6 Ways they kept their love alive

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In the business of relationship counselling, you would not expect to see a marriage you would admire, but there have been a few I admired for different reasons. A couple made an appointment to discuss the difficulties they were experiencing with an adult son, who is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.

They made it very clear, from the start, they were not interested in ultimatums, detachment, tough love, or letting their son hit rock bottom. These concepts felt harsh and dangerous, and they could not comprehend ‘letting go’ of their son, when he needed them the most.

Their son is supported professionally, and they are prepared to invest emotionally, relationally, and financially to get him the help he needs and wants. They did not come to counselling to seek support for their son, they came to improve themselves, their home and family, and to protect their marriage.

In our first session the husband moved two of the chairs in the room close to each other, explaining he needed to be able to hold his wife’s hand. They both sat down, and reached for each other’s hands. It was a symbol of 38 years together; sharing passion, love, marriage, pain, history, three adult children, and two grandchildren. Throughout it all they held onto each other, just as they were doing now, during this painful experience of an adult child going through his own hellish journey.

As a professional I teach, educate and encourage couples to turn toward each other in times of difficulty. It is an exceptionally humbling, and awe-inspiring experience to be taught by my clients; they show me what this actually looks like in the reality of life and marriage. After 38 years they were experts in their marriage, and this is a summary of how they kept love alive.


They were both proactive in seeing what needed doing, and doing it.


They did not pull back their love from each other when they did not get what they wanted.


They understood expectations breed resentment, and their focus was on how things were, rather than how they wanted it to be.


They were aware of, and interested in each other’s needs. They communicated directly, and asking straightforward for what they wanted. No game and blame playing here.


They understood the ‘white picket fence’ is a fantasy world, and nothing real and worthwhile exists there.


Their happiness was a byproduct of a life well lived, investing in their marriage, and making a positive contribution to those entrusted in their care.

This way of being in their marriage has sustained them through many a painful experience, and will once again support them in navigating the tumultuous journey of an adult child who is drug and alcohol addicted.

The love for their son is active and alive; seeing what needs doing, and offering their love and support unconditionally. They are not trading with their love for their son; he is their boy, and he needs them now more than ever. They hold no expectations, there is no blame; the focus is on what is occurring right now, not how they would like it to be.

They are empowering their son by asking him directly what does he need/want from them, and turning to each other for comfort. There is no fantasy of tough love, or abandoning their son, only the reality of keeping a relationship with him alive, without losing themselves, their marriage, or enabling his addiction.

The focus is not their happiness, or even the happiness of their son. As a couple, as parents, and grandparents, they fully understand the fundamental needs every human being has. To be safe and secure in the certainty of family, being significant and respected, experiencing love and connection, learning together, and contributing to family, and others.

Want to know the status of your relationship? Take our QUIZ

If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help
Please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden

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The professional counselling relationship can only be beneficial, when there are healthy boundaries in place. One such boundary for the counsellor, is to not participate in work which is more harmful than helpful for clients. As a relationship counsellor, I am at times presented with a couple, where there is a lack of empathy, and respect for each other. Where one person feels self-blame, helplessness, demoralized, and the other experiences self-centeredness, and self-absorption, often with the best of intentions.

One such couple presented with the wife visibly distressed, and her husband stating calmly, his wife is depressed and she ‘often gets like this’. He further mentioned he had some serious grievances he needed to discuss about her, such as her lack of attention to household chores, not being able to hold down a job, and often not taking her medication for her depression. He explained in detail how he would tell her what to do, however, she never followed his suggestions. He stated several times, how he had her best interests at heart, and how much he loved her.

It is vital to provide BOTH partners with equal power in the session; to define what they individually experience in their marriage, what they thought, and believed about their experiences with each other. The following two questions delivers a great deal of information, as it provides the opportunity for reflection, and taking ownership:

  • What do you think it is like living with you?
  • What are you no longer willing to accommodate/put up with/do for love?

These questions are designed for each individual to have the courage to act on their own behalf, to take responsibility for how they enter each other’s lives, and to be accountable for how they influence each other. We all lose power in different ways, and in different times in our relationships. In this marriage his wife sacrificed to much of herself, and experienced a continuous loss of personal power, which contributed to her depression experience.

Her husband was unwilling to take any responsibility for how he negatively contributed to their marriage. He blamed and insulted his wife, had unrealistic expectations of household chores, and acted punitively towards her. There was no place of safety and reasonableness in counselling this couple. Everything was his wife’s fault, and her responsibility. Counselling was another avenue he wanted to use to convince his wife, and me as the counsellor, that his wife was unwell, unreliable and untrustworthy.

Blame played a big part in this marriage, and there are several possible reasons for its use. Blame is often used to protect individual self-esteem, a learnt behavior, a desire to improve a relationship, and a failure to take any responsibility for oneself.

Blaming others does not actually solve any of the above mentioned concerns. For this couple, the husband’s blame caused him to experience rejection, emotional difficulties, and being disconnected from his wife. His wife allowed him to blame her repeatedly, and she eventually emotionally disconnected from him, turned her anger towards herself, and felt victimized. There was nothing loving about this interaction between them.

His wife played an important psychological role as the scapegoat in their marriage, and although it may have protected his self-esteem, it was damaging the well-being of his wife, and their marriage. The healthiest approach was to consider individual counselling for them both, to deal with learnt relational patterns, lack of self-esteem, conflict, and insecurity. We cannot deal with blame in one single session, as it would often result in defensiveness, and escalate conflict.

When this couple, through individual counselling, understood the reasons for the blame, and the victimization they allowed in their marriage, and took ownership for how they both contributed to the blame cycle in their marriage, relationship counselling became beneficial. Relationship counselling assisted them in establishing loving behaviors, firm personal boundaries, and fostering respect, by rebuilding effective and loving communication.

It is ultimately not about being stuck between two choices – allow the blame or end the marriage, or who is right, and who is wrong. It is about how to increase love, respect, personal ownership, and a safe and loving connection. When the focus became the outcome of their discussions, rather than on the blame, there was no longer a need to defend, withdraw, shut down, or draw another into their conflict.

Relationship counselling is not about taking sides, or supporting mixed agendas, and allowing the ‘who’s to blame story’ to continue. It is considering the relationship dynamics which continuously drives the two people in the relationship apart, and what constructive steps they, and the counsellor, can take to shift this dynamic. Ultimately the relationship is the client in relationship counselling.

Ever wondered what the status is of your relationship? Take our Relationship Quiz here http://newlandscounselling.com.au/SQuiz2/

If you wish to take me up on my offer of a 30 minute free telephone consultation click here http://newlandscounselling.com.au/30-minute-free/

If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help
Please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


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The reward of divorce

As a counsellor I am acutely aware, not every marriage can be saved.  When a lady in her early 50’s made an appointment for herself, and her husband, to discuss the end of their marriage, I prepared the process I would take them through, to dismantle 22 years together.



In the first session both discussed the many issues they faced in the years they have been married.  There were truly happy times they would treasure, and there were dark and hard places, where they had little understanding and trust for, and with each other.  They needed a sense of closure to their life together, an ending, and a chance to minimize the hurt and hostility, which could allow for a less bitter future.



Separating and filing for divorce, was their admission to each other they were ready to leave the loss, despair, and disappointment of their love, behind them.  They confronted this reality within themselves, and could then share this news with their children, and loved ones.  Only then could they make public, their marriage no longer provided a safe, and nurturing space.



When a marriage breaks down, it provides a space for realities to be explored, and the emotion of anger can be examined.  Anger is our protective emotion, which covers, and protects our more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, fear, rejection and shame.  Anger informs us about our unmet needs.  There are various explorative questions I consider at this stage of the process.   The questions which brought the greatest clarity for this couple were:

What was the one experience which left them feeling alone and deprived?

What was not available to them individually?

It took them back to their first year of marriage, when they were both students, and found out they were pregnant.  Both discussed pregnancy was not in their plan.  They were struggling through studies, had part time jobs, and could not see themselves raising a child.  The decision was made to terminate the pregnancy.  She wanted him to say it would be okay, and they would make it work, and he wanted her to say this was not just her decision, they needed to make this decision together.

This set the pattern for the next 20 years.  They both felt powerless because they did not communicate their need to be heard, understood, supported and protected.  This created unrealistic expectations, irrational demands, and behaving punitively towards each other.  She grieved for their child lost, and resented him for not protecting her, and their unborn child.  He grieved for their child lost, and her not stopping for a moment to enquire about him; as if his grief and pain was less important, because he supported her decision.  He was angry because of the shame and helplessness which comes when as a father, he failed to protect his family, especially his child.



This part of the process allowed them both to explore the deeper issue of the termination decision they made many years before.  It finally surfaced, as it had been unnoticed, and impossible to deal with before.  This was the reward of considering divorce for this couple.  Once the original and true issue were understood, they had the opportunity to make an informed decision about their marriage.  Instead of moving away from each other, thinking it best to work out their grief on their own, becoming lonely, angry, and resentful, they moved towards each other for the first time in their marriage.  At this point they could consider whether there was a way forward for them.



Their way forward was one of acceptance, of intentionally considering how they would accept what happened between them, without the pressure to repair, and mend their marriage.  They needed to forgive themselves, and each other.  They could honestly communicate there was no going back, they would not be a loving, and intimate couple, and their marriage was over. 

Supporting a couple through separation is very different from couples counselling.  The aim is to provide a new perspective, a wakeup call, and create an urgency to see the true priorities in their lives, and to secure long-term happiness for them both.

To find out more about our service please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


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We cannot grow as husbands, wives, partners and children, when we are not supported, and encouraged, to become independent and responsible individuals. We cannot grow in someone else’s pre-existing desires and expectations. Unfortunately, for most of us, we were not raised by truly unselfish parents. We are often raised by parents who have the best of intentions to love, support and guide us, driven by their own fears, anxieties and shortcomings. We are so spectacularly human, wanting to protect those we love from heartache and disappointment.

The truth is we cannot protect each other from life. What we can do is to love, support, and encourage each other. Healthy, and emotionally aware communication, becomes an essential element of personal growth, and self-awareness. Healthy communication is direct, immediate, clear, and a good foundation for learning to be assertive when communicating our needs, and facilitating the process of setting personal boundaries. Healthy communication is dependent on fact, belief, emotion and need. Let’s consider an example:

Facts: I must leave home at 8am in the morning, to get to work on time. When I left this morning, there was barely enough fuel in the car, to get me to the nearest petrol station. Having to stop and fill up the car with fuel, made me late for work, as I got caught up in the morning traffic.

Belief: I believe, all family members who make use of the car, needs to make sure there is enough fuel in the car, to get to their individual destinations.

Emotions: The experience this morning left me feeling frustrated, angry and uncared for.

Needs: I need to leave for work in the morning, knowing I don’t have to worry about stopping for fuel, and feel anxious, about getting to work on time.

Healthy communication involves the facts, our beliefs, emotional experiences and needs. When we seek emotional support, and are offered only an intellectual problem-solving response, or we seek concrete and factual information, and are only offered an emotional response, we are bound to experience considerable communication difficulties.

These communication difficulties can result in endless arguments, denials and contradictions. Our emotions can become trampled and discarded, leaving us wounded as partners, and our children to repeat the cycle all over again. Therefore, emotional growth and healthy communication within a family unit, are essential elements for successful relationships in the family unit.

We can help!
To find out more about our service please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden



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communication difficulties in a relationship

Are you experiencing constant arguments which are left unresolved?
Has anger and irritability sneaked into your relationship?
Do you find you are hurting each other?
Do you feel disrespected and criticized?

Making a relationship work needs two people who can communicate effectively with each other, on both a social and emotional level. Relating on a social level is the ability, and willingness, to describe and share the events of the day, converse on experiences with others, plan together, and respond to each other in a positive way.

Communication on an emotional level is the ability to relate deeply, by becoming more open, sharing thoughts, emotions, and feelings with each other in a mutually safe space. It is often at this emotional level couples experience a level of distress in their communication with each other. Many different dysfunctional patterns of communication can develop over time, and one such pattern is the pursuer/distancer pattern of communication.

The pursuer may experience their need for emotional intimacy is not met, and become increasingly unhappy, anxious, and feeling isolated and alone. The distancer may withdraw, feeling attacked and demanded from, and want alone time when under stress, escalating their partner’s need for closeness. The person with the least desire/need for closeness and intimacy always controls it.



- Observe your own communication style.
Remember this is not about right or wrong. By knowing and understanding your own communication style, you are in a stronger position to have this conversation with your partner. You are in an even better position to truly listen to your partner communicating their communication style. By exploring together, you may even become more aware of how your parents, or other family members communicate with each other. We learn from those closest to us.

- Manage your own emotions.

It is vital to become emotionally intelligent, and understanding the messages our emotions bring us. One of the most important messages our emotions can provide us with, is the state of our relationship bond. Emotions tell us whether our relationship is healthy, or in need of attention.

In the pursuer/distancer pattern of communication, one partner could feel blamed and attacked, feeling they are doing something wrong, and conversation can become deadlocked. We know the desire of one partner to become closer, can be experienced as criticism/demanding by the other.

The process of counselling could assist in helping each partner understand their emotional needs, what the contributing factors could be, and negotiate an effective solution for both partners. Contributing factors could be stress, work related difficulties, fear, feeling overwhelmed, and learnt communication patters. Being able to effectively communicate emotional needs and differences, need both parties to be willing to hear each other, without judgment, blame or personalizing what the other has said.


To find out more about our service please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden

Life is a process of relationships

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Life is a process of relationships

At Newlands Counselling our focus is the process of life, and the inevitable challenges you may encounter across your lifespan. Counselling is as old as human kind, as we have sought through the ages to understand ourselves, to make sense and find meaning in our experiences, and transcend painful life events. This guidance was often embedded in more informal ways through our families, and communities. With vast economic and social changes over the years, there has been a significant impact on the way we manage our lives, have personal conversations, and in how we seek support through often challenging life transitions.

Think for a moment about a relationship ending. Whether you are the one being left, or the one doing the leaving, the breakdown of a relationship, in which you invested much of yourself, your future hopes and dreams, is a daunting life experience. Intellectually you could reason your way through the many explanations for the decision, or the many reasons for feeling the way you do. Emotionally you may struggle with the uncomfortable and distressing emotions, such as anger, guilt, resentment and sadness, which accompanies such a life experience. Psychological experiences could include symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, as you consider a future without your partner, being a single parent, or having to step back into the workforce after several years.

Counselling is a helping approach which reflects on your emotional, psychological, and intellectual experiences, and how you feel and think about a specific problem and/ or life transition. Depending on your needs, we may consider a psychodynamic approach, which reflects on earlier life experiences, and explore how these may affect your current difficulty. When your relationship ends, you could be reminded of another time in your life when you experienced being left, or being abandoned.

There is no judgment in the counselling process, no diagnosis given, and no advice offered. It is a space in which you can express painful feelings and difficult emotions, and discuss concerns regarding psychological symptoms of concern. Counselling examines part/s of your life which may have been difficult, or impossible to face, such as the end of your relationship, and can create an awareness to the reasons you react or respond in the ways you do. It does no good, to demand things should be different to what they actually are.

Counselling aims to have an honest dialogue about your values, beliefs, dreams, hopes and expectations, and reduce any confusion, allowing you to make a more effective, self-empowering decision, which could lead to positives changes in attitudes and/or behaviors.


To find out more about our service please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


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Mothers and sons relationships

There are many questions in the counselling room. Questions are an attempt to gather information, explore, understand, and set goals for the work ahead. Clients can come in confused, fearful, anxious, and with no clear vision of how to address the challenges they are facing. Then, there are clients such as one young woman, in her early thirties, who presented at our clinic, knowing what she wanted from me; she needed a witness.

What she did have, for many years, were those who observed, and acted, as if they had no cause or influence in what they observed happening to her. Significant family members stood apart, whilst she was being abused and neglected. They stood apart, believing they were independent of what they observed.

When her son was born, she could for the first time acknowledge the enormity of her childhood abuse experiences, and the impact on her sense of self. With the support of her doctor, and a specialist in adult survivors of childhood abuse, my client could acknowledge she coped, and was a survivor.

When my client made the appointment with our service, her son had just turned five (5) years old, and she was aware this was the age her own abuse and neglect started. She found it difficult to manage her son’s emotions when he got upset and angry. What she wanted was to learn how to empathize with her son, teach him about his emotions, and have a trusting and loving relationship with him.

After years of therapy this was a self-aware, whole, and intelligent young woman, who had established a strong foundation of who she was. I was to be a witness, who became an integral part of the process of her building a healthy, and nurturing relationship with her son.

Here’s what we came up with together:



Knowing there is a name for what he is feeling, allows him to feel understood and acknowledged.



Teaches him emotions are not shameful, they are in fact part of being human, and manageable. He learns even those parts of himself which feels unpleasant are acceptable; he is okay.



When emotions get stuck inside his body, he could feel frightened of strong emotions such as anger, and behave in ways which allows him to vent, such as a tantrum. Teach him to breathe through, feel, and tolerate his emotions without needing to act out. Help him to trust his own emotional experiences, and he will learn to manage as he grows and matures.



When the plan of a friend coming over to play for the afternoon is not possible; what else could he do instead? Brainstorm together.



Help him ‘play out’ those big emotions symbolically, for example, when he feels angry, he can put on his lion costume and roar.

My client did all the work which needed to be done, and was now free to rewrite, and experience a new way of being in the world. This provided her with a freedom to love, teach, connect, and create a healthy and positive relationship with her son. Her painful family history finally stopped with her.

As a witness, I could attest to the truth of what occurred, I carried intimate knowledge of the work my client did to change the script of her life, and I was present as she worked out how to be a mother to her son.


If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help, give us a call at Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


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Mother and Daughter relationships

5 Key Factors which led to a successful relationship

A few years ago, a mother presented in my counseling room very concerned about her relationship with her young adolescent daughter at the time. She clearly valued a relationship with her daughter, and was concerned no matter how she tried to connect, how she communicated, it wasn't building their relationship. It appeared her daughter withdrew from her more and more as the days, weeks, and months went past.

As a mother, she had a lot of fears about the personal relationship her daughter was in, with a young man one (1) year older than her daughter, and what it could mean for her daughter’s future, if this relationship continued. There were fears about her daughter’s lack of interest in her education, and her lack of connection with her friends in her peer group. Further fears identified were her daughter’s lack of life skills, such as how to manage a household, pay her bills, and getting a part-time job.

My client felt it was her responsibility as a parent, a good mother, to prepare her daughter for the future. It became apparent, early on in our sessions together, these very real fears my client had, were driven by the experiences my client had in her own life. As a loving, and concerned mother, my client had the best of intentions; to make sure her daughter was not going to have the life my client had, and it was one of her primary goals in life, to make sure she guided her daughter in the best possible way.

My client was quick to mention she had specific expectations of her daughter, and described how her daughter withdrew from her, every time she would talk to her. Any attempt to arrange for having some lunch together, seeing a movie, or sitting together having a chat on a Saturday afternoon, was met with silence, and a closed bedroom door. My client became more and more distressed, realizing she was alienating her daughter, instead of establishing a connection.

I asked my client if she would be willing to share one or two of the expectations she did have of her daughter. She stated it was a house rule that her bed had to made, and her room tidied before she left the house for school in the morning. My client further explained she herself grew up in a home where a bed was made in a specific way. Most mornings my client said she would check the room, and when the bed was not up to standard, she would remake the bed.

I encouraged my client to ask her daughter how she felt when the bed she made before school, was remade by her mother. Just the one question, no explanations from my client; just listen, and bring the answer to the next session. In the next session, my client said: “My beautiful daughter said, she felt whatever she did, however she did it, she would never measure up, and she is just not good enough.”

This was the turning point for my client, and the relationship with her daughter. In the sessions which followed, we addressed my client’s personal fears and taking ownership of these, her communication with her daughter, to come alongside her, rather than talking to her, learning her daughter is an individual with her own hopes, dreams, and way of being in the world. My client became curious about the young woman she was raising, and learnt to appreciate her difference.


The key factors for the success of these sessions were the following:

- Client valued the relationship

- Willingness to say this is not working, and take ownership of her contribution

- Having conversations with her daughter, rather than talking at her

- Being curious about her daughter, her hopes and dreams

- Appreciating who she is, loving her without conditions


My client learnt demanding perfection from her daughter created anxiety, self-doubt in her own abilities, lack of motivation, and a fear of the future in her child. What her daughter needed was the certainty of her mother’s love, the encouragement of her effort, to learn about and grow into herself, and contribute to her family. These are the universal needs of every human being, and the place we find it, is in our relationships with our significant others.


If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help
Please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


Posted Leave a commentPosted in Sandra's blog

Prince Harry and Princess Diana

Prince Harry said this to royal correspondent, Hannah Furness, during a recent interview about the death of his mother:

“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”

These are words not dissimilar to what is expressed in the counselling room. The experience Prince Harry described here is what happens when we shut our emotions down. Suppressing uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, guilt and shame, is our body’s way of protecting us during a trauma/grief, and emotional release, in a safe environment, is our body’s way of protecting itself from further damage.

We have to work hard at shutting our emotions down, and it takes an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy to do this. As a result, we can become agitated, tense, loose motivation, and lowers our immunity. It can be difficult for those we are in relationship with, to communicate with us. This shutting down, over a long period of time, could further lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

When we shut down emotionally, this is what our partner experiences in relationship with us:

We are not participating in self-reflection

We are not contributing to the well-being of our relationship

We refuse to discuss certain topics

We find it difficult to calm ourselves

We avoid conflict by leaving, and return making as if nothing is wrong, and our partner feels misunderstood, dismissed and invalidated

When we continue to shut down our emotional world, and say we are fine, when we are not, our world becomes chaotic, untrustworthy and plagued by misconceptions. Emotion Focused Therapy is insight orientated, and could assist in working through emotional experiences. We don’t have to wait until we are faced with our mental health being compromised, or our relationship disintegrating.

If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help
Please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden


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Difficulties in a marriage


All great marriages go through tough times! The journey of marriage, and the two people in it, transition through different stages throughout its lifetime.

It could be when the first baby comes along, children going through adolescence, young adults leaving home, a partner’s illness, challenging in-laws, unemployment, work stress, the care of elderly parents, and many more.

It is often the unexpectedness of these challenging situations, which leads to experiences of panic and anxiety in couples. In my counselling room, couples share feelings of being alone, distant from each other, and a lack of intimacy. It is not the ‘happily-ever-after’ which they were hoping for. They talk about still loving each other, but not being ‘in love’ anymore.

I have given this idea of being in love much thought over the years, speaking to many couples, and doing research into the work of the experts on marriage counselling. This is what I have come up with.

Love is a commitment we make to each other. In the beginning, we cannot imagine feeling anything else but lust, and being in love. As our marriage, and the two people in it transition, love requires us to show up, step up, and honour our commitment.

To love each other at our worst, at our best, and the truth of who we are, and who we are becoming. When we say we are not in love anymore, we are stuck in the transition, and we have no idea how to move through the situation we are facing. We are afraid, we feel lost and lonely; so we argue, and we do not feel in love anymore.

We need to learn how to transition the difficult times in our marriage by considering the following:

Do we know how to transition through the endings, the time of being lost and alone, and the phase of begin anew?

Can we safely discuss our fears and feelings about the changes in our marriage with each other?

Are we reacting to each other and becoming destructive?

Are we withdrawing intimacy from each other?

Are we leaving each other emotionally, to fend for ourselves?

If we need help, are we willing to ask for it, and invest in our marriage?

We get married to the one person who is our best friend, worst friend, lover, teacher, partner and co-parent. The difficult years in marriage are part of the journey, and we must learn how to navigate them. It is not about the happily-ever-after, but rather the safety and trust of an authentic marriage.

We can help! please call Newlands Counselling on
1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden