Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Communication, Couple's counselling, Couples, Relationships

Do you need communication help for your relationship?

Five common communication mistakes I see in couples counselling.

Do you and your partner struggle to have conversations on your own without it resulting in major conflict? Or have you been avoiding conversations because the idea of conflict and anger is overwhelming? Couples counselling helps facilitate these conversations so they are productive and each person is heard. And a couples counsellor will help the couple learn new communication skills – so they can keep talking long after they’ve finished seeing a therapist.

Have you ever wondered why communication with your partner doesn’t go well? The following are the five top communication mistakes I see and work on with the couples. Some over-achieving couples make all five! So if you recognise one or more from your own marriage, partnership or key relationship, please don’t be too hard on yourself. They are common mistakes that show up in one way or another in almost every relationship at some point. But they can lead to resentment and disconnection if they are not worked on.

1. Criticism

“You are so negative about everything….”

Let’s face it, everyone does it. Criticism becomes a real problem in the relationship when there is nothing else good in there. You need a lot of goodwill in a relationship to survive a lot of criticism from your partner.
When someone has a complaint that needs to be heard, I help them to say it in a way that does not make their partner feel attacked. Criticism is habit-forming. And it also increases with stress and anxiety – so one of the key things I do is look at what’s causing the stress and pressure in the relationship.

2. Defensiveness

“But I tell you I love you all of the time…….”

This happens when one person counter attacks the other, usually in an attempt to avoid criticism. It’s frustrating and hurtful for both parties – and it doesn’t help get anything resolved! Just like criticism, defensiveness can become the default behaviour, and therefore an ongoing dynamic in a marriage or relationship.

I help people to really listen to the complaint rather than become defensive. And if the complaint is valid the person usually owns it, apologises and changes any behaviour that is contributing to the complaint.

3. Stonewalling

“I just have to take this phone call…..”

Walking away when someone is mid sentence. Shutting down. Looking distracted. It can be very overwhelming for many people to have difficult conversations with their partner. But stonewalling is not usually a healthy way to deal with it.

A couples counsellor slows down the process of communication between the two people and helps the stonewaller to connect with their partner without wanting to run away.

4. Cutting someone off

This is a common behaviour of course but it is not okay as it just leaves both people feeling frustrated and not heard. When this happens in marriage counselling, I help people to be aware of their behaviour. I typically bring in a listening exercise which really nips this behaviour in the bud.

5. Being too vague

“If you could just be more relaxed and less uptight…”

Being “relaxed and less uptight” is completely subjective and doesn’t tell the other person anything particularly useful. Sometimes I see one or both people in a couple whose communication is too vague and open to interpretation by their partner.

I help people to say what they mean in a concrete way so there is an increased chance of understanding. Sometimes this is about helping someone talk more because they are only saying one or two sentences that don’t say enough. At other times, it’s about helping someone get to the heart of how they are feeling emotionally – there are a lot of good story tellers out there who are also great at avoiding their feelings!

All of the above might sound easy to correct if you’re in a relationship. But it’s not. We all learn our communication skills from our family of origin and of course we bring stuff in from previous relationships and experiences as well. But most of the couples I see quickly pick up new ways of communicating and feel delighted with the results. Just a few sessions of being coached and directed by a couples counsellor can immediately increase goodwill in your relationship – and allow for big stuff to be discussed and resolved.


About Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families.  She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families.  She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter.  Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute.  She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.

If you feel as though you could benefit from talking with a Therapist please contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

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