Help to keep couples together

Relationships are not always easy, and there is always room for growth and improvement.

Robyn Donnelly from the Pastoral Ministries, Formation and Education team is passionate about marriage and relationship education in any and every way imaginable.

On Wednesday 17 June Ms Donnelly presented Relationships Matter, a free online event via Zoom. More than 300 people had visited the Eventbrite site flagging the event, and 40 people enrolled to attend the webinar. The audience ranged in age and relationship status and came from local areas, interstate and overseas with guests from New York and Germany in attendance.

Ms Donnelly has been studying, researching, and engaging people in relationship education for more than 24 years and is highly regarded among her Marriage And Relationship Educators’ Association of Australia (MAREAA) peers.

She used the information session to break open the research and explain the ways in which negative patterns are created in relationships that can lead to distancing, disconnection, and disintegration but also how small positive patterns improve connection.

She provided insight into the programs her team offer. These provide real-life experiences for couples, meeting them in their world and assisting them in initiating safe and interesting conversations. This empowers couples to be intentional and find their own strengths and ultimately build a stronger relationship when they increase emotional banking deposits.

In the information session Ms Donnelly spoke of couples coming to her programs either as a pre-marriage requirement; because they feel they are missing something; or because they want to learn more. Often couples on their journey of life together disconnect, lose respect, and lose their fondness and admiration for each other.

When clients are exposed to the research behind relationships it helps them create moments to build stronger emotional bank accounts and understand triggers, which in turn help them manage and regulate their conflict or differences. When couples first fall in love, they would do anything for the other and their emotional bank accounts are full. Over the years they make many withdrawals from this account.

Couples often do not see eye to eye, as they have come to a relationship with different perspectives of what a good relationship looks like. They may have grown up in different circumstances and what is considered correct to one may be viewed totally differently by the other person.

Ms Donnelly opened the participants’ eyes and hearts to understand that they are not alone and there are ways to ignite the spark and passion that is felt in new love.

She referred to several researchers, but one was Dr Scott Stanley. He talks about two dimensions of strong long-term commitment – personal dedication, and constraints. Dr Stanley’s research covers how and why our personal dedication erodes, and how to increase it again. He says there are many reasons people stay in relationships when there is a feeling of disconnect and loss of love, for example, faith, finances, a shared business, society view or fear of access to children. But there are things that couples can do to get back on track. There is hope for couples who intentionally engage in marriage and relationship education so they can reignite their personal dedication and have shared knowledge of this research.

Ms Donnelly and her team offer the following programs: Before We Say I Do; Prepare/Enrich; FOCCUS; Enhance; and Bringing Baby Home.

Before We Say I Do provides opportunities to explore relationships, build on strengths and gain essential knowledge and skills that will be used for years to come. Topics covered in this include: expectations of marriage; influences of family of origin; communication styles; regulating conflict; and commitment and dedication.

Prepare/Enrich and FOCCUS involve an in-depth, user-friendly questionnaire designed to help couples learn more about each other. The questionnaire assists the qualified relationship educator discuss responses and find strategies, based on research theories, to strengthen and enhance the relationship. This program helps develop skills and knowledge to prepare couples for a future together. Topics covered include: lifestyle expectations; friends and interests; personality match; communication; problem solving; spirituality and values; parenting issues; financial issues; family of origin; and commitment and dedication.

Enhance is designed for couples to work with an educator in private session(s). The couple are provided with support to address specific issues or challenges in the relationship, based on evidence-informed research. However big or small the perceived issue, the course can help. Couples often engage in this course to discuss re-igniting the spark, manage communication breakdown, destructive patterns, strengthening the friendship and building the emotional connectedness of the relationship.

Often couples participate in more than one of the courses because they are a great way to continue to stay in tune, connected and nurture a lifetime long relationship.

The Bringing Baby Home workshop is not just for married couples, or even heterosexual couples, and it is not about breast-feeding or birthing. It is about strengthening a relationship before the huge life-changing transition of bringing new life into the world. Strong foundations are necessary to support the growth of a child and to stay connected as an intimate couple.

The program assists in building the skills needed to have happy, healthy family relationships – even during challenging times. Participants will learn what to expect during the transition to parenthood, how to strengthen friendship, intimacy, and conflict resolution skills with partners, child development and co-parenting. The course assists in creating a caring and nurturing atmosphere in the home and learning how to cope with conflict in positive ways, preparing for life with a baby and discovering how to be the best parenting team possible. Couples learn how to strengthen relationships and foster baby’s development during this new and challenging time.

While the programs can be delivered face to face, they are now optional via Zoom.

For more information, contact Ms Donnelly and her team on  or call 4979 1370.

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