After a Break Up: The Benefit to Being Alone

It is often a well-intentioned notion that after a significant break up, we spend some time alone. At least 6 months, relationship free. Well-intentioned, as we need time to heal, and yet difficult to achieve. Landing instead into another relationship fairly quickly, getting right back into the dating world, re-establishing connections with past partners. If you are engaging in any type of relationship/intimate behaviours, you are not alone.

It is difficult because we are a relationship species and driven to attach; being with someone is where we feel most secure. It is difficult because we are vulnerable and hurt; the attention we get from others can be validating and brings comfort, although temporarily so. If we are engaged in a new relationship, we automatically bring our unresolved issues and feelings with us – and it affects the experience.

Why then, is it important to have that time? If we are meant to be in relationship, then it would make sense to find a new one. So I guess the deeper question becomes do you want to be in a healthy relationship? It is not independence that we ultimately seek – it is interdependence. A healthy relationship will be reciprocal; with both partners invested and contributing to the health of the relationship. In a healthy relationship, we trust to put ourselves in their keeping.

And so, we are much better served to commit ourselves to some time. To allow our focus to solely be on self, our family and friends. Build your time, balance the blues with activity, go to therapy, read self-help books, listen to enlightening podcasts. Find time for the tears, get yourself out in nature, exercise, make sure daily self-care gets attention on your calendar. Pray, journal, be reflective. Find opportunities to laugh. Be the third wheel. When we can be content alone, we learn the value of independence of relationship; setting us up quite nicely for interdependence.

Sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

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The Price of Indifference

Sometimes we don’t care because we are depressed. Other times, it can come from an inability to properly access feelings or from rigid thinking. It can also be created as a protective layer due to childhood emotional neglect. We see it as a side effect to addiction. In any case, what results is an air of indifference; leaving those in relationship feeling dismissed or disrespected.

What is the cost to indifference in a relationship? For the person who is indifferent – isolation. They may be able to sustain relationships, but they will become stagnant or underdeveloped, leading only to a certain level of closeness. People will love them, but will also report feeling a lack of full investment.

And for the person on the receiving end of indifference? Isolation. An underlying feeling that they can’t truly count on that person; leading eventually, to questioning the validity of the relationship. Indifference erodes the relationship in a slow and painful way.

We are much better served when our focus in on connection. When we work from the position of being invested in our relationships, through both word and action. When we recognize our shortcomings and work hard to repair them. When we decide we won’t carry the weight of that indifference and adjust accordingly.

Investment instead of indifference – a worthy goal.

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Relationship Behaviours That Are Not Cool

Being in relationship is an invested process. When we begin to examine relationship issues in therapy, I often speak about the fact that our behaviours either feed the health of the relationship, or its dysfunction. The following list are things that feed the dysfunction of the relationship and will lead to issues of mistrust, unease, and general dissatisfaction:

  • Dismissing your partner’s feelings.
  • Extreme reactions (of any kind – they lead to mixed messages and drama, both of which are harmful)
  • Love bombing – also on the extreme continuum; love bombing is all or nothing. One minute you are lavished in love, the next, you are being accused of something, mistreated or ignored.
  • Blaming your partner; for your actions, for their actions – it is the underlying and consistent tone of blame that harms the communication process.
  • Gaslighting – rewriting events to convince your partner they happened a certain way.
  • Using guilt to control; including threatening to hurt yourself.
  • Jealousy; leading to constant, unfounded accusations.

All of these behaviours exist on a continuum. The more extreme they are constitutes for emotional abuse. The same abuse principle applies if you recognize many of these behaviours in your relationship. Abusive behaviour is never okay.

Seek help. Move on if necessary. Work towards a relationship where the health of it is being fed by both partners. After all, relationships are an investment 🙂

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Understanding the Capability of Intimacy

There are times when we struggle to understand someone’s inability to be intimate; in their levels of affection, in their daily investment in the relationship, in their level of being attuned to our needs. As everything exists on a continuum, as does intimacy. Our ability to be intimate with others, to be vulnerable and open correlates directly with our level of feeling safe. If we don’t feel safe in that position, we will maneuver, avoid, step around, shut down.

The level of safety that someone has for intimacy has been formed by many factors – temperament, experiences from childhood and repeated relationship patterns all can play a role. Traumatic experiences, even in adulthood can also greatly affect our level of intimacy. When in relationship with someone it is important to remember that not everyone can be at the same level at the same time. If there is too much of a difference, or the two people become stuck, it may be time to take space, seek professional help or move on from the relationship, depending on who and what that person represents to you.

And other times, it is acceptance we strive for – knowing that the person is giving us the best of themselves, even though it might not always feel like enough. In either case, we are best served to remember that our ability to be intimate directly correlates to what feels safe. This can help soften and support the process of growth.

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It Doesn’t Stop at Marriage

Healthy relationships are about investment. In the article “23 Damn Good Pieces of Marriage Advice All Couples Need to Read” by Fatherly, we read the advice given by therapists and relationship experts as to how to keep a marriage healthy. Here are five that resonated with me:

  • “Remember your commitment. When there is a foundation of caring and love, then you can trust at all times that you will get through whatever difficulties you are facing.” -Janet Zinn, LCSW
  • “Be flexible. Unexpected events, expenses, and situations come up in relationships. If we are too rigid, we resist facing the unexpected. A couple’s ability to ‘go with the flow’ – especially when it’s dramatically different from what they expected – gives them the opportunity to learn new skills and, more importantly, get to know each other in ways they might never have known before.” – Janet Zinn, LCSW
  • “Go on date nights. It’s so important to have evenings where you don’t worry about diaper-changes, spilled popcorn, or public tantrums. Go have unencumbered fun.” – Andrea Amour (dating coach)
  • “Stay in tune with self-care. Successful couples know that they need to take actions of self-care. This affirms that it’s important to work on the relationship you have with yourself.” – Thomas Gagliano, author of ‘The Problem Was Me.’
  • “Pay attention to the little things. Small gestures carry a lot of weight, and for couples who have mutual respect, those small gestures are second-nature. A simple love note, a slightly longer hug or kiss goodbye can make your partner feel validated and appreciated.” -Dr. Fran Walfish, family psychotherapist.

When we invest in the health of the relationship by purposefully being intentional, we have created the foundation of a good marriage. It is far less about saying “I do” than it is about committing to that both in attitude and action.

To read the full article (full of great advice!):

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The Layers of Connection

I recently worked with a client on identifying her “layers of connection.”

As a relationship species, we rely on connection to others to feel whole. Connection; however moves out in layers. First, we have the people in our lives that we would consider to be a part of our inner circle; those are generally our partners, our children, our siblings, parents, best friends. These are what we would consider the first layer and are the people we are most deeply connected to. These are our healthiest relationships, ones in which we can be ourselves and for whom we have the innate sense of reciprocity. Sometimes, we may label a person to be in the first layer simply because we suppose they need to be there (a parent perhaps, or even a partner), but if the relationship is not healthy, and the connection is not strong, they may in fact be second layer, or even third.

All connections outside of first layer begin to ripple out. We will find friends in varying degrees of connection, community groups, neighbours, co-workers, even your favourite waitress whose booth you sit at every Sunday morning, potentially earns a place somewhere on your connection circle. We can sometimes even connect with a stranger, in the form of a smile or kind words.

It is through the relationships in our lives that we will encounter the most growth. Creating and maintaining connection is an important task to our emotional health. By actively recognizing our layers of connection, we work towards continued good health in our relationships; keeping us feeling grounded and safe.

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Trevor Noah and his take on relationships

Building on yesterday’s post in which we learned from Iyanla Vanzant what she learned about relationships, today we take a look at what Trevor Noah has to say about his own experience.

“Born a Crime” is Trevor Noah’s memoir of childhood. Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, who writes about his life growing up in South Africa during the tail end and aftermath of apartheid. I appreciated this quote from the book:

“Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and that is how you come to know them.This is what apartheid stole from us” – Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

Trevor writes this is response to his experience in having to hide his relationship to his white father. Because of the laws of apartheid, Trevor wasn’t allowed to call him ‘Dad,’ wasn’t allowed to look like they were walking together down city streets, wasn’t allowed to live with him.

And yet, that is how we get to truly know people; is in the time we spend together, through the memories we make, through the shared laughter and tears, through the activities we engage in, through the silences.

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Iyanla Vanzant and her take on relationships

In a recent podcast with Iyanla Vanzant on Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations, Iyanla had this to say about what she learned about herself in relationships:

“I learned three things:

  • I learned the depth of the wound with my father. Because every man that I was in relationship with, I was trying to get something from that I didn’t get from my father.
  • Number 2, I learned the depths to which I would degrade myself to get someone else’s acceptance.
  • And then, the other thing that I learned was, I have a right to ask for what I want, and then to choose how I respond, if you can’t give it to me. That is where I learned that you don’t get to tell people how to love you – you get to see how they love you and then you get to choose whether or not you want to participate.”

As I was listening to the podcast, this was a ‘pause’ moment for me. It is a reminder, that in order to get to the third lesson, you have to have gone through the first two. We need to understand what we learned about love from our opposite sex parent, we need to learn where we place ourselves in loving others, and finally, through growth, we learn that we can choose how we are going to be loved.

Well said, Iyanla 🙂

To listen to the full podcast:

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3 ways of Holding Space for Others

What does it mean to ‘hold space’ for another person? Sometimes a loved one comes to us with their challenges or their concerns. Sometimes it can be about something we may have done that has upset them; other times they may be sharing an experience outside of their relationship to us. Essentially, when we hold space for someone, our intention is to be present and invested to their experience. 3 ways to achieve this include:

  • Place your intention in listening as to understand what they are saying, not as to respond. In other words, when you hold space for someone, it isn’t necessarily to give advice or to tell them what you would do (unless they specifically ask.) Your intention is simply to listen so that you can gain an understanding of what they are going through.
  • Trust that they can take care of themselves. This can be a tough one if you are holding space for your child, or someone who tends to land in a ‘poor me’ place a lot. It means being aware of your own need to fix, be responsible for, judge their experience. Part of holding space for others includes believing that they have the ability to take care of their own needs and choose their own direction.
  • Help by naming their emotions. Sometimes people get trapped in the expanse of their emotions. Holding space for someone can be about gently pointing out what they are reflecting to you by way of deeper emotions. An example might be “I can see how angry this is making you; perhaps it is also making you feel sad.” Sometimes naming the emotion helps to bring it to the surface.

Holding space for someone is about intention. It is a lovely gift that we can give to others; it is a lovely gift to receive.

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Letting Go of Love

I was recently asked this question “How do I let go of someone that I still love? How can I get used to the idea of him with someone else?” This was in response to someone who’s recent break up was difficult, yet necessary.

We spoke of two things:

  • Healthy detachment. It is a process we all have to go through in break -up. It begins when we start to acknowledge that the relationship is not working or this person is not right for us (this process can begin while in the relationship.) Once the break up occurs, it becomes important to remind ourselves that “it is time to let go.” Sometimes this will have to happen many times a day; we can use it as a positive affirmation that the decision was the right one, regardless of how painful it is.
  • Do the work in exploring what you want in a future relationship. When you’re ready, begin by exploring both the good and the not-so-good aspects of the relationship. Figure out what qualities you want from an ideal partner. By doing some of your own exploration for the future, it begins to allow you to picture yourself with someone else which can help temper the natural, yet territorial emotions that crop up when thinking about your ex with a new partner. Shift your focus to you and what you need to move past those thoughts (perhaps using your positive affirmation will help.)

Break ups are never easy. They are part of our learning curve as to who we are. Being open to the process of self-reflection during a break up helps us to uncover patterns; leading us to a path where healthier relationships live.

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