March 12, 2019

Five Fundamentals for Surviving a Break-Up

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‘Listen to Bernie Bolger in conversation with Sarah McDonald on ABC 702 Nightlife as they discuss how to survive a relationship break-up’

1. Take time to grieve your loss.

For some, losing a significant other because of a break-up can be as painful as if they died. In some cases more so. From seeing some-one you love every day to having no contact, it can seem impossibly daunting to imagine your life without them. But it is important to come to terms with this new reality and accept it before you can move on. Whilst it may seem appealing to fast-forward through this period of sadness by keeping busy with other things and people, the reality is that the end of a relationship requires a grieving period where we process what has happened. It is also a time where you can reflect on the relationship and your own behaviour. And in the process you may learn a thing or two about yourself and what you want out of a future relationship.

2. Reconnect with yourself.

In many relationships, the primary focus is on the ‘we’ instead of the ‘I’. But the end of a relationship offers a unique opportunity to take stock of where you are in life, and then to do something for you. This might mean taking up a new hobby or reuniting with friends. Taking the time to do things which make you feel good, like seeing family or going on a holiday (without having to compromise), will help boost your mood. And this focus on yourself means when you enter a new relationship, you will have a self-awareness that you may have lost. Rather than rushing into a new relationship, take time to focus on the relationship with you.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Rarely do people come to the decision to end a relationship at the same time. If the end of the relationship came as a shock, it is normal to feel rejected of question your self-worth. But if your partner has made it clear that they no longer want a relationship with you, it is imperative that you accept this and focus on yourself. And it is equally imperative that you let go of any feelings of bitterness, no matter how hurt or angry you may feel. As Nelson Mandela said – ‘holding onto bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. If this all seems too hard to do alone, talk to a professional. Set limits with your family and friends about what you feel comfortable discussing. If you need to vent, do so with a counsellor because friends may become overly protective and fuel your bitterness and anger rather than help you move through it. Similarly, if there are practical issues to be dealt with, such as parenting plans and property settlements, seek the services of an accredited Family Mediator or a Collaboratively trained family lawyer whose wise counsel early on will save years of heartache down the track.

4. Use Social Media wisely.

Your accounts may be littered with memories of your past relationship. As hard as it may be, delete your ex. You may convince yourself that you can control the urge to check in with your ex all the time, but what you are in fact doing is fuelling your brain’s need for this person. And in the process retraumatising yourself every time.
Even worse is going on a social media rampage. When you are feeling slighted or ignored, it is too easy to share your angry feelings with the world via twitter or Facebook. Especially after a few glasses of wine. In the moment it feels really good, but the ramifications can be huge, both professionally and personally.

5. Don’t fall into the Rebound trap.

Take the time to mourn the relationship, to mourn part of your own life that is not there anymore. Take the time to look back on the relationship without the rose coloured glasses which minimised the parts of it you didn’t like. Every broken relationship is a learning opportunity which allows you shine a spotlight on behaviours which are acceptable and those which are a definite deal breaker in the future. Don’t let your fear of being alone cause you to swipe right too soon and thus miss out on some of life’s most valuable lessons.

February 2, 2018

Bernie Bolger, Sue Abrams and Simeon Levin explain the concept of Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice

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September 13, 2017

Bernie in conversation with Chris Bath – Evenings on ABC Radio 702

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Divorce – everyone knows someone who has been through a divorce. With 1 in 3 marriages breaking down and over 30,000 of these involving kids every year, we need to find nicer, better ways to break up. We need to find better ways to draw a line in the sand and move on with our lives.

In this hour Bernie Bolger, psychotherapist and mediator and Vice President of Collaborative Professionals (NSW) Inc. talks to Chris Bath about the alternative, less conflictual paths which families can take to end their relationship as it is and move forward.

Listen to the Audio

March 1, 2017

ABC Nightlife – Money and Relationships

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Listen to Bernie Bolger talking Money and Relationships with Philip Clark.

October 28, 2016

Bernie guest presents on 2UE – Talking Relationships

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Join Bernie Bolger as she guest presents on the 2UE 954 radio program Talking Relationships with David Prior. Listen here

October 10, 2016

Putting the Rrrrrr back into your Relationship

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Notes from Bernie’s conversation on Nightlife with Dom Knight on ABC 702 Radio on Monday night 10 October 2016

Listen to the podcast here


Has your relationship become boring?  Instead of the freshness and excitement of the early days together, are you getting complacent and focusing on the everyday obligations and tasks like doing chores, paying bills, fixing up things around the house. Are you choosing to do things together that are safe, secure and familiar such as going to the same café or inviting the same people over for dinner?  When is the last time you really put thought and effort into your relationship?


Q: Bernie, the statistics are scary, more than 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce and half of these divorces occur in the first seven years.  What is going on?

A: Dom we are all leading very busy lives but thanks to the online world, instant gratification is more possible than ever. You don’t need to debate things anymore with others. You simply look it up on your phone and within seconds whoever is right gets the satisfaction of knowing it instantly. You don’t need to wait to buy something you want. You can order it online and receive it within minutes if it is a digital service or the next day if it is a physical product. We live in a world where you can get almost anything you want when you want it and it’s hard not to need instant gratification in every area of life. So much so that the concept of working for something is often considered to be boring.  It makes people unwilling to work through things and take their time on things, and relationships are one of the biggest things that people need to work on and take their time with. I wonder how many relationships could have been saved with just a little bit of patience and effort…


Q. But there has to be more to it than that? Given that ending a relationship can have the most devastating emotional and financial consequences, surely trying harder and showing a little more perseverance is not the only thing at play here?

A. Of course you’re right.  We also have to fight our own physiological and biochemical make-up.  As humans, we are hard wired to always be on the look-out for something new, to hunt. When we see something we don’t have, our bodies become flooded with all sorts of neurotransmitters and happy hormones.  We move into a state of heightened arousal and it feels good.  And then when we capture it, these chemical reactions automatically shut down.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  So put a new relationship into this context, in the early phase it’s all excitement and an adrenaline rush at the mere fantasy of a brush of skin.  But  two years on, it all become a little hum drum.  And we crave that adrenaline rush again – it’s like an addiction.  But unfortunately if we are not mindful, we can go looking in the wrong places and suddenly Mr Right is no longer Mr Right but the latest cast-off.  The challenge is to keep on putting new back into our old relationships.


Q. New back into the old – what do you mean by that? 

A. I think the first thing we have to do is to really acknowledge that a relationship is made up of more than one person, that it does in fact take two people to make or break it.  We are each responsible for the part we play.  By that I mean that if we are beginning to look at our relationship and moaning about how stale it has become, perhaps in the first place we should take a long, hard look at ourselves before we lay the blame totally at our partner’s feet. How are we measuring up as a person of interest?  When was the last time we took on something new ourselves? Took up a new hobby, talked to a stranger on the train, walked a different way to work, hopped into bed on the other side?  These changes don’t have to be huge, but they keep us vital and out of our comfort zones. In essence they keep us interesting as individuals.


Q. What happens if one person wants to reinvigorate the relationship and the other is quite happy just as it is?

A.  The reality is, both people have to be engaged in keeping the relationship fresh.  The trick is learning how to listen afresh to your partner’s needs and incorporating them into your lives.  So if one person is happy with the status quo and the other wants to rev if up a bit, somewhere in between is where the magic will happen.  Dr Gary Chapman, an American psychologist, came up with the concept of the Five Love Languages.  He say we tend to love the way we like to be loved rather than how our partner wants to be loved.  Leading Australian sex therapist, Dr Rosie King reiterated this with her five ‘Ts’ concept – Talk, Tasks, Time, Touch and Tokens. The principle behind both these ideas is that if your partner needs you to spend time with them to feel loved, then that is what you should do.  It doesn’t matter that you have spent the morning doing the garden – a task which she hates to do and you’re not too keen on either but you have done it because you love her and she should know that… So as a first step towards getting to know each other again I would suggest that you both take Gary Chapman’s fun questionnaire on line (http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/ ) and find how you can get the best bang for your buck with your good intentions.


Q. One of the things that struck me when you were talking about the Five Love Languages was how important it is not to assume anything.  In your example, there the poor man was slaving away in the garden so that she didn’t have to and in the meantime she was getting irritated because he wasn’t spending any time with her? What can we do about this?

A.  There isn’t a counsellor out there who wouldn’t stress the importance of good communication.  And they will give you all sorts of tips on how to do it well, in particular the techniques of active listening. But what they are really doing is teaching you how to resolve conflict.  However, Dr John Gottman from the University of Washington in Seattle, has studied 1000’s of couples over the last 40 years and has come to the conclusion that over 65% of our conflicts are never resolved and in fact resolving conflict well is not the key to a happy, successful relationship.  What he suggests we do is bring back curiosity into our relationships and convert that curiosity into empathy and respect.  Don’t be lazy, don’t just make assumptions about your partner’s interests and desires, rather ask the questions, show interest and listen to the answers.  Get to know your partner well all over again. Introduce the real quality of Emotional Intelligence into the relationship.  So in the example of the gardening above, what would have helped would have been for her to ask why he spends so much time in the garden rather than assume he just doesn’t value spending time with her.  And if you really aren’t comfortable asking these questions yourself, take yourselves along to a counsellor or coach who can facilitate these sometimes awkward conversations.


Q.  Another buzz word out there at the moment is Values.  Discover your values, live your values and the authentic life will follow.  But what happens if you have different values?  

A. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and the science of wellbeing from the University of Pennsylvania, is a great believer in values and signature strengths.  He posits that if you live your life using both of these principles as your parameters and link them to your goals, your sense of wellbeing will be increased exponentially. And therein lies the potential problem in a relationship. One partner’s values cannot not be honoured at the expense of the other. So what to do?  In the first place, it is really important to understand what are your real values and not the values you think you should have.  This is a fun exercise to do together and can be a way of deepening the understanding and empathy between you.  For example, financial issues are one of the biggest causes of relationship breakdown.  Couples argue about money all the time and quite often it just plays out with one partner being known as the tight-ass in the relationship.  How different might it be if they were to look at their values and discover that financial security is the value of one partner and a sense of giving is the value of the other? What might a different conversation look like?  How about taking the time to talk about where these values came from and how could both be addressed in the context of their relationship?  Coming up with ways for both partners to think more mindfully about the money spent and also ways to give back to society can lead to deeper, reinvigorated relationships.


Q. How important is it to actually be nice to our partners? I’m sure we’re all guilty of getting lazy.  Whereas in the beginning, we used to send them little texts during the day just to let them know you were thinking about them, now they are lucky to get a text saying we are going to be late home!

A. This is a really important point.  As humans, bad trumps good every time. That is, we are five times as likely to remember when our partner says something mean to us as we are to recall the one time he does something nice for us. This is known as the 5:1 Magic Ratio. And something mean does not have to be words; it can be an eye-roll, it can be arriving late without an explanation or apology, it can be lack of gratitude, it can be a lack of appreciation for a nice gesture.  So to get ourselves back on track in our relationships, we have to start building rituals of niceness into our everyday lives.  We have to proactively communicate at least 5 appreciations to our partners on a daily basis. It can be kissing our partner when we arrive home from work, it can be holding his hand when walking down the street, it can be admiring her haircut or his new jacket.  What we are doing is building a positive emotional bank account.  So that when we fall off the wagon and let loose with an unkind comment (because we are only human after all), it will be received in the context of normally he says really nice things to me so there must be something else going on for him.  Instead of getting defensive and letting fly ourselves with an equally unkind comment, we may stop and think and try to understand what is going on for him.


Q. Date night!  Isn’t that supposed to be the cure-all for couples who are in a rut?

A. Yes and I just don’t get it.  Think about it.  Your relationship is struggling.  You are both tired and stressed.  And then the counsellor suggests you hire a baby-sitter and go out for a romantic dinner.  The pain of sitting across the table from some-one with whom you haven’t had a decent conversation in months is palpable.  Date nights are for relationships that are working, not for those that need reboot.   So how about trying a Date Mark 2? It works along the lines of the following:

  1. Take your partner to a place that is new for both of you (such as a park, café, beach).  This is to put you in the right frame of mind for planning to do things differently in the future.  A change of scenery is great to get the creative juices flowing.
  2. Now take 10 minutes and write down all the things you would like to do together for the first time that you’ve never experienced.  Be realistic but still get outside your comfort zone (e.g. do a different gym class together, have a dinner party with new friends, organise a surprise weekend away, try out a new restaurant).
  3. Then share these with your partner and agree on 10 things that you’re going to do more often.
  4. Do one activity every week from your ‘novelty list’ with your partner and have some fun.
  5. Once you’ve completed the ten items on your novelty list, come up with more so you continue to keep your relationship fresh.


Q. What about fun and not taking it all too seriously?

A. This is something that is all too often forgotten about.  You have to make room for a little light-heartedness if you want to have a balanced love life.

However cultivating humour in your relationship requires that you both are respectful in your encounters. This is not stand-up comedy or razor-sharp repartee. It is two people playing with words and with each other. Keeping it harmless, blameless, and never using humour as a weapon. Even if you don’t think you are especially funny, you can approach your life and love with a sense of humour. It’s not about making jokes that rival the likes of Jerry Seinfeld. It’s about seeing the lighter side of living and revelling in it. Life can be ironic, and that can be fun and funny. It’s worth the effort to find the humour in life, and appreciate your mate for his or hers.

Everyone has his or her own style, and if your loved one’s humour is not to your liking, you need to have a conversation about it and set appropriate boundaries. Some people enjoy insulting, or put-down, humour, and that won’t work for you in a relationship. Jokes or actions have to be life enhancing, and they should never make things worse. It is always wise to think before you speak, and if you think your partner might take what you are about to say in the wrong way, don’t say it.


Q. If we are talking about putting some sass back into the relationship, then

surely we have to mention sex? How big a role do sex and intimacy play in keeping a relationship alive?

A. I think we totally underestimate the role that sex plays in our lives and especially in our relationships.  We are animals. We need sex. According to renowned psychologist, Sue Johnson, we are neurologically hardwired by millions of years of evolution to find a mate, to love and cherish, to be attached and connected.  But quite often, men and women display their needs it differently.  It is often said that men become intimate to have sex and women have sex to become intimate.

Dr Rosemary Basson is credited with discovering the female response cycle.  She claims that a number of women engage in sex without initially feeling sexual desire, either to please their partners or to create intimacy, and having sex then fuels their desire.  But so often, being uninterested in sex means that women find excuses to avoid it.  So it is really important that their partners do something to awaken a response in them.  And that something has got to be more than the ‘hand creep’.


According to the Hite report, every positive thing a couple does together can be seen as foreplay and therefore part of sex. So guys, if you are one of those men who hasn’t had sex in months (at least not with your partner!), maybe try washing the dishes, or vacuuming the living room, or even making the bed.  You may find you have a far better time unmaking it!  According to a study of 1,300 couples, men who contributed their fair share towards housework, reported better and more frequent sex for both partners.


And of course, there is one other very obvious thing that has to change in order to get your sex life going again – get the kids out of your bed!


Q.  So if you were to come up with a list of the 7 most important things to reboot your relationship, what would they be?

7 Ways to put the Rrrrrrr back into your Relationship

  1. Be curious and interested – ask questions rather than assume
  2. Remain interesting yourself – be prepared to reinvent yourself
  3. Build a Positive Emotional Bank Account – 5:1 Magic Ratio
  4. Book a meeting with a Relationships Coach
  5. Have a Date Mark 2
  6. Rethink your foreplay and your sex life
  7. Have fun and never forget how to laugh

January 12, 2016

A nicer way to Break Up

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Listen to the podcast here.

Notes from Bernie’s conversation on Nightlife with Jen Fleming and Sue Abrams on ABC 702 Radio on Monday night 11 January 2016


Divorce – everyone knows someone who has been through a divorce.  With 1 in 3 marriages breaking down and over 30,000 of these involving kids every year, we need to find a nicer, better way to break up.  We need to find a nicer way to draw a line in the sand and move on with our lives.

In this hour we’re talking with Sue Abrams, accredited Family Law Specialist and President of Collaborative Professionals (NSW) Inc. and Bernie Bolger, psychotherapist and accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and Vice President of Collaborative Professionals (NSW) Inc. about the alternative, less conflictual paths which families can take to end their relationship as it is and move forward


When a relationship runs into trouble, what do you see are the first things that a couple would normally do?

There is a big difference between what most couples ‘do’ and what common sense would say they ‘should’ do. The harsh reality is that when the cracks start to show, most people do nothing and let the relationship drift towards its inevitable demise.  And then at least one of the parties say they were blind-sided and never saw the end coming! Despite the fact that they haven’t had sex for five years, let alone spend any quality alone time with their partner. There was always something more important – work or the kids or watching the grass grow!

Research says that less than 5% of couples actually seek professional help when the relationship starts to falter.  And of those 5%, most of them wait six years before they do so.  Given that half of marriage break downs occur within the first seven years, the earlier couples seek outside help the greater the chances that the relationship can be saved.  The most devastating financial and emotional event to happen to a couple and family is the breakdown of a marriage / long term relationship and so I would urge everyone to consider counselling before moving on to the next steps.  Of course there are certain abusive relationships which are toxic – be it emotional, physical or financial – and in these cases it may be better for everyone involved and especially for the children, that the adults involved separate.


So if the relationship is irreparable, what do you see are the next steps? Does it always have to be lawyers at 20 paces?

That is such an important question and what a couple does next can set the tone for the next 20 or more years of their lives. According to statistics, only 2% of couples can sit around the kitchen table and sort it out for themselves without any outside help. So that leaves 98% of the population needing alternatives. And those alternatives can be the difference between the nicer break up and the break up from hell.

So in the first place I would suggest that a couple try Family Dispute Resolution or Mediation. A good mediator will facilitate honest, respectful communication thus minimising the potential for destructive behaviours long term.


So what exactly is Family Dispute Resolution?

The Federal Government is committed to increasing the awareness and provision of alternatives to litigation, especially for family law disputes.  For many families, post-separation is a life crisis that requires a holistic approach from service providers.

Family dispute resolution (FDR) is the term used in Part II of the Family Law Act 1975 to describe a process in which a family dispute resolution practitioner assists people affected, or likely to be affected, by separation or divorce to resolve some or all of their disputes with each other.  Before filing an application in court for parenting orders, it is a requirement to attempt FDR in parenting matters unless an exception applies e.g. family violence or child abuse.

Family dispute resolution allows couples or families to have difficult conversations in a safe, calm and controlled environment.  It enables separated couples to discuss and then make their own decisions about how they would like to resolve their post separation issues whether it be in relation to their children or in reaching an agreement in regards to property & financial settlement. It is a future focussed, impartial and non-judgemental process.

A mediator’s job is about finding common ground and reopening communication channels, even when this may seem like an impossible task.

The best thing about both Family Dispute Resolution and mediation is that they are totally confidential and should a couple be unable to come to a resolution, any of the discussions or offers made during either process cannot be used against them should their case end up in court. Case notes from FDR or mediation, unlike counselling, cannot be subpoenaed.


But the breakdown of a relationship doesn’t just involve adults.  In fact over 30,000 families with children are affected by divorce every year.  How can we make sure that their needs are heard?

It is really important that the children in a separating family are looked after. When parents are in conflict, they can easily, though often not intentionally, lose focus on the children – particularly when they are immersed in the disagreements of the breakdown with the hurt and anger guiding their decisions.  Obviously the best case scenario is when the parents can agree about arrangements for the children with an absence of conflict – this includes agreeing about living arrangements, choices of school, extracurricular activities, pocket money, communication and introduction of new partners to name just a few.  Unfortunately in a number of cases the focus is not on the ‘best interests of the child’  and the children end up getting caught up in the conflict and being used as pawns or just leverage of one parties needs over the others.

An important consideration is “the voice of the child”. How can a child be heard in a family breakdown?

One of the best ways to address the impact of the family conflict on children and to take the emotions out of the decisions is to use a Child Inclusive Practitioner (or CIP) in the process.


That sounds interesting Bernie – can you tell me how it works?

Child Inclusive Practice provides an opportunity for children to talk independently with a trained Child Consultant in a safe, supportive and comfortable environment.

Child Inclusive Practice can be integrated into a family breakdown prior to the commencement of any court proceedings.

The Less Adversarial Trial process in the Family Court also has provision for CIP.

During the session, the Child Consultant facilitates a conversation with the child and encourages them to talk about the separation, domestic arrangements and other related topics. Depending on the age of the child, the Child Consultant may use play therapy during the session. The Child Consultant is not judgmental, suggestive or adversarial in tone. The purpose of the session is to gain insights into how the child is feeling and provide a forum in which they can comfortably express themselves.

After the session, the Child Consultant provides feedback and recommendations to both parents in a one hour session. This feedback is then used as a guide and reference throughout the Family Dispute Resolution process.

Generally speaking, Child Inclusive Practice is relevant for school age children, from 5 to 15.


But even with all these interventions, sometimes mediation still breaks down.  Are there any other alternatives to litigation where some people end up spending 100s of 1000s of dollars and who knows how many hours of emotional toil just to prove that they are right and their ex-partner is wrong?

An exciting new alternative has been gaining momentum here in Australia in the last few years.  It has been used in the US and the UK for a number of years but it is definitely gaining traction here. It is what we call Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice.

I found this definition on the Law Society of New South Wales Website and I think it encapsulates the spirit of it extremely well. ‘Collaborative Practice is law without litigation, and mediation with advice.’ It is a dispute resolution process in which the parties, their lawyers and a neutral coach enter into a contract (the Participation Agreement) to resolve a dispute without resorting to litigation.

Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice is a unique dispute process as it offers a ‘team’ (lawyers, a neutral coach, a child consultant (if appropriate) a financial expert or any other professional that may be appropriate) to guide, advise, and support parties achieve an outcome. All of the professionals comprising the team have undergone specific training in Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice.  Both Bernie and I are trained Collaborative Practitioners.


That sounds like an oxymoron – a lawyer not wanting to litigate??

Contrary to popular belief, many Family Law practitioners are constantly trying to avoid the court process for their clients’ as it is a costly, lengthy and legalistic process that applies the legal principles under the Family Law Act with little regard for the interests and needs of the parties and their children. This is not a criticism of the Court – that is what courts are for, to apply legal principles to resolve disputes that people are otherwise unable to resolve between themselves. The Court is not meant to do anything other than apply the law

I have been practising in this field for longer than I care to remember and I firmly believe that Collaborative Practice is the most innovative development that I have ever seen in this difficult area of practice.  Through the process the Collaborative Team actually helps couples find a solution that meets the needs of their family as a whole with respect and consideration. This is of enormous benefit for the whole family going forward – the parents’ parenting relationship can be preserved for the benefit of their children and precious times in the future (graduations, weddings, grandchildren etc) can be shared by both parents.  Furthermore, to be involved in a process that helps a family achieve such an outcome is so much more rewarding for the lawyer than dragging their clients through the courts.

The first point to remember is the lawyers, the neutral coach and the parties enter the collaborative process with a commitment to achieving an outcome.

The parties and all collaborative practitioners who sign the participation agreement, commit to an open, honest and transparent process. It is an integrated problem solving approach using interest based negotiation – a focus on the interests and needs of the parties. All of the negotiations are conducted in meetings (the number of meetings depends on the complexity of the matter – the issues that arise or exist between the parties).

The Participation Agreement provides that the lawyers will no longer act for the party if the collaborative process breaks down. This provision has the effect of focussing all of the participants to the negotiation on reaching a resolution. It removes the temptation for the parties and their lawyers to posture and/or commence litigation when an impasse arises. Instead, the parties, their lawyers and the neutral coach must focus on working together to overcome the impasse.  It can be a challenging process especially when parties are working on outcomes

The agenda for each meeting is pre-determined by the parties and the collaborative practitioners. Between meetings the parties, their lawyers and other professionals work together with their clients to ensure that all of the information relevant to the agenda is available in advance of the meeting. Similarly, the collaborative practitioners consult with each other before the meeting and debrief afterwards.

An important aspect is the use of the neutral coach.  In family law matters it is often the non – legal issues which are driving or causing the problems.  Some good examples are school holiday times – how it is to be shared – or introduction of new partners.  Rather than lawyers being involved in every aspect the parties can speak with / meet the neutral coach to discuss parties concerns, needs and desired outcomes.

This has a financial benefit to parties as the lawyers do not need to be involved in all aspects and allows the neutral coach (mental health professional) to assist the parties with what is essentially a non – legal issue.



But doesn’t this cost a fortune – having two lawyers and a neutral coach at every meeting?

Granted, it is more expensive than mediation (depends on the number of meetings) but it is a lot less expensive than going to court and a lot less emotionally destructive.  Ending a relationship is not just about a division of assets – it is also about dealing with the emotional fallout that comes with the demise of a relationship. Collaborative Practice, especially when a professionally trained neutral coach is included, allows for the rebuilding of empathy between ex partners. When this occurs it is no longer a zero sum game.  Each person gains an insight into the other person’s needs and desires and works towards gaining the best outcome for the family as a whole. When all parties work together, it inevitably becomes a much quicker process and therefore lawyers’ hours are reduced.  Decreased hours equals decreased costs!

It is a forward focused process and definitely a nicer way to break up.



I’m sure you have seen your share of horror stories played out in the Family Court System – what in your mind are the main reasons separating couples should try and avoid going to court?

The breakdown of any relationship is difficult. But the court system should be the last resort for separating families.  Parties will experience

  • extensive delays,
  • increased costs – legal fees, experts whether in parenting or financial matters
  • uncertainty of outcome and frequently an outcome that satisfies neither party’s needs
  • the destruction of any vestige of relationship and respect that may have remained between the parties; and
  • more often that not, damage to the children who invariably become involved in the dispute.

Whilst the majority of matters will resolve by agreement in the time between filing an application with the court and a court allocated final hearing date, the impact on their own life, their relationship with each other, their children and other third parties (extended family members, new relationships) is not a positive one.

Top Seven Strategies towards achieving a nicer break up?

  1. In the first place, make sure your relationship cannot be repaired.    Be proactive – don’t wait six years to call in outside help.  And even if your relationship doesn’t make it, the skills learned in relationship counselling especially around communication will stand you in good stead post separation.
  2. Choose your lawyer well – preferably one trained in Collaborative Practice.  If you want to have an amicable separation, make sure you don’t choose a lawyer who has their own agenda and that is about destroying your ex-partner and running up as many billable hours as possible.
  3. Get good financial advice. Financial insecurity is one of the greatest stressors in intact relationships and this is heightened when a relationship breaks down. A collaboratively trained financial adviser will look at the financial outcomes for the family as a whole and help you both accept your new economic reality.
  4. Seek whatever professional counselling help you need to get you through the emotional grief associated with the end of a relationship. Well-meaning friends and family think they’re helping when they berate your ex. But they’re not.  They are just facilitating your stay in victim mode. A good counsellor will help you deal with the anger, the loss, the sense of failure, the fear and ultimately help you move on towards your preferred future.
  5. Explore FDR as your first option, especially if there are children involved. All the research shows that mediated agreements are more sustainable and longer lasting because they are your agreements and have not been imposed on you by an overworked Judge in a very busy Family Court.
  6. Collaborative Practice is without doubt the best way to involve lawyers in the process.  Your lawyers will be there as part of the team trying to achieve the best outcomes for the family and so won’t try and unpick any agreements you may have reached had they not been present.
  7. Never forget the children and what is in their best interests. Don’t fall into the trap of using them as pawns in your War – EVER.  Children whose parents have separated with minimal conflict show no behavioural, emotional or academic disadvantages when compared with children of a low conflict intact marriage.


July 31, 2015

Money & Relationships – Tony Delroy Show Podcast

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 6:15 am

 Listen to the podcast

Notes from Bernie’s conversation on Nightlife with Tony Delroy and Kerrie McFadden on ABC 702 Radio on Monday night 27 July 2015


In 2011 Relationships Australia found that financial issues were the single biggest cause of relationship breakdown (26%), followed closely by communication difficulties (25%). These results have been repeated year on year leading RA to develop the Managing Money Matters website (www.managingmoneymatters.com.au), a site which aims to show people a few simple strategies to develop practical, proactive financial planning skills and in the process build better relationships.  Tonight we are joined by Relationships Australia Brand and New Business Director, Kerrie McFadden and Psychotherapist and Mediator, Bernie Bolger, who joined forces in 2011 to bring the concept of the Managing Money Matters Website to life.


I know we have talked about money and relationships before, but I must admit, Relationships Australia is not the first organisation I would think of turning to if I were having financial issues? How did it come about that you collaborated with RA on this project?

 As you know Tony, I am passionate about all things financial within relationships – especially the emotional side of things.  But just like you I realised most people would not seek advice from a relationship counselling agency if they were having financial issues.  But what were the alternatives? Their financial planner, their accountant or even worse their lawyer? I’m not sure any of these professionals are equipped to deal with the emotions of the mortally ashamed wife who has maxed out the family credit card again or the battered ego of the husband who has been told he is no longer required at the company to which is has given 25 years of his working life and yet still has a half a million dollar mortgage and three kids in school.  Yes, they can deal with the mechanics of the problem but not with the emotional triggers which drive people to the edge in situations such as these. Sure, perhaps they could fix the problem, but not the drivers that caused the problem in the first place.

Equally, therapists and counsellors are not renowned for being the most pragmatic and practical of people, especially when it comes to cold, hard cash. So what to do and where to go was the million dollar question.

For a long time I have believed that if we can understand and acknowledge the emotions first, we can change behaviour, and it was through that framework that I realised Australia’s biggest Relationship counselling agency had to be the place to start.


How hard was it to convince RA to get into the world of finance and money?

Actually not that hard at all. At around the same time that Bernie was coming up with her own ideas in this area, RA had been looking at the results of their annual survey and had noticed that financial issues had been steadily creeping up the list of causes of relationship breakdown.  I think RA realised there was no point in carrying out these surveys and not doing anything about them and that was when the concept of the Managing Money Matters website was born. But we needed someone who understood both the emotional side and the practical side of money and so when Bernie was introduced to us, it seemed like a natural collaboration and a way forward.


What I notice about the Managing Money Matters Website is that it doesn’t just look at adults and the role of money in their relationships, it takes a much broader view of the issues? Tell me more about that…

As we went deeper into the whole idea of the role money plays in people’s lives and relationships, we realised the problems didn’t just start when people started living together, it actually started way before then.  The ideas we have about money actually come from our families of origin and even before that.  Unwritten rules are passed down through generations so that when we earn our first pay packet, how we deal with that money can be directly related to what we learnt growing up. Equally how we plan for and deal with retirement doesn’t just start at the age of 65. And it can have such profound effects on our relationships. Especially if your partner doesn’t share the same views and values as you.


So not only are you looking at the part money plays in relationships but also, as humans, our relationship with money as we go through life.  Tell me more about the different stages you have broken these down into?

With the work I do, either counselling couples through relationship difficulties or mediating as they separate, it has become increasingly obvious to me that a lot of people just have really bad habits around money. But where do this bad habits come from and is it possible that there are certain important points in a life span where money decisions can be influenced, leading to better outcomes both emotionally and financially?

The obvious place to start was with the first pay packet, look at how that was handled and then move through the big moments – Partnerships, Buying Real Estate, Family Life, Building Security, Retirement and finally Life’s Icebergs or Blind-sides which could happen at any time.   And the big take-home point is that the better the financial hygiene is at an early age, the less likely we are to end up with STDs (Sexually Transmitted Debt) later in life


So what you are saying is that before we even earn our first pay packet, we already have a relationship with money, through ideas and money messages that have come from our parents and grandparents

Absolutely. Money messages are learnt at home from an early age. Even if money is not talked about around the dinner table, that is a message in itself.  One of the most common things I heard growing up was that ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ or ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’ The problem today is that money is invisible and if we do not consciously talk about it how can we expect our kids to know how to deal with the myriad of deals on offer to them every day of their lives?  I mean just take a look at the example of going grocery shopping in today’s world. Through the eyes of a child not only do we not pay any money for the groceries at the supermarket, the girl on the check-out asks us if we want to take any money with the groceries!!  It could actually appear that we are being paid to take groceries out of the supermarket!  If we do not have overt conversations about money with our kids how can we expect them to avoid the three biggest financial pitfalls?

  1. The mobile phone bill
  2. The car
  3. ‘Buy now, pay later’ deals

It is so easy to run up hundreds of dollars of debt on a mobile phone bill if the right plan is not in place or if daddy is not there to pay it off. Just because a 22 year old is driving a fancy BMW does not mean they are actually rich and own the BMW. And finally the small print in the ‘Buy now, don’t pay for 24 months’ can easily end up in a 24% interest charge bill without the proper financial discipline. And all of these potential sources of STD’s can have follow on effects down the track on their relationship with Mr or Mrs Right.


Buying real estate – how can this impact relationships?  Surely this is a sign of commitment and the beginning of a joint journey?  How can this be a cause of concern?

This is a really interesting one.  Over the last few years I have begun to see how much pressure people put themselves under with their choice of home and the size of their mortgages. It’s like all common sense goes out the window.  I have one couple in mind who have a $900,000 mortgage and two young kids under five and they are miserable.  They are constantly tired.  There is no fun and no money to lubricate the pressure.  Practically all of their salary goes towards the mortgage.  Yes they might end up owning a more valuable property but that won’t compensate for the fact that the proceeds from the house sale will have to be split in two when (not if!) their relationship breaks down! So just like everything else in life, it is very important to make sure that the purchase of real estate is aligned with both partners’ values and the goals are achievable. And this is not just true for couples.  If you are buying a piece of real estate by yourself, life doesn’t have to end with the purchase. With the average house price in Sydney just topping the $1 million mark, make sure the repayments take into account the fact that you have to live, socialise and have some fun!  I mean where else are you going to find someone to share with, if you are stuck in every night on a diet of bread and water.  At the end of the day, a house or apartment is just a collection of bricks and mortar unless it is filled with people who make it a home.


Money and Partnerships – what are the pitfalls?

When two people get together, it is easy to get swept up in the romance of it all.  Dinners out in swish restaurants, flowers every second day accompanied by tender little love notes, expensive bottles of wine by the fire, holidays in far flung corners of the world. And so it goes on, until it doesn’t.  At the end of the day most of us live in a real world, where budgets have to be adhered to, bills have to be paid, careers have to be worked on. So who is going to be the kill-joy and bring up the subject of debt and more importantly how is it going to be brought into the conversation?  Not over the romantic dinner on the second date, hopefully!

But it is a must have conversation which a lot of people avoid.  A gentle way of introducing it is through a conversation about values and linking them to goals.  This can naturally progress into how goals can be funded and an ‘I’ll show you my bank account if you show me yours’ moment!  If it really is something you find hard to talk about, call in the help of an outside expert who can take the emotion out of it and get on with the business of planning and budgeting for the financial parts of your life goals. If financial independence is a key value, then don’t be afraid of suggesting that you want to keep your own bank account.  Sure there will be joint expenses but an agreed amount of individual discretionary money kept in a separate bank account is good for the ego and good for the relationship.


And then there were three! Or four! Or however many you would like.  What can parents do to prepare for the new emotional and financial circumstances that come with the addition of each child?

And this is where it is all about open communication and knowing your values and your partner’s values.  Assumptions are not enough, conversations must be had. Without apology and without embarrassment. The most important one will be who is going to look after the baby and what are the financial ramifications of that? If one parent is going to stay at home where is their discretionary money going to come from? This conversation needs to be had, before the sleepless nights and endless rounds of nappies and feeding arrive.  Because if you think it is hard to find ‘special’ time before the baby, it is nothing on how hard it will be afterwards. But five years on, when bad habits have crept in, and feelings of being taken for granted abound, you will surely regret not having had that conversation in the throes of baby anticipation joy.  One controversial way of dealing with it is a personal favourite of mine.  50% of the salary of the paid employee should be transferred into the bank account of the non-paid stay at home parent.  This is a real statement between two people that they believe each person’s role in the family is equal and should be remunerated equally.  Household bills and cost are then paid for equally by both parents without one having to ask the other for money or having to justify spending.  Of course this only works where both parents work from a mutually agreed budget.


And after the kids have left home – do all the financial and relationship pressures leave with them?

No this is where it is really important that you have worked on your relationship through the busy, cash strapped years and made sure you are still singing from the same song book. We live in a very child-centric world and it is easy to hide between work and kids and not deal with any relationship issues.  But suddenly they are gone and retirement is looming and you are looking across the dinner table and wondering who the hell is sitting across from you.  Just when time and money are potentially becoming more plentiful, how sad would it be to find that you really don’t have anything in common with your partner and the last thing you want to do is take off in a campervan or on a cruise with them for months at a time?  So it is absolutely key that you keep reviewing your values and your goals together.  Make sure you have agreed how much money needs to be set aside for retirement and work out a joint budget accordingly.  Continually check in with each other on the big ticket items – Are you going to downsize when the kids move out? Do you like urban or suburban living? How do you feel about committing to looking after the grandkids a few days a week? These issues might seem trivial but they can cause huge friction in relationships and it is best to sort the differences out ahead of time. Have conversations rather than make assumptions at every point of your relationship journey.  Always check in, respect points of difference and find ways of honouring both partner’s dreams.


Life has a horrible habit of throwing up curve balls and upsetting even the best laid plans.  What are some things we can do to hedge against these blind-sides so that our relationships or financial security don’t crumble?

Plan for the unexpected has been a motto of mine for a long time.  It is why I have always taken out insurance when I have gone on holidays or why I always take out comprehensive insurance on my car. And it is not that I am a pessimist – far from it.  It is because I have known from an early age that things don’t always go the way I had planned.  Now when we are younger, that might involve not getting picked for the A team in soccer or not get first place in an exam.  And frankly being able to deal with such disappointments emotionally when we are young, builds resilience.  However, bigger kids, bigger problems. And they normally involve money.  So how can we plan for this?  Boring and all as it may seem, insurance is one of the best ways to minimise risk.  Now of course it does not fix the sadness of learning that your child has a terminal illness or that your partner has lost her job. But at least it can help with the financial aspects of the blind-side, freeing up space and time to deal with the emotions.  So for a young newly employed person – take out trauma insurance – it doesn’t cost much to insure a young person and it’s a way of mitigating against the financial cost of an unexpected illness.  Once a person takes out a mortgage, it makes sense to take out life insurance which will at least pay off the mortgage should the unexpected happen.  What parent or partner wouldn’t want their partner or kids not to have to worry about losing the family home should their death come unexpectedly? Always try to have a bucket of at least three months wages in a high interest bank account to hedge against an unexpected job loss.  Life’s icebergs are bad enough emotionally so help yourself and plan for the financial aspects today.  If you don’t know what you need, talk to an expert who does.

Top Ten Tips to Enhancing your Emotional and Financial Relationship

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 5:53 am
  1. Know your Values and the Values of your partner
  2. Be aware of your own attitudes and the attitudes of your partner to money (money messages)
  3. Understand your financial position – jointly attend all financial and legal meetings
  4. Jointly develop short and long-term Goals which are aligned to your values and financial position
  5. Develop the skills to have honest and sometimes hard conversations
  6. Understand the power of compound interest, both the negative and positive impact
  7. Acquire Mindful Money Habits – ask the Seven Mindful Money questions
  8. Jointly plan for the Unexpected – take out appropriate insurance
  9. Seek outside help early  – both financially and emotionally – if troubles are bubbling
  10. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey



March 12, 2015

Top Seven Steps to Successful Succession Planning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 3:51 pm
  1. Start Early. Most families don’t talk about a plan for the continuance of the family business. Even fewer complete a plan that can be successfully carried out. Developing a good plan takes time, often years. The sooner you start with succession planning the better. Begin discussing the issues before a crisis.
  2. Communication. Ground rules need to be established and the best way to do this is to involve a skilled non-family facilitator or mediator who can lead the necessary discussions. Potentially high emotions will need to be kept under control, the conversations kept on topic and various relationships respected. It is almost impossible for anyone personally involved in the succession planning issues to manage all these elements in a safe and neutral manner.
  3. Involve all stakeholders. Successful planning includes all family members in the discussion. Make sure attention is paid to the personal feelings, ambitions and goals of everyone concerned and do not let your expectations override their needs. Treat all family members as individuals and do not assume they want the same things as you do or as each other.
  4. Seek the advice of outside experts. Your lawyer and financial adviser can help you put together a succession plan. However, don’t ignore the emotions and family conflicts that play critical roles in the success of your family business succession plan. Silence, not talking about succession, ignoring the emotions and conflicts in the family, these are the main reasons why family business succession planning often fails.
  5. Document values, wishes and goals. Having these included is a much better way to flesh out the intention behind legal documents which can be dry. And besides people will more easily remember family mantras like “Whatever you do, don’t fight” than a clause in a document about dispute resolution.
  6. Implement the plan. Start implementing the plan as soon as possible so any unforseen consequences can be dealt with in a timely fashion and whilst those in control still have the power to change it. It is always going to be far better dealing with these issues in a productive manner around the boardroom table than in the morgue or the divorce courts.
  7. Review the plan. Things always change. The law and relationships certainly do. Plans put in place several years ago should be reviewed to ensure they can achieve what they aim for in light of the positions of the stakeholders and the law.
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