Friday, February 27, 2009

Celebrity Matters - A Tribute To Steve Irwin

Australia's Inspirational Wildlife Warrior
I wrote this tribute to Steve Irwin soon after he died at the age of 44 on September 4, 2006, the day after Father’s Day. Steve died suddenly when he was struck by a stingray when filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
I have analysed Steve drawing on the Enneagram system of personality types. Under the system, Steve was a Type Two, The Helper with a Three wing, of the Achiever and I believe he was functioning at a high level.
The loveable Steve Irwin won the hearts of millions of people.
I had a soft spot for him because he reminded me of my brother. My brother, Steve Robinson was also a Two with a Three wing and died young at the age of 24 in a car accident on September 3, 1979, the day after Father’s Day. My adventurous Big Brother was driving to Rockhampton to start a new job. After hours at the wheel, he nodded off as dawn broke and in a micro-second veered into an on-coming truck and was killed instantly.
My brother Steve was also a rugged outdoors bloke and great sportsman; a Karate black belt, a scuba diver and hockey star. He was just as exuberant, affectionate and generous as Australia’s famous Crocodile Hunter and wildlife warrior.

Understanding Steve Irwin
The remarkable late great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin had the charismatic personality of the Type Two with a Type Three wing. We all knew that the irrepressible media star was an entertaining character however few people knew that he was a truly great man until his death. Most of us believe we are psychologically healthy but in fact we are usually functioning at an average level, blighted by negative traits, which show up in our close relationships and destructive habits. Steve Irwin was rare. He had risen to his full potential as a human being, expressing the very best qualities of his type. At the end of his dynamic life at the young age of 44, Steve had reached a spiritual pinnacle.
Filled With Love
At the healthy level, the Two experiences unconditional love. Steve Irwin loved fiercely, without restraint, his beautiful wife Terri and young children, Bindi and Bob, his parents and sisters, his mates and workers, his public and all who came within his exuberant presence.

How did Steve rise to his full potential? He was blessed with a happy childhood and lavished with support and encouragement from devoted parents. Another reason for his high level functioning was the constant respect, admiration and support he received from his wife. He did not suffer emotional wounding in his marriage, rather his emotional needs were met. He was also given the opportunities to do what he brought out the best in him; run a zoo and travel the planet filming wildlife shows.

As passionately as he loved the humans in his life, Steve loved animals. Growing up handling reptiles and animals, he had developed a rapport, a heightened empathy and compassion for all God’s creatures. He bonded with them. It was as if he could see inside them, understand their feelings, and connect with them. He empathised with their suffering and fought to protect and save endangered species.

In rare footage with a mother orang-utan, he was enraptured by the big-eyed, affectionate furry mammal. Steve was a combination of masculine protective love, maternal nurturing love and child-like innocence, trust and wonder. He was also positive and all embracing like a child, not faultfinding or critical. He simply loved universally.

Mother Teresa was another magnificent example of a Two with a Three wing who exuded unconditional love. Just as she could embrace filthy outcasts and declare that she saw the beauty of Christ in their faces, Steve Irwin could get up close and personal with cold-blooded crocodiles and venom-spitting snakes and appreciate their unique beauty.

His passionate relationship with Terri was the ultimate love story. It was love at first sight when they met in 1991 at his zoo and married in June 1992 in Oregon. They adored each other every day of their 14 years of marriage. Terri was blessed with the kind of husband most women dream of, and yet the cost of such love is her agonising grief at his loss. As she bravely revealed her television interviews, Terri’s heartbreaking grief is almost unbearable. With his early death, she is denied a future with a devoted husband and father and the fulfilment of growing old with her soul mate. It seems a cruel fate, to have loved so deeply and lost him so young. Yet it is a test that can transform her into an extraordinary human being also. Inspired by his strength and their eternal bond, Terri is committed to continuing his great work.
He was the most affectionate and fun-loving, adventurous dad kids could ever dream of. Little Bindi and Bob are left to mourn a father who was a true hero. Bindi understood her Dad’s mission of kindling love for animals in others. She said at his memorial service, with the profound wisdom of a child, that he wanted people to love animals as much as he did so they would save them.

Everyone felt they knew Steve personally through his larger-than-life on-screen persona. The love Steve Irwin gave so freely was returned in full when the whole of Australia and 300 million people around the world watched his memorial service at the zoo’s Crocoseum and mourned by his passing and paid tribute to his extraordinary life. Aussies and Americans wept buckets as though we had lost a mate, a brother, a son and a champion.

With such fearless confidence handling dangerous animals, it seemed Steve was indestructible. But his big heart was unprotected. In a tragic irony it was his loving heart that was pierced by the poisonous barb of a stingray, usually a timid creature, while diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Steve would be thankfully he was not mauled by a croc or killed by a deadly snake, the despised and misunderstood creatures he championed.
Achieving Authenticity
Some cynics questioned whether this guy was for real or just acting when they saw Steve’s crazy enthusiasm for wildlife in his documentaries and crocodile shows at Australia Zoo. Was he just a clever showman hamming up the Aussie character or was he genuine? Steve Irwin was no fake. He was for real, 100 per cent ridgie didge, true blue, fair dinkum.

Steve was more than an Aussie character, he has become an Aussie icon, epitomising everything good about the Australian character; unpretentious down to earth honesty, mischievous larrikinism, generous friendliness and unprejudiced acceptance of all and sundry.

When the Three Wing of Steve’s personality integrated to a healthy level, he discovered the authenticity that average Threes lack. The average Three is locked into a false image, dependent on approval and out of touch with their true feelings, needs, values and desires. Steve had risen above this.

Not only was he courageous with dangerous animals, he had the emotional courage to fully feel and express a full range of emotions, from unbounded joy to gut wrenching grief. When his beloved mother died in a car crash in 2002, Steve wept openly and showed his pain and vulnerability to the world, without defences. He left himself open to ridicule but he demonstrated to men that tears are in fact a sign of strength and being real.

He possessed clarity about his values. His devotion to his marriage and family and his divine mission of saving wildlife were unwavering.

Brimming with Energy
The Two personality is known as The Helper because this type expresses love by DOING, through practical acts of service. Steve Irwin was full of energy. What he did in one day would leave most of us exhausted. On a daily basis, he personally fed and cared for his animals, especially tending to his elephants, his “gorgeous girls”, the tigers, his beloved 176 year old Galapagos tortoise, Harriet, his crocs and the injured koalas and kangaroos in his wildlife hospital. He made time to mingle with the public and handle publicity. He made quality time for his family, went on filming expeditions in the outback and far flung corners of the world and he found time to surf. He even cooked! Was there anything this guy couldn’t do? He led a hands-on active life!

His Type Three wing is known as The Achiever. When watching Steve’s humorous screen antics, it is easy to overlook his immense skills and knowledge that allowed him to handle dangerous animals and educate and inspire in such riveting style. In his memorial service, a scientist paid tribute to his expertise saying Steve possessed the curiosity of a great scientist and he was about to be made an honorary professor with the University of Queensland.

Leaving A Legacy
Like other rare individuals who rise to their full potential, Steve Irwin has left a world-changing legacy. Steve’s legacy is to inspire millions of people worldwide to find their own mission, live their best life and make a contribution to our troubled planet. On a personal level, he has shown us how to love our families wholeheartedly. As a superhero, he has inspired a generation of children to become Wildlife Warriors to fight for conservation.

It seems that remarkable achievers typically live hard and fast and die young. He fearlessly courted death every day and had a sense he would die young. Steve packed more into 44 extraordinary years than 100 ordinary lifetimes. He had reached a pinnacle of creativity and influence but we still feel cheated of a hero and are left to wonder what he would have achieved with another 30 or 40 years of life.

And yet if we all take Steve’s inspiration into our hearts we can multiple his good work by millions. He might become even more powerful in death, than life, as the world realises what we’ve lost. His dramatic death is a global wake-up call.

Australia Zoo and the wildlife hospital is a phenomenal success, which employs 500 staff and attracts visitors from around the globe. Steve’s foundation, Wildlife Warriors Worldwide has purchased vast tracts of habitat and is committed to research, wildlife rescue, community education and tiger and elephant conservation.

Steve Irwin made more than 50 documentaries, a series for the US Discovery Channel, a movie and he was working on Bindi’s TV series, Jungle Girl. His spirit of pure love and joy lives on. His radiant face and captivating antics have been immortalised on countless films and photos for all time.

If you believe in Heaven you can be sure that Steve Irwin is there. Perhaps in his spirit he felt his work on the planet was complete. It was as if he knew the end was close and he was being called Home. His early death is a great a tragedy for his family and loss to humanity however he possessed the rare ability to inspire countless thousands of people to take up the cause of conservation and become Wildlife Warriors and carry on his courageous work. That’s the ultimate legacy. And we are grateful for his extraordinary life.

For more information on the Enneagram, read Personality Types, Using The Enneagram, for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson or visit
To support Wildlife Warriors, visit

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Relationship Matters 11 - Getting Unstuck

Be Your Self and Overcome Co-dependence
Making polite conversation, I asked the man, in his mid-sixties, about his recent travels. “Where did you go? Which country did you like the best?” He looked at me, laughing nervously, and said: “Don’t ask me. Ask her. She does all the thinking. I just go along and do what I’m told.” I glanced at his wife, a tiny but domineering woman, and noticed a smirk of satisfaction cross her face. She had him right where she wanted him!

Co-dependence is a dynamic in a relationship where one partner is dominant and the other is submissive. It is easy to assume that the dominant partner has created this unhealthy dynamic however the problem often lies with the submissive partner who fails to assert and set boundaries.

Blurred Boundaries

In such a relationship boundaries are blurred and two people are enmeshed, not knowing where one stops and the other starts. The submissive one does not see themself as an individual, clearly expressing their own opinions, feelings, needs, preferences and wants. On a night out, they often can’t express an opinion about a movie, show their annoyance about a rude waiter or even order from a menu.

Likewise the submissive partner does not see their partner as a separate individual. The enmeshed one often takes their partner’s moods as meaning something about themself. They absorb the other person as if their boundaries are porous. If their partner is irritable, the enmeshed partner is upset without the ability to say “that’s you, this is me”.

A Pay-off for Being Passive

The submissive partner allows the dominant partner to make most decisions. There is a pay-off for passivity. He or she is avoiding discomfort and conflict. And the compliant partner does not take responsibility for decisions and gets to blame the aggressive partner if things go wrong.

But there’s also a cost. Whenever you do something you don’t want to, out of obligation, to win approval or out of guilt or fear, it breeds resentment. Often the submissive partner is carrying repressed resentment which seeps out in covert, passive-aggressive ways.

The submissive partner feels like a helpless victim rather than a pro-active adult in charge of their life choices. Such a disempowered state can lead to chronic anxiety and depression.

In the case of the dominant partner, why do they cross their partner’s boundaries? Because they can. The dominant partner learns what they can ‘get away with’. And there is a strong element of dissatisfaction and frustration. Clearly they want things that their non-assertive partner is not giving – love in the form of affection, attention or understanding; shared responsibility, support and strength. But instead of asking and accepting their partner’s right to say ‘no’ to requests, they cross boundaries and demand and force their will on the weaker partner.

Lack of Respect
The co-dependent relationship lacks respect. The submissive partner lacks self-respect and becomes a doormat and the dominant partner stops respecting the weak partner and treats them with condescending disdain, even contempt. This is not a relationship between equal adults but is based on a parent-child dynamic.

How does co-dependence come about? It is caused through an immaturity in psychological development. When a child reaches adolescence and early twenties they need to develop independence, individuality and ‘separate’ from their mother and father. If this doesn’t happen because the parent is clingy or controlling, they remain psychologically enmeshed with the parent.

A Strong, Independent Self
Stunted in their development, the adult will carry this co-dependent dynamic into their marriage. They will either attract a domineering partner or turn their partner into one. In the marriage, they are often in a regressed state of the obedient child or defiant teenager with transference on their partner as Mum or Dad.

How do you change this and create a respectful marriage between equals? The first step is recognising the dynamic exists. While either or both of you are in denial or comfortable with the arrangement, there will be no motivation to change.

The passive partner has to overcome their anxiety and assert themself. They have to learn to express their own opinions, feelings, needs and wants, develop their own interests and take responsibility for their choices. Together, they must also learn how to function as an emotionally mature couple.

Back Off
The dominant partner has to learn patience with their partner: drawing them out and validating them. They have to hold back on bombarding them with dogmatic views, strong feelings and inflexible demands. They have to back off in an argument and take time out.
None of this is easy if the dynamic is deeply entrenched. Both partners would benefit from weekly support groups that help them heal old wounds and grow. And then they can love each other as two well-formed individuals, from a position of mutual strength and respect.

This article was published in October, 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

Relationship Matters 10 - Lovers Forever

Staying In Love for Life
You become infatuated or fall in love when you focus on someone’s positive qualities, real or imagined, and see the other person as your fairytale Dream Come True. Infatuation releases a rush of feel-good hormones into the bloodstream. Sadly or thankfully, this state of euphoria is temporary.

Psychologists call this ability to see only the positive idealisation. You idealise the other person, choosing to see your lover through rose-tinted lenses, all air-brushed, buff and gorgeous; the dazzling smile, the sparkling eyes, the scintillating personality.

You possess the remarkable ability to filter any awareness of their negative traits. As well as being blind to their faults, you also selectively show only your own best attributes, your most adorable, charming self, and this glossy image carries the unspoken promise that you are the one who can meet their every emotional need. You conveniently hide your weaknesses, character flaws and bad habits.

The Bubble Will Burst
Being in love is a state of intense mutual attraction. However new lovers can live in this ecstatic fantasy bubble for only a short time. Just how long it takes for the bubble to burst depends on how long you can sustain the idealisation and keep reality at bay. Sometimes it lasts only weeks, sometimes, a few months.
Inevitably once the infatuated couple re-enter the real world of mundane problems and conflicts, they start to register each other’s litany of faults; the fiery temper, the sulking, the insecurity, the selfishness, the bullying, the childishness, the dirty underwear left on the floor, always running late…the list goes on and on.

The universal distress signal: “This isn’t the person I fell in love with!” is wailed over a pint of beer or cup of coffee to sympathetic friends in pubs, cafes and kitchen tables around the world. The inevitable crash has happened.

What now? This is the boring part; learning how to co-habit as real, flesh and blood, flawed human beings, not fantasy figures. This is the stage where you learn to love; that is really care for each other in practical ways.

Reality Bites
There are so many skills to master: how to show affection and intimacy, active listening, assertive communication, decision-making and problem-solving, working out values and goals, how to share household chores and financial responsibilities, loyalty and devotion, how to say sorry, how to forgive, and later you will probably enter the whole new scary frontier of parenting.

This stage of a committed relationship is called relationship maintenance. It is not as passionate and highly-charged as the initial stage of falling in love and mate selection but it can provide immense fulfilment if you are willing to put in the effort to learn.

Rather than deride falling in love as naïve and delusional, it is important to realise that this stage of idealisation has a higher purpose. By focusing on the positive and forming a strong bond and a collection of happy memories, the couple creates a secure foundation which supports them through the inevitable challenges ahead.

Make The List
Here is a natty idea for all those in a marriage that might have lost its zing. If idealising your partner is the key to falling in love, you can deliberately choose to focus on your partner’s good qualities and block out the negative whenever you want to revive those delicious feelings of being in love.

I recently made a list of my husband’s finest qualities and talents; all the things I fell in love with at the tender age of 22; his smile, his handsome face, his dark looks, the way he sings and plays guitar, his sense of humour, his creativity, his cartooning, his poetry, his boyish charm, his vulnerability, his gentleness, his kindness, his pure heart, his generosity and much more.

What’s your list? Cast your mind back and write a list, a long list, and give it to your partner and watch them melt. Whenever you are focusing on their faults, remind yourself of all these qualities and stimulate a few feel-good hormones!

Revive Romance
At the same time you can deliberately show your best attributes, the way you did when you were doing the courtship dance. Make an effort to be physically attractive to your partner; slim down, dress up, rediscover your sexiness.

Go on romantic dates, be touchy-feely and engage in stimulating conversation. Ban all talk of mundane domestics and niggling problems. Jump into bed and you know the rest.

Human beings are intelligent. You can choose to fall in love and stay in love if you want to. You are not at the mercy of unconscious mind tricks and rampant hormones. You can use knowledge of how infatuation works to reinvigorate your marriage and experience the tingling euphoria of being in love with the one you really love!

This article was published in August, 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

Relationship Matters Nine - Are You Suited?

Compatibility is Possible for All Types
Some couples are as different as chalk and cheese. She is rigid and dogmatic. He is flexible and fun-loving. Or he is a domineering tough guy and she is placid and easy-going. In contrast, other couples are so similar they could be matching bookends. They look alike, talk alike, act alike.

What is Compatibility?
Both the chalk and cheese couples and the bookend couples can have successful, happy marriages. How is this possible? What is the secret to compatibility? What does ‘compatibility’ mean anyway? We tend to think that compatible partners get along smoothly and if there are differences of opinion, they have the ability to work things out. We also think of compatibility as the twosome who shares interests. So what allows a couple to ‘get along’ in a state of loving intimacy without tearing each other to shreds on the one extreme or being withdrawn and disconnected on the other extreme?

I believe that problems in marriage are not caused by gender, personality or cultural differences as many popular theories would have us believe. Problems are caused by dysfunction; that is, the low level of psychological health of one or both partners. When psychologically unhealthy or immature, partners act out unresolved repressed pain and lack the emotional qualities and communication skills necessary to meet each others’ needs and sustain an intimate connection. On the other hand, when partners are functioning at a higher level of psychological health they possess the abilities to overcome any differences and issues.

Complement or Clash
This is a view shared by world-acclaimed experts in the Enneagram personality system, Don Riso and Russ Hudson. They have meticulously analysed combinations of personality types to assess their strengths and weaknesses and areas where they complement and clash.

Partners of the same personality type will naturally have an understanding of each other and share similar values however the danger is, they can also reinforce each other’s negative traits and allow each other to get stuck in comfortable ruts.

Partners with different personalities can extend and draw out each other to venture into unfamiliar territory. The emotional, deep-thinking wife can challenge the superficial husband to explore introspective depths. The adventurous husband can challenge the cautious, conservative wife to scuba-dive and climb mountains. Such personality differences can be complementary.

Anybody Can Be Compatible
After all their research of couple combinations, Riso and Hudson conclude that any two people can be compatible and have a happy, loving marriage if they are functioning at a psychologically healthy level. When psychologically healthy, one partner will consider the other’s feelings and needs and will accept and respect differences. When healthy, a person has moved beyond childish self-centredness and is capable of loving and caring for someone else. They learn to become other-centred.

Learning communication skills helps any personality combination co-exist happily. The functional couple has to learn how to listen with empathy and speak respectfully to each other and rationally solve problems, resolve conflict and make decisions together. Such skills are taught in Effectiveness Training, which has been around since the 60s. These skills don’t come naturally if we rely on the faulty template laid down in our formative years by unskilled parents and teachers. Intelligent communication skills have to be learned.

A Number One Priority
Having a shared faith and shared values such as loyalty and devotion to each other and making your marriage a Number One priority, even above extended family, friends, career and interests, forms a solid foundation, which can overcome personality, cultural or gender differences.

Marriage expert, Dr Willard Harley agrees that compatibility is not so much about innate traits as shared interests. In his book Surviving An Affair, he claims that compatibility is really the result of a series of choices about how you live as a couple. You can choose to be compatible.

He advocates a ‘Policy of Joint Agreement’ which is simply: “Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.”

Brick By Brick
Dr Harley writes: “Building a marital relationship is like building a house – brick by brick. Each brick is a choice you make about the way you live together. If you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement and make choices that are mutually agreeable, your house will be strong and beautiful. But if some bricks are made by only one of you, those weak bricks will make your whole house an uncomfortable place to live.

“When couples throw out all their thoughtless habits and activities and replace them with habits and activities that take each other’s feelings into account, that’s what compatibility is all about – building a way of life that is comfortable for both spouses.”

Chalk and cheese or matching bookend couples can be compatible if they are psychologically healthy, make the effort to learn consideration for each other and choose a compatible way of life together.

This article was published in June 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read Fall In Love, Stay In Love by Dr Willard Harley, Jr and Surviving An Affair by Dr Willard Harley Jr & Dr Jennifer Harley Chalmers & Personality Types, Using The Enneagram, for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson or visit

Relationship Matters Eight - Connections

The Different Relationships that Enrich Our Lives
LET’S, just for the sake of clarity, pull apart and explore the different kinds of relationships that weave together to form the colourful tapestry of our lives.

Divine Connection

I never used to understand what people meant by their claim of “having a relationship with God.” How do you have a relationship with someone invisible, I wondered? And yet this relationship was missing from my life. In becoming a Christian I have now discovered it is possible to relate to God through prayer and song and reading His Word. I have discovered the art of worship and have received divine love. Agape love is spiritual love; unconditional compassion and grace. Relating to God, as Father, is a vertical connection.

Holy Matrimony
And then, there is the relationship between husband and wife. Marriage is a sacred bond. Holy Matrimony is a unique relationship, which can only exist between two people. It is possible to have a deep connection with your partner that you share with no one else. Within marriage you can meet each other’s essential needs and enjoy a state of intimacy and trust. In my view, marriage is the only place where sexuality belongs. Eros love is physical love; the essence of romance and passion. It offers the kind of profound bond most people yearn for.

Brotherly Love
Another kind of relationship exists between siblings and I mean not only blood brothers and sisters but also peers who fall into an age range of about 10 years younger or older. In the Australian Aboriginal culture there’s no such relationship as ‘friend’; you are a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.

We blur boundaries when we sexualise the plutonic, sibling relationship with flirtation between friends and colleagues. Phileo love is affectionate soul love. Genuine, close friendships enrich life. Our peers are our equals and provide ‘horizontal’ support in the framework of relationships.

I Love Me!
It is possible to have a relationship with yourself. The Self is comprised of three different parts: Body, Soul (or Mind) and Spirit. The Soul is made up of three parts: the mental, emotional and the will. Different parts of the Self relate to each other; rational thinking can discipline unruly emotions, your Adult can console the Child Within, the mind can direct the body, the Spirit can guide the Soul. I categorise a relationship with the Self as a sibling one. Aim to be you own best friend! Loving your real self is distinct from narcissism where you fall in love with your false image!

Honouring Parents, Loving Children
The fourth kind of relationship is the parent-child dynamic. All adults are entrusted with the protection and care of children. The relationship between children and their natural parents, grandparents and all parent-figures is a sacred trust.

Anyone younger by 15 years or more, we tend to consider a ‘child’ and adopt a parental, caring attitude towards. Likewise anyone older by 15 years or more, we tend to see as mother or father figures and look up to for guidance. In Aboriginal culture, all parent-figures are called Auntie or Uncle by the young folk who are taught to honour their elders. In all societies we intuitively know it’s our job is to mentor young people. We see such dedication in sports coaches, teachers and community leaders.

As a parent of a teenager, I naturally play a mothering role for all teenagers who visit our home and a caring role for my mum and her elderly friends. When you are middle-aged, you’re sandwiched between two generations and have a responsibility to both. These are ‘vertical’ relationships based on Phileo love.

In the tragic distortion of paedophilia, the protective parent-child relationship is violated, which causes lasting psychological damage.

Loving Animals and Nature
Animal lovers experience another kind of relationship; the one between humans and other species. Yes, the affection many people have for their pets or wild animals is heartfelt and rewarding. Our family has loved a motley succession of dogs over the years. Some people adore cats and others bond deeply with horses.

And what about our relationship with nature? Humans are capable of communing with nature and we are entrusted to be custodians of the earth and to protect and care for our environment.

Things Don’t Count
Can we have a relationship with material things? Some people really love their house, car, boat, clothes, jewellery or food! The definition of a relationship usually means a two-way communication. Perhaps a ‘relationship’ with material things becomes a substitute for the other kinds of connections we crave.

Relationships are the essence of our lives. It is illuminating to clarify different kinds of relationships and nurture them all. Connect with God, turn to your husband or wife (not anyone else’s) for intimacy, be a good ‘sister’ or ‘brother’ to your siblings and friends, a caring parent-figure to all children, honour your parents, love animals and revere nature and you will be richly fulfilled and joyfully blessed.

This article was published in April 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

Relationship Matters Seven- Eliminate The Negative

Don’t Let Love Busters Destroy Your Marriage
It is easy to see your partner’s faults. They are glaringly obvious, right in front of your face. But it’s harder to see your own faults and really, who wants to? Owning up to your own faults is challenging. It is far easier to opt for denial and point the accusing finger right back at your partner, declaring: “You’re the problem, not me!”

Commit To Change
How do we free ourselves from the loop of blame and counter-blame? For anyone to change and grow, the first step is willingness. And if you really want to change, you must scrutinise yourself and face your faults. It takes courage.

Thankfully psychologist Dr Willard Harley, after 40 years of tough experience with finger-pointing couples, has done the hard slog for us. He has identified six core habits that are guaranteed to destroy any marriage. He coined the cute term ‘Love Busters’ and if you want a happy marriage these habits must be treated like dangerous pests and exterminated.

The Six No-No's
The six Love Busters are selfish demands, disrespectful judgments, angry outbursts, dishonesty, annoying habits and independent behaviour.

Selfish demands are made for your own benefit at the expense of your partner and laced with a threat of punishment if refused. Such demands are made in a state of frustration when you’re trying to solve a problem. It might be that you want help with the kids and the housework or you are demanding your right to come home late from a business meeting. However demands lead to resentment and kill love.

There is another way. Thoughtful requests mean asking your partner to do something for you with willingness to withdraw if there is reluctance. The request is preceded by “How would you feel if you were to…” which shows concern for your partner’s feelings.

Respectful Persuasion
Selfish demands lead to resistance and escalate to disrespectful judgments. Out of mounting frustration you will resort to name-calling, insults, ridicule and criticism. Such attacks are damaging to your partner’s self-esteem and sense of safety and they never work! Dr Harley suggests you try respectful persuasion, which means blending your values systems, giving each one’s wisdom an opportunity to override the other’s foolishness!

If you persist with demands and insults and fail to get your own way, you are likely to resort to angry outbursts, temper tantrums and ranting and raving. For some, anger escalates to rage that explodes in a tirade of verbal abuse or even physical abuse. Such episodes are extremely harmful and must be stopped through anger management.

These first three Love Busters tend to be used by extroverted, fiery people and they are justified with excuses such as “I’m just an assertive guy who tells it like it is”; I need to let off steam”; “I’m just expressing myself. It’s better to let your feelings out than keep them bottled up”.

Superficial Behaviours
Fortunately these destructive habits are superficial behaviours, rather than deeply ingrained traits. They have often been role modelled on parents. In fact you are usually in your 'adaptive parent' state when you are demanding, lecturing, patronising, insulting and yelling at your partner. It is the selfish 'Taker' part of you, as Dr Harley terms it.
Thankfully with enough determination, it is possible to change these bad habits with intelligence and will power. Firstly, you must decide that such abuse is completely unacceptable.

Introverted people might not be guilty of these three aggressive Love Busters but they can specialise in the other three. Then there are those who have mastered all six bad habits with great finesse!

Radical Honesty
Let’s explore the other three Love Busters. People lie to protect their partner, look good or avoid trouble. (Some people are compulsive liars due to mental disorder). But dishonesty, for whatever reason, is a virus that will infect your marriage. Dr Harley advocates Radical Honesty, which requires complete honesty about one’s feelings, past experiences, present activities and future plans.

Annoying habits can range from how your husband slurps his coffee to how your wife always keeps you waiting. The partner with annoying habits will usually say “Like it or lump it! This is just how I am. I’m not going to change!” The truth is annoying habits destroy love and if you want your partner to stay in love with you, it makes sense to eliminate the habits that bug them.

Separate Lives
Finally some people choose to live separate lives. They are absorbed in their careers, have their own friends and interests and don’t consult their partner about decisions. At first glance independent behaviour might seem healthy. Who wants to be clingy and dependent? But living independently will make you drift apart and is not the only alternative to unhealthy dependency. Inter-dependent behaviour is the right balance that nurtures and protects each other.

The key principle to overcoming all six Love Busters is the Policy of Joint Agreement, which means never doing anything without the enthusiastic agreement between you and your partner. Obviously this refers to the big decisions of life. It requires consideration for each other and making the success of your marriage your highest priority.

This article was published in February 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read Love Busters, Overcoming Habits That Destroy Romantic Love by Dr Willard Harley, Jr or visit

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Relationship Matters Six- Your Love Language

Gifts of Love
I am the kind of person who can be given a beautiful present and well-chosen card but be secretly disappointed if it lacks gushing prose. I thrive on words of affirmation. Because I need it myself I am generous with my praise of others. Friends say I am a great encourager!

Such is my delight in loving words, my husband can thrill me by whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I’m easily pleased! No grandiose gestures required. I’m talking about Love Languages and we all speak different dialects when it comes to amour.

You might be familiar with the top selling book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, an experienced marriage counsellor. It is important to discover your own and your partner’s primary Love Language. No point speaking Italian, if he’s speaking French! Most of us are multi-lingual in matters of the heart and can speak and understand a little of all five languages but we have our preferred native tongue.

What’s yours? Is it Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service or Physical Touch?

Words of Affirmation show appreciation through compliments such as ‘You look fabulous in that colour!’ ‘That meal was delicious!’ and ‘ I love listening to you play the piano.’ The word ‘encourage’ means to ‘inspire courage’. Encourage your partner in their big goals and dreams and in their small daily challenges and stresses.

Love is kind. Speak with respect and consideration even when expressing frustration. Be aware of your tone of voice. Words of Affirmation won’t come naturally if you’ve been used to being critical and stingy with praise. Practise this new skill.

Have You Got The Time?

Quality Time means giving undivided attention: taking a walk together, enjoying romantic dinners, sharing leisure activities or working together on a project. All that some wives (and kids) ever want is time and it is the one thing they are denied by the work-obsessed husband too busy with ‘more important’ tasks. Quality time supports Quality Conversation where you share your thoughts, feelings and desires in an atmosphere of safety and trust.

Most mums remember the day their excited toddler presented them with a wilting flower picked from the neighbour’s garden or a prized shell found on the beach! Gifts are visual symbols of love. Gifts don’t have to be expensive or extravagant. If Receiving Gifts is your partner’s primary love language, make a list of all the gifts that have ever delighted him or her. Don’t wait for a special occasion. Randomly spring surprise gifts out of the blue! And keep in mind, that the ultimate intangible gift is the gift of you; being there when your partner needs you.

Serving With Your Heart
A doormat is an inanimate object you can wipe your feet on, step on and kick around. Acts of Service are not meant to turn you into a doormat. Doing mundane chores should not be coerced or performed out of obligation, which leads to fear, guilt and resentment. Such humble acts ideally flow from heartfelt love.

When you willingly help each other around the house you are operating as a team and demonstrating practical care. When serving is mutual, it shows a mature, equal relationship, not a dominant-submissive one.

Physical touch can make or break a relationship. It can communicate hate or love. Touch receptors are located throughout the body but touching certain spots will bring pleasure while others will be uncomfortable or irritating. Ask your partner what kinds of touch they like and don’t like. It might be a back rub or squeeze on the shoulder, a strong or tender hug or kiss behind the ear. If you discover that this is your partner’s primary love language, pour it on in new ways and new places! Kiss in the car, hold hands in public, rub her leg under the table!

Love Is A Choice
Dr Chapman writes, “Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another. Isolation is devastating to the human psyche. At the heart of mankind’s existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another.

“Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.”

Marriage is designed to meet the craving for lasting intimacy and real love. When satisfied, it frees us to realise our full potential. A husband and wife who are in love with each other are happier, healthier, wiser and more productive than ever. When you give the gifts of love you give treasures that money can't buy!

This article was published in December 2007 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read The Five Love Languages, How To Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman

Relationship Matters Five - Sizzling Sex

Hot Monogamy Keeps the Home Fires Burning
In our sex-drenched culture, casual flings are promoted as a form of entertainment to be shared with anyone who takes your fancy. However many people believe that sex is the most sacred and intimate act any two people can share and belongs within an exclusive, committed relationship.

And contrary to popular belief, married sex does not have to be boring and routine. A little helpful information and some clever planning and effort can keep your sex life sizzling. Did you know there are four stages of sex: arousal, plateau, climax and recovery? In her revealing book, Hot Monogamy, marital therapist Dr Patricia Love explores nine key areas: communication about sex, sexual desire, intimacy, technique, sexual variety, romance, body image, sensuality and passion.

Pat say: “More than any other factor, your ability to talk freely and honestly about sex is the key to a passionate sex life.”

She encourages couples to avoid the silent treatment, criticism, sarcasm and generalised accusations such as: "You’re never affectionate” or “You never show any interest in sex”. Instead, express your sexual needs in more positive terms such as: “I’d really like to make love to you tonight. I’ve been thinking about you all day long.”

When One Partner Wants More
Desire discrepancy is a common problem in marriage, where one partner wants sex more often than the other. If you are the one with the higher sex drive, honour your partner’s ‘preconditions’ such as the kids are asleep, turn off the TV early, have a shower etc. Become an expert at creating desire in your partner.

For the one with a low sex drive, accept more responsibility for your own arousal and ensure you get enough rest and exercise.

What makes a man lose desire for his wife? Sexuality and power are intertwined for men. If a man feels controlled by his wife, he will retreat from her sexually. It is crucial for both partners to be empowered in daily life to feel amorous in the bedroom.

Intimacy means communicating on a personal level. There are real gender differences in communication styles. Generally, women talk too much and men talk too little on personal subjects. But it is possible for women to tone it down verbally and for men to crank it up.

Improving your sexual technique requires open sharing with each other: What gets you in the mood; what heightens your arousal; what stimulates you to orgasm and how would you like to end your lovemaking session?

Add Variety
Long-term marriages can spark up with an injection of variety. There are four styles of lovemaking; the quickie, the routine cosy cuddle, the romantic session and adventuresome sex. To spice up your love life, enjoy a mixture of all four. At least once a month, indulge in an extended lovemaking session: play music, light candles and give each other a massage. Adventuresome sex takes you away from your everyday habits and adds a sense of risk and playfulness.

There is a distinction between romance and the brief romantic stage of a new relationship. True romance is an ongoing expression of love and respect and can last a lifetime. Mutual self-disclosure, eye gazing and knowing that the other person loves you leads to feelings of romance.

If you want to create romance, find out what says, 'I love you' to your partner and do it. It means seeing the world through your partner’s eyes, not imposing your own preferences. Giving diamonds to the woman who lives in jeans and hiking boots will not say ‘I love you’ to this outdoorsy gal. Surprising him with tickets for the ballet will not say ‘I love you’ to your bloke if he prefers fishing and footy.

Accept Your Body
A poor body image can damage confidence in your sexual appeal. Don’t believe the mass media message that you must have a perfect body and be extraordinarily beautiful to be worthy of love. Unrealistic standards can affect the way you view yourself and your partner.

Pat says: “Whether you are distressed about your own appearance or unhappy with the appearance of your partner, you have to find some way to become more accepting if you want to enjoy your sexuality to the fullest. You have to find some way to love yourself and make love to your partner just as you are now.”

Sensual lovemaking revels in all five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. The sixth sense is the mind. The brain is our most powerful sex organ and the lover who is not distracted by the mundane but focused on erotica is highly sensual.

True passion is NOT the thrill of illicit sex, the novelty of someone different or the ego trip of proving your prowess. It is NOT experienced through the delusion of infatuation or a rebound affair. Passion is NOT just physical; it does not require gymnastics or advanced techniques. Sexual passion is a natural combination of intense feelings of arousal with genuine love for your life partner. Passion requires a true heart connection. And when the heart is engaged, sex becomes a sweet, exquisite experience of ecstasy and tenderness.

This article was published in September 2007 in XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read Hot Monogamy by Dr Patricia Love and Jo Robinson or visit

Relationship Matters Four - The Dating Game

Hope for the Desperate and Dateless
Some singles have taken so many knocks in the rough and tumble of the dating game they have sworn off dating altogether. However there are countless benefits from playing this exciting game…by the rules.

Dating allows you to learn about yourself, others, and relationships in a safe context. You learn relationship skills such as listening, assertiveness, trust and honesty. It helps you to work out what you value in a long-time partner. Platonic dating teaches you sexual self-control and delayed gratification. You can get to know someone as a person without using sex to connect.

So what are the rules? Singles of all ages can end up damaged by getting intimate way too fast. Sexual self-control requires good boundaries, which means setting physical limits. Boundaries are not meant to be a killjoy; they are designed to protect you from harm. Your boundaries let your date know what you will and will not tolerate. When you are clear about your values, preferences and morals you solve many problems from the outset of dating.

Dating for fun and personal growth
Here is an idea that will revolutionise your attitude: Dating is not about searching for a marriage partner. It has relational value of itself. You can date for fun and discovery: discover things about yourself that need changing and discover things about the opposite sex. Adopt an attitude of giving, rather than just taking. See dating as a time to show others what being treated well looks like.

Experiment with going out with someone who is “not your type” just to learn about different people. You might have rigid preferences based on physical appearances: “I only date blondes/brunettes/redheads” or “I only like intellectual/athletic/creative types”. Without the agenda of hunting for a lifetime mate, you can open your mind to all types and be amazed at what you learn! However be guided by one criterion: date people of good character.

How do you find eligible singles to date? Singles in their 20s lament: “Where are all the great girls/ guys hiding?” Singles in their 30s complain: “All the good ones are married.” And older second-time rounders, whinge that other divorcees have too much emotional baggage! The best advice for divorcees is to forget searching for a new partner straight away. Divorce is a major trauma: go into divorce recovery, explore the issues of your failed marriage, grieve your loss and get emotional closure before you go on the “market” again.

Where do you find Mr Right and Miss Right?
Like in business, dating is a numbers game! Set a goal of meeting five new men/women a week. Here is a BLF (Blinding Flash of the Obvious): People who meet people go where people are: attend events, go to parties, join interest groups, take classes, join a gym, go on holidays where there are lots of singles and get over the stigma of joining an on-line dating service. Enlist the support of close friends to keep you accountable. Persevere through the rough patches. Don’t become discouraged or cynical.

Choose Character over Appearances
When it comes time to choose a wife or husband, what do you look for? We are indoctrinated with the Hollywood notion of falling in love and expect the full orchestra to strike up! However the euphoria of infatuation, caused by a rush of brain chemicals, is not a reliable yardstick for choosing a life partner. The attraction, that sets those chemicals racing, can be based on psychological factors such finding an unconscious match with the good and bad traits of your parents or projecting a fantasy of an Ideal Partner who will magically meet all your needs.

Choose someone with shared values, interests and goals of good character. You will be attracted to someone’s “outsides” but in marriage you experience their “insides”. You might be drawn to looks, charm, humour, intellect, talents and achievements and they might be fascinating company on a date but over the long haul all you will be left with is admiration, which does not nourish your soul. What is character? Someone who can connect emotionally, is not self-centred, has self-discipline, can be assertive, respects your individuality, is trustworthy and loyal, does not lie, does not blame, can face their faults without defensiveness and is committed to personal growth.

After the dating game is over, you can enter marriage, having had a richness of relational experience that did not damage you or anyone else. You will be ready to share your joys, challenges and dreams with someone you have chosen rationally for who they are on the inside.

And here’s a bonus: Not only will a loving marriage give you fulfilment in the personal side of life, your choice of a spouse will be a key factor in your business success.

This article was published in August 2007 in XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more advice on dating, read Boundaries in Dating by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend and How To Get A Date Worth Keeping by Dr Henry Cloud. visit

Relationship Matters Three - The Pain of Closeness

Why is marriage so hard?
Why is it so difficult for two people who love each other to get along? Why do so many couples end up miserable and divorced? There are three underlying causes of marital misery. Fasten your seatbelts as we explore each of these troublemakers.

Unmet Needs
When we marry, we come installed with a set of emotional needs and the spoken or unspoken expectation that our partner will meet our needs. I wrote about Dr Harley’s 10 core needs in a previous column. Women need affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment and men need sexual fulfilment, admiration, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse and domestic support. Other psychologists have identified different needs but they fall into these categories.

Emotional needs are hard-wired into humans and it is legitimate to expect our partner to meet them. However frustration sets in when one or both partners fail to deliver and a struggle ensues. The more one partner complains, the more the other feels criticised and gets aggressive or withdraws instead of hearing their partner’s cry from the heart.

Sometimes one partner has an insatiable unmet need left over from childhood, which no amount of admiration, affection, security or excitement will satisfy. I know a woman who yearned for comfort and understanding from her husband, which is what she needed as a child from an unaffectionate distant dad. But she provoked him with hostile demands so he withdrew and withheld instead of consoling her. Her insatiable need continued for years until she learned to simply ask for hugs and her husband learned to respond with tenderness.

Defences against Pain
The second troublemaker is pain. We all carry repressed internal pain from the past; nagging worries about the unknown future and external stresses and hurts in the present. Humans have ingeniously devised a variety of coping strategies and defences to handle pain. Most of us will do anything rather than just FEEL and express pain in a healthy way.

Coping strategies include denial, suppression and repression, blame, angry outbursts, controlling behaviour, avoidance and distraction, escapism through fantasy, delusion or dissociation, idealisation, acting out pain (through illicit sex, violence or addictions), medicating pain with food, alcohol or drugs or mood changing behaviours like shopping or gambling; self harm, obsessive compulsive disorder and other psychological conditions.

Coping strategies and defences were formed as children. Subsequently they are obsolete in adulthood and yet we continue to use them in destructive ways, which impact our close relationships. In the vulnerability inherent in an intimate connection, we have the ability to continually trigger each other's buried pain, shame and fear.

It is only through feeling our stockpile of pain; repressed anger, fear, shame and grief that we can heal and grow in authenticity and develop higher spiritual qualities such as compassion, gratitude and strength of character. Contrary to New Age philosophy, personal growth comes not through pumping ourselves up with self-importance but through humbly searching our souls for our brokenness and hidden wounds and seeking healing.

Immaturity and Dysfunction
The third troublemaker is dysfunction. In his book, Changes That Heal, Christian psychologist, Dr Henry Cloud explores four essential developmental stages. In growing up, we need to achieve four “tasks”; bonding, separating from parents, sorting good and bad and becoming an adult. When any of these tasks is incomplete we suffer immaturity and dysfunction. If we did not bond with our mother as an infant, we will find attachment threatening as an adult and can suffer from depression, emptiness and isolation yet resist intimate connection.

It is necessary to bond before we can psychologically separate from our parents. Without separateness, we create enmeshment and co-dependence in marriage and fail to assert our opinions and beliefs, feelings and needs, wants and preferences and fail to respect our partner as a unique individual. In co-dependence, one partner feels dominated. Ironically it is not just the “controlling partner” who creates the unhealthy dynamic but the partner who is passive, enabling and does not set boundaries.

Another tragic result of failure to establish autonomy is repeating generational patterns. For example, when your child reaches the age you were when your parents divorced, had an affair or got sick, you risk repeating these traumas in your own life.

In becoming mature, we must face our weaknesses, faults and mistakes and accept and integrate our “badness”, instead of hiding behind a façade of perfection. People whom have not integrated their badness, are defensive and sensitive to criticism and also refuse to see faults in others, hero worshipping those they admire, and searching for a non-existent “ideal partner”.

Lastly, we must become responsible adults by moving from one-down, parent-child relationships to equal relationships with other adults, starting with our partner. If we are psychologically immature we will be inadequate to cope with decision-making, problem solving and conflict resolution.

Only by growing up can we develop the skills and substance required for a healthy, loving and respectful marriage.

This article was published in June 2007 in XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

Relationship Matters Two - Learning to Forgive

Forgiveness is the Highest Act of Love
In all marriages, partners hurt each other. Some hurts inflict deep wounds and heartache that you think you will never recover from. Other hurts are those daily attacks and insults that stockpile and erode your sense of emotional safety and connection.

Many couples who have made serious mistakes in their marriage come face to face with the challenge of forgiveness. Those who have the courage to embrace it, discover that to give and receive forgiveness is the highest act of love.

Forgiveness does not come naturally to humans. It runs contrary to our instinctive reflex to instantly strike back and retaliate when hurt. And it runs contrary to our emotional impulses to judge and punish, nurse grudges and exact revenge. Forgiveness demands a higher intelligence. It requires a conscious decision; an act of will.

Forgiveness is not automatic. It doesn’t just happen if we shrug off the offence and put it out of mind. The buried hurt will lay dormant and eventually erupt. Nor is forgiveness instantaneous. It requires commitment to walk through a deliberate process over a passage of time.

The first step in the process is to name the offence. The injured partner must be able to identify and describe the actions that have caused harm. The injured partner has to feel and express the gamut of emotions. In the case of small daily slights, feelings might be as simple as annoyance, exasperation and disappointment. In the case of major offences like infidelity, financial disaster or addictions, emotions run deep and can include shock, rage, betrayal and loss of trust, violation, disgust, shame and humiliation and abject grief and sorrow. The exploration and venting of emotional pain can take quite some time and there are no short cuts on this difficult rocky track.

The healing process after an affair requires a scathingly honest exploration of the underlying issues, examining why such a breach of the marriage occurred. Adultery requires both partners to have the courage to face moral scrutiny of themselves and each other.
And that’s where forgiveness comes in. What exactly is forgiveness? To receive forgiveness necessitates accepting that you’ve done something wrong and hurt your partner and that you feel genuinely sorry. True transformation comes through an experience of remorse, which is only possible with an ability to empathise and feel compassion for your partner’s pain.

To extend forgiveness in essence means to PARDON. It means to free the offender from retaliation, punishment and retribution, now and in the future. To use a business analogy, it is to free someone of a debt.

To forgive the partner who has hurt you allows them to be absolved and set free without punishment, which in marriage usually takes the form of recriminations, sniping and hurling reminders of the past offence during an argument. Forgiveness means giving up this form of torment.

But there are rewards for the forgiver too. Forgiveness allows the hurt partner to be freed from carrying a burden of pain, which is debilitating and soul-destroying. The process of letting go of pain is hard and requires daily effort. Supportive counselling can facilitate the process, so can spiritual practices such as prayer. I believe the art of forgiveness requires divine help.

People who have been heartbroken by unfaithfulness and then choose to stay in the marriage bravely set about the process of releasing shock and disbelief, grieving the loss of the sexual and emotional intimacy and romance that was special and private between them and letting go of anger, bitterness and the desire for revenge. And most importantly, the couple sets about building a new life together, with strengthened commitment and boundaries.

I know a devoted couple in their 60s who survived his adultery. It took two years for the wife to recover from the trauma of feeling her whole world had collapsed and embrace forgiveness. However, now they travel Australia in their retirement, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes, cherishing each other.

Forgiveness is the essential part of an arduous healing process. Just as physical injuries take time to heal, so do emotional injuries. The desensitising of the wound can take months or years. Time itself does not perform the healing. A passage of time allows the mind to actively process the trauma. Healing can only occur when you allow yourself to feel, not repress emotions. People who don’t heal traumatic hurts through forgiveness can carry festering wounds for a lifetime.

If there’s one thing our hatred-filled, war-torn world could use right now is forgiveness. But let’s start on a small scale. If you have been deeply hurt by your wife or husband, the one person you trusted with your heart, forgiveness will be the most challenging gift you’ll ever give. But the rewards are great. Forgiveness is the key to emotional healing and the restoration of trust, love and happiness.

This article was published in April 2007 in XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

Relationship Matters One - Emotional Needs

Your Most Important Job - Meeting Your Partner’s Emotional Needs
Did you hear the one about the guy who was fabulously successful in business, turned over millions, travelled the world, was famous through the media, drove a prestige car, wore the finest suits, stayed at magnificent hotels, ate at the best restaurants. Then one day he returned home to discover his wife had left him, taking their kids. Not a very funny punch line is it?

Highly successful business people can make the mistake of focusing solely on their work while neglecting their most precious asset – their partner in life. And the result of neglect is often a broken marriage and shattered family which can be catastrophic. No amount of success, wealth and acclaim can compensate for such a devastating loss.

Divorce is a tragedy. Full Stop. And rushing out and finding a substitute wife or dating a string of younger girlfriends is no solution to the heartbreak. As anyone in a second or third marriage will tell you, blended families are fraught with complications. And dragging a truckload of emotional baggage into a new relationship doesn’t heal the pain. The bitterness, insecurity, guilt and grief over the past failure will be compounded when it is not dealt with. A flesh wound left untreated will fester, same with emotional wounds.

Have I got your attention? All smart business people will recognise the clue. Prevention is better than allowing a crisis to happen. It is possible to keep your marriage healthy and thriving. In fact, it is possible to stay in a state of intimacy and enjoy that exquisite state of being in love.

Sure, the giddy infatuation we experience when we “fall in love” is temporary euphoria induced by a rush of hormones and wears off after a few months. However the deep fulfilment, which comes from receiving love and giving love, can be sustained for a lifetime when we understand how.

So how does a couple do this? Commitment is the first step. It requires a commitment to a permanent, exclusive partnership and a willingness to meet your partner’s emotional needs and a willingness to allow them to meet your emotional needs. And maybe it helps to know just what his needs and her needs really are!

According to marital therapist, Dr Willard F. Harley, Jr, author of His Needs, Her Needs, there are ten core needs in marriage, which are roughly divided into five each for the husband and wife. Men need sexual fulfilment, admiration, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse and domestic support. Women need affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment.

The ten emotional needs can cross over gender lines according to individual personality differences. For example, some men are big talkers and need lots of conversation. Some women are sporty and thrive on recreational time together. Some women have a high sex drive. Some men require loads of affectionate touch.

Men need admiration. This is something most women just don’t get. If he didn’t receive enough admiration growing up, the need will be acute. If he doesn’t get it from his wife, the unmet need will become a craving he seeks to meet through career success, an adoring public, fawning staff or worst of all, female flattery which ends in the painful outcome of an affair.

Admiration is expressed through recognition for his achievements, lashings of praise and encouragement with a taboo on criticism. What women consider helpful observations about his faults, he receives as savage attacks and reacts with defensiveness. The male definition of “love” is really “respect”. He wants his woman to look up to him and like him just as he is.

A woman’s innate need for affection encompasses a longing for empathy and understanding, a need for tenderness and comfort when she is upset, and most husbands will say, she is “upset” quite often! Affection means soothing words as much as loving touch.

Most women need copious conversation to feel close. She has a quota of a squillion words per day, he uses 500 words or something like that! Women need to vent and ventilate, offload and unburden, debrief and dissect and talk and talk and talk. Say no more.

She expects honesty and openness; total transparency. She wants her husband to bare his soul: to lay down his defences and share his vulnerability. Women want the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For him, sex is the way he experiences intimacy with his wife. He will try to use it to overcome an argument while she will be appalled and need to make up before they can make love. Most men have a strong sex drive and feel frustration and resentment when their wife’s desire for sex doesn’t match his. And yet a man cannot experience sexual fulfilment unless his wife is sexually fulfilled as well.

Men want to do stuff together. They are action-orientated and need their wife to be their best buddy too. The couple that shares common interests and recreational companionship forge a bond of mutual pleasure.

The need for financial support encompasses old-fashioned notions of the man being the provider and protector, which despite feminist cynicism, resonates deep in the female soul. A wife wants her husband to provide leadership and guidance, even though it is hard to admit in a culture that promotes female toughness. And she requires hands-on family commitment. She wants him to be a devoted dad.

It is just as politically incorrect for a husband to admit he longs for a domestic sanctuary of tranquillity; what Dr Phil calls a “soft place to fall”. How can he admit he also needs an attractive partner? She doesn’t have to be an airbrushed super model however he wants his wife to remain spunky and desirable even with the added curves and laughter lines that come with a lifetime together.

He longs to stay in love with the bride of his youth and she longs to remain beautiful in his eyes and cherished forever.

This article was published in January 2007 in XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read His Needs, Her Needs, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Dr Willard Harley, Jr or visit

Travel Matters Two - Country Girl

Coming Home to Montana
If Vermont was pretty, soft and feminine, Montana, in sharp contrast, is rugged, wild and masculine. We are cruising along winding roads carved through jagged Rocky Mountains thick with spiky Cedar trees and laced with crystal jade streams.
Suddenly we hit open plains the color of straw, dotted with lonely cattle ranches, encompassed by undulating mountains like massive camel humps. Montana is a vast state, the fourth largest in the nation, and sparsely populated with less than one million down-home country folk. The evocative name Montana is Spanish for ‘mountain’ but the Native Americans call it Big Sky Country because your eyes extend to a distant horizon embraced in a bear hug of mountain peaks and the spectacular landscape is a tapestry of canyons, river valleys, grassy plains, badlands and caverns, home to 100 mammal species and 250 bird species.

We are heading for Glacier National Park. The whole 147,000 square miles of Montana is divided into six regions: Glacier Country, Gold West Country, Yellowstone Country, Russell Country, Missouri River Country and Custer Country. We aim to cover three regions and throw ourselves out of the car and into some action.

The inside cover of the tourist magazine has picture of an idyllic log cabin at the North Forty Resort in Whitefish. My cowgirl eyes widen and my country heart skips a beat! It would be way too expensive, I muse despondently, and probably booked out. But a call from the Mexican café in the nearby town of Kalispell reveals there’s a cabin available at an affordable rate. We can’t believe our luck!

When we arrive, the cabin manifests straight out of my childhood dreams. While I potter in the kitchen and ‘nest’, Andrew ventures into the woods to meet the wildlife and returns with reports of spotting a family of deer. A John Denver soundtrack plays in my mind…sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend….supper on the stove…the love that lights my way…. Snippets of lyrics swirl together with a sense of coming home.

The Back Story

After our Vermont adventure, we flew from Boston to Minneapolis in Minnesota, the northern mid-west state of 10,000 beautiful lakes, for a Marriage Builders seminar with Dr Harley, whom I had been studying intently for four years. It was a peak experience to finally meet my hero and Andrew and I committed to the follow-up six month course, first up weeding out love busters from our relationship.

We met with the good Doc and his glamorous and vivacious wife, Joyce to discuss how we can promote their important work in helping couples and families thrive. After a week of living on the seventh floor of the superb Embassy Suites hotel, on first name basis with the staff, we felt like Tom Hanks in that movie where he lives in the airport! It was time to hit the road!

In going west, we reneged on a grueling train trip of almost 30 hours across Dakota and instead flew to Seattle via Arizona (Go figure!) and hired a midnight blue Pontiac and drove across Washington State to the tiny township of Cle Elum, outside Spokane. At the quaint roadside hotel, Andrew discovered the soothing properties of the Hot Tub and we collapsed exhausted after a full day of airport security checks, waiting in lounges and flying and driving 130 miles across desolate terrain.

Surreal Roslyn
What an unexpected treat to stumble across the historic township of Roslyn where one of our favorite TV series, Northern Exposure, was filmed. We had watched all six series, comprising around 100 episodes, before we left Australia, and got to know and love the characters and the community intimately (quite sad really!). So it was a surreal experience to walk the streets, see the quirky mural where the moose lumbers past, the funky radio station set, Joel’s ramshackle doctor’s clinic and the funky Brick hotel, all identical since the show was made in the 90s.

We crossed the border into Idaho and drove through rolling hills and cedar forests to the border town of big signs, Coeur D’Alene and opted for a cheap stay in a Motel 6 and hit the local Mexican for the biggest meal that stretched my stomach to the limit and set me reeling and vowing never to over-eat again! We chatted with the friendly waiter and were surprised to discover he had never ventured across the border into Montana after years of living so close-by.

Throughout our trip, we are continually reminded how fortunate we are to afford to travel for more than two months when most working Americans would never dream of taking such a long holiday. On the nightly news we are reminded that the world economy is in free fall with stock markets, currency values, retirement funds and investments plummeting. It would be easy to catch the media-induced panic but it seems that staying calm is the only sane approach.

Alongside news of financial crisis, there’s 24 hour television coverage of the election battle between presidential hopefuls, Obama and McCain. As the fateful day of November 4th draws closer, people everywhere are muttering their fierce allegiances and disdain for the other guy. I am keeping my opinions guarded. Being outspoken in a country hyped on a potent mix of patriotism, fear, ignorance and denial is not always wise or tactful. However we all know this 2008 American election will impact the entire world and the tension is palpable.

With the turbulent political backdrop, our personal quest continues. The minute we crossed the border from Idaho into Montana I knew I had arrived. Suddenly the air was different and the dimensions magnified and worries and stresses dropped away.

Acclaimed novelist Nicholas Evans so eloquently describes Montana in The Horse Whisperer, The Loop, The Smokejumper and The Divide and captures the free spirit of this wild country. I’m not one to accuse God of playing favorites with His creation, but this mesmerizing wilderness is blessed with a disproportionate measure of grandeur and beauty enough to incite envy.
So here we are. Welcome to our log cabin. After settling into our cozy retreat, warmed by a fire stove, we study the brochures and I confess I am secretly relieved to discover the whitewater rafting finished the week before. The streams are fast becoming icy as winter closes in.

Talking to locals we realize we have come to Montana on the tail-end of the hectic tourist season. We are teetering on the precarious edge of seasonal change. In mid-October everyone is gearing up and battening down for winter. The first heavy snow is due to hit with eerie predictability on Halloween on October 31st.

The Grandeur of Glacier
Undeterred by the between-season atmosphere, with Glacier National Park almost deserted, we set off to drive the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road that traverses east to west and make it as far as Logan Pass before slippery, steep conditions close the road.

Through the mist, our eyes feast on snow capped mountains, granite peaks, serene turquoise Lake McDonald and St Mary Lake and towering cedars of sparkling gold and green. Glacier is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the States with one million acres of natural wonder and thriving wildlife and 700 miles of hiking trails.

On Sunday we can not believe how blessed we are with a perfect sun-drenched day to go horse riding at Bar W Ranch. Both novices when it comes to riding, we are given two placid horses, Blaze and Blue Duck and we weave our way through the forest on a trail ride led by an honest-to-goodness wrangler. The magical experience gives me a taste for returning for a stay at a horse ranch.

Searching for Gold
Monday morning we pack up and head for Gold West country, renowned for its gold, silver and copper mining heritage, tragic Big Hole battlefield, cowboy museums, notorious outlaws, explorers Lewis and Clark and limestone caverns.
When we stop for lunch at a roadside Subway for a one-footer (to share!), I am reminded that out here people talk slower and the perplexed, plump girl behind the counter can not decipher my accent and how ‘fast’ I am jabbering! It is like I’m talking a foreign language!

That afternoon we have an unexpected white-knuckle adventure. The glossy magazine features a write-up on Garnet ghost town. I conjure up an image of a glitzy tourist attraction just off the main highway with stores flogging gold and garnet jewelry so I suggest to Andrew that we take a detour. We follow a hand-painted stick sign that points us up the track 10 miles. We can’t believe it when we start climbing up a treacherous cliff face on a dirt road with no way to turn back!

When we finally arrive, it is in fact, a genuine ghost town of derelict old buildings dating back to the late-1800 gold mining era. In the fading light and drizzling rain we stumble across the lonely Visitors’ Guide and four young students poking around the ruins. Andrew gets freaked in the loft of the old hotel and we can’t get out of there fast enough!

That night we stay in a cheap hotel in historic Butte, slurp soup from a mug, and wake to a thick snowfall draping our car and surrounding countryside in a lush carpet of glistening white. On the road again with our favorite uplifting music playing loud through the speakers, we set off for famous Yellowstone National Park, with visions of grizzly bears and steely-eyed wolves dancing in my imagination.

Yellowstone Magic
It is Tuesday afternoon October 21st when we drive into the wide open streets of West Yellowstone, a town of just 1.2 square miles with 65 hotels. As almost the only visitors in town we have our pick of accommodation and score the bargain rate at the 80-room Lodge with all facilities laid on just for us!
I quickly discover that the sprawling corner store brimming with gorgeous knitwear and classic country garments, beautiful leather cowboy boots, belts and hats, is keen for my business and I’m in Seventh Heaven. The local Italian restaurant and bookstore bursting at the seams also turns it on for the late-coming out-of-towners!

The next day, despite dire warnings of broaching winter, we are blessed with the brightest Montana blue sky, sparkling sunshine and bracing chilly air when we venture into Yellowstone National Park and encounter a herd of grazing bison on the way to Old Faithful, the famous geyser that goes off on the hour with courteous regularity for the assembled tourists.

Driving along Beartooth Scenic Byway, considered the most beautiful road in America, we have, in fact, crossed into Wyoming which shares Yellowstone with its neighboring state and all day we cruise around marveling at snow-capped Beartooth Mountain, pristine streams, dotted with trout fishermen, and entrancing Yellowstone Lake. At 136 square miles, it is one of the world’s largest alpine lakes. This natural wonderland has 10,000 thermal features including hot springs, mud pots and about 250 active geysers. Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park, established in 1872, covering 2.2 million acres of wilderness and the star drawcards are furry and fierce.

Bear Facts
Day Two we visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre where we see massive grizzlies which have been rescued as orphaned cubs or ‘nuisance bears’ and relocated to the centre. My telephoto lens goes into overdrive snapping close-ups of Revel and Spirit foraging for pumpkin pieces. In another spacious habitat a pack of handsome gray wolves, looking as harmless as your average family pets, laze in the sun and pose for my camera.

The centre screens a fascinating movie about the saga of the Grizzly and the journalist in me goes on full alert, recognizing the newsworthy story of the century. The Grizzly, revered as the icon of the American frontier, once dominated two thirds of the continent in their millions, but mass slaughter drove them driven to the point of extinction. The surviving bears were forced to find refuge in Yellowstone but once again humans messed with the noble predators in the 1960s, when regular feeding troughs set up for the amusement of tourists made them dependent on scraps and unable to hunt for themselves.

A dedicated conservation effort banned human feeding and encouraged the Yellowstone bears to relearn their hunting and foraging skills. In a celebrated recovery the numbers have increased from 30 grizzlies to around 550 in the park. Rangers track the seasonal movements of bear families and one mother affectionately known to regular visitors as ‘264’ and her mischievous cubs would appear for a photo call by the roadside every spring until 2003, when she was tragically killed by a pickup truck.

When living wild and free, grizzlies are known to cavort in sheer exuberance and pairs of cubs wrestle playfully. The bears’ survival relies on four main food sources: elk calves, cut-throat trout, moths that burrow in the soil of the high country and seeds that fall from the conifer trees. All four food sources are now under threat.

And the grizzlies are on a collision course with ranchers when they kill their livestock, with campers and residents when they raid their campsites and backyards in search of food and with hunters when they feast on the elk carcasses the men leave behind. There is currently pressure to ‘de-list’ the Grizzly as an endangered species which would give ranchers the right to shoot marauding bears. I am smitten with the heavyweight Grizzlies and wish I could champion their cause.

Grand Finale
On our last day in Yellowstone we visit the ‘Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone’ featuring 24 miles of cascading water. The 308-foot Lower Falls is twice as tall as Niagara Falls. We take in the intriguing sight of Mammoth Hot Springs; chalky volcanic terraces formed by mineral-laden water bubbling from deep beneath the earth’s crust. A tourist township is built near the natural attraction and we stumble across a herd of about 70 elks wandering around the town, oblivious to camera-wielding humans.

What bliss, immersing ourselves in this grand spectacle of nature, cruising along listening to country music, day-dreaming, chatting, taking enough photos and making enough memories to cherish for years. We are overcome with a sense of gratitude to find ourselves savoring such contentment, such a detour off the beaten track of mundane routine.

Over 12 days we travelled 2133 miles from Seattle across Washington State, Idaho and the west of magnificent, macho Montana and back again. I notice a sinking feeling and inexplicable irritability when we arrive back in the heavy traffic of the city. Then I realize I am sad to be leaving Montana. In the immortal words of John Denver, sometimes you find a place that “feels like a lost long friend”. You can stretch out, look at the sky, ride a horse, come to love the Grizzly and smile a lazy smile. In Montana, a lost part of your soul gets to sing a country song. Ain’t it good to be back home again.