A rendezvous in Kiama turned into “Connect in Kiama”
It was our tenth wedding anniversary , we both planned a getaway weekend in stunning seaside Kiama.
We wanted to add more meaning to the occasion and the sky answered quickly, we teamed up the weekend with a Saturday seminar and workshops by Better Marriages Australia which was to be held in Kiama this month.
Was it an act of courage, curiosity? It didn’t matter! We registered anyway and it is too late to change our mind.
We were anxious on the morning heading to the venue.
As we arrived we were greeted with a very warm reception, a cappuccino and a folder with amazing resources .
We both felt it was a good start.
Stage decorations and flowers for Better Marriages Australia Connect in Kiama Conference
The Auditorium was softly decorated, with the most pretty display of colours everywhere,
which set the scene for what was coming next.
The first talk (presented by Marriage and Relationship Educator Robyn Donnelly- editors) was about most interesting evidence based research and work by leading USA relationship leaders and experts.
How to build a sound relationship house and the building blocks of our marriage and relationship . How to build love maps . We learned about turning towards our partner not away or against and how to build bank of trust and keep the relationship in a positive perspective.
Heather McAlpine speaking during Connect in Kiama Conference Keynote
The second talk was by Heather and John McAlpine the co – chairs of Better Marriages Australia and it was about how to be differentiated in the relationship ,being able to keep your own skin-and still be one, learning to master our separateness and togetherness with spontaneity and ease.
They talked about moving away from our comfort zone to uncomfortable places in our pursuit to strengthen our marriage.
It was very entertaining.
The afternoon sessions were practical workshops , all real life dialogues by the presenters .
Ours was Connecting in Conflict .
The presenters emphasised the importance of a rich emotional bank account and being aware of each other’s bids for emotional connection..
We learned that conflict is an invitation to know more about my partner, also to know more about their emotional allergies and triggers.
We both loved a demonstration of the Imago dialogue and real life argument being revisited with transparency and how they navigated it to safety.
Guests at the Connect in Kiama Conference dinner being serenaded
Violinist serenading couples at Better Marriages Australia Connect in Kiama Conference Dinner
Couple Celebrating at the Connect in Kiama Conference Dinner
The magic finale was a candlelight Dinner with sumptuous meal , a glass of red , being serenaded with live “Elvis” music and brilliant vocalist courtesy of Better Marriages Australia.
For us, it was a day and a night from Heaven.
The Better Marriages Australia (NSW) Committee welcomed 40 Couples to the Connect in Kiama 2022 Conference, ranging from newly married couples through to those further along their marriage journey.
They were extremely positive in their feedback about the value of the event for them, and excited about applying some of what they learnt on the day, along with resources provided in their conference bags, to their own relationships. You can check out video testimonials from some of the couples here and watch Keynote 1 and Keynote 2 presentations.
We were excited to announce on the day that our 2023 Conference will take place on 9 September 2023. More details re location and program will follow soon so SAVE THE DATE NOW!!!
Stage decorations and flowers for Better Marriages Australia Connect in Kiama Conference
Stage decorations for Connect in Kiama Conference 2022
Audience viewing a presentation by Heather and John McAlpine at Better Marriages Australia Connect in Kiama Conference
Heather and John McAlpine presenting a Connect in Kiama Conference keynote
John McAlpine speaking during Heather and John’s keynote during Better Marriages Australia Connect In Kiama Conference
Heather McAlpine speaking during Connect in Kiama Conference Keynote
Better Marriages Australia (NSW) Committee members
Better Marriages Australia Chair Couple, Heather and John McAlpine
Better Marriages Seminar in Tumut, NSW
John and Heather McAlpine returned to their previous hometown of Tumut in March 2021 to run a marriage seminar. The area has really suffered not just with COVID restrictions but still rebuilding after the devastating bushfires early last year that led to Batlow being evacuated. After having the seminar cancelled in 2020, it was a joy to be able to meet with 22 couples from Tumut, Tumbarumba, and Batlow to encourage marriages from all generations.
When John and Heather lived in Tumut for 13 years, they would run marriage weekend retreats locally each year. It was such a blessing for them to meet up with participants who can still recall benefits from these retreats even 20 years later. One couple who were just engaged and attended their first marriage weekend delighted in still recalling some of the tips and advice from that time early in their relationship. They shared how it was “such an incredible strength and resource for them in the ensuing decades.” Illustrating the circle of life, there was a couple at the seminar whose parents had attended a Tumut Marriage retreat 25 years previously.
The McAlpine’s focused on communication skills and conflict resolution and gave couples the opportunity to explore what was underneath their anger. They also examined ways of becoming closer companions. Debbie Gadd, a pastor from Tumbarumba, described the event as “refreshing and real”, grateful for the personal examples that the McAlpines shared. “They were practical and resonated with my life.”
Heather in an interview to the local paper said- “We were mindful of the unique life stresses the local people have been exposed to over the past year, first battling drought, then bushfires and then COVID on the heels of that trauma. I think this has caused couples to reassess what’s important in their lives. You realise that having a strong and vibrant growing marriage is more important than physical day-to-day aspects of life. And that even the structure of one’s house that we assume will provide refuge, is actually very temporary and superficial……. It was beautiful to see couples of all ages and from all walks of life, valuing their relationships and investing their time and energy into growing better marriages… What a powerful way to create generational change and leave a living legacy for their loved ones.”
The 4 predictors of divorce….30 years research with 94% accuracy
Heather McAlpine, is currently presenting a series of video sessions on Facebook entitled “Elevate your Wellbeing, Contagious Care”. Heather is a Relationship Therapist, Supervisor, Consultant and International best selling author. She and husband John are the Chair Couple of Better marriages Australia and have extensive experience as a Marriage Enrichment Leader couple.
In this series Heather particularly focuses on elevating our wellbeing during this time of Covid isolation, but the principles, tips and strategies she shares are relevant to individuals and couples at any time.
If you haven’t already subscribed to Heather’s facebook series you can view the videos of the completed videos on Youtube.
In Session 5 of this series Heather references the work of Marriage researcher John Gottman in sharing his 4 predictors of divorce based on 30 years of studying couples.
In Session 6 Heather shares The 4 antidotes to the 4 predictors of divorce.
Both of these videos are particularly helpful for couples, so we warmly recommend them to you, but once you view these sessions why not check our others in the series.
Gerlinde Spencer wrote this article 10 years ago, but it is equally relevant now. The insights, the sharing of experience, and the usefulness of the accompanying exercise for promoting couple dialogue are just as important and helpful today, though presented in a new medium. As the launch of a redesigned Better Marriages Australia website provides additional ways for our organisation to help married couples to enrich and grow their relationships in the digital generation, it is appropriate to re-publish this original article, on being real with our partners. – The Web Editor
The velveteen rabbit
Recently I read the story of the “The Velveteen Rabbit”* to our great-granddaughter at bedtime and that set me to musing about the importance and the dan- gers of “being real” with each other in marriage. (For readers who have yet to discover this treasure of a book, the Velveteen Rabbit who wants to become real, meets the old Skin Horse among his new owner’s toys and learns the secret of how you become real from him. Becoming real, as the rabbit discovers, takes time. It involves being loved constantly over a long period in all sorts of circumstances, becoming quite shabby in the process and “sometimes it hurts”.)
When newlyweds start their life together they are a bit like the brand new toy rabbit with its lovely spotted velveteen coat.
Never having come across a spotted rabbit I have come to think of these spots on the brand new coat as representing the image we had of ourselves at the time we married. We wanted to impress each other with our looks, our abilities and our capacity to cope with love and life. It was “best foot forward” while the romantic glow lasted. And while some of that was very real, the glow hid a lot of who we were, as well as what we needed from each other and what we expected of each other. We had a lot of living together to do before we even started to know each other, let alone truly to love each other despite (and because) of what we now knew.
So what about the importance and the dangers of getting to know each other more truly as we move through the years together?
In a nutshell, for any relationship to have life, to be satisfying, to be worthwhile the two parties need to share enough of their thoughts and feelings to make it work. That is true in all important relationships but especially in marriage.
a couple talking and sharing together
In fact, there is great danger in staying safe, in not being real with the person you are married to. For one thing, there is the danger of getting bored with your partner and with marriage itself. Too often the love which was so good in the early days gradually fades and turns to resentment if we avoid getting to know each other at a deeper level. There is also the danger of failing to deal with our differences and gradually withdrawing from each other to avoid the pain of conflict and repeated misunderstanding.
More importantly, we will eventually feel cheated. Because most of us enter marriage with the hope that at long last we have found someone who is willing to understand and accept us, someone who will keep on loving us despite our shortcomings and our past. We also want someone who will reveal themselves to us, who will risk being honest, risk being “real” and trust us to keep loving them as they do this.
So why do we avoid what could be good for us and our life together?
There are a number of reasons. At the most primitive level, we are afraid. “If You Really Knew Me Would You Still Love Me?”# is still the burning question, especially as there are a number of things in me I don’t like or approve of. “Can I risk acknowledging these? Will you turn away or tell me I shouldn’t be like I am? Will you expect me to change some of the things I despair of changing, some of the things I don’t want to change? Will you expect me to be like you?” Altogether, “being real” seems too risky and may spoil the relationship we have now.
Another reason for avoidance is a chronic shortage of time. One of the entry points to the kind of conversation which will expand our knowledge and appreciation of each other is when we have had a disagreement. I say, “have had” because in the middle of a disagreement or a fight we are too busy defending our turf and not in the mood to listen to our partner. Too often we say “sorry” and make up without really understanding what went wrong. Or we use up precious time in trying to work out “who was wrong” which isn’t always helpful. Mostly we just want to be close again and to get on with all the things we need to do, so the opportunity for learning is lost.
To move from being at loggerheads with each other to discovering new things about your partner or yourself takes time. It also takes a commitment to taking (and making) the time to talk and to listen to each other in a loving and supportive way. It means being prepared to turn off the TV when one partner says, “I’d like to learn more about what happened the other day. I’d like to know more what was happening to you and I would like to talk about what was going on for me if you are in a place to listen.” Or responding positively to, “We’ll have a long drive on our own on Friday, how would you feel about using some of that time to talk about how we are handling the kids (or our money or our sex life, or my having to be away from home so much).”
Which brings us to a further reason for avoiding deeper sharing and that is: we are not sure we have the skills to do it. We are afraid we will simply replay the old fight once we get started, we will hurt each other again and feel worse instead of better.
The good news is: If your intention is to learn what is real for your partner,all you need to do is stick with some really effective listening, reflecting the essence of what he or she says for long enough for some new insights or information to emerge. Swap roles when your partner feels truly understood. If you have run out of time for your turn, make a date to continue the dialogue and commit to keeping it.
Another question is, how much to share. We all have a need for some privacy so where do we set the boundaries?
Do we have to have long D & Ms to get to know each other at a deeper level? Do we have to be brutally honest in order to be real? Here we need to check our goals for the relationship and to judge what and how we reveal ourselves to each other against these. If our aim is to have a richer experience of each other, to enjoy gradually getting to know each other more fully, any excess in sharing or confronting will be counterproductive. In the end how much we say and how confronting we are will be determined by the needs of the couple.
And then there is the question of style. Some people love to delve into their past and share both sad and happy memories, to talk about the people and the circumstances of their growing up. For other people, this is a difficult thing to do. If they share their thoughts it is more in the areas of knowledge that interest them or the things they would like to do. Fortunately, most of us do some of both kinds of talking but if you and your partner are very different you may have some learning to do.
Where your partner’s preferred style is not your own, each of you will benefit from getting to know some of your partner’s vocabulary and area of interest. The easiest way to get started is, of course, reflective listening using your partner’s language. You will be amazed at the results once you have made the effort. The fact that you may feel phony in the beginning will give way to doing it more naturally as you go on and the reward of getting on a shared wavelength where both of you feel understood and valued will make the effort worthwhile.
If we have the privilege of many years together we will never get bored with each other or with our life together when we support each other in this process of becoming more “real”. As the Skin Horse said to the Velveteen Rabbit, “…but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
There is a Marriage Enrichment Couple exercise which Gerlinde wrote, that you and your partner are welcome to use to help share your thoughts and feelings with each other. It is available for download in the Resources section of this website.
*Margery Williams 1922, reprints still available. This book is still available from bookshops including those online such as the Book Depository.
# John Powell Why am I afraid to tell you who I am 1972