by Couples Counsellor Annie Gurton in Northern Beaches, Sydney.

Congratulations! Well done! You’re in a relationship. You’re in the best place to be. When you’re in a relationship, you are in the right place to heal yourself of your childhood wounds and emotional hurts.

The trouble is that it’s never plain sailing. All relationships transition from a romantic loved-up phase into a conflict stage which can last months or, more likely, years. Relationships are not easy, and nor are they supposed to be. Conflict is good, its healthy, its powerful and its cathartic. Its always hard to live with someone, and even if you have a ‘living-apart-together’ relationship – sooner or later troubles, frustrations and issues will arise.

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But hanging on in there can be tough, and we often wonder whether its worth it. You may think, ‘Is there someone out there who is more suitable for me? Who’s not going to push my buttons like this.’ Its easy to think that, hard as it may be, separation, divorce and a fresh start is very attractive.

Generally, there are two difficulties which can lead us to think that it might be better to separate: one is that we believe that conflict is damaging and to be avoided at all costs, and if a relationship becomes conflicted there is something deeply wrong, and the second is if the conflict becomes nasty, vicious, damaging, critical, blaming or physical, in which case an intervention by a professional is recommended.

According to Harville Hendrix, author of ‘Getting the Love you Want’ which explains Imago Relationship Therapy, says that the way to stay in a relationship, the place where you need to be so you can heal your emotional wounds and start to grow, is to be able to have ‘Safe Conversations’. ‘We need to be able to trust that the other is listening,’ he says, ‘because once we feel heard we begin to relax and feel safer.’ Once we feel safe, the tenor of the whole relationship changes into one that is more caring and supportive because we become less concerned about ourselves and more concerned about the other. Then we want to stay in the relationship and to make it work.

But being able to discuss difficult sensitive issues is never easy. We worry that the other will become upset, or we will make the situation worse. Some people think that if there are problems and issues within a relationship, separating is the inevitable and best course of action. No!


1. Give the other regular Appreciations. Tell the other when they do or say something that makes you feel good, and tell them how you felt when they did that.

2. Loving Behaviours: Remember those little things you used to do for each other? Start doing them again. Its those little things, like little notes under the pillow, small gestures that were part of the romance when the relationship began but have been forgotten. And if you can’t remember, ask the other what you used to do that they liked.

3. Relationship Vision. Create a list of the things that you’d like the relationship to include, and what you’d like the relationship to look like, such as ‘We will care for each other’, and ‘We will consult each other before big decisions’.

4. Hug each other regularly. A non-sexual hug can be hugely healing and expressive, and simply make you feel good.

5. Listen to each other. If you have trouble doing this, have a few sessions with an Imago therapist and learn how to dialogue so that you can talk so the other will listen and listen so the other will talk. For a list of Imago therapists go to the website of AIRTA (Association of Imago Therapists Australia)

6. Make time for each other. We’ve all heard of date nights, but as well as regular evenings when we rekindle the things that first connected and attracted us, touch each other as much as you can, in casual ways. As you pass each other, touch each other. Be tactile.

7. Do things together – make sure you have shared activities. Time apart is good, and it can be healthy to have separate friends, but its essential to also share interests and activities. If you don’t already, sit down and think of something new that you can start doing together.

8. Say ‘I Love You’ – those little words need to be said. Don’t make assumptions, and just because you said it last week or last month, still say it again. Which brings us back to Number One: Appreciation and be sure to express your appreciate at least once a day.

9. But one of the best things you can do is to have a ‘Relationship Meeting’ once a week.   Its a time to review how things are going, what needs to change, whether promises to change have been kept, to synchronise diaries and make sure that the date nights are scheduled in. Couples working with an Imago Relationship therapist are often asked to take turns to be the ‘Keeper of the Relationship’ – a role which changes daily. First its your turn, and next day its your partner. The Keeper of the Relationship has to take a special pledge to make an extra effort not to be critical, shaming, blaming or stonewalling (silent) for the day that they are the Keeper. Some couples keep a special wall calendar so they know whose day it is, and mark the calendar with coloured dots to indicate whether they have been successful. So, arrange a day for the Relationship Meeting, such as an hour on Monday mornings or Monday evenings, and show your appreciation for the other, and raise any issues that are bugging you in a safe space.

10. Find an Imago Relationship Therapist to learn how to have Safe Conversations, and learn to be able to communicate so that you can talk so the other will listen and listen so the other will talk. An Internet search will find your nearest certified Imago therapist.

Relationships take effort, and without attention, like to a pot plant, they will wither and die. You need to feed the relationship with love, attention and appreciation, and then it will flourish and get better and better. Rocky times are learning times so don’t avoid them, but do have the Long Game in mind, and be working for the long term health and wellbeing of the relationship and co-incidentally you will heal and grow yourself and your partner too.