Let's make 1999 the Year of the Relationship

By Paul Gray - Herald Sun
Jan 13, 1999

To see why, look what happened in 1998.

One of the most important events of last year was the release of the Federal Government report To Have and To Hold. It documented the fact that damage from broken relationships costs our community billions every year. That's from court costs, pensions and other charges on public and private purses that flow directly from relationship breakdown. And it's not counting the emotional damage from broken and strained relationships.

Strengthening relationships to reduce all this damage is therefore a worthwhile priority for all of us -- as individuals, and as a community -- during the next 12 months.

During the past 12 months, I've become aware of two positive but little-known initiatives to strengthen relationships under stress in Melbourne.

The first is called Partners 2000. "Don't become another relationship statistic," urged Maitland Lincoln, the Melbourne barrister and former Magistrate who helped pull Partners 2000 together late last year. Partners 2000 offers a short course of four three-hour sessions, over four weeks, where couples can hear the advice of acknowledged relationship experts. The course aims to help couples do two things. First, clarify their problems. Second, build skills for dealing with them.

The second initiative is the "Retrouvaille" program. The name (pronounced re-troo-vye) comes from the French word meaning "rediscovery." Retrouvaille is a more intensive program involving a live-in weekend for the couple, where the basics of listening and communicating are re-taught. Over the following 2-3 months, a series of five four-hour follow-up sessions are held to re-inforce the lessons.

Partners 2000 is a non-religious program. Retrouvaille follows the example of a Canadian Catholic "marriage repair" program, which claims a 70 per cent success rate in helping people rebuild happy marriages in many countries.

Partners 2000 and Retrouvaille are not the only groups in Melbourne offering relationship education or advice. However, a hallmark of both is the fact they are clearly committed to saving troubled marriages. They are not there to mediate separation or divorce. Proudly, they offer married couples strong and positive reinforcement for their decision to remain together, despite the hardships they may be going through. It's vital someone should be doing this today, it seems to me. Why? In today's relationship climate, we sometimes get the subtle message that no relationship can be forever.

This is the so-called "commodity view" of relationships. It's the sad idea that a relationship -- even a marriage -- should be thrown out once it's reached its "use-by" date.

Partners 2000 and Retrouvaille offer a counter to that view. Their philosophy is that generally, a marriage is worth repairing. It's a view shared, I suspect, by many couples who have endured tremendous hardships, but then gone on to happier days, 10, 20 and even 50 years down the track.

This attitude was captured memorably by marriage educator David White, in Don Parham's landmark documentary on the 21st anniversary of the Family Law Act, We're All Independent Now. "Most of us grow up and start to appreciate the possibilities of marriage 10 years into marriage," said Mr White. "The real pleasure probably starts after 20. "For many, many people there's heaps of good stuff ahead." It is tragic, said the marriage educator, "to be knocked off the mountain before you've had a chance of seeing some of the sights." Of course, we all know, from personal experience, of ITAL some END ITAL marriages that are, perhaps, beyond repairing. However, our major problem today, I believe, is not these few. It's the ITAL many END ITAL marriages which were right to begin, but are in danger of foundering because of communication problems, lack of understanding or lack of support, from the people and the culture which surround them.

For me, the issue was summed up by re-reading, over Christmas, a classic book about relationships, The Four Loves by CS Lewis. Lewis says there are four different kinds of love known to human beings -- affection, friendship, sexual love and charity.

In marriage, it seems to me, we want -- and need -- all four loves. Learning how to cultivate them better is a worthwhile task for 1999. 

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