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Are good relationships hard work?

There seems to be this saying that does the rounds that "relationships are hard work." I don't agree. Bad relationships are certainly hard work - a good relationship takes commitment and attention, but it doesn't feel like "hard work" to the participants. If you have these ingredients in your relationship:

then doing things for the other person will come naturally. It won't feel like an obligation or a chore because you get just as much goodness back from your partner as you give to them (and there's never a scoreboard).

Think about couples you know that have what you would describe as a "good" or "solid" relationship. You will probably witness things like:

If your relationship feels like "hard work", there are probably dynamics below the surface that need some attention. Your partner may need to know what respect feels like for you. You may need to know what kindness feels like for them. If your discussions don't go the way you intend, or you are having trouble being understood, consider getting some counselling - the investment could pay off hugely in relationship satisfaction.

Suzi Wallis | Aug 2014

Are you a good listener?

Do you believe you are a good listener? You might not be aware of some of the barriers to good listening that are commonly practised by people in everyday conversations.

I hope the above gives you some food for thought next time you are having a conversation that you want to remember. Small changes can make a real difference to the experience for both the talker and listener.

Suzi Wallis | Apr 2012

Are you using busyness as an anaesthetic?

Busyness can be used as an effective, although unhealthy, way of avoiding issues, emotions and challenges. The human subconscious needs to process information and experiences on a daily basis, so that sense can be made, and knowledge acquired from what you have been through. If you don't stop and just be, you may get symptoms like:

You don't have to be out and about to be using busyness as an avoidance tool. How often are you waiting in a queue, and pull out your smart phone? Do you need to be constantly entertained? What might happen if you just sat and watched the world now and then? How do you feel about your own company? Even if you are a true extrovert, who needs to be around people to recharge, time with your own thoughts is the only way to truly assimilate knowledge and experience.

Over-busy people can often be poor listeners as their minds are jumping to the next thing they are planning (or the one after that). If you are constantly busy, you are less likely to be able to form authentic attachments to others. Slowing down just a little can reap all kinds of rewards. Give it a go and see what you notice.

It you want to grow wise, and not just older, consider taking 10-15 minutes out of your day just to think, process and be. If you choose a location that is nurturing to you, the benefits will be enhanced.

Suzi Wallis | Jun 2013

Are you using your super powers for good?

All of us have things we are particularly good at, and when used in a positive light, they can be very powerful (and empowering) for others. You may:

This article invites you to be aware of your impact on the world. The saying "any strength used to excess can become a weakness" springs to mind here. Leave space for others to ask for your help/input. Offer help with healthy limits (for you both). Listen at least as much as you talk. Practice kindness, compassion and support, even to those who don't seem to need it (we all do in reality). Go out there and be awesome.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2016

Caregivers need care too

You may be caring for, or supporting someone with a number of conditions:

It is vital that you practice self care during the time period you are carrying a heavier load than normal (and permanently if the situation is permanent).

Because the other person's "symptoms" may be more obvious, your needs may be lost in the myriad of commitments, challenges and obligations that are presented to you on a regular basis. If you are noticing any of the following:

you need to take some time out, and have some downtime (whatever that means for you). You are no good to the person you are supporting if you are spread too thin. If you encounter a serious illness or accident, those who are reliant on you will be helpless. Prevention is better than cure. Ensure you:

Self care is not selfish, even if you don't have additional commitments to your normal load. It is a vital element of a healthy life. When you do have additional responsibilities, it is even more essential, and will ensure that you are more present and available when you are around the person you are supporting. A few hours to yourself could generate an extra day's energy - which will lighten your load in the short and medium term.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2015

Celebrating occasions that work for the majority

I write this as Christmas is approaching - an event that is largely celebrated in our Western Culture. Celebrations such as Christmas and Easter come with many traditions - and some of them may not work for you. Just because it's 'always been done that way' does not mean you can't put a creative spin on it, and choose something different.

Some people find Christmas, for example, very stressful. There's the increased financial pressure to buy gifts, more food around (some of it not healthy or enjoyable), travel at a time of year when there are a lot of others doing the same thing, seeing people you feel 'obligated' to see rather than motivated, amongst other things. What might it be like if you celebrate your occasions the way you want to celebrate them?

Some families have rituals around Christmas like:

Some of those ideas might work better for you than the current traditions you feel 'forced' to follow.

Other celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, acknowledgement of achievements, honouring those who have passed - these can all be done in a way that suits the individuals, rather than following tradition for the sake of it. Talk to those around you who are affected by the events. Brainstorm ideas (with an agreement that no idea is ridiculed or criticised) - cast aside the ones that don't suit some or seem inappropriate to them. Ask Mr Google - he has lots of good ideas!

Most importantly, stay authentic in the process of celebration/acknowledgement. You may find that others are feeling the same way as you - limited and silenced by traditions that no longer suit them. You speaking up could provide them with the courage to find their own creativity. A joint creative venture that replaces some of the old ways could breathe a fresh perspective and energy into the way you celebrate events. Go forth and be new!

Suzi Wallis | Dec 2013

Common communication mistakes almost everyone makes

Many people make the common communication mistakes below, until they know better.

Suzi Wallis | Oct 2011

Do people have trouble hearing you?

Do you have the experience of people not hearing you well, or appearing disconnected when you speak to them? It could be because you are coming across as authoritarian, condescending, patronising or superior. This can happen quite unintentionally and create a distance between you and your audiences (of one or more).

Things that can give people the impressions above include:

You may be an expert on a particular subject, or a number of subjects. You can still express your opinions in a gentle, respectful way without coming across as superior. Even if you know the answer (or feel driven to correct some 'wrong' information), you can do this tentatively and curiously. This will give the impression that you are humble and a team player. Words like the following will help to create a respectful/inclusive impression:

What I mention above can be very subtle and you may be unaware that your audience perceives you as patronising or superior. Notice the non-verbal cues in others like looking away, being forceful in their response (it could mean they're feeling defensive or judged), shutting down, changing the subject, rolling their eyes (even subtly), looking at other members of the group in a particular way. 

Be an observer of your own behaviour, make incremental changes where you can, and you may find that people seek you out more than before.

Suzi Wallis | Dec 2013

Do mental health conditions hurt relationships?

Any chronic health condition - whether it's mental, emotional or physical, can have a similar effect on a romantic relationship to an affair. What I mean by that, if a lot of energy is needed to manage a health condition, neglect can be inadvertently created for the romantic relationship.

Short term, a robust relationship can weather the storm of a new challenge - even up to six months of high need from one partner can be sustainable. Beyond this, or in a relationship with a shaky foundation, the relationship can be at higher risk of breakdown.

This is why it's so important to reach out for appropriate emotional support if you find yourself in a caregiving role for your partner. Although the concept of being there for better or worse is a generous idea, the reality can be intensely draining, and much harder than you expected. Some good friends, a therapist, colleagues - all can help you weather the storm through listening and supporting. You don't need to "white knuckle" or suppress all your stuff while your partner is having challenges. Caregivers need recharging to be physically, emotionally and mentally available.

It's not selfish to reach out - it's essential.

Suzi Wallis | Nov 2022

Do therapists need to be optimists?

You will meet some counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who come across as positive and perpetually cheerful. Chances are, like any other segment of the population, this is not true for them all of the time. There are many factors that influence a person's ability to maintain optimism in the face of challenging and painful circumstances.

Therapists, through their work, encounter proportionally greater numbers of people in pain - whether this be physical, emotional or spiritual. It takes awareness, emotional intelligence and the correct type and amount of support to maintain emotional resilience in the helping professions.

I believe that good therapists can maintain a mixture of optimism (after all, if they don't believe people are capable of change, it would be very difficult to be effective) and realism. As you can see from the Wikipedia link on realism, there are many interpretations of this term. What you don't want from your therapist is unrealistic optimism (defined as believing that you are more likely to experience pleasant events than is actually the case, and less likely than others to experience negative ones), because it can minimise clients' experiences. Unrealistic optimism can keep you from being able to change direction when you are unable to see the trouble that lies ahead. More realistic optimism itself, can offer hope to a client who is struggling to find it. Unconditional positive regard (see below), is a process where a therapist can hold a space for growth and understanding on the client's behalf, until they are able to do this for themselves.

I once heard a supervisor describe a therapist's story of their own optimism changing due to burnout as a "Pollyanna" way of thinking. This refers to a story from 1960 where the main protagonist maintains a highly positive attitude in the face of much hardship and negativity. I think the supervisor in question was highly disrespectful of the therapist, as they were showing emotional intelligence and self observation - the "symptom" of negativity or pessimism was informing them of a serious resilience issue that had arisen. Labelling in this manner (of any kind) can create disconnection and even a backwards pattern in relation to progress.

You could say that optimism and pessimism operate on a continuum, and realism is in the middle. Unfortunately, this is a very subjective statement, and each person's perception would most likely place realism in a different place on the continuum.

I've outlined some of the terms below for clarification.Optimism 

Optimism, according to Wikipedia, is a mental attitude. A common idiom used to illustrate optimism versus pessimism is a glass with water at the halfway point, where the optimist is said to see the glass as half full and the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.

The term is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best". Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, is defined as expecting the best possible outcome from any given situation. This is usually referred to in psychology as dispositional optimism. It thus reflects a belief that future conditions will work out for the best.

Variation in optimism and pessimism is somewhat heritable and reflects biological trait systems to some degree. It is also influenced by environmental factors, including family environment, with some suggesting it can be learned. Optimism may also be linked to health.


Pessimism is a mental attitude. Pessimists anticipate undesirable outcomes from a given situation which is generally referred to as situational pessimism, or believe that undesirable things are going to happen to them in life more than desirable ones. Pessimists also tend to focus on the negatives of life in general or a given situation. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?" situation. In this situation a pessimist is said to see the glass as half empty while an optimist is said to see the glass as half full. 


Perhaps the best definition of realism is actually from the definition of logic:

Logic (from the Ancient Greek: λογική, logikḗ), originally meaning "the word" or "what is spoken" (but coming to mean "thought" or "reason"), is generally held to consist of the systematic study of the form of arguments. A valid argument is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the argument and its conclusion. (In ordinary discourse, the conclusion of such an argument may be signified by words like therefore, hence, ergo and so on.)

In my experience, realists tend more towards a pessimistic view of life than an optimistic view. They may plan for the worst, so that they are not disappointed or unprepared. This can sometimes lead to a compulsion to plan for the worst, and can reduce people's ability to enjoy what is happening for them in any given moment, or to anticipate a future event that will be pleasant.

Unconditional positive regard

Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client-centered therapy. Its founder, Carl Rogers, writes:

The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.

Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard is essential for healthy development and tried to establish it as a therapeutic component. Through providing unconditional positive regard, humanistic therapists seek to help their clients accept and take responsibility for themselves. Humanistic therapists believe that by showing the client unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the therapist is providing the best possible conditions for personal growth to the client.

By definition, it is essential in any helping relationship to have an anticipation for change. In the counselling relationship, that anticipation presents as hope—an optimism that something good and positive will develop to bring about constructive change in the client's personality. Thus, unconditional positive regard means that the therapist has and shows overall acceptance of the client by setting aside their own personal opinions and biases. The main factor in unconditional positive regard is the ability to isolate behaviors from the person who displays them.

In summary

Therapists, to be effective, need to be able to maintain their own resilience and strength. Separating their internal reactions from the therapeutic work is essential, so that they can hold a neutral, safe space for clients to gain understanding and realisations. A combination of positive and realistic attitudes on the therapist's part will best serve both them and their clients. Negative or pessimistic views are likely to be counter-productive for the therapeutic process.

Prioritising self care is essential for therapists to maintain their equilibrium. This can include meditation, exercise, massage, creative endeavours and maintaining boundaries. It needs to include professional supervision - a place where they can discuss their client load, experiences, triggers and self care. If you have a friend who is a therapist, you can contribute to their self care by pausing before asking them to hear your problems - they may already have a brain full of such information.

Suzi Wallis | Apr 2017

Do you create barriers between yourself and others?

We all want to connect with people meaningfully, or we might as well go live on a desert island somewhere. Sometimes an interaction is just to get a need met, and it's not deep at all. You may be self-sabotaging all kinds of encounters without even realising, and creating barriers between you and others with some unconscious behaviours. These could be:

Have a think about whether you get caught up in any of these behaviours. If you do, be kind to yourself (after all, you were doing the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time), take a breath and choose another option. People will seek you out more often if you are considered a good and intentional listener and speaker.

Suzi Wallis | Mar 2013

How are you telling your story?

The way you tell the story of your trauma/pain/past experiences/current difficult circumstances will have a huge impact on how empowered you feel. You could say "I suffer from [an illness]". How does that statement affect you? What about "I am a victim of [an experience]"? 

How do you feel when you say instead "I experience [an illness]" or "I have a relationship with [an illness]" - do you feel more or less empowered? The words you use have a powerful impact on your internal strength, and ability to handle future difficulties.

Imagine the story you would like to write about your experiences - if you are the victor in the end (you didn't get beaten as such, you learned some new things from your experiences), your resilience will increase. An example I sometimes give in sessions is:

Story 1

"I was riding a horse and it bucked me off. I broke my leg, and I'll have pain in that leg for as long as I live. I wish I'd never got on a horse that day."

Story 2

"I was riding a horse, and it must have got spooked. It bucked me off, and I got injured. I was a really good patient; I did my rehab just the way it was recommended, and I will always appreciate the care I got from the medical staff. I have been to visit the horse since, and made peace with it - fear can make us all do things we don't think about. I now appreciate and respect horses more than ever."

Which version above feels more empowering? Which would you prefer.

Our stories carry different feelings and energy with them - they affect both the orator and the audience. Have a think about how you want to feel about your current or past stories. If you are struggling to come up with an alternative to your current narrative, consider getting some therapeutic help. You could get a very different result in just one or two sessions.

It's important to tell your difficult stories in therapy or with trusted confidantes, so that you can hear what they sound like, and consider how they affect you. Telling the story over time will hopefully encourage stronger parts to be highlighted, and the tough parts to lose their power over your present.

Another technique is writing down or typing your story. You can tweak it and change it as you create it. Experiment with different ways of portraying difficult situations. Be creative. Include super heroes (in addition to your super hero status) and fantasy. Your mind is unlimited in its ability to help you to see the world differently. Go forth and create.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2017

How People Pleasers can compromise their integrity unintentionally

Integrity is a fundamental value that most people value highly. Those who have been brought up with the idea that others' needs are more important than their own (often called People Pleasers or PPs), can unintentionally violate their own integrity simply by keeping their word. If you are a PP, you probably find it difficult to say no, so you can commonly end up in situations that you either: don't want to be in at all, or you have discovered are unhealthy for you. Because keeping your word is so important, the idea of exiting out of the situation before it's complete, is excruciating. 

I want to encourage you to rethink this concept. Changing your mind, exiting gracefully or ungracefully, is self care, it's not a lack of integrity. If you weren't aware of what was being asked of you, if you've discovered the commitment is unsustainable for you, if you actually need to be doing something else for yourself instead, if you are unwell or injured, or you really need to recharge, it's ok to change your mind. Continuing to over-give is compromising your integrity to yourself! Valuing your own needs and expectations is way more important for your medium and long term health, than prioritising others. 

A habit of PPs is justification and explanation of their reason for saying no. This is a trap that can keep you engaged in a verbal game with a manipulator long after you could have walked away. I'm no longer available for this, I can give you another 5 minutes, I'm not going to be able to meet you at this time, I don't have capacity to carry out what I agreed - all these are legitimate reasons to terminate your agreement/commitment without explanation. If you are asked why, simply re-state your previous message. Don't give the manipulator ammunition to argue with you.

Life is a constant balancing act of our needs and others' needs. In a healthy relationship (with a friend, colleague, family member, partner), healthy compromise is doing or saying something you'd rather do or not do, because it nurtures the relationship (and it's in alignment with your values). Unhealthy compromise is doing or saying something you'd rather not do, because you're afraid of the consequences. PPs are more likely to say yes when they want to say no, than those with a robust sense of self. 

It takes practice to build the skill of prioritising yourself over others. Rehearsing in your head is absolutely normal, and can be very helpful. It is not rude to say no, although it might feel rude until you are more confident at saying it. If you are willing, and now/the requested time doesn't suit, you can also say I'm not available for the task then, I could help you out [at a later date]. 

Best wishes for learning or strengthening this skill. It's an important one for keeping management of your life in your hands.

Suzi Wallis | Nov 2019

How to support someone with a different or opposing point of view

Imagine you have been approached by a friend, family member or colleague. They are distressed about something that is directly related to a belief they have. This belief or view is not one you share. You believe that your point of view might help ease their suffering. What do you do?

Firstly, ask yourself what is going to be most helpful initially here? The majority of the time, the answer is empathy or compassion. Many people in distress just want to be heard - they don't actually want to hear what you think, at least at first. Empathy, acknowledging how they feel, and naming what you see ("you seem sad", "that really sucks", "I can see you're distressed") is a fantastic first step. Many people will then expand on what's going on, and feel better as a result. If they already know you don't share their point of view, they have shown extreme courage to approach you in the first place, and this action is a reflection of the desperation they are likely to be feeling.

The gentle pause from the listener is a powerful technique for opening someone up and helping them to feel safe in your presence. If you interrupt with your own words too quickly, they may feel shut down. Non verbal indicators that you are listening like eye contact, nodding or "hmmm", and minimal verbal encouragement like  "yes" or "carry on", all help someone process their emotions and potentially find their own solutions to feeling better.

One of the worst things you can do is share your opinion when it hasn't been asked for. This has the impact of minimising the other person's feelings, and can potentially create a disconnection between you and them. It's like saying "your feelings aren't important" or "my opinion is superior to yours". If your opinion is an opposing one to theirs, this effect is magnified. It is up to you to fight your internal battle - if you think their belief is hurting them, it's not actually your responsibility to change it. 

If they do ask what you think, that's a different story, and one that still needs to be approached with care. Gently share your view with a starting statement like "This is what I've found helpful to believe in this kind of situation" or "I see this differently to you, and I respect your opinion" or "We have what might appear to be opposing views on this, and both are valid."

The other benefit of not sharing your point of view unless it's asked for, is that the distressed person might get to a different belief place in time, if they are given the space to talk about their own perspective first. They might be able to hold your ideas in their mind for a while (the ones they already know about you) and mull them over. If someone else's beliefs (yours in particular) have been imposed on them, especially while they are upset, the chance of them defending their own view internally and/or externally is stronger. Most people don't like being told what to think or what to do - we all want autonomy in our lives and minds.

Remember this article applies to some of the most controversial topics - politics, health/medicine, religion, environmental issues - and also to any belief that is different from our own. You have the choice to be a supporter or an opposer - which one will bring more harmony to your world?

Suzi Wallis | Aug 2017

How will you be celebrated after you die?

You may be a humble person who doesn't want any fuss after you die. You may wish to ease any financial burden on your relatives. For these reasons (or others), you may wish not to have a funeral. Please consider your grieving loved ones in your decision. Rituals are very powerful for the grieving to celebrate what you meant to them, and asking them not to acknowledge you, can negatively affect their ability to grieve.

Stuck grief

If your loved ones, including friends, aren't given the opportunity to farewell you in an appropriate way, they may get stuck in their grief for months or years. This can manifest through:

Other options

A traditional funeral (depending on your culture), isn't the only option. A gathering of people with or without the deceased person could be:

Financial considerations

Embalming adds significant cost to a funeral; if burial is only one option, rather than a fixed idea/request/commitment, cremation is a cost effective way to take care of the deceased person's body. Cremation also removes the cost of a burial plot (although many cemeteries/urupaas include a place for ashes to be interred). 

Some modern funeral directors offer a body transport service, and assistance with viewing the person if the family requires, without having premises that include viewing areas, or an area to gather after a service. This is cheaper than utilising a funeral director where all facilities are onsite, including embalming/body preparation for viewing.

Final thoughts

In short, funerals are for the grieving, not the person who has passed on. It can be a gift to those who love you, to provide a forum where they can cry, wail, tell stories, be supported, see friends and relatives they may not have seen for a while. 

Talk to your family as soon as possible, so that when your time on this earth has passed, your final celebration is a chapter in your loved ones' grief journey.

Suzi Wallis | Mar 2022

Humility vs martyring

Humility, according to is:

Humility is the quality of being humble.[1] Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard[2] and sense of unworthiness.[3] In a religious context humility can mean a recognition of self in relation to a deity (i.e. God) or deities, and subsequent submission to said deity as a member of that religion.[4][5] Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as being "unselved", a liberation from consciousness of self, a form of temperance that is neither having pride (or haughtiness) nor indulging in self-deprecation.[6][7]

Humility is an outward expression of an appropriate inner, or self regard, and is contrasted with humiliation which is an imposition, often external, of shame upon a person. Humility may be misappropriated as ability to suffer humiliation through self-denouncements which in itself remains focused on self rather than low self-focus.[8][9]

Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue which centers on low self-preoccupation, or unwillingness to put oneself forward, so it is in many religious and philosophical traditions, it contrasts with narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride and is an idealistic and rare intrinsic construct that has an extrinsic side.

According to WebMD, martyr complex is:

A martyr complex is a recognized psychological pattern. It’s marked by self-sacrifice and service to others at your own expense. Identifying martyr traits and tendencies can prevent burnout and stress on your relationships.

Some aspects of martyrdom may seem desirable, but it’s important to understand the negative implications, too.

These concepts play out in relationships over and over. If we have been brought up to believe that we are only of value if we are serving others, it is very difficult to claim our own power, and enforce safe boundaries. This is particularly common for women in most societies. Additionally, if we have been overtly or covertly encouraged to not take up too much space, we can end up martyring ourselves, instead of the more desirable concept of humility.

If we are martyring, we may be presenting as:

Another way of looking at the unhealthy dynamic of martyring/rescuing is through the Karpman Drama Triangle. Caregiving/supporting, within boundaries is much healthier than rescuing - and will lead to more meaningful interactions and relationships.

Humility goes hand in hand with safe boundaries; we are self aware, can self reflect, don't offer more than we have capacity for, and recognise that not everyone will like us.

As Dita Von Teese is quoted as saying: 

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” 

The ability to sit with the discomfort of disappointing others, is essential to move away from martyring/rescuing, to humility/safe boundaries. Best wishes for noticing the difference, finding compassion for yourself during the process, and maintaining strong boundaries as much as possible.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2020

I don't mind vs I don't care

When we are trying to support a friend, or family member's autonomy, we may, with the best of intentions, send the message that we don't care about them. This is due to a subtle difference between the phrase "I don't mind" and "I don't care". The first one shows flexibility of thinking, a respect for the other person's autonomy, and a support of their choices. The second can deliver the message "I don't care about you". Although that's not usually the intention, small differences in phrasing, tone and volume, can make a huge difference to how your message is received.

Making eye contact, touching the person gently in a neutral zone (shoulder, upper arm) if you are on touching terms with them, keeping the volume as low as possible for the physical situation, putting away any devices (and ensuring they are on silent) - these are all vital signals that you care about the person and how your message is received.

If the response you observe isn't what you expected, chances are it hasn't been interpreted as you expected. The sooner you clarify, offer to re-deliver the message, and/or carry out a repair attempt, the stronger your connection with your conversational partner will remain.

Suzi Wallis | Feb 2020

Is depression contagious?

Hopefully that question got you thinking! This article is mainly for support people of those experiencing depression. It can be easy to find yourself feeling run down or burned out when you have been supporting someone with depression, and your self care has taken a back seat.

Self care is important for us all, including those with robust mental health (it helps keep the robustness alive) and those who are facing challenges around their mental health. Someone who is experiencing a depressive episode may not be aware of the impact they are having on others, so it's up to you to build your own awareness about what you need so that you can continue helping out your friend/loved one. Some things to consider:

Good luck with your journey of supporting someone experiencing depression. Remember that you are special and deserve recognition, even if it's indirect or late in arriving.

Suzi Wallis | Jan 2013

Is sexual monogamy realistic?

The subject of sexual monogamy has been very present in my counselling room lately. There seems to be a general expectation in the Western world, that everyone who enters into a long term relationship will be sexually faithful to their partner. This is something that is often assumed, and not discussed.

With the variety of culture, ethnicity, religion, family expectations, schooling and education, is it unrealistic to expect everyone who lives in a particular area to conform to any behaviours (apart from those that the law defines as illegal)? Isn't that like expecting everyone who lives in a particular area to have the same hair, skin and eye colour too? 

From a biological perspective, sexual attraction (also known as limerance and lust) are designed to bond a male and female to reproduce, and ensure that the male remains present for long enough to ensure the child's survival. Historically, the expectation of sexual fidelity has long been expected from women almost exclusively, particularly when they were perceived as chattels through marriage. Sexual fidelity created assurance of children's paternity, which is important when it comes to inheritance of title or goods. 

The effect that sexual infidelity has on relationship partners is varied and complicated, and suitable for another article at another time. What I want to stimulate discussion about is the expectation of fidelity, and why it is so often not discussed in relationships. Attraction to other people is a natural by-product of being a sexual being, and the decision to act on attraction is one that we can all make, or not make, countless times in our lives. Expecting yourself or your partner to never find another person attractive is unrealistic, and can lead to unnecessary disappointment and pain. In a strong relationship (and ideal relationship in my book), an attraction would be discussed with your partner, and their support obtained to turn your focus back onto your primary relationship.

If you are very tempted to act on a sexual or emotional attraction to someone outside your relationship, it may be time to ask yourself some important questions:

It's also worth defining with your partner what your boundaries are with regards to infidelity - for some, flirting or talking about your relationship with another feels like just as big a violation as sexual contact might. Knowing what your partner's boundaries are means that you are more likely to respect them.

There may be many more questions that will come up for you as you read this. I encourage you to discuss this topic with your partner, friends and family. The more you discuss it, the more you will be aware of your own behaviour and boundaries, and have the opportunity to become a more conscious relationship partner yourself.

Further reading

Suzi Wallis | May 2015

Men are not always available for sex

I have been seeing more and more men recently in my counselling practice who are not available for sex with their partners if they feel disrespected or belittled. 

There seems to be a myth out there that all men can be turned on at a moment's notice if they are offered sex. This is not true. Like some women, there are some men who are ready to 'perform' 24/7, but I think this is becoming more and more rare. I'm hearing from both my clients, and men around me in my life, that they need to first feel emotionally connected to be physically intimate with their partners.

If the relationship has conflict, or very disrespectful or abusive language is regularly used at them, many men will feel too unsafe to be physically intimate with their partner. Given that most people feel vulnerable when they are getting naked (physically or emotionally) with someone, they are going to need to feel safe to take this step. I saw a beautiful writing on a Facebook post recently, where it was mentioned that foreplay for women begins at the end of the last sexual encounter. I think this is also true for many men.

Men, as a rule, need to feel important, appreciated, attractive, competent and many other things to also feel sexual. Unconsciously, withdrawal of affection or sex can be used to regain power. If a man is subjected to insults or verbal or physical abuse, he may feel powerless. Withdrawal may be the only way he can 'lick his wounds' and recover. If you have had an encounter like this recently with your male partner, and he has withdrawn, you will need to give him time to settle his emotions first. He will then need to hear and feel remorse from you (even if you didn't intend to hurt him) before he will become emotionally and physically available to you.

Bear in mind that sex in long term relationships is largely about emotional intimacy. In the early days of a relationship, when lust is high, it is designed to bond a couple strongly. If you've been together a while and you have sex less often than you'd like, have a look at your relationship's emotional health. Are you respectful of your partner in your words and actions? Do you tell him how wonderful he is, how much you appreciate what he does for you and how attractive he is to you? If not, maybe it's time to increase that behaviour and see how much closer you feel.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2013

Privacy vs secrecy in romantic relationships

Although transparency as a concept is appealing in romantic relationships, if we are complete open books, we can become de-eroticised to our partner, and end up "friend zoning" each other, 

As Esther Perel talks about in Mating in Captivity, relationships are a constant dance between enough distance for attraction, and enough closeness for security. One aspect this plays out in is what we share with our significant other(s). Privacy in our own heads, including fantasies, is important for us to feel autonomous and empowered in our own lives. Privacy in a low trust relationship can be experienced as secrecy, and that's when damage to the connection between the couple can occur.

If you have information that directly impacts your partner, examine your motivation for keeping it from them. 

If these factors are relevant to you, you may need to engage a couples counsellor to learn how to have robust conversations safely.

If the information you are holding has no direct impact on your relationship, it may be ok to keep it to yourself. If it's something that you haven't shared with anyone else (like a fantasy or a kink preference), and there is no risk of your partner finding out through other means, you probably don't run the risk of hurting your partner unintentionally.

However, if you are holding something that is out of alignment with your relationship agreements and understandings, it's worth sharing at the right time, in the right way. Additionally, if it's something you want to explore in your relationship, to increase the satisfaction in your emotional or sexual life, it's well worth sharing. Ensure you choose a time when your partner is emotionally and physically available, there are no devices or children interrupting, and you've agreed to meet/speak. Asking for something doesn't guarantee you'll get it, but if you ask in an adult way, you can collaborate to find a solution that meets some aspects of both people's needs.

Suzi Wallis | Oct 2023

Sex and intimacy during and after menopause

If you are a woman experiencing perimenopause, menopause, or a partner of a woman at this life stage, read on. It's important to know what can be going on for women at this stage of life, so adjustments can be made.


Perimenopause begins as a woman's oestrogen reduces. It usually starts in a woman's 40s, but can start in the 30s as well. It can begin 8-10 years before menopause. In the last 1-2 years, the drop in oestrogen accelerates. This is most likely when women experience symptoms. Women are still having menstrual cycles during this time, and can get pregnant.

The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months. Perimenopause ends when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period.


Menopause is the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and women no longer have menstrual periods. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their oestrogen. Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. Women can no longer get pregnant once they are fully in menopause.

Symptoms, sex and intimacy

Symptoms of perimenopause

Women may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

Women who are still in the menopause transition (perimenopause) may also experience:

Symptoms of menopause & those worth getting checked out

Women may experience some or all of the first list above. Some women also experience the list below:

These symptoms can be a sign that the ovaries are producing less oestrogen. Not all women get all of these symptoms. However, women affected with new symptoms of racing heart, urinary changes, headaches, or other new medical problems should see a doctor to make sure there is no other cause for these symptoms.


Women who are experiencing symptoms related to either stage, most predominantly perimenopause, may feel exhausted, irritated, less resilient, absent minded, unattractive, unimportant and have a severely reduced or absent libido. This is completely reasonable, given the impact of the symptoms they may be experiencing. It's really important for women experiencing these symptoms to have emotional intimacy with their partner. Without feeling emotionally connected, the desire to make steps towards physical intimacy is likely to be very compromised.

Sex & libido

If a woman's libido previously came about from having sexual feelings, this may no longer be the case. Sexual feelings can disappear entirely at this stage. This also affects a women's self image, as she may no longer feel attractive. 

Women at this stage of life cannot expect to feel like sex, then initiate or respond to sexual overtures. If you have no libido, you need to make a decision that you want to feel close to your partner. You can then initiate sexual contact, and desire/arousal will come about after you start a sexual connection with your partner. This will be severely compromised if your relationship doesn't have emotional intimacy, if there is disconnection, or high conflict.

One of the other things that happens at this life stage, is that the vaginal skin thins, and becomes more vulnerable to damage through intercourse. It's really important to use a lubricant during intercourse, even if you feel aroused, to prevent any abrasions or mini tears. The vaginal tissue is similar to that between the webs of our fingers. If you have ever had a wound or cut to that part of your body, you will remember how painful it was. Some organic lubes on the market include Bonk, FlowMotion, Intimate Earth, Love, Sliquid, SytemJo, and Yes.

Sexual position will also be important, as some positions could work against lubrication being where it's needed. A woman on top of her partner can help natural lubrication to move down the vagina, which in turn, helps to facilitate intercourse. Experiment with different positions, and most importantly, take your time.

What do partners of perimenopausal and menopausal women need to know/do?

Your partner is going through a transition. She may feel unattractive, both to you, and out in the world. She may be seriously sleep-deprived, foggy in her thinking, and in pain. She needs your patience, love and consistent support, as you both navigate this time.

Ask her what she needs from you. Ensure there is lots of non-sexual affection between you. Compliment her on her efforts, and the things you admire about her. Reassure her that you are in this life stage together. Emotional intimacy is especially important at this time - knowing what is going on for each other, and being able to navigate each other's internal worlds. Take time out of your day to really find out how she is, without the interruptions of technology, tv, or other demands. 

If you have lost your confidence about sex

Ladies, if you have been experimenting with sex, and have had negative experiences, or you don't feel like trying with no desire, read on.

This is a meaningful time of life, and deserves to be honoured. You can experiment on your own, to reassure yourself that you can have sexual feelings, and that your body is still a source of pleasure. Read some erotic literature, buy clothes that you feel attractive wearing, change your perfume to one that feels more sensual, have candles and low lights in your home, purchase a dildo or vibrator, purchase some good lube, and communicate with your sexual partner/s! Even if your partner has gone through this life stage themselves, it will be a unique experience for you. You need to talk, laugh, and have some lightness about this topic, until you both feel comfortable. 

Most women's partners will not be expecting them to lose interest in them or sex. Keep them in the loop about where you're at. Ask them to be patient. Talk about what your turn ons and turn offs are - they may have changed since you first got together. Keep trying to connect sexually. Unless you have negotiated a non-sexual relationship, this issue can cause much conflict and disconnection in relationships. It can be very confusing for your partner to find that you no longer respond to them in the way you once did. They may feel unattractive and unwanted too.

I wish you well in your experimenting and play. You are still you, even though aspects of your body are changing. You deserve to feel pleasure, to feel safe and loved. You are a big part of co-creating an environment for you and those who share your life, that works for you all.

Suzi Wallis | May 2018

Sex in a long term relationship can be so boring!

One of the best aspects of 2020, is that consensual sex is more available now than it ever has been in history. This shows how far we have come as a species, although there is also lots of work to be done still. Although this article was written largely about heterosexual sex, it makes some good points about how our evolution has not yet caught up with the social changes that are being made around sex and consent. One of the challenges now, is how couples navigate sex that might appear, from the outside, to be outside of gentle, mutually consensual sex. 

This is where the kink world can help. In the world of experimentation with sexual boundaries, such as Bondage and discipline (B & D or B/D), Dominance and submission (D & S or D/s) (including "master and slave" role-playing scenarios and ongoing relationship structures), Sadism and masochism (S & M or S/M). Click here for information on some common terms/sub categories of BDSM.

The world of kink is usually very organised when it comes to safety and consent. In fact, it is also known as "consensual power exchange", which gives you a good idea of the consenting adults involved. Agreements are made in advance between players, about which words will be used to put a halt to proceedings, or pause for whatever reason.

This concept can be utilised for any sexual encounter, and although it might feel odd or uncomfortable to a couple who have been together for a while, it creates a great opportunity to expand your sexual experiences together. If there's something you've been wanting to try that's different from how you usually show your sexual connection, do your research, approach your partner, and agree on some "safe" words - the ones that say "Stop, I'm not enjoying this/I'm feeling scared" and "Pause, I need to take a breath before we continue." Once you have those established, ensure that you choose your time well - you are not going to be interrupted, you have the right lighting, environment, location - and start playing.

Suzi Wallis | Jun 2020

The importance of non-sexual touch in an intimate relationship

What is it that makes your relationship with your partner different from just a friend or flatmate? Apart from (hopefully) trust, friendship, love, respect and kindness, the way you touch each other displays an intimacy that you may not share with other people in your life (at least not to the same extent). Sometimes you can see a couple who are comfortable together by the way they interact physically – a touch there, a quick hug or kiss as they pass each other in a social setting. Non-sexual touch (the kind that isn’t necessarily going to lead to lovemaking) can keep a couple feeling connected during their everyday lives.

Rather than getting ‘out of the way’ when you pass in the hall or kitchen, how about getting ‘in the way’ intentionally? It’s a great opportunity for a re-connect, flirt and can send a message that says ‘I’m glad I chose you.’ If you are watching tv together, sitting on the same couch, with legs draped over each other is far more intimate than separate chairs. If one is preparing dinner, having the other hanging out in the kitchen, passing items backwards and forwards will create a feeling of connectedness. There are plenty of opportunities for getting into the same physical space if you allow your mind to contemplate them.

The quality of hugs and kisses, especially during greetings and farewells can make the difference in your partner’s day. When you kiss your partner hello or goodbye, is it on the lips or cheek? Which one feels more intimate? Do you look in their eyes when you greet them or farewell them? When you hug your partner, do you ensure that you are connected from knees to chest? When you come home, do you greet the children or pets before your partner? Why? What is this modelling for your children and what message does this send to your partner about their importance to you? It’s perfectly ok to ask your children to wait and say you want to greet your partner (whether it be their Mum or Dad or someone else) first.

I hope you are able to find opportunities to solidify the foundation of your relationship through what you’ve read here.

Suzi Wallis | Nov 2011

The myth of unconditional love

We'd like to think (and are in fact socialised to think) that when we meet Mr, Mrs or MX Right, all will be perfect. We'll love them unconditionally until we are parted by death. The reality is often far from this fantasy.

The idea of unconditional love versus the reality of day-to-day living in a relationship can be two very different things. If we really loved someone unconditionally, we would be saying it's ok if you:

If we had one or more of the things above happening in our relationship, chances are we would be feeling resentment, not unconditional love.

Wikipedia defines unconditional love as:

If you are a parent (of the human or pet variety), you may have experienced something very close to unconditional love in your lifetime. Have a think about what unconditional love could mean in the reality of everyday living. Maybe it could mean:

What it doesn't mean is:

I hope you enjoy exploring what unconditional love could mean for you in your daily life. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Suzi Wallis | Jun 2013

What is trust?

Trust is a decision you make. Some of us are led to believe that it's magic - when you meet the right person, are in the right job, live in the right home, all will fall into place, and you won't have insecurities any more. For people who believe this, trust can be elusive.

Trust is a decision that you make internally. When you decide to trust, "evidence" presents itself to prove that your decision has merit. The converse is true - if you decide not to trust someone/something, you will see reasons for that decision too. If you've ever heard the saying "what you focus on gets bigger", trust is a great example of that. 

For some people, mistrust comes about because of their own inability to control their impulsiveness. Maybe they have some compulsive behaviours that they are ashamed of, or intrusive thoughts that they know others would disapprove of. Perhaps they think of cheating in their job or relationship, and suddenly they see "suspicious" behaviours in others. This is projection - and it applies to many emotions. What we don't own in ourselves we see reflected in others. It's our way of being given the opportunity to fight our demons, and grow in the process.

Wikipedia has a social sciences definition of trust:

Trust is in part, a leap of faith. Those who live life not trusting until it's "proven" lead a draining life indeed. To do this, you must be hypervigilant - looking out for danger constantly. Apart from being tiring, it's hard work! People who trust as a default behaviour lead happier, more productive lives.

If someone has betrayed your trust in the past, take the knowledge that you have gained and put it through the logical part of your brain (or someone else's if you need an objective view). You can then decide if forgiveness is an option, or if it is an indication of a character that you no longer wish to interact with. You can then vote with your feet.

One exercise I have given couples who have difficulty trusting each other is to "try it on for size." It's a self reinforcing thing - once you behave "as if" you trust the other person, evidence presents itself, your confidence grows, and you trust the other person more.

I hope you have enjoyed the concepts above, and at the very least, it gives you food for thought.

Suzi Wallis | Mar 2014

What is toxic positivity, and are you guilty of it?

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It's a "good vibes only" approach to life. 

Toxic positivity has become more well known in recent times. Others can experience it as a forced, false positivity that nullifies and minimises theirs, and others' feelings. When someone is always appearing positive, it can feel unsafe for others to be authentic with them, in case they are ignored, talked over, criticised or given unwanted advice. 

This is very different to optimism, which, along with empathy, is a chosen lense to look at the world through, and can be very empowering. If empathy isn't present, optimism can come across as blind positivity.

Toxic positivity can include shaming others for being negative, hurting, feeling sad or angry - generally feeling natural, valid human emotions. 

Sometimes people may perceive optimistic approaches inaccurately; as if the person is unable to hear, or hold space for tough experiences or feelings. This is not usually true. Optimism can be very empowering for individuals, although it is no-one's right to impose it on someone else. This is likely to come across as patronising and/or critical.

Genuine, helpful positivity involves:

Best wishes for finding the right balance for you and those you care about.

Suzi Wallis | Apr 2021

What quality makes the difference between a good relationship and an exceptional one?

From both my experience working with couples, and my personal experience, I believe there are five non-negotiables for a good relationship:

If you don't have the first five, your relationship will have challenges that can sometimes make it feel like really hard work. You could be settling for less than you deserve if these qualities don't exist between you and your partner.

The sixth quality that I believe takes a good relationship into the realm of exceptional is acceptance. Not only is acceptance a vital part of the grief process, enabling you to move in a forward direction, it is also a quality that can help to make your relationship unshakeable. That may sound like an exaggeration, yet the people I know who have this, have relationships that look as solid as it's possible to get. Acceptance is truly being ok with your partner's values, their way of seeing the world, their way of making choices you wouldn't make, their questioning of you - the list goes on.

Suzi Wallis | Nov 2011

What's the bridge when you have opposing points of view?

We can spend a lot of energy in conflict, trying to convince the other person that our view is correct - of course, this implies strongly that their point of view is wrong. Given that we usually come to our views through some reasonably thought out process, we are going to resist changing it. A key to keeping the relationship intact, whatever kind it is, can be reflective listening or empathy.

Something as simple as "I can see your perspective, and understand it" can soften the other person's stance towards your perspective. Another option could be "I really want to understand more about your point of view" and shows respect and dignity, along with curiosity. 

People can fight for days, weeks or longer trying to convince someone else to give up their belief/position and adopt theirs; and it's often fruitless. When you are considering whether it's reasonable to change your mind consider the difference between healthy and unhealthy compromise:

Given this definition, moving from black/white or wrong/right can benefit the relationship, and set it up for future collaboration/compromise. Although negative scorekeeping is very toxic in relationships, recording/recalling positive interactions leads to more optimism and benefit of the doubt. No matter the type of relationship, the two of you/group against the problem is much healthier than me against you.

Suzi Wallis | Sep 2023

Why sex is so important in a long term relationship

Sex can be the glue that holds a relationship together, and when the relationship is exclusive, sex is a symbol representing/honouring who you have chosen to spend your life with. At the least, it is a point of difference that identifies your relationship with your partner as special.

If you are in an exclusive/monogamous relationship, sex is one of the few activities you can participate in only with your chosen partner. Most other needs can be met to some extent outside the relationship:

So it automatically becomes a connecting experience for both of you - a physical and emotional demonstration of I choose you.

There is lots of research about the benefits of sex. This article from outlines just 11 of the physical benefits (there are explanations included):

This article from has 21 reasons:

In a long term relationship, sex isn't about feeling horny and acting on it. It's about wanting to feel close to your partner, and then making steps towards physical intimacy. Become aware of your inner talk about sex - if you have had an unhappy relationship in the past or traumatic sexual experiences, your mind may automatically reject the idea of intimacy. Listen to that voice in your head. Coach it to consider the possibility of some physical loving, and then take action to make it happen (or seek therapy if you can't resolve the resistance on your own).

Turn offs

It's important not to discount the non--physical turn offs. We can all imagine we're likely to be reluctant if our partner:

There are lots of emotional turn offs that can interfere with your sex life:

and many others that may be unique to your situation. If these are occurring, I suggest getting yourself to couples therapy asap.

Getting what you want in your sex life

There's no point aiming towards having more sex if you don't enjoy it. You may have been with your partner for a long time, and not communicated what you like and don't like. One exercise that can reset your sex life uses the baseball/softball analogy (it can also used when recovering from sexual trauma). Each phase lasts for the agreed time frame - 2-4 weeks is a good minimum time period for each stage (there's no limit for the maximum time period; it depends on how patient the more impatient partner is feeling).

Take your time in each phase, talking gently about what you want more of, and what you want less of. This can be a precious opportunity to really educate each other about your body and how you want it treated. Have a signal that says pause, I need to breathe/think/process so that you don't end up engaging in any activities that are turn offs or traumatising.

Don't worry if you end up having intercourse before you have reached the fourth phase, as long as you both consent. 


Another important conversation to have as a sexually active couple is to identify your individual signals. Some couples may have a code word, others may use an arse grab, others may deepen their usual kiss - if you don't know what your partner's signals are, you may miss many opportunities to be intimate. Sex usually needs to work around women's menstrual cycles, so communication about timing of these is important too.

Libidos vary between genders and individuals - talk about what your normal is versus your partner's. There's no right or wrong number, as such, however I am encouraging you to have sex at least monthly if possible. If you connect physically less frequently than this, you're more likely to feel like friends with occasional benefits than a couple. Couple relationships are more resilient when we feel loved, appreciated and connected, both physically and emotionally.

Suzi Wallis | Jan 2017