CommunicationIt is very difficult to arrive at a destination if you don’t know where you are going. If I gave you a box and asked you to deliver it to a town out west, you wouldn’t simply accept that. You would want to know more details including the name of the town, the street, the street number and to whom you were delivering.

However, when it comes to the things that we want in our relationships, we tend to use very vague or generic terms. Since these terms are not clearly defined we have no idea how to get there.

We are famous for such vague statements as “I want more money” without defining how much money. So if I give someone who says this five cents, then they have got more money. While they now have more money it certainly won’t be what they want.

Usually when I ask couples “what do you want in your relationship?” I get vague responses such as “I want to be happy”. What exactly does happy mean? What is happiness for one person is not happiness for another person. We need to have a clear vision of what makes up this happiness. We need to define what happiness means for us. Defining things takes effort to do, and that’s why most people shy away from it and settle for continuing to use vague terms. Unfortunately, without clearly defining what happiness is we are never going to move towards it nor achieve it.

Because many people struggle with answering this question in a clear and defined way, I use a technique with my clients called the miracle question. The Miracle question goes like this “if you went to sleep tonight and a miracle occurred overnight, and the next day you woke up, and your relationship is how you would like it to be, describe what you see which is different to what you’ve had in the past?” In other words, if you can imagine that everything is how you want it, what does it look like.

The miracle question can start to give you an idea of what you want in a relationship. Once you get a general idea, it is time to get specific.

Make a list of at least five things that you want in your relationship. It could look like this list.

For him to take the time to listen to me when I am upset and to be there for me without telling me to get over it
For us both to share household responsibilities at home
For us to spend time together talking each day without interruptions from mobile phones, kids and TVs.
For us both to have our own hobbies as well as joint hobbies
For us to plan activities that we will both enjoy
Now compare your list with your partner’s list. What do you have in common and what do you have that is different?

Plan to implement first those things that you have in common and then plan to implement those things that are important only to one of you. If it is important to one of you, then having that happen within the relationship will result in a happier relationship.

Deciding what you want is an important first step in making beneficial changes in your relationship. The next step is to be able to communicate your feelings and ideas around what you want. We’ll cover that in another tip.

© Tracey Janke – StartPoint Counselling 2018

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Smartphone usage is becoming an addiction for many people. So much so that there is now a term for it “Nomophobia” which is the fear of being without a mobile device or out of mobile contact. The addiction exists because of the reinforcing effect of smartphone usage. Compulsive dependence on smartphones appears to deliver a dopamine hit for the brain and dopamine is closely connected to the motivation-reward parts of the brain.

A pleasing text, a social update or a like on one of our posts make us feel good about ourselves. We feel a sense of achievement and validation. We need more of these feelings, and our phones offer endless possibilities to trigger a dopamine release.

We call our phones our connection to the world.  In reality, they skew our connection to the world by making us focus more on the people who are not present rather than those who are present with us. Our interpersonal connections with those close to us are hijacked by the desire to connect to the world around us through our electronic devices.

Recent studies by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex show the impact phones have in our close relationships. We don’t even have to be using them at the time. As long as they’re sitting in sight, the effect exists.

This effect is not noticed when the conversation with someone you are with is casual however if the conversation is meaningful the presence of a phone causes a decrease in the relationship quality. The study showed that couples were reporting less trust and thought that there was less empathy shown by their partners if a phone was present.

Studies done in the past indicate that because of the many options that phones present us with our attention is quickly diverted from what is going on around us. New research suggests that our phone represents to us the wider network to which we can connect. Unfortunately, this results in an inhibition of our ability to connect with the people physically around us.

It is also shown that higher levels of technology are associated with relationship conflict and produce lower relationship satisfaction. It is also believed that high technology use reduces people’s satisfaction with life in general and leads to depression.

When we pay more attention to our phone than our partner, it becomes like rejection in our partner’s eyes. It screams the message that you’re more interested in your phone than them, and they’re simply not worthy of your attention.

Rejection on whatever level it occurs tends to be painful. Hurt feelings result in the mood dropping, and you start to question your self-esteem. Over time anger and resentment result. No wonder the relationship satisfaction drops and depression increases.

It is common to believe that being momentarily distracted by your cell phone is not an issue but findings suggest that the more often this occurs when you are with your partner, the less likely it is that your partner is satisfied with the overall relationship.

Modern life supports the use of smart phones. Nobody is suggesting that we should stop using them. It’s not about trying to wind your life back to a pre-electronics era. It is however about finding a solution to work with what we have now.

Resolving the conflict

Sit down with your partner and determine to what extent the use of smart phones is impacting your relationship. Do this with the understanding that at times using a smartphone is essential.

Work out what is essential use and what is use that is merely distracting from and affecting the relationship

Next address the concept of a balance between what is essential in regards to your phones and what is needed to strengthen your relationship. Non-essential use of the telephone at times when we should be interacting with our partners damages the relationship. So work out what is an appropriate way of managing the non-essential use of the phone.

Determine where there are areas and times where phones need to be put away and not used. For instance the bedroom and after a certain time at night.

Always ensure that there are contingency plans when emergencies arise that might need the phone to have priority over the relationship. For example having a family member in the hospital means that you need to be always contactable.

(c) Tracey Janke – Startpoint Counselling 2017 – Relationship Specialist

As human beings, we are biologically programmed to be in a relationship, but we are also programmed for self-protection. In many relationships, a tug-of-war exists between these two programs with self-protection often winning out.

Because we know that not all relationships are beneficial for us, we approach any relationship with one question in mind. This is a question that we are not consciously aware of but one that determines what happens in the relationship.

To evaluate a relationship, we have a question which constantly plays through our head, and that question is “are you there for me?”, or we can modify to “do you have my back?” or “can I trust you?”. If we internally answer that question with a “yes”, then we feel that the relationship is safe, beneficial and worth pursuing. However, if we internally answer that question with a “no”, then a chain of events is put into motion which will ultimately cause issues within the relationship. A “no” answer will cause an emotional response, and that response comes from a part of our brain which stores memories, associated emotions and what we have learnt from them. Recall of memories and associated emotions is extremely quick. We react emotionally to the situation. This emotional reaction is not an overwhelmingly positive one. Depending on one’s life experiences the reaction can be quite severe. For example, if you have been in relationships where you felt you were always betrayed, put down and used, then anything that makes you feel that you are in a similar relationship will elicit a severe negative emotional reaction.

Once the emotional part of the brain is well and truly fired up the thinking part, or rational part of our brain starts to shut down, and we become ruled by the emotional part of our brain. This part of our brain is not thinking things through logically but is reacting based on past experience. If the reaction is severe enough that will trigger our fight-flight syndrome and we will return the perceived attack or remove ourselves from the situation.

In a relationship, we can be easily triggered by innocent statements made by our partners that due to our life experience elicit an emotional response, and we feel that we are being victimised or attacked. An emotional response triggering a fight-flight system may indeed elicit a response from us which will start to build into a heated confrontation. I’m sure many of you if not all of you have experienced this at some point in your relationship. There is nothing logical about arguments. Arguments do not solve anything. They are emotionally driven, and the main point of an argument is to defeat your opponent which in this case is your partner. In an argument, both of you start to allow the emotional part of your brain to run everything. You are only getting hurt. Even if you win, you still feel hurt.

A method that I teach my clients to deal with these situations is simple but takes a bit of practice. If our partners inadvertently say something which fires us up, then we need to ask a question which is “what do I think is happening here?”. The mere asking of this question requires you to re-engage the thinking part of your brain and helps to balance the emotional and thinking processes. If you are not capable of asking yourself that question, then your partner needs to ask you “what do you think is going on?” Once again, you’re forced back into using the thinking part of your brain.

It is important for us to be able to prevent the emotional part of our brain from ruling. Emotions are extremely important in the overall picture of things but if allowed to dictate your actions, you will end up with a way less than optimal result. Many people react to these situations as they deteriorate, in the belief that their partner is deliberately trying to make their lives hell and deliberately trying to hurt them. This is a belief which is based on past experiences.

Unless you take deliberate action to step in and interrupt the process, then you’ll keep getting the same old crappy result. Remember we are always asking the question “are you there for me?” If your belief system is based on a life experience that people let you down, then you will answer that question with a “no” triggering the whole emotional reaction and fight-flight. We can call that process default action which is the action you take without thinking. Only deliberate action (questioning what is really happening) changes the process that is happening in the present moment and with this change you can look forward to getting a different result.

Need some help with this process? Please contact me on 07 34581725.

(c) Tracey Janke – StartPoint Counselling 2017

April was a sad month. Some couples came to see me in the hopes of repairing their relationship, but they have left things to go to the point that extensive damage has occurred in their relationship. You cannot leave arguments, resentment and bitterness to build in a relationship without it poisoning that relationship. A word readily used to describe this is a toxic relationship. No matter what they attempt, there is this perception that each of them is trying to hurt the other and so there is a tendency to hurt the other one back. This level of damage will require a change in the perception of what their partner is trying to do before repair is possible. Leaving it too long before seeing a professional counsellor could mean the relationship cannot be repaired. There is just too much pain, and the perception of each other is so negative that the drive and commitment to rebuild the relationship is not there for one partner.

Getting help before it is too late greatly increases the possibility of repairing your relationship.
In every conflict, three levels of ourselves are impacted. 1st level to be impacted is the emotional level. At this level, we measure hurt and experience emotions such as rejection and betrayal. As the damage at the emotional level rises our perception level (2nd level) changes, and we see the person causing this pain as the aggressor whose intention is simply to make our lives hell. Finally, the behaviour level (3rd level) is impacted, and  we behave as a result of our emotional pain and perception.

As a result of our changed perception, we look at everything that is happening in the relationship through the distortion of “you are trying to hurt me”. On top of this, the emotional pain that we are feeling leaves us with the choice of either fight or flight. If it’s fight, then the issue escalates into conflict. If it’s flight, then the issue results in one person withdrawing while the other pressures them to respond. Either way, perception plays a big part.

The more we hurt, the more everything becomes about us. We become closed down to the possibility that anyone else could have anything significant to offer us. We just want to be soothed. We want the pain to go away. We want someone to recognise how much we are hurting, but the closest one to us is perceived as the originator of the pain.

To rebuild the relationship, it is necessary to understand that our partner is not the same as us and understand where they are coming from. It requires focusing on the other person. If you are both doing this then perception and emotional pain can be understood and addressed. This sounds like a tall order, and it is because your relationship has been, so self-focused that the idea of moving outside of that is seen as impossible.

As a relationship specialist, I can help couples address the perception and pain issues and understand where each person in the relationship is coming from. You can try to repair your relationship yourself, but it will be difficult as you are both hurt and perceiving each other as the problem. Book an initial session with me, and you will quickly discover what I can do for you.

Don’t leave it too late. Act while your relationship can still be repaired.

© Tracey Janke StartPoint Counselling 2017

07 3458 1725 / 0409 272 115

upset childThe lives of children can be quite stressful – there’s the expectations of the school environment, study and exams, friendships and family relationships, and as the child gets older personal development, peer support and self-image. Then there’s the possibility of significant life events –an illness or a death in the family, parents separating and relationship breakups. Some of these events most people would find stressful, and some of that discomfort is a result of a feeling of being out of control.

Ideally, there will be someone in the family for the child to talk to, a parent, a grandparent, aunt or friend. What the child probably needs more than anything is the opportunity to speak, but in our busy lives, such opportunities can be hard to find.

Most parents try to create this time. There are times, however, when your child seems unable to express what they are feeling or what you notice as a change in their behaviour.

When do you know that the behaviour you are seeing in your child is a concern? When do you start to worry about a change in their behaviour? Clearly, that can get tricky because children do change as they develop. If you are worried talk to someone about it. If you have a GP, you can talk to that can be a good start to helping you decide what kind of help you need and who to go to.

Sometimes children can benefit from therapy. It may address some issues the school has told you about, attention difficulties, difficulty managing tasks and getting upset or angry or complains of being bullied or doing the bullying.

Some of the following things may cause you to worry

changes in appetite
spending more time in their room
Activities they previously enjoyed no longer of interest and nothing has replaced that enjoyment
increased periods of anxiety or sadness.

If your child does not share with you what is happening in their lives, you might find a family member they have confided in, or you could consider counselling. As a children’s counsellor at this practice, I would say that it is not always helpful to just refer the child to the counsellor to sort things out, without some background information. I would always recommend that the parent/s attend the first session either with the child or before the child attends, to enable a good understanding of the circumstances in which the child is living. All families are unique, and family dynamics vary.

Depending on the age of the child they may benefit from an opportunity to talk to someone independent of the family to help sort something out in their mind. At other times, it would be helpful for the family to attend some sessions with the child to enhance positive interactions in the family which will benefit the child, and in turn the whole family.

The counsellor can discuss these options with you at the first session or as sessions continue. In the situation where the child sees the counsellor alone issues around confidentiality need to be clarified.

The counsellor may also suggest that obtaining a Mental Health Care Plan from your GP to assist with the cost of sessions if your GP has not already suggested this as an option.

To see Di Clough under a Mental Health Plan, you would get $75.80 back from Medicare on a charge of $95 for a 1-hour session for a child under 18.

To make an appointment to see Di Clough or to obtain further information regarding counselling or Mental Health Plans, please call the office on 07 34581725.

Family-DisputeYou are born into this world into the arms of your parents (caregivers). Your parents will be your caregivers, teachers, coaches, providers, and protectors until you are ready to leave home. They respond appropriately to you ensuring that your needs are meet both physically and emotionally. As you grow, you use this secure base to explore the world and become independent. You grow into an adult who feels safe acknowledged and valued.

Wondering which fairytale that scenario comes from?  This ideal situation does occur but more often than not a child grows up with some elements of this scenario happening, but some other things creep in as well changing the scenario. The type of relationship that we have with our caregivers affects how we conduct relationships as an adult.

John Bowlby proposed the Attachment Theory. The basis of the attachment theory is summed up in saying “The child’s attachment relationship with their primary caregiver leads to the development of an internal working model (Bowlby, 1969).” This internal working model is a cognitive framework comprising mental representations for understanding the world, self, and others.  A person’s interaction with others is guided by memories and expectations from their internal model which influence and help evaluate their contact with others (Bretherton, & Munholland, 1999).

In other words, our experiences with our parents create within us the means by which we understand the world, ourselves and how relationships work.

If you are continually encountering the same problems in your relationships then understanding Attachment Theory. In the tables below there are three types of attachment. There are variations to this, but these are the basic ones. Have a look at the description in the column headed “Experience as a child” in all three tables. Do you identify with the description? If so look in the column headed “How life works for you as an adult.”  Is this your experience as an adult?


Secure Attachment
Experience as a child How life works for you as an adult
The child forms an emotional attachment to their caregiver who is sensitive, responsive and consistent in their interactions with them.


As the child grows, they start to use their caregiver as a secure base from which they explore the world and become more independent. They grow into an adult who feels safe, acknowledged and valued.

You trust yourself and make decisions on your self-knowledge.

You have the courage to make hard choices

You take responsibility and manage situations well.

You recognize your limits

You are willing to grow to achieve what you want or need.

You are generally accepted and liked by people

You generally like and accept others

You fully understand what you want or need, and can clearly communicate this.

When you ask for what you want or need you can live with what you get.

You work at making relationships successful

You try to do what is best for everyone involved.

You find joy in life, not just happiness.


Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment
Experience as a child How life works for you as an adult
Some adults are inconsistent with their parenting.

At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing, but on other occasions, they are intrusive and insensitive.

Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect.

They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent, but at the same time, they act clingy and desperate.

You are liked by people

You are a good person and a good friend.

You put yourself out to help others achieve what is important to them.

You try to please people.

You try to avoid conflict by keeping things inside

You bend and flex to what others want

You don’t let yourself feel the full extent of the anger and resentment that comes with being a people pleaser

You are very sensitive to your internal criticism and fears.

You suffer anxiety and fear by second guessing what will happen and whether people like you

You do so much for others

You try too hard, yet never feel it’s enough

You crave security and trust in relationships, but the fear of rejection causes you to pull back when things get too close




Avoidant Attachment
Experience as a child How life works for you as an adult
The caregiver is insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children.

They have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed.

They discourage crying and encourage independence.

Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves.

These children distance themselves from needing anything from anyone else.

They tend to be self-contained.


You are laid back, not pushy and not overly demanding of others.

You do what you’re told but not much else.

Your assessments of yourself are harsh, creating anxiety, and sometimes depression.

You want more distance and less involvement with others

You want to go at your pace

You can be quite stubborn and resist doing things the way others want you to do them.

You find safety in relationships through a lack of attachment or commitment.



Can you see how your childhood experiences can affect you as an adult? These attachment categories are not as clear cut as shown here, and it is possible to have some elements from each in your life.

I use Attachment Theory extensively in my work with couples and consistently the Attachment Style will predict the dynamics occurring in the relationship.

The good news is that the programming that happened in your childhood can be changed. If you are tired of repeating the same relationship patterns over and over again, then make an appointment with me, and I will show you how to put a stop to it.


© Tracey Janke 2016

StartPoint Counselling

07 3458 1725 / 0409 272 115




Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. Peter Pearson, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute and creators of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. I have found their model very useful in helping couples to understand the basis of their relationship issues.

The Development Model shows relationships going through five stages. The stage that you are at indicates how the relationship is developing. Relationship issues occur when each partner is on a different level.



The stages of relationship development are

  1. Bonding – We are a Couple
    This is the honeymoon phase. The concentration is on shared values, compatibility and spending time together.
  2. Differentiation – We are Different
    This is the stage where we start expressing individual desires, realise that our partners are different to us, and start to work out ways to manage those differences and to resolve conflicts.
  3. Practicing – I like my Independence
    Having developed individual desires in the previous stage, we now start to develop a strong personal identity apart from the relationship. We start to focus on what we want to do and develop our self-esteem.
  4. Rapprochement – Moving Close, Moving Away
    In this stage, we start to develop the ability to move towards a relationship as a couple and then be able to move apart as an individual. This stage sees more focus back on the relationship. A stronger connection develops  in terms of intimacy and trust and the relationship is considered in decision-making.
  5. Synergy – One plus one is greater than two
    In this final stage, the lines between the individual and the relationship become blurred. You are still an individual, you know your strengths, you know what you want and your self-esteem is strong, but you also understand that you are part of something greater and function as a couple.


I see couples in conflict because they are at different stages. Sometimes people want to stay in the honeymoon stage (stage I) and they just can’t understand why their partner wants to do things as an individual. However, their partner is starting to move on to stage 2. Conflict develops as one tries to pull the other back and the other tries to pull their partner forward.

Stage 3 can be particularly threatening, where one of the partners is really starting to live their individuality. If the other partner is at Stage 1 or 2, they can be left feeling alone and abandoned.

One of the things I do with couples is to teach them these various stages and work out where each member of the relationship currently stands. Once we understand where everyone is at, we find out what is keeping them stuck and what can be done about to rectify the situation.

Using this model I have achieved excellent success in resolving couples issues. If reading this article has given you a “lightbulb moment”, then give me a call on (07) 3458 1725 or send an email to . Relationships can be repaired. Understanding what’s happening in your relationship is the first step. With this knowledge, changes can be made and relationships can be repaired.

Relationships can be repaired. Understanding what’s happening in your relationship is the first step. With this knowledge, changes can be made and relationships can be rebuilt.

© Tracy Janke StartPoint Counselling 2016