Marriage counsellor: I help couples in crisis

Pornography is by far one of the biggest problems facing society right now.

Angela Rennie (40) is an intimacy counsellor.

“I’ve always taken a holistic view of life and I focus a lot on living well, eating well and getting plenty of exercise because I believe these are all vital to our wellbeing – as is intimacy.

I was very lucky to grow up with open-minded parents who were frank and honest about sexuality, so I have always seen it as a normal and important part of life.

I have four psychology degrees and I want to use them to help people who are struggling for any reason.

Many people who have problems with intimacy don’t talk about it because they don’t know how. I teach them how to open the lines of communication.

Some people come on their own, others as couples. They’re often nervous but when they arrive at my home and my cosy counselling room, they usually relax.

There’s no typical couple or typical problem. I get empty-nesters who suddenly realise that they don’t really know each other any more and I guide them in reconnecting. That can be very satisfying.

Then I have cases where one has had an affair and they’re either trying to rebuild things or break up in a way that’s as stress-free as possible.

I see women who have discovered their partners cross-dressing. I try and reassure them that this isn’t necessarily a sign of gender confusion.

I also talk to people whose partners use prostitutes and assist them in dealing with the fallout – especially the sense of betrayal that comes with such a discovery.

I’m afraid there are some pretty grim statistics behind the work I do and many of my clients have been sexually abused. I have to say a lot of that comes down to pornography, which is by far one of the biggest problems facing society right now.

The Auckland counsellor has four psychology degrees and has put them to good use.

It has normalised violent sex and it’s often accessed by people who think that it must be real life which, of course, it isn’t. It’s giving young men an expectation of behaviour that isn’t healthy – then young women feel that they have to act accordingly.

The thing is, it isn’t only kids seeing this sort of stuff online. A huge number of older men – and probably some women too – have also become addicted to pornography. They need more and more extreme examples to satisfy themselves. This can impact badly on real-life relationships and ironically men often end up with erectile dysfunction because of the pressure they feel to perform.

It takes a while but it is possible to change this behaviour and help the person find new, healthier ways of expressing him or herself. They need to turn from the computer back to real, live people and reconnect.

Medical reasons can also be behind sexual difficulties, so then we talk about finding other forms of intimacy.

Angela’s gorgeous girls Isabella (Right) and Aleigha are both proud of their mum’s work.

My two daughters, Aleigha (21) and Isabella (9), both know what I do. We’re very direct about the way we discuss things at home and they know how to avoid undesirable situations.

When I’m not seeing clients, I work in schools helping them target their sex education effectively. The average age of a child searching for pornography is 12 and 97 per cent of the material they see is violent. That really scares me.

I follow Buddhism and concentrate on being mindful, trying to establish positive thought patterns. I love my children, my dogs and doing yoga.

The practising Buddhist with her dog Jax.

I live near a bowling club and it’s a great spot for socialising. I once asked an old man there what was the secret of his long, happy marriage.

He told me in his day, once you married, you knew it was forever and worked hard on making it a success. I want people to feel comfortable seeking help from somebody like me before simply packing in an ailing relationship.

I’ve had some wonderful counsellors myself and we sex therapists keep in touch, meeting once a month to offer each other advice.

In case you’re wondering, I am currently in a fairly new relationship. It’s going well so far and we’re both having a lot of fun. Just because I’m in this line of work doesn’t mean that I know all the answers – I have to work at enjoying satisfying intimacy too!”

Quick fire

What moves me to tears…

The pain of other people and animals.

I am reading…

The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, plus Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

I hope I am remembered for…

Helping others to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Hopefully, the work I do helps normalise reaching out for help.

As told to Louise Richardson

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