Heather and John McAlpine have been married 35 years. In the first year of their marriage, they attended a Better Marriages Australia workshop and since then they have been strong advocates of the benefits of people taking time to work on their marriages.
Heather, a counsellor, and John, a doctor from Gerringong Family Practice, are now national Chair Couple of the organisation, which undertakes a variety of activities designed to strengthen marriages by increasing marital intimacy and mutual understanding.
In this role, they have been pivotal in getting Better Marriages Australia’s bi-annual two day conference held in Kiama rather than in a capital city. “It’s nice to be able to give a gift to our own home town by putting on something big like this,” says Heather. “The workshop presenters are world class, and we know people will leave inspired to nurture their marriages.”
Dubbed Survivor Kiama: couple skills to survive and thrive, the conference offers a variety of workshops on aspects including communication, managing conflict, finding time for sex, and making life together an adventure.
The emphasis of the conference is on being proactive to head misunderstandings and grievances off at the pass.
“So often we think we can coast along and don’t really intentionally do anything to invest in our relationship,” she says. “Then when the water gets rough you are up the creek without a paddle.
“Having a continual adventure and a depth of companionship in a long term relationship makes a world of difference to our mental health and also makes the relationship work.
“Even the lows caused by external forces can be real growing edges of the relationship if we’ve invested into it all the way through.”
Founded over 40 years ago, Better Marriages is an international organisation strongest in Australia and the US. In between conferences, it holds a number of different relationship events, such as couples’ weekend retreats and day seminars, mostly in or around Sydney.
As a parting thought, Heather says that research on predicting the fate of marriages has shown why it is so important to be proactive. “It’s been found conclusively that relationships need a ratio of five expressions of affection to each expression of anger or blame to work long term,” she says.
Details: 5-6 November. To find out more or to register for one or both of the days, see http://www.bettermarriagesorg.au/conferencebooking The website has details of other forthcoming events.