There are many relationships that you can choose to have in your life. You can have a relationship with yourself, other people, including family and friends, animals, the environment and intimate relationships. Some people say they have a relationship, often unhealthy, with food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling and money.

Some relationships are straightforward and healthy, and others can be very complex causing significant emotional pain and loneliness. Many relationships can create trauma through violence, gaslighting, disrespect, infidelity, emotional and verbal abuse, sexual assault, control and withholding essential requirements.

Not all relationships are positive, healthy or long-lasting. Not all blood relationships are close and healthy. Relationships with parents and caregivers can be little or non-existent from birth or change over time. Some families break down your self-worth and cast shame over the years. Some relationships are based on fear.

Other relationships are damaged early in life and others much later. There is never a guarantee that a relationship will last forever or meet your unique needs.

You are a human being full of emotions and experiences.
Here are just a few that you may relate to (Borrowed from Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart):

When things are uncertain or too much

Stress, overwhelm, anxiety, worry, avoidance, excitement, dread, fear vulnerability

When we compare

Comparison, admiration, reverence, envy, jealousy, resentment

When things don’t go as planned

Boredom, disappointment, expectations, regret, discouragement, resignation, frustration

When its beyond us

Awe, wonder, confusion, curiosity, interest, surprise

When things aren’t what they seem

Amusement, bittersweetness, nostalgia, cognitive dissonance, paradox, irony, sarcasm

When we’re hurting

Anguish, hopelessness, despair, sadness, grief

When we go with others

Compassion, pity, empathy, sympathy, boundaries, comparative suffering

When we feel short

Shame, self-compassion, perfectionism, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment

When we search for connection

Belonging, fitting in connection, disconnection, insecurity, invisibility, loneliness

When the heart is open

Love, lovelessness, heartbreak, trust, self-trust, betrayal, defensiveness, flooding, hurt

When life is good

Joy, happiness, calm, contentment, gratitude, foreboding joy, relief, tranquillity

When we feel wronged

Anger, contempt, disgust, dehumanization, hate, self-righteousness

When we self- assess

Pride, hubris, humility

As you can see, there are a lot of ways we can show or feel emotions and experiences. Think about any relationship you have at the moment or in the past, and ask yourself,

“What do I or the other person bring with us into this relationship?”

Scan over the list and some may jump out at you. Given this as a background to what is brought into a relationship it is no wonder that relationships are ever changing and challenging at times or for much of the time.

Couples counselling can help increase healthy communication and understanding and help with any underlying trauma.

I think it is helpful to read Brene Brown’s wise words below about what she thought to be true of people. It might help to put the lens of your relationships over it.

“People will do almost anything to not feel pain, including causing pain and abusing power;

Very few people can handle being held accountable without rationalizing, blaming or shutting down; and

Without understanding how our thoughts and behaviours work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. When we don’t understand how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions, we become disembodied from our own experiences and disconnected from each other.”

Being able to name our emotions is a critical part of our language to create a portal to healing. Without words for our experience, it is difficult to describe what we really feel.
Much of the work I do with clients is finding that language, feeling the emotions (often without words as it is sitting in the body) and processing those experiences.

As a therapist my primary role is to create a connection with you. This is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they get sustenance and strength from the relationship.

Traumatic Violent Relationships

In Australia, domestic and family violence is disturbingly common. It is one of the main drivers of homelessness among women, children and men.

Domestic and family violence involves abusive and violent behaviour towards a partner, former partner or family member. It extends beyond physical violence, and can involve actions that control, humiliate or scare the other person or people in the household.

Many women, children and men live in fear. I truly wish I wasn’t writing these words but unfortunately many people are suffering as a result of this unnecessary violence.

Domestic and family violence in Australia statistics (sourced from Mission Australia)

  1. Women are more likely to experience abuse at the hands of a partner
  2. Domestic and family violence is a leading cause of homelessness
  3. Many have experienced domestic and family violence in their childhood
  4. Family violence is worse in Aboriginal communities
  5. People with disability are more likely to experience physical and/or sexual violence

If you are experiencing abuse or violence it is not your fault. There are support services that can help you. If your life is in danger, call 000. For 24/7 domestic violence counselling call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Intimate Relationships

Relationships can be difficult even in normal circumstances, and there’s no doubt the pandemic has put a strain on many couples. Some couples have become stronger within their relationship and many more have found their relationship becoming increasingly challenging.

Australian couples have been (or still are) working at home, home-schooling their children, and facing financial strain from job and business loss. This creates a hothouse of stress and distress.

How many Australians are married?

The latest numbers from the ABS suggest that only 60% of Australians are married or partnered.

Marriage Rates in Australia

In Australia, Men (65%) are more likely than women (56%) to be in a committed relationship. Women are more likely to have never been married (29%), to be divorced (8%), widowed (4%) or separated (3%).

Average marriage length

According to the ABS, the median duration of a marriage that ended in divorce in 2019 was just over 12 years. This means that, despite the rapid social changes that have occurred since the turn of the century, people are staying married for approximately the same length of time as they were at the end of the twentieth century.

Living together before marriage

In Australia, it is now far more common for couples to live together before entering into the commitment of marriage. In addition, couples are living together for a longer period prior to marrying, with many seeing this as a sensible test of compatibility. In 1976 only 16% of couples lived together prior to marriage. In 2016, the number of couples who cohabitated before marriage dramatically increased to 80.8%.

1 in 7 Australians has lived with an ex-partner

Not only are most Australians living with a partner prior to marriage, but a significant minority are also still living with an ex-partner after the relationship breaks down. A couple will typically live separated under one roof for practical reasons: if it is financially not possible to set up a separate household, or it is better for the children to provide consistency of care, or if it makes more sense to stay in the same household until the end of a lease or the property is sold.

Divorce rate in Australia

In 2019, there were 49,116 divorces granted in Australia. There are concerns the pandemic and coming recession could cause divorce and separation rates to rise in the coming months and years. In a 2020 survey from Relationships Australia, 42% of respondents were finding that isolation was negatively impacting their relationship with their partner. Statistics show that there was a 314% increase in the number of couples thinking about separating during lockdown.

What year of marriage is divorce most common?

The largest proportion of couples separating are those who have been married nine years or less. In 2017, 56% of separations and 43% of divorces were from couples in this category.

However, the proportion of couples divorcing who had been married for 20 years and longer has been increasing in recent decades. In 1980 and 1990, 20% of divorces were couples who had been married for 20 years, but this statistic increased to 28% in 2010 and 27% in 2017.

Fewer divorces involve minor children

The proportion of couples who divorce when they have children under 18 years has fallen over time. In 1975, 68% of divorces involved one or more minor children who were in the care of the divorcing couple. In 2017, this number had decreased to 47%.

This trend is partly linked to the increase in older couples divorcing after long relationships, as these couples are more likely to have successfully ‘empty nested’ prior to the marriage being dissolved.

What does all this mean?

It means that married relationships are still breaking down and the pandemic has contributed to the rise of divorce and will continue to contribute. Behind every one of the statistics above, there are two people who, almost certainly, set out with high hopes for a committed, respectful and joyful marriage. Some divorces are a welcome relief to both parties, but divorce can often be one of the most painful and disruptive experiences of an individual’s life.

It means that many couples are seeking support to stay together or leave their relationship.

A marriage/relationship breakdown can be one of the greatest stressors in a person’s life. There are so many things to consider, for example, financial safety, personal safety, children’s welfare and emotional safety, accommodation and mental health.

Many of my clients feel the breakdown as traumatic especially if the breakdown was a volatile breakdown or where trust was broken. During the breakdown, self-worth can be damaged as well as trust and loyalty. Often infidelity is involved with the risk of STDs.

Life can become very uncertain for both parties but particularly for the person who was ‘left’. On many occasions counselling or therapy is tried, with some having no intention to resolve communication or the marriage while others will work hard to improve communication and the relationship.

Also, if you have experienced any type of trauma, but especially childhood abuse it can be triggered during times of high stress such as a marriage or relationship breakdown. It is important to work on the childhood trauma and any other traumas to create a greater window of tolerance to the stress and distress.

Going through a breakup can be traumatic. Similar to other traumas, like the death of a loved one, breakups can cause overwhelming and long-lasting grief.

Lots of questions are asked.

“Is there something wrong with me?”

“Why do I feel like I will never trust another person?”

“Will the pain ever leave me?’’

“Will I ever fall in love again?”

“Why did this happen to me?”

Before moving onto the next relationship, it is helpful to get support to answer these questions and work through any of your past or current trauma and distress.

Family Relationships

Family relationships are complex, even healthy ones. We all bring our unique selves and experiences into our family relationships. Some generational traumas such as abuse, are carried through. Epigenetics, such as regulation of the stress response provide the messages for future family relationships.

I have worked with children (adults) of survivors of the Holocaust and witnessed the effects of epigenetics and stories on family behaviour. We see, feel, hear and smell the experiences we grow up with. We hear the stories. We are programmed to ‘be’ a certain way. We witness behaviours. We watch how adults deal with stress, disappointment and hardship. The programming we experience as a child and young person is carried through into the rest our lives, from pre- birth.

There can be expectations or no expectations from your family. Your parents might have checked out through drug and alcohol use or metal illness. Perhaps there was too much connection or suffocation with no room for self-expression. Perhaps you were told to keep your ideas and emotions to yourself, stifled to be who you really are.

There are so many male clients I meet who as children were told not to sook, not cry, toughen up. I see how they struggle in relationships to have words for their feelings, emotions and experiences. We are human and we all need to be able to safely express how we feel in the safety of our home.

I have worked with adults who were adopted as babies or children and are in search of answers about their birth parents, experiencing a longing, deep inside.

I have also extensively worked with victims of child abuse, including sexual, physical, emotional, neglect and institutional abuse. I work with the deep wounds of childhood, by your side, to find a new way forward.

Perhaps you are just feeling unhappy in your family relationships and don’t know why.

If you are in an unhealthy relationship with family members whether in your close circle or the extended family, you can get support. Sometimes its’ as simple as expressing how you feel about it and working towards boundaries and a different way of communicating. Other times it can be cutting ties and working out how to live with the separation.