A while ago I was trawling through the internet for relationship gems, as I do, and I came across an old article from "The Age" Newspaper written by a journalist named Seamus Bradley. Now I don't know Seamus but I really liked his perspective on men and couples counselling and thought I would share it with you here.
In the 9 years since the article was written, women are still the main initiators of divorce and are more likely to seek help for relationship issues whether their partner goes with them or not. Unfortunately it has also been shown that women who seek individual counselling for relationship issues are more likely to leave the relationship. This could be because it is the person who is receiving the counselling is learning and growing and changing while their partner is not and they grow apart. But anecdotally I also know of occasions where counsellors seeing only one person in the couple, have encouraged it - the view being that if your partner is causing you this much pain you are better off leaving him. This individual perspective does not consider the complexity of a couple's relationship space and what each person in the couple contributes to it. This relationship space can only be worked on with both partner's present.
So men don't put your head in the sand - be present, learn and grow together...take comfort from Seamus and go for it. You have nothing to lose and you may just gain more than you can imagine.
How men can survive couple counselling
The four little words "we need to talk" frighten men more than anything else. But it doesn’t have to be that way, writes Seamus Bradley in "The Age" newspaper August 7, 2003
Many years ago, my mother discovered through therapy that "dysfunctional" was a synonym for "family" and within a year she and my father had split - despite the best efforts of a couple counsellor.
Nearly 20 years later, my father told me he had no idea why she left. He loved her, he said. "I just can’t understand it."
For years, my siblings and I had been convinced that breaking up was the best thing they had ever done for each other (and for us), but that one small piece of information placed our belief in doubt.
I told my mother, as delicately as I could, and she said: "Well, he never told me".
This kind of situation is the basis of all drama. Characters who fail to communicate properly act out of their assumptions with disastrous consequences. It has spawned a million novels, movies, plays and a self-help publishing phenomenon with catchy titles and a single important message: learn to communicate.
Every day, people just plain misunderstand each other. Women either know this better than men or are usually more willing to talk about it.
Though the culture has evolved since my parents’ break-up, human nature has not. Nevertheless, an increasing number of men are taking up the challenge of counselling - often as the result of a last-ditch, let’s-save-this-relationship-or-I’m-outta-here ultimatum.
Many men go kicking and screaming (if only internally) to couple counselling. What’s the point of all this yammering, we think, haven’t we talked about the issues endlessly for years? Anyway, couldn’t messing with men’s heads produce soulless, Stepford husbands or worse, something neurotic that just won’t shut up - like Woody Allen?
Among the reasons my parents split was my father’s unwillingness to take part fully in counselling. He did go along to a few meetings but quit when it became uncomfortable. And there’s nothing surer than couple counselling will get uncomfortable, especially for the bloke. For a start, the whole thing is conducted in a language men find painful - plain English. No frills, no evasions, no escape.
You will hear lots of stuff about yourself you won’t want to know, but the most awful thing you encounter will be encouragement to talk about how you feel. And bad as that may feel, that’s a good thing.
Men are rarely encouraged to talk about how we feel, so we take it as a golden opportunity. Let fly. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and you make more progress.
It’s best to admit early on that you have feelings, even if only microscopic ones. And replacing "I think" with "I feel" can have a profound outcome on how arguments are curtailed and issues resolved.
For instance, saying "I think you are trying to annoy me" can cause a fight, but saying "I feel you are trying to annoy me" is not debatable. No one can tell you what you feel.
And there’s another way to get all that talk to stop sooner rather than later. Remember to say "me" and "I" when you mean "me" or "I".
Sure, everyone in the room knows you mean yourself when you say something like: "You get a real bad feeling when things go haywire".
But they like you to own the feeling (I’m not making this stuff up, honest). Not arguing about it saves time, which in turn saves money because you get to the issue earlier, which means it can get sorted out quicker.
With the help of a skilled counsellor, you might even discover that what you’ve been arguing about isn’t the issue at all. There are two sides to every story but the truth is rarely anywhere in the middle; it’s probably about to hit you from behind with a baseball bat.
For instance, couples often invent a shorthand and make assumptions. Discussing your issues with a trained counsellor means the counsellor can interject, asking what one or other of you mean by a phrase you both commonly use. Explaining in plain English allows your partner to grasp, often for the first time, what you were really saying all along.
When you’re wrong (and boy, will you ever be) admit it, deal with it and move on. (If you think your partner is wrong say: "I feel you’re wrong there.")
Don’t lie. Even if there’s no way you’ll get found out, it’s still a waste of time and money. Men have issues, too (shock, horror), so make sure you talk about things from your point of view. You’ll get better at this with practice and get more out of the sessions, too. If you’re angry say "I feel angry" about whatever it is.
If you don’t like the counsellor, feel they are incompetent or think he or she is working against you as an individual or as a couple, get a new one (but discuss it with your partner first: "I feel the counsellor is working against us," etc). If it’s only a ruse to delay getting to the issues, don’t bother.
And it’s not all talk (whew!). There’ll be plenty of ideas of what to do to improve your relationship and - though the whole thing does feel like a wrench - you will acquire the "tools" and strategies to repair the relationship all by yourself (I’m still not making it up).
Though they never really managed it in their own marriage, my parents knew what the priorities should be. They exhorted us to communicate, to compromise and to work on our relationships.
But nobody ever really says straight out how hard it is to have a contented, successful relationship or that it doesn’t happen the way it’s portrayed in the movies, a happy accident clinched with a kiss.
Mostly that’s because, at their heart, relationships are as baffling as the individuals in them. So while counselling can bring clarity, restore happiness or make you realise the person you first dated hasn’t changed that much after all, there’s no magic relationship-by-numbers formula, no instant resolutions. There’s only goodwill, time, effort and - the essential ingredient - fun.
But even if you break up after all that counselling, you will have had the chance to gain tremendously. If you go with it, chances are you will be more communicative, less inclined to trust to dumb luck, know how to break destructive habits and be far more able to manage relationship issues on your own.
You will also have had the satisfaction of having said everything you wanted to say, maybe even resolved a few things. Sure, there may be regrets, but you won’t be left wondering years later, as my father was, how it all went wrong.
In a relationship fix? Get it fixed
Fact 1:Failure to communicate is taking its toll on men’s physical and emotional health resulting in high rates of depression and suicide.
Fact 2: Women initiate up to 70 per cent of break-ups.
Rosalie Pattenden, a senior psychologist with Relationships Australia, says such facts show "that some men have to make changes in the way they relate or they’ll lose their families".
Only a minority of Australian couples - between 15 and 20 per cent - have attended relationship counselling but, despite a traditional male view that couple counselling is shameful or a sign of failure, many men are taking up the challenge.
Pattenden says men still trail women in initiating counselling but the gap has narrowed from 100 per cent a couple of decades ago to about 8 per cent now.
The change is due to an ongoing transformation in male attitudes and to changes in counselling methods, she says.
Today most people realise that counsellors are like consultants in that they "resource you to make your own choices and to find your own way", she says.
Most couples find counselling strengthens their relationship - sometimes making it healthier than it has ever been.
"They learn to understand each other better, to know where each other is coming from, to meet each other’s needs better and to find ways to sort out their own problems." Such turnarounds happen even after affairs and violence, she says.
Pattenden would like to see couples go to counselling the way they go to the motor-mechanic, at the first sign of trouble and for regular servicing.
"Sometimes it’s not until men lose their families that they see that it was really the emotional wellspring of their life," Pattenden says.
Relationships Australia: 9835 7570; Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978; Lifeline: 131 114.
And Of course Catriona at connection101: (07) 3103 0328