When a couple marry, expectations are high – their marriage is going to be different! “We aren’t going to fight or disagree… Our love is going to last forever and forever and we’re going to live happily ever after… My partner may have a couple of teeny weeny flaws, but that’ll change soon after we marry… I’m never going to feel sad or lonely again…Marriage is 50/50…”

How long after the wedding does it take to realize that the above assumptions are a load of nonsense?   All couples have problems, and while most of us would prefer to blame our partner for them, realistically, we both contribute to them. Marriages fail because couples fail to learn from the past; fail to adapt to changing conditions and fail to predict probable future problems and make attempts to avoid them.

Most of us have flawed assumptions about one another, but we don’t want to believe those assumptions might be flawed. So often we focus on our partner’s weaknesses while completely ignoring their strengths. We might believe that if our partner changed, our relationship would be wonderful, but realistically, we can only change ourselves or adjust our expectations of our partner. We cannot ever change another person. The best way to change your relationship is to focus on becoming a more effective partner yourself.

Communication would have to be the number one presenting problem in couples seeking help. Some of the ineffective things we do in our marriages that affect communication include blaming; attempting to dominate; disengaging or withdrawing when things don’t go our way; resentful compliance; whining; or denial that there’s anything wrong. Often these things start off as an occasional behaviour, but then we do them over and, they become habitual and before we know it, we have developed negative cycles of communication.

One of the saddest things I come across as a counsellor, is that many couples wait until it’s too late to seek help. Even sadder, they often eventually move into a new relationship and repeat the same patterns over again. One of the major aims of couples’ therapy is to help people increase knowledge about both themselves, their partner and the patterns of interaction between them, so they can apply that knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.

What kind of life do you and your partner want to build together? Are you being the partner you aspire to be in your marriage? In coming weeks we’ll look further into this topic.

Jenny Billingham

(If you have a topic that you’d like more information about and think might interest other parents, please don’t hesitate to email me with suggestions at j.billingham@mueller.qld.edu.au  Thanks.)