CORPORATE - Game Changers 29/11/2023 ph. Andrea Francolini
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Relationship Expert Lissy Abrahams Talks Relationships with Game Changers Host Tracey Spicer

From empowering couples around the world to transforming the corporate world, relationship expert Lissy Abrahams’ mission is to help people unravel the mysteries of their own mind so that they can learn how to end internal suffering and have more meaningful relationships. Is she a game changer? Let’s find out. I’m Tracey Spicer, and welcome to Game Changers.

Tracey: Lissy, one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce or separation. And on average, couples wait six years before seeking help. What’s going wrong?

Lissy: What’s going wrong is that people don’t understand that it doesn’t take much for that final separation call to be made. They think there’s more time in the system, even if they’ve been unhappy for six years before they’ve contacted a therapist, and they don’t know which fight is going to be the last one. They don’t know which kind of comment might push them over the edge. And if they haven’t done the internal work as a couple, then they can’t move into a place to develop. A lot of people fear exposure, so they don’t go and get help. They might also fear how much time it’s going to take out of the week or how much money it costs. There are lots of reasons people don’t go to therapy. But if they don’t get the help, then they’re inviting a family catastrophe.

Tracey: We know that arguing or fighting can be a normal part of any relationship. Can it ever be considered healthy?

Lissy: Absolutely. A lot of people, when they have couple fights, release the tension. I have a friend, and she and her husband have one big fight every year. And that lasts them a whole year until they have another one. And they’re easy breezy until that next one, but when they have it, it’s a big one. There are other couples who can resolve things from fights, or they can develop new understandings. And that is a fantastic thing. So, fighting is not a problem in itself. It’s what happens in your mind when you fight. Do you change, and your partner becomes someone you think about more negatively? Or do you end up disliking and creating stories of how unhappy you are? That’s when it becomes a problem.

Lissy Abrahams speaking with Tracey Spicer on the set of Game Changers.
Lissy Abrahams speaks with Tracey Spicer on the set of Game Changers. Photo: Andrea Francolini

Tracey: Distress intolerance and defence mechanisms. They sound negative, right? But can they lead to coping mechanisms which are positive?

Lissy: Yeah, absolutely. What we’ve got inside of us is we’ve all got a point at which we can handle certain situations, and then we can’t. And when we can’t, that’s when we have distressing tolerance. We’re no longer able to manage ourselves through it, we’ll do something. And often, what we’ll do is we’ll use something like an ego defence mechanism, which might be denial, or regression, when we start acting like a younger person. We might use compartmentalisation, where we say I can’t deal with this moment, I’ll put the information back here somewhere else. It’s all very unconscious; we’re not doing it deliberately. But when we understand that there’s a pattern to what we do and what we can cope with and what we can’t, then we’re able to learn, ‘Ah, in this moment, I can start to breathe through it’. Or I can use some mindfulness, or I can take a pause; I don’t have to stay in this moment, I can actually change it. And that’s when they become healthy coping mechanisms.

Tracey: A lot of couples say they argue about money or parenting, but are they the real reasons? Or are they masking something deeper?

Lissy: They’re definitely not the real reasons. They’re the ones that they’re expressing it over. And it’s what money or parenting represents. And if we even use the example of money, that represents really different things for people. It could be that it means if you have money in your bank account, that it helps you feel secure or safe, so having a buffer might do that. Whereas for other people, part of what makes them feel like they’re free is that they can spend money, and they’ve got choices with their money. So if you’re in a couple relationship, and you’ve got a partner who might be a saver and one who’s a spender, there’s going to be a lot of conflict because you’re frightening each other with the spending or what happens in the relationship. For a spender, if they’re spending money, they might be triggering the fear of their saving partner just by spending money, and they might want to save it and put it towards having a home one day, whatever that is. And that will cause them constant conflict because they’re frightening each other with what it is. A spender doesn’t want to be controlled by their saving partner. They will feel controlled like an adolescent child. If their partner starts asking, ‘What did you spend that month?’ or start looking at the credit card bills and scrutinising them. That’s just hellish in relationships.

Tracey: Fascinating. In your book Relationship Reset, you have a chapter on attachment theory and how things from childhood can manifest in adulthood. Can we dig into that for a moment?

Lissy: Some children are emotionally bonded to their parents in a secure way. So we say that they’ve got secure attachment. And what’s happened for those children is that they’ve grown up in an environment where they’re safe enough, and their needs as babies have been responded to in a particular way where they’ve felt secure. So they’re not sitting in dirty nappies for too long, or they’re not left unfed, or they can get their parent’s attention when they need it. So they develop a security in life that other children who are more insecurely attached, who haven’t been able to rely on their parent’s presence in a secure way, they have a particular pattern as well. But it’s more difficult for them. What happens is that they don’t learn that they can trust their parents. And they can exhibit quite a lot of angry behaviours toward them, or they can cut them off and detach and want nothing to do with them when they’re upset. They’re not seeing their parents as a resource to comfort them, and some are quite traumatised and they can just collapse at their feet. The reason this is very important is what happens to those children and the bonds they formed with their parents, is that they take them into adulthood, and they have similar attachments with their partner.

Tracey: Lucy, your advice is priceless. Your headgroup practice is based in Australia, but you offer online courses that are accessible to anyone anywhere in the world. What do they focus on?

Lissy: So the programs that I’ve got include two online ones for couples, and I’ve got a bigger course. And that focuses on how to help them reduce conflict, stop blaming, and really help make home a haven. The other course I have for couples is Transforming Couple Communication. And that’s to help them really understand what they’re doing in the communication that really helps them facilitate a healthy relationship. And the other course that I’ve got is one called Healthy Minds. And that’s one for individuals where they can unravel the mysteries of their own mind, where they learn ‘how do I think inside of my own mind?’ and ‘why do I think that? What makes me reactive?’. And then, once they know where they’re going inside their own mind, they can then change things so that they’re less reactive, more loving, make different choices. And these are the courses I’m offering at the moment.

Relationship expert Lissy Abrahams
Lissy Abrahams, a game changer for relationships. Photo: Andrea Francolini

Tracey: These are terrific for couples and individuals; would they also be applicable in the business space?

Lissy: Absolutely. Everything that plays out inside our minds internally is going to be expressed in some way in the external environment. And that is definitely what we take to work. And that’s why we see people at work who might be a little bit sulky, a bit angry, and there’s reasons for that. There are reasons they’re doing it. But if they don’t understand the reasons for it, that can have quite a big impact on what’s happening in teams and/or the politics that are going on at that time in that organisation. So absolutely. This work is applicable to organisations.

Tracey: What about the workplace? What are some of the corporations you’ve worked with? And how have you helped them?

Lissy: I’ve done some work with HCF. And I’ve done some work with NAB, and they were both delightful to work with. And for them, there were slightly different roles. But what was really important was helping them understand what’s in people’s minds. How do they think? How do they react to life? There’s a lot going on for people at the moment. These big institutions need to know about it because otherwise, they’re going to miss the mark. And one of the things with NAB recently was helping them understand that even with all of these interest rate hikes, there are people who are getting their envelopes in the mail. And they didn’t want to touch them because they’re so fearful of another hike, and another hike. So just helping them understand what’s going on in the fear centres of people’s minds and helping them keep in touch with what’s going on for customers. That was one example.

Tracey: And with your online courses, you can reach so many more people exponentially.

Lissy: Absolutely. And that’s the beauty of this work, because we take ourselves everywhere. We take it out at home with our partner, with our children, sometimes in the morning with friends, and then we go to work. And all of that matters. Whatever we take internally is going to play itself out in the day. So, if we create stories of suffering, or we don’t like that person over there, and we feed that story during the day, that’s not going to help us. That’ll take away our concentration. It’ll create tension in the workplace with that person. There’s a way to be really healthy and have a healthy mind. But we need to know why we do that and have a blueprint for it.

Tracey: Lucy, thank you for your life-changing, game changing work.

Lissy: Thank you.

Find out more about Lissy’s courses and services here:

Written by Tracey Spicer

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