by teaching specific, research-based communication skills.

CBT for couples is not about blaming one partner for all the problems, or about 'fixing' one partner. In every relationship there are two people who are responsible for how the relationship is or isn't working. Rather than focusing on what your partner can do to change, CBT focuses on what YOU can do to change the relationship - and if both of you focus on changing your own patterns, then both partners change, and the relationship is greatly improved.

An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach to couples counselling also explores each person's thinking habits, using mindfulness techniques to help people disengage from problematic thoughts which interfere with the moment. ACT therapies focus on developing compassion for the self and for the other and identifying values to help the relationship evolve to a different, more satisfying level. Although relatively new, ACT approaches to couples are demonstrating very positive results in the research.

Treat Yourself Well Sydney psychologists and clinical psychologists use a combination of CBT, ACT and mindfulness techniques tailored to each couples' specific needs.

What if we're not sure if we still want to be a couple?

If you are feeling ambivalent about whether you want the relationship to continue, or if you are sure that you want the relationship to end, couples’ counselling can still be of use to you. In this case, CBT for couples may help you to end the relationship in a respectful and useful manner, avoiding the destructive aggression that many couples go through when a relationship ends. If one or both partners are feeling undecided about whether or not to keep the relationship going, individual sessions may be recommended with the aim of helping the decision-making process.

What happens if couples counselling isn't right for us?

In couples’ therapy, it is standard practice for psychologist to assess you first as a couple, then assess you for one session each individually. Following this, the psychologist will see you again as a couple to give you the results of the assessment and to discuss the treatment plan. This is all part of the assessment process, and it allows the psychologist to gather important information about how you interact as a couple, as well as get to know you both individually.

Individual therapy and couple’s assessment sessions take one hour.  There may be an additional one-hour session in which the therapist gives you feedback from the assessment and where the treatment plan is discussed. Ongoing couple sessions after the assessment phase go for one hour.

How long will it take?

  • Combating the physical symptoms of stress - through breathing retraining and learning muscle relaxation techniques. Controlling stress at a physical level is a crucial skill to master in combating stress.

  • Dealing with internal demands - we all have an internal dialogue, a conversation inside our heads, which operates in our daily life. This narrative has a major influence on our feelings and actions. Not all thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes that we hold are necessarily helpful or useful to us. Stressed people tend to think thoughts which increase their stress in everyday situations. Thoughts like these which tend to be unhelpful are known as 'negative thoughts'.
    Stress management teaches people to identify and change those negative thoughts which are contributing to their stress levels. For example, a person might have the unrealistic belief that "I must please people all the time". This belief may then lead the person to working until all hours, in order to 'please' the boss. Cognitive behavioural stress management strategies helps the person to identify and change this belief. In this case, the person's new, modified belief may be "You can't please everyone all of the time, and I'm not going to hold onto any more unrealistic expectations of myself."

  • Dealing with environmental demands - Environmental demands are the practical, unremarkable, everyday things that add further pressure and strain to our lives. There are some useful strategies which you can use to help cope with these demands. These may include learning assertiveness and communication skills, problem solving skills, goal setting, and time management.

  • Looking after yourself - through diet & exercise change, getting good social support, and making sure there is lots of laughter in your life.

Couples therapy usually lasts around 6-12 sessions, firstly on a weekly basis, then moving to fortnightly and then monthly appointments, as you learn to implement the skills you have learned in counselling.

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