How to keep the flame alive: relationship courses keep partnerships strong and healthy

“Marriage is hard - you will have problems so it’s important to be prepared.”

Marriage and relationship educator, Robyn Donnelly, has been repeating this message to couples on a weekly basis for many years. “I regularly see people whose marriages are failing after only one or two years and we’re unable to help because they’ve left it too long to make contact. It is so sad to see,” Ms Donnelly said. 

As the co-ordinator of CatholicCare’s marriage and relationship education courses, Ms Donnelly assists people at every stage of the relationship journey, from those just starting a new partnership, to those who have been together for decades. “Prevention is far better than cure. We teach people to fill the emotional bank account through positive words and actions. This ensures the relationship is strong enough to withstand the regular strains of life.”

With roughly one in three Australian marriages ending in divorce, relationship education is a vitally important service but one which would struggle to exist without volunteers. Rachel Furniss donates her time at weekend courses, arranging seating and organising food and drinks. This allows CatholicCare to direct more money back into the services provided.

Ms Furniss believes so strongly in the benefits of the courses, she even takes her teenage children along to help so they can absorb the positive message. “It is so valuable in encouraging people to consider what a relationship entails and the work required to keep it strong and healthy,” she said. “When I take my children it sparks a conversation later about how to achieve this.”

Surprised to learn there was no focus on religion, Ms Furniss said people of all ages and all walks of life attended and everyone she had met was glad they came. “It’s made me more proactive in my own marriage, I often come home with the question cards and initiate a discussion.”

The courses teach the Gottman Method, based on the psychological research of American academic, John Gottman, world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. “No one thinks divorce will happen to them but if they start to ‘check out’ of the relationship it can happen very easily,” Ms Donnelly said. “The courses are so worthwhile as long as the participants come willingly.”

The CatholicCare Mariage and Relationship Education team currently have a group of 6 volunteers who come along freely, alternating between each of the group programs to support the courses provided. For more information on relationship enhancement courses, please call Robyn Donnelly on 4979 1120 or email

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