Healing After a Breakup: 7 Do’s and Don’ts on Your Self-Love Journey!

Breakups are hard. Let me repeat that, BREAKUPS are hard (at least they are most of the time). Regardless of whether or not it was “time to go,” or the “relationship was toxic,” or you “fell out of love,” just because we know it is best for us to end things, it does not mean it is easy to say good-bye! You may have been on the receiving end of another persons decision or maybe you were the one who initiated the breakup, either way, most people agree that the ending of a relationship can be complicated. One undeniable fact is that after a breakup, things change!

I have been on both ends of a breakup and I can honestly say, neither was comfortable, joyous, or easy. Usually, when we make a decision to commit to another person, share our body, our space, family and friends, open up our heart, and be vulnerable, we do not anticipate or desire that the relationship will come to an end. From my own personal and professional experience, working with clients who start therapy after a breakup, it can shake up your world and have you questioning your self-worth and identity!

Different people bring out different versions of who we are and within those dynamics there is so much rich information. We learn about how we love and want to be loved, we learn about our shadow self, our wounds, triggers, and our strengths. When I meet people who have recently experienced a breakup, I invite them to breath deeply, roll up their sleeves, give themselves a hug, and begin an examination of all that surfaced as a result of that relationship, from its beginning to its end.

How did you behave in the relationship?

Did you honor yourself? If so, how?

Were you sacrificial? overbearing? insecure?

Answering the questions above is helpful. Processing your breakup leads to more self-awareness and allows for healing and the opportunity for growth.

Self-Love Affirmation: “My experiences do not define me, they inform me and inspire me to grow.”

The most important thing you can do for yourself after a breakup is GRANT YOURSELF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND COMPASSION. You will need your love at this time. You will need to not judge, not blame, and not feed into any narratives that make you feel unworthy or unlovable. Only you determine your worth and you are absolutely, 100% worthy of love. How can I say that without knowing you? Because as a human being, you are inherently worthy of love.

As soon as you know the relationship has ended, even if you feel powerless or as if your agency has been taken from you, be empowered. You get your power back by making a decision to deepen the relationship that matters most, the RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH YOURSELF! You do not need anyone else’s permission to love yourself. Will you do that for yourself? Will you give yourself permission to focus on your healing, your wants, and your needs?

YOU BE YOUR REBOUND RELATIONSHIP!

Begin your Self-Love Journey Today!

Your Self-Love Journey will provide you with more clarity of how you show up in relationships and why.

Your Self-Love Journey will help you understand your love languages and how that plays out in relationships.

Your Self-Love Journey will support your healing of childhood wounds (your inner child).

Your Self-Love Journey will familiarize you with your attachment style.

Your Self-Love Journey will teach you what unconditional love truly is and once you learn to extend it to yourself, you can extend it to others.

The quote by Matt Kahn, “People can only meet you as deeply as they have met themselves” helps us understand that in order to connect deeply with others, we have to first be able to connect deeply with ourselves. After a breakup, you have an opportunity to get raw and meet yourself deeper than ever before. Look yourself in the mirror, gaze deeply into your own eyes as you say to yourself, “who are you really?” and “how do you feel?”

Through the pain of loss, we encounter wounds that require acknowledgment and healing. Emotions get to be named and validated. The vision you had for your future with your ex gets to be mourned. In order to let go, we can not run from the pain. If we dismiss and compartmentalize it, the energy of the breakup will still live within us, blocking our ability to fully heal and open our heart to love again. Sometimes we rather avoid the uncomfortable emotions because confronting feels hard and hurts. Looking in the mirror takes courage. I encourage folks to be courageous. Keep asking yourself questions, and keep answering them honestly. If you truly want to let go and move on, you must first validate what comes up for you and then give yourself permission to release it in order to allow something else to come in and become a part of your life. You are in the process of creating the life you desire.

However, I have met people who are not ready to let go yet. Honestly, there were times in my life when I struggled with letting go to ideas, people, and habits because I was so attached to them that the thought of letting them go felt like too much. If it feels uncomfortable it can be tempting to practice denial, avoidance, and distraction. Most of the time we are subconsciously practicing avoidance as a way of protecting ourselves. When the relationship ends, especially if you were blindsided, accepting the breakup can take time.

If you find yourself struggling, please consider leaning into your friendships and/or working with a therapist to support you with your grieving and healing process. Each breakup effects people differently and it is not uncommon for people to experience low mood, a depressive episode, anxiety, or adjustment disorder after a life transition. Some breakups are traumatizing. Your life changes after someone important to you leaves. That part is inevitable. Change is inevitable. Learning to accept and let go is a necessary part of your healing journey. In order to heal, you must love yourself fully. Every particle, within every crevasse, every shadow that you rather not see. Every part of you gets to be looked at and once you truly see yourself, forgive yourself, and nurture yourself, you will absolutely fall in love! Use the following 7 self-love do’s and don’ts after your breakup, to support you on your journey.

7 SELF-LOVE

DO’S & DONT’S

AFTER A BREAKUP

1. DO ENLIST SUPPORT – Friends, family members, or a therapist. After a breakup, it can be helpful to talk with people who can hold an emotional space for you. Be discerning with who you ask for support, you want to ensure that will not provoke you or feed hate, anger, or negativity. Identify what you believe you need, and then ask for it. Do NOT stay isolated!

2. DO BLOCK, UNFOLLOW, or MUTE YOUR EX on social media if you are being triggered. The days and weeks following a breakup are usually the most difficult and seeing what your ex is up to can be extremely triggering and hurtful. Taking a break from social media all together can sometimes be even more beneficial but at the very least, stay off their account. Do NOT stalk them on social media to find out what they are doing or if they are dating someone new. Once it is official and you are no longer a couple, it can feel like a loss of control. Often people try to regain what can feel like control by stalking their ex on social media platforms. Remember, social media usually shows you what the person wants you to see (not the full picture) and if you are obsessing over them, you can not possibly be focused on yourself.

3. DO BEGIN SAYING POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS and focus on your strengths. After a breakup the negative self-talk can get pretty loud. People begin to blame themselves, feel unwanted, unworthy, and unvalued. It will be crucial that you double down on compassion, self-love, and positive affirmations. You can reach out to those who care about you and ask them to name 5 things they love about you but that is not enough. How you feel about yourself matters. Identify 5 things you like about yourself and write them down. Then create affirmations or look for some online that are specific and can counter any negative self-talk or insecurities. Example: If your self-talk sounds like, “they didn’t value me anymore, I am unwanted” your positive affirmation can be: “I determine my value, I am worthwhile, and deserving of love.” Do NOT feed into negative self-talk or self-judgment.

4. DO CARVE OUT TIME DAILY TO GET TO KNOW YOURSELF. Take the 5lovelanguages quiz, find out your attachment style, and begin exploring how those things came to be and how they show up in your relationships. Compassionately explore the reasons why you do some of what you do. Do NOT avoid or dismiss your needs. You deserve to be understood, allow yourself time and space to understand yourself more.

5. DO CREATE SOME NEW RITUALS/ROUTINES and make sure they are healthy! If you do not already have a morning and evening ritual in place, create them. Especially if your ex was a part of those routines in the past. The way you begin and end your day makes a big difference in terms of productivity and overall mental health wellness. A breakup can create a feeling of instability. If nothing else, we recognize that some things have changed and change can be uncomfortable. Creating rituals can help you feel grounded and safe. Create a morning ritual that includes something just for you. It can be meditation, tea or coffee and sitting quietly or reading a book, watering plants, yoga, making yourself a healthy breakfast, creating a journal entry with a daily intention. An evening ritual can support you with getting a restful nights sleep. Winding down at night with restorative yoga, a warm beverage, a warm bath, reading, and an entry in a gratitude journal can make a huge difference. Do NOT wait until the last minute to think about your day, idle time after a breakup can be triggering and lead to endless mental chatter. Do NOT stay up late reminiscing or allowing negative thoughts to spiral. There is a higher likelihood of having interrupted sleep when we are not intentional around how we prepare our mind and body for sleep.

6. DO KEEP THE THINGS YOU LOVE/ENJOY ABOUT YOURSELF that you may have mainly done with your ex. Sometimes we have so many memories attached to an activity that we did with our ex that we only associate that activity with our them. It can be anything from baking cookies on Friday night, to going for a run on a Sunday morning, to visiting an art exhibit once a month. Identify whatever it is that you enjoyed doing, and give yourself permission to continue to do it. It may look a bit different, it may trigger you at first, but if there was an aspect of the relationship that you appreciated and miss (and do not involve your ex needing to be a part of) find a way to keep it. Bring it back in. Different relationships expose us to different things and we meet different parts of ourselves in the process. Sometimes we miss who we were in a relationship, or things we did in a relationship MORE THAN WE MISS THE PERSON. So take some time to dig deeper with this one. I personally found this exercise to be one of the most enlightening discoveries after my breakups. I would miss discovering new restaurants, going out dancing, sitting and having deep conversations, eating healthier, ex…Did my ex really need to be involved? Nope. It does not mean you will not miss them or that you will not have memories while engaging in the activity. However, in time you can actually take something that was once considered an “us” thing and make it a “you” thing that you can either keep for yourself or share with others. Do NOT shut down, dismiss, or eliminate anything from your life that brings you joy just because it was once something you did with your ex. Your ex is gone, you do not have to punish or deprive yourself of something just because you used to do it with them!

7. DO FUN THINGS! Even if you do not feel entirely up to it yet, identify new things that you think you may enjoy. Remember, you are getting to know a different version of yourself. Have you ever admired something someone else was doing but you never tried because you told yourself that you are “not that type of person?” Perhaps it is going to the gym, joining meetup.com and finding a group that interest you. I am huge on doubling down on self-love when needed and to me that looks like finding like-minded people and doing things that make me smile. Hiking, swimming, painting, dancing, reading, and learning a new language. Actually anything that seems like fun to you. You get to DO FUN THINGS! Do NOT prematurely shut down a new experience, convince yourself you will never have fun again, or punish yourself by getting bought into the idea that you don’t get to be happy. You do not have to put your happiness on hold. You are allowed to do fun things!

Rather than giving energy to your “life after the breakup journey.” I encourage you to give your energy to your “Self-love NOW Journey.” Let your love for yourself heal you. Double down on self-love and self-compassion and set the tone for how you want to and deserve to be treated. Focus on being the best version of yourself and being the love you want to attract. Be what you want in a partner. You be loving, you be warm, you be forgiving, you be patient, you be passionate. You be what you want and the good old law of attraction will surely bring you people and opportunities that will match your current vibration.

I am hopeful this blog offers some support to you at this time. If your heart is hurting, if you are struggling, and if you need help, please reach out for it. We all can use a little extra support at different times in our lives, today you may be the one that can use some extra care. In the future, you may be the one to extend help and support to someone else. That’s part of my story, I have been hurt, I healed with support and self-love, and now I support others. This moment is part of your story, how will you write your next chapter?

If you would like further information and tools, my new workbook, “After the Breakup, a Self-Love Workbook: A Compassionate Road Map to Getting Over Your Ex” is currently available on Amazon, Target, and Barnesandnoble.com. It can help you normalize your feelings, name your emotions, body sensations, love language, attachment style, etc. The chapters walk you through processing the breakup. Part I “The Power of Self-Love After a Breakup” is an introduction/normalization of breakups and the concept of self-love. Part II is filled with tools, information, mindfulness exercises, relatable stories, and practices for you to take with you on your self-love and healing journey. Sending you so much love…

Self-Love Affirmation: The energy of love flows through me effortlessly, releasing all blockages with ease.

Couples, Feeling Bored? “Happy Hormone” Boosting Date Ideas to Revive the Spark!

The quest for tips on how to keep the desire alive in relationships and how to reignite the spark is a common search for those in long term and sometimes, not so long term relationships. I am meeting more and more couples, asking questions regarding how to sustain happiness, fulfillment, and desire in their relationship before it becomes a “problem.” Currently, there are many “well functioning” couples beginning therapy stating they feel:

  • A lack of connection.
  • The spark is fading.
  • Unseen by their partner.
  • Unappreciated.
  • More like a roommate than a lover.

By well functioning, I am referring to couples who have low conflict, are cordial, they are best friends, faithful, manage money and the household well, take accountability, and sometimes are even the couple that others look up to. All of the pieces seem to fit together perfectly, but there is one thing that is getting in the way of them experiencing their relationship to the fullest, they feel the spark beginning to fade. They want deeper, soul connecting, pleasurable experiences. They are seeking the energy of desire but are stating they are experiencing increased boredom.

Can you relate?

Sometimes, transitions in your personal life and the world at large weigh on individuals and if you are feeling the weight of the world, chances are, so is your relationship. Seeking professional help can make all the difference and as a licensed therapist, I encourage anyone who believes they may be experiencing a depressive episode to seek professional help. If it’s more depth, deeper connection, more joy, excitement, and intimacy you seek, then this blog is for you!

Do you ever feel like telling your partner, “I love you, but our relationship feels…BORING!”?

There is some debate around how long after the onset of “problems” couples wait to seek therapy. In the field of Marriage and Family Therapy it has long been believed that couples wait an average of 6 years before seeking therapy. A study done by Doherty, Harris, Hall, and Hubbard, published in January 2021, has now put that average to 2.68 years with many couples seeking support at the two year mark, which is promising!

The data helps us understand how long it takes from the onset of “problems,” however some couples do not categorize boredom or a decrease in “the spark” as a “problem.” Many believe that boredom, “comes with the territory,” and happens to “all couples,” and it is just “part of being in a long term relationship.” Oh the stories we tell ourselves! Yes, without attention and care, the monotony of our day to day and the stressors of adulting can indeed create exhaustion and a lack of enthusiasm about our romantic relationship. However, if it is important to you and your partner to reignite the desire, let’s discuss how to bring more fun, play, intimacy, eroticism, and connection into your relationship.

When I am asked, “Can we ever get that spark back?”

My answer is, YES, ABSOLUTELY! Followed by, if both people are open, willing, and able to not only talk about the disenchantment but do something about it, your relationship can be more sparktacular (made up word) than ever. Society may tell us that it is inevitable that the spark fades over time but that is a myth. I am not bought into that myth and if you are reading this blog, chances are you aren’t either! Your commitment to keeping things interesting is what makes the difference!

So yes, I am a positive and strength focused therapist, however, I am also transparent and keep things real. I do not believe in throwing in the towel in your relationship without doing your best to not only make it work, you get to make it thrive! Are there couples or individuals in couples relationships that give up “too easy,?” Honestly, only the individual can make that determination.

What I can say is this, if you are a person in a relationship where you are no longer excited to hang out with your partner, you do not feel “butterflies,” you are feeling bored in your relationship, the two of you are not touching as much, not kissing, not sleeping together (maybe allowing your child or pet to sleep in the bed), if you rather spend time at work, with friends, or alone, and you have nothing to look forward to with your partner, it may be time to RAMP THINGS UP!

INDIVIDUALS AND COUPLES NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!

What are you currently looking forward to doing with your partner that excites you? If your answer is: “Nothing,” “nada,” or “zilch,” all is not lost…we just get to figure that out!

How do we bring the spark back? Let’s talk a little bit about the science and then let’s get to the action steps. The feel good hormones also known as the “happy hormones” are oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. There has been research done on partner’s with high levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) being happier in their relationship, finding their partner’s more attractive than others, and one study found that males with higher levels of oxytocin kept a further distance from people they found to be attractive (please see below for reference sources).

What does this all mean and what are some action steps you can take to HACK THE SPARK USING SCIENCE TO INCREASE HAPPY HORMONES?

Do things with your partner that increase both of your dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin levels. I have worked with couples who within a couple of months have gone from feeling distant, disenchanted, and disconnected, to literally feeling like they have “fallen back in love,” with their partner! Couples are sharing that they are happier individually and within their relationship. This hack is not just for your relationship, this hack is for YOU!

Both partners have to be on board, while one person changing will inevitably change a dynamic, in order to create the relationship you both desire it requires mutual investment and energy.

LET’S HAVE SOME FUN!

Invite your partner to participate by saying something sexy like…

“Baby, let’s help our endocrine system produce some feel good hormones…(then gently whisper) TOGETHER!” (ultimate turn on!) Maybe it will intrigue them, maybe not. The bottom line is, it works!

Once you entice them with science driven “dirty talk,” go through the list of hormones and couple activities together. I have created the list below to support my clients and am sharing it on my blog to support couples with understanding how the dates/activities are conducive to happiness, connection, bonding, safety, desire, and overall mental health and well-being. Each of the four happy hormones will be explained and a list of date ideas is provided. Use one of the 17 date ideas AND HAVE FUN CREATING YOUR OWN “COUPLES ACTIVITES.” Surprising your partner is another great way to spruce things up! I recommend at least one activity per week, with partner’s alternating who plans the date/activity.

INTIATION AND EXECUTION MATTER!

Upping your mood together will not only support both of you as individuals, it will create stronger connection and bonding. Seeing one another engaging in something new, feeling and looking confident, and enjoying themselves is attractive. When we put shared time together, with adventure, touch, and a mutual desire to create the relationship we seek…wonderful things can happen!

DIFFERENT DATES FOR DIFFERENT HORMONES, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SPARK?

DOPAMINE:

• Reward center in the brain. Every time we do something we enjoy dopamine is released in our brain.

• Controls feelings of pleasure.

• Released SLOWLY and you feel the mood boosting sensation after the activity.

• Dopamine deficiency contributes to low mood.

• Satisfaction of completing something.

• It plays a key role (along with serotonin) in sexual desire.

• It’s the feel-good neurotransmitter.

INCREASE DOPAMINE with:
• Sleep, sex, running, listening to music, eating well (no processed foods), managing stress, meditating

COUPLE ACTIVITIES:

1) Create your own at home concert! Create a playlist and have a dance party!

2) Make a meal together, set the table, and create your own visually pleasing indoor dining experience! Avoid processed foods. Foods such as avocado, soy, bananas, and poultry are high in the amino acid tyrosine (boost dopamine levels in the brain and helps with memory and mental performance), so try to include some of those foods on your menu!

3) Take a dance class together! This can be a lot of fun and will not only increase dopamine, you will also get an increase of endorphins and “the love hormone,” oxytocin!

4) Go for walks together when the sun is shining. The sun and brisk walking are two ways to increase your dopamine levels. Try to stay away from any housekeeping or stressful topics. Use the time to talk about things you want to try together and/or ways you want to grow individually. Sharing your joint and individual desires creates more connection. Remember to ask your partner questions and validate them, ensuring you both have a chance to heard.

5) One of my favorites, meditate together! Having your own meditation practice is beneficial in countless ways. Have you ever had a meditation date? It can be quite intimate. Sit across or beside one another and either hold hands or rest one hand on your partner’s knee and the other hand on your own knee and put on a 10-minute guided meditation. Remember to be still and just allow yourself to embrace your connection to your partner and yourself.

ENDORPHINS:

• Natural pain killer that is part of the brain’s reward system.

• They are released QUICKLY during a specific act.

• Neurotransmitter Chemicals /hormones the body releases during pleasurable activities.

• They create a sense of well-being.

• Improve mood.

• Boost self-esteem.

INCREASE ENDORPHINS with:
• Sex, laughing, dark chocolate, dancing, meditating, acupuncture, exercise.

COUPLE ACTIVITIES:

1) Have fun outdoors if possible, going hiking, biking, kayaking, frisbee, and running all increase endorphin levels which leave you feeling clear headed and calm afterwards.

2) LAUGH. Watch a comedy or go to a comedy club. Invite your friends over and play a game that makes you laugh. Give yourselves permission to be silly and playful. You can have your own comedy night where you both try your hand at standup! Laughter releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. There are many benefits to Laugh Therapy.

3) “Music, makes the people come together.” – Madonna. Yes, music does indeed make the people come together and that means it can bring you and your partner closer together. Especially, when it is upbeat. Music Therapy is becoming more and more popular, it releases endorphins and creates a feeling of well-being.

4) Invite dark chocolate into your diet in moderation as a decadent indulgence. Plan a date to bake at home or go out for a dark chocolate dessert. Dark chocolate has flavonoids that trigger our brain to release endorphins. Feeding it to one another can be playful, connecting, and sexy!

OXYTOCIN:


• Referred to as the “love hormone.”

• It is released when we are excited by our sexual partner or are falling in love. The release of oxytocin during sexual activity appears to play a role in erection and orgasm (this is still being researched).

• Creates a feeling of bonding and trust. It has a social function by impacting social recognition, the creation of group memories and bonding.

• Oxytocin is released in response to the activation of sensory nerves, with low intensity stimulation of the skin through touching, stoking, hugging, kissing. It is also released through stimulation of the nipples.

NOT so FUN FACT: Symptoms of low oxytocin: Difficulty achieving orgasm, sexual interactions that feel mechanical, more anxieties and fears than usual. Which is further evidence of the possibility that part of what can be contributing to the missing spark in your relationship can be you!

INCREASE OXYTOCIN with:
• Sex, at least 1 ten-second hug daily (some studies suggest 8 hugs), loving-kindness meditation, acupuncture, touching your pet, massage, music and singing, gift giving, volunteering, food activates touch receptors in your mouth, warm and cold temperatures, and yoga.

COUPLE ACTIVITIES:

1) Plan a “get to know you” session on your next date night. Come prepared with 5 questions each. You can create your own questions or purchase helpful cards such as “The And” Couples Edition from “The Skin Deep” or Esther Perel’s, “Where Should we Begin a Game of Stories.” Give one another undivided attention and sit in close proximity to allow some form of touch. Ask provocative and erotic questions, make them playful or insightful. The most important part is staying interested, being vulnerable, and digging deeper.

2) Massage one another. You can plan a home date where you both focus on massaging one part of your partner’s body (foot, leg, neck). Take turns, get a pleasing scented lotion and play some music to set the mood. Focus on how good it feels to provide pleasure to your partner and try not to talk in order to be fully immersed in the experience.

3) Sing a song out loud. Do you both have music you enjoy singing together? If so, do it! Research has shown that listening to music and singing along for 30 minutes, significantly increases oxytocin levels (reference link below). Karaoke for two?

4) Take a warm or cold shower together. Extreme temperatures have proven to increase oxytocin levels. Taking a warm bath together and finishing off with a cold rinse, can be fun and will have both of you on an oxytocin high!

SEROTONIN:

• Neurotransmitter and hormone that sends messages between nerve cells.

• Chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabilizer.

• It is responsible for happiness.

• It affects emotions, appetite, and digestion.

• There’s a link between lack of serotonin and depression.

• It plays a key role (along with dopamine) in sexual desire.

INCREASE SEROTONIN with:
• Physical activity, 15 minutes of sunlight daily, stress management, correlation with probiotic-rich foods, tryptophan-rich foods (eggs, nuts, milk, animal protein, soy products), and thinking happy (gratitude filled) thoughts.

COUPLES ACTIVITY:

1) The walk wins again! Walking in nature and breathing in fresh air raises oxygen in the brain which in turn, boosts serotonin levels. Try going out during the day together, the sunlight helps increase serotonin levels.

2) Thinking happy thoughts can raise serotonin levels. Each partner can begin keeping a gratitude journal and carve out time in your day and week to share it. You can also create an album with pictures of joy filled moments. If you already have albums, pull one out and reminisce. Joyful memories are a gift, give yourself permission to bask in them together!

3) Have a brunch date and get dressed up! Ensure there is probiotic yogurt and nuts, or eggs and a soy or animal protein on the menu. Whether you are in the comfort of your own home or trying a new restaurant together, eat foods high in tryptophan and talk about things that make you smile.

4) Create a Couple’s Vision Board. Get some magazines, quotes, pics, and anything else that makes you feel good and connected. Think about the experiences you would like to have and shared goals. Create a visual representation of what you are working towards creating in your shared life.

5) Stretch together. Movement supports all of the feel-good hormones. Stretching and yoga help with stress management. Focus on your breathing and support one another with slowing down and stretch one another out. Listen to the needs of your body and your partner. It builds trust and intimacy. Play relaxing music or light a candle to set the mood and promote relaxation.

Remember to do your part and give your partner an opportunity to show up differently.

Over the years, I continue to share with couples that we all grow and we get to give our partner’s an opportunity to show us who they are now and who they are becoming.

No one likes to be boxed in and not given an opportunity to grow. Being stagnant and stifled does not only lead to low mood and depression, it is also not very attractive!

Additionally, according to a top relationship expert, psychotherapist, and author, Esther Perel, in order to increase desire, couples need time apart to allow the relationship to get some air and within that space the individuals get to explore their passions, do things they are good at, and be confident when alone.

Perel states, “desire needs mystery and, in the beginning everything is mysterious.” It is within that mystery of your partner where desire and eroticism exists. It is within the dates and activities above that closeness and intimacy are nurtured. Through active and intentional participation, you can create a balance of both, periodically assessing to allow for recalibration.

You can absolutely grow together if you continue to stay open to getting to know yourself and getting to know the latest version of your partner.

Six Tips to making this process successful:

  1. Stay open – to growth and doing things differently.
  2. Stay curious – do not make assumptions.
  3. Stay loving – operate from your heart
  4. Take accountability – own your role through accountability
  5. Listen to understand – VALIDATE them and do not take ANYTHING PERSONALLY!
  6. Be intentional – about the time and energy you are putting into your relationship!

Remember…HAVE FUN!

REFERENCES USED & FOR FURTHER READING:

https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/5-Ways-Mother-Nature-Can-Lift-Your-Mood/

https://www.optimallivingdynamics.com/blog/25-effective-ways-to-increase-oxytocin-levels-in-the-brain

https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-increase-serotonin-food-pills-natural-tips-5209264

https://www.healthline.com/health/endorphins#vs-dopamine

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/dopamine-the-pathway-to-pleasure

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795#what_is_oxytocin

https://www.estherperel.com/blog/letters-from-esther-37-eroticism-is-an-art-but-its-also-a-practice

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33411353/

Couples Accountability Check – Why You Need to Own Your Role!

Life is essentially all about relationships. The relationship we have with ourselves, our partner, family, friends, and essentially all things! I became an LMFT in order to support people with creating and sustaining happy, healthy, ever evolving relationships while living authentically. I have come to understand that when reflecting on my own relationships, there is of course that one common denominator, ME! When there are themes I find less than appealing in my relationship, although it would be great to be able to put all the blame on my partner, I get to ask myself, “what have YOU done to co-create this relationship dynamic?”

The same with you my friend. YOU are the common denominator in your relationships. I have some questions for you, how do you feel about the current state of your romantic relationship? Is it passionate? Does it excite you? Does it lack depth? Are you too busy to maintain it? Do you even want to? Now the big question…

WHAT HAS YOUR CONTRIBUTION BEEN TO THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

While the tendency for most is to blame the other person when the relationship is stressed/strained, there still does exist the partner that takes on too much ownership and ends up feeling like they are always apologizing. I have had countless clients over the years share that they are consistently taking the one down, validating, and apologizing to their partner when they believe they have done nothing wrong. Clients share that they get tired of feeling like they are doing most of the work during conflict and either end up apologizing for all of it (over accountability) or they decide to stop validating all together and take no accountability or shut down (which usually leads to more conflict). Do you fall in either one of the two extremes? If so, which one?

Over accountability – You are owning too much (your role and theirs). Apologizing for the entire miscommunication and invalidating your own feelings. You may be bought into an old narrative that it is always your fault. Sometimes people will refer to an “empath” as a person who can over identify with the other person and absorb a disproportionate amount of the blame. Taking too much responsibility can also be a sign of a person who has fear of being alone (abandonment) and/or fear of conflict (conflict avoidant).

Under accountability – You are not owning your role (you are placing a majority of the blame on your partner). You point the finger at them, you blame them, and you are bought into a story that it is usually their fault. Sometimes people who do not own their role are considered selfish, they may lack self awareness, sometimes you can find that characteristic in a person who has narcissistic personality disorder, and they may use tactics such as gaslighting to make their partner feel like they have done something wrong. (Side note, just because someone struggles with owning their role does not automatically mean that they are a narcissist)

Just good ol’ Accountability – Both partners get to take accountability for their role in the conflict. We ALL get to accept responsibility for our actions and acknowledge how our actions impact the people we love. Emotional maturity means being able to be less ruled by emotions and having the ability to own our role without placing blame on others. It is much easier to blame, finger pointing is something that comes naturally for most. However, two people continuing to blame and point the finger of shame at one another are equally contributing to an unsafe/hostile environment. Instead of pointing your finger, use that hand to pick up a mirror and SEE YOURSELF!

WHAT IF WE AS INDIVIDUALS DID OUR WORK?

Work? Work meaning, what if we mean what we say and say what we mean? What if we stopped making assumptions about what our partners are thinking and what if we stopped assuming that we know how they feel? What if we stopped making everything about us as if they are out to get us and what if we STOP TAKING THINGS PERSONALLY? What if we were to show up as the best version of ourselves (highest selves) for each interaction and every conversation? What would that mean?

The book “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miquel Ruiz, addresses these topics directly. The book was recommended to me by a loved one when I first started my private practice and I recommend it to everyone. The Four Agreements being 1) Be Impeccable with your word 2) Don’t make assumptions 3) Don’t take anything personally 4) Always do your best. What if we were to “work” on focusing on those 4 things? What would happen is…

We would have more connecting relationships.

We would have less conflict.

We would live consciously.

We would engage in less negative self talk.

We would ask more questions.

We would no longer spiral with anxious thoughts and rumination would cease.

We would be more compassionate towards others.

We would be more compassionate towards self.

We would trust ourselves and other’s would be more likely to trust us.

We would be the best versions of ourselves/our highest selves.

We would be open and curious and attract more abundance.

We would be able to hold space for the people we love as well as humanity.

WE WOULD LEAD MORE AUTHENTIC LIVES, CREATE MORE FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS, AND PROBABLY BE A HECK OF A LOT HAPPIER!

The fact of the matter is, that the longer I practice individual and couples therapy, the clearer and clearer it becomes that the two people in the relationship need to do their individual work in order for the relationship to reach its full potential. Self-awareness is necessary. HOWEVER, CHANGE HAPPENS VIA ACTION. Action steps are necessary.

ACTION STEPS: SLOW DOWN, OWN YOUR ROLE, REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS and VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER!

Slow down during the conversation, take a time out if necessary (length of time predetermined, usually 30 minutes, try to keep it to the same day) until you are ready to resume the conversation leading with a STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTABILITY. What is a statement of accountability? When the two of you come back together to resolve the conflict, you both resume prepared to share what you identified as something YOU could have done differently to experience/contribute to a more positive outcome.

Example:

Partner 1: “I am sorry I did not call you when I realized I was going to be late. I know that makes you feel disrespected and taken for granted. I recognize that you probably would not have started yelling when I came home if I would have called you and kept you in the loop. Regardless of what the circumstances were around my inability to call, the fact of the matter is that I didn’t call and that upset you.”

Partner 2: “I really appreciate you saying that. I didn’t realize you understood what was happening for me and your apology matters. I also recognize that you have a lot going on at work and forgot to call. I know that you not calling is not indicative of you taking me for granted and at the time I took it personally. The fact that I was triggered is still no excuse for raising my voice and cursing. I apologize because you do not deserve to be spoken to that way and I could have handled that better. I take accountability for my role and triggering you. I apologize for my role in our conversation turning into an argument.

STOP BLAMING..START OWNING!

When two people enter in to a conversation taking accountability/owning their role and validating the other person’s emotions, it creates a safe environment for both of them. Emotional safety is necessary for transparent and vulnerable conversations to take place. You have to be willing to do your part and not get sucked into engaging in an unhealthy or maladaptive dynamic. “My partner made me do it,” means someone is struggling with seeing their part in an interaction.

When we begin to accept that we do things because WE DECIDE TO DO THEM, we can feel motivated and empowered to learn to respond to our triggers differently. You hold the key!

When we get triggered we tend to say things to hurt the other person, or we say things to protect ourselves. The bottom line is that we say things that may not be our truth. If YOU are reactive, that’s a YOU THING! We do not get to blame the other person for our choice of reaction and inability to self-soothe/regulate our emotions . We can respond differently, we can respond respectfully, and we can respond from a place of love once we learn how to manage our responses. You get to learn how to hold yourself accountable in your relationship!

I want to be clear that this does not mean that you do not show up for/support one another. I do believe that if you decide to be in a committed relationship, you get to both be clear around what you need/want support to look like for your unique relationship. Also, under no circumstances should a person stay in a relationship that is abusive. If you believe you are in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, I encourage you to get immediate support. A client of mine has the mantra, “I can conquer anything with communication” – DF. You can indeed conquer anything with communication, just be sure to speak your truth with warmth and own your role when you do! When we come from a non-judgmental place, when we own our role, and when we lead with love, there is nothing we can not discuss. The goal is to be able to create an emotionally safe and authentic relationship. It starts with self. Remember, inner peace can not come from your partner, it comes from within and is the determinant of creating peace within your relationship!

Wishing you and your relationship love and peace always,

Tamara

Remember, “Me?” A Question for the Most Important Person in Your Life!

Naked in the mirror, I see an image reflected back to me, familiar, yet unfamiliar, I seek clarity. I look intensely for understanding, as deep as my eyes can see but that vision is skewed by what I decipher mentally. The truth is my soul has the sight I seek, I look in the mirror, and speak out compassionately, Remember me?

How can we remember someone we do not know? Many of us know ourselves in the context of others and the roles we play in our lives.

Many moons ago, when you were a child, you were told and taught who you were and got cast in a role that supported you around creating a persona, “a mask.” You were shown how to show up in the world and you have probably been following suit ever since. You get to challenge what you have been told about who you are!

What was your role? Were you the smart one? The professional one? The Comedian/class clown? Maybe your caregivers told you that you would run the world, that you were a “heartbreaker,” that you would be “successful,” that you were “selfless,” or that you were “selfish.”

Whatever the narrative/script was in your family of origin, it absolutely impacted you…How can I make such a strong declaration? Because our family of origin/childhood impacts all of us!

We all come out of childhood with wounds and a role. Our wounds and roles get reinforced throughout our lives because we create filters and begin to only extract information that supports our belief around who we are and how others will treat us. How aware are you of your role? of your wounds? How is that showing up in your life today? Do you want to continue operating out of them or do you chose to heal them, find yourself, and live the fullest life possible?

(Disclosure: As most children, I loved to draw as a child, and one day after making a creation I thought was spectacular, I was told, “an artist you’ll never be” and that stayed with me for the rest of my life. It turned something I did for fun into something I was not good at. A comment made by a parent in innocence can be a wound that stays for a lifetime)

What if we no longer decided to play our role? What if the part you have been playing your entire life no longer works for you? What if you are tired of being the responsible one that everyone turns to for money? or the strong one that everyone dumps their emotional wounds on? or if you are the single one that gets to be the babysitter for everyone else’s children and should be readily available for anything? You may have been the one that people did not believe in and now lack self confidence because you learned not to believe in yourself. Are you the one that always takes care of everyone else and has been taught (and learned well) how to put your needs and feelings on the back burner to take care of everyone else’s needs first and now struggles to use your voice?

You can rewrite the script. How? Check in with yourself, get to know yourself, and then live in your truth. YOUR TRUTH, not someone else’s truth about who you are.

You can be taught new language and acquire new boundary setting tools that support you with creating and existing in a world that works for you. Not in a selfish, narcissistic way, but more so in a way that you are considering others while ALSO CONSIDERING YOURSELF! Self consideration sounds simple enough, yet so many of us struggle with it!

When we are getting to know someone new, what do we do?

  • Spend time with them
  • Create a space where they feel safe to share (non-judgmental and supportive)
  • Ask them a TON of questions
  • Watch how they interact with others
  • Watch how they take care of themselves

We get to know and learn about ourselves in the same way. Curiosity, empathy, openness, and honesty. Forget all you have been told about who you are and continue on your journey of self exploration….

REMEMBER, ME? 4 STEPS TO GETTING TO KNOW YOURSELF

  • SPEND TIME ALONE (go off the grid aka no electronics!!!): I encourage you to spend time alone with yourself, not judging, just observing. Take a full day to spend time by yourself and engage in an activity that you enjoy. Being in nature greatly supports this process, however doing anything that brings you peace works (painting, writing, walking, singing, dancing, baking, people watching,) Let your loved ones know that you will be taking some “me” aka “self-care” time to relax and reflect so that you can give yourself permission to go off the grid comfortably.
  • ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS COMPASSIONATELY: (create a safe space for yourself by not engaging in negative self-talk and showing yourself compassion) ask yourself questions such as: When are you happiest? When are you most proud of yourself? (how come? who told you that was important?) What is your passion? What makes you, you? Who are you closest to in your family?(how come? since when?), What do you do when you need help? (do you ask for help or do you figure out a way to do it alone, and how come? when did you learn that behavior? for how long have you handled needing help in this way?), What are your fears? (how come they are your fears?, what have you tried to overcome your fears?) What are your strengths? (how do you know? what makes them your stengths) What do you like most about yourself? (how come?)
  • ASSESS RELATIONSHIPS (your role): Take a close look at your relationships, how are you showing up for and around the people closest to you? Are you holding yourself accountable for your role in interactions? (do you validate the other person, are you blaming someone else for your inability to self-soothe and/or for your unhappiness? are you name calling? are you being condescending?) Are you enjoying your relationships with others? (if not, what are you doing about it?), What type of relationships do you want? How are you showing those you care about that you care about them? Are your actions aligned with what you say you want? If not, start taking the actions needed to create the relationships you want. You are responsible for how you show up!
  • PRACTICE SELF-CARE and EMBRACE SELF LOVE: Observe how you take care of yourself, aka self-care. How do you speak to yourself?(do you beat yourself up with your words or do you speak to yourself with love and compassion? how come? how did the people you loved talk to you? how would you like to be spoken to?) How do you handle situations in which you feel you have been treated unfairly? (do you use your voice or do you retreat/hide and if so, why?) What do you do for yourself that fills your soul/tank? How do you decompress after a tough day? (long bath, write, exercise, help others, paint, spend time in nature, cook, etc). Create a plan to do at least one of the things you identified as filling your tank every week and label it self-care. You will be sending a message to self and to others that you matter!

I once lived life thinking I had to do what others expected of me based on limitations they imposed and that became my truth. I began to buy into the limits, reinforce the limits, and eventually unknowingly limit myself. BUT, then I woke up, I did “the work,” and realized that I can be free, and that most limits are self-imposed and rooted in fear and insecurity. You are your greatest love, I encourage you to make your life and relationship with self the most beautiful love story ever!

Yes, I was told, “an artist you will never be,” and one day I looked in the mirror and remembered myself and how peaceful I felt when I was creating art, and now I paint to paint and draw to draw. It may have taken some time but I could not be happier with the new narrative I have created for myself. Every piece I create would not exist had I continued to be bought into the narrative that someone else created for me.

EXERCISE: (BE PRESENT, no electronics) Take a 20 – 40 minute bath/shower, preferably with a calming scent/bath gel such as lavender or vanilla, allow yourself to be immersed in the experience as you observe the water touching and cascading over your body. Allow all thoughts to drift as you allow yourself to be in peace (visualize the ocean, or laying in the grass, or listen to calming music with no words just melodies or nature sounds that soothe your soul). After you dry off, look at yourself in the mirror and take 5 deep breathes, while looking deeply into your beautiful eyes, ask yourself out loud, Remember me? take one last deep breathe. Find a quiet place and create a three page journal entry about the experience.

This reflection and exercise are meant to support your process around self-actualization/awareness and living a fulfilling life that you feel connected to. If you need additional support, please reach out to a therapist, or other health care professional. You came to this blog for a reason, perhaps it is time to roll up your sleeves and get to know the most important person in your life! I am excited for you and the new narrative you will create around who you are and what you want. Wishing you the very best, with love.

TRIGGERED! The Unhealed Wound: Couples Only Survive when Individuals Do Their Work! 7 Steps to Help…

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Do you sometimes feel as if your partner’s main objective in life is to piss you off? Do you find that the harder you try to get along, the more you find yourself getting triggered? Do you think about ending the relationship once and for all  just because you are so frustrated and feel as if you can not take it anymore?

The trigger conversation comes up often in couples work and the question of “why is my partner always triggering me?” has a simple, yet layered answer. There are many who wonder why the partner they love more than anything is the one that hurts them the most. Conflict usually arises when one partner is triggered and reacts/responds with their default coping strategy/defense mechanism (by the way and for the record, that default coping mechanism is usually not your truth). It is often a way to protect yourself that you discovered/created in early childhood or adolescence for survival and although once useful, has probably run its course and is no longer healthy or appropriate.

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So your partner has triggered you, now what? The tendency is to turn to our partner and blame them for hurting us, for bringing up uncomfortable feelings, for our increased anxiety, and/or our inability to move forward. We blame them for our insecurities, the fact that we won’t go to the gym, the fact that our career is not where we want it to be, the fact that we are unhappy. Sometimes we react with a counter punch to shut them down and shut them up or we may become withholding, close off, and turn away, depending on what our coping strategy/defense mechanisms are. We then point the finger and become the innocent victims of our partners cruelty, usually failing to take accountability for our role or how we blew up or shut down once we were triggered. Sharing stories with our friends, family, co-workers, and therapist around how our partner pushes all of the right buttons that cause us to react and act out of character. It is clearly their fault!

Being triggered hurts more from some people than others for a reason, usually because we have higher expectations and hopes of the people we open our hearts to and when those people say or do things that hurt our feelings (even when it is unintentional),the harder the fall…the deeper the wound. Although the wound may be deepening, it is not new and even though they might have said something hurtful, the wound of origin was not caused by them.

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The current trigger activates an old wound and not just any wound, a wound we have not fully healed from and may not be aware of. The wound of origin. That first wound that made you feel alone, abandoned, unworthy, unsafe, etc. Sometimes, our partners unintentionally trigger us, yet we make them wrong and leave no room for explanation, we tell ourselves the same narrative that we have carried around for years. When we are bought into our own negative thought patterns, we learn to extract all the information we feel will support our negative narrative, the one where our partner does not love us, is inconsiderate, is selfish and end up struggling to see all of the positive attributes our partners possess, all the ways they show love, and all the things they are presently doing “right.”

7 Things to do when your Partner Triggers you:

  1. So you have been hurt, something that your partner has done (or didn’t do), said (or didn’t say) has brought about an uncomfortable emotion. As soon as you recognize that you have been triggered, STOP (visualizing a Stop sign may help).
  2. Remind yourself that you are working towards having more self-awareness. Your goal is to respond, not react. You are working towards gaining emotional maturity.
  3. Turn towards your partner and share that you have been triggered, let them know what triggered you and the thoughts and feelings coming up for you around that trigger. If you are unsure of what you are feeling (go to step 5), ask for a few minutes to process what is coming up for you.
  4. Give your partner an opportunity to show up for you and the relationship. Give them a chance to validate your feelings and in turn, thank and validate them.
  5. Take a time out. Give yourself a few minutes to process what just happened. Usually the conversation escalates quickly after the trigger, slow down. Sit with yourself and identify what emotion is coming up for you and think back to your earliest memory of experiencing that emotion. Think about the thoughts that came up for you. What did that experience tell you about the world around you? and who you are in this world?
  6. Share with your partner what you learned about yourself and together you can work towards finding ways to work through the trigger when it arises. Discuss what they did or said that had a negative impact on you and share how it relates/links to a past wound.
  7. Acknowledge for yourself that you did it! You did something different, you just had a “win” because you handled being triggered differently! You are on the road to putting the pieces together, having an increased level of self awareness, and becoming less reactive when you are triggered by your partner.

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Everyone gets triggered it’s what you do in those moments that matter. The awareness and understanding of what is happening for you in the moment and why, will decrease reactivity. Return to the wound of origin, nurture your inner child, provide the support for yourself you wish you would have received at that time, the support you need now. HEAL. Only you have the ability to heal your heart, to provide the safety, compassion, and acceptance to all the parts of yourself. If you look to your partner to do it for you, they will fail.

If you truly want to connect with your partner and move past difficult conversations, you have to do your work. 

The trigger is an opportunity, it is a road-map to the place in your heart that is wounded.

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New Response – When triggered, rather than getting lost in the anger, practice appreciation for the fact that you now have information that will support you with finding, healing and releasing the wound of origin. If you do not do this work, you will continue to be triggered, you will continue to blame your partner, you will continue to have conflict, you will continue to be guarded, you will continue to be fearful, you will continue to be stuck and what causes the most danger to a relationship, is having unfair and unrealistic expectations around your partner’s role/responsibility in “making” you happy. 

Each of us has been wounded, no one comes out of childhood unscarred. The “work” is about knowing what those wounds are and how they are showing up in your life right now, present day, in this moment. You have the ability to create a more fulfilling life and a more fulfilling relationship. Yes, in a partnership you get to love and support one another however you can not do all the work for another person and they can not do all the work for you. It is impossible to grow together if one partner is stuck. Once you become emotionally mature you can make clear/rational decisions about your relationship. 

Avoidance, fear and denial will attempt to keep you stuck and blaming others. Awareness, acceptance, self-compassion and courage will provide the positive energy, clarity, and light that will set you free! Turn inward, identify, process, release, heal and share your journey with your partner every step of the way.  The key to a couple growing together is the acceptance that during the couple journey, there will be times in which you have to travel part of the way on your own and trusting that once you do, you will come back to one another with an increased awareness of self and more connected to one another.

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Wishing you effective conversations, peaceful resolutions, and the ability to take ownership of your emotions. All couples disagree at times, learning how to move past the disagreement and come out stronger is the best gift you can give to one another and to yourself. You’ve got this!

  • If you feel you may be in an abusive (mentally, physically, or emotionally) relationship, do not blame yourself, seek the help of a licensed professional who can support you with determining if you are a victim of abuse. 

Talk to Me! 6 Ways to Create Emotional Safety in your Relationship

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“Why didn’t you tell me?” “You never share with me!” “How come you are so quiet when I try to talk to you?” “Answer me!” “You’re so secretive!” “You never talk!” “Why don’t you ever tell me how you’re feeling?”

Have you said those things to your partner? Has your partner said any of the above to you?

How about when you do decide to share and the other person reacts defensively (yells, cries, criticizes) leaving you to make comments such as:

“That’s why I don’t tell you anything!”
“I can’t talk to you!”
“That’s not what I meant”
“I should’ve just kept my mouth shut!”

If the comments above sound familiar, if you’ve heard them or said them, chances are…at least one of you, probably both of you, do not feel safe in your relationship.

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When working with a new couple, one of the standard questions I ask is, “do you feel safe in your relationship?”

When talking about safety in a relationship, physical safety is what licensed professionals are trained to screen for during an initial couples session, however physical safety is not the only form of safety needed in a healthy relationship. When I ask if each partner in the couple relationship feels safe, I am also referring to emotional safety which include some of the following:

*Safe to express themselves fully and authentically
*Safe to share dissatisfaction about something their partner did
*Safe to share sexual desires, displeasure, and fantasies
*Safe to share their personal insecurities and fears
*Safe to have a conversation without it escalating to a full blown argument

Safe to share meaning that they can say any of the above without being met with yelling, name calling, blaming, shaming, exit language, and/or rejection.

According to the merriam-webster dictionary the definition of safety is “freedom from harm or danger : the state of being safe. : the state of not being dangerous or harmful. : a place that is free from harm or danger : a safe place.”

A safe place requires that you do not feel as if you are at risk of harm or danger and with emotional safety it means knowing that you will not be criticized, blamed, rejected, invalidated or dismissed by your partner.

Maslow believed that people’s behaviors are motivated through different stages of five needs. The second stage of the hierarchy of needs being safety and security (emotional safety included), the third love and belonging, and the forth being esteem (accepted and valued by others).

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As you move through stage 2 through stage 4, there is a strong connection to feeling emotionally safe, loved and connected, and valued by others. If we think about that in the context of our romantic relationships, it seems reasonable to believe that if we are not having those needs met, it will show up in our behavior in a negative or maladaptive way. If those needs are being met, the behavior will probably be more loving, trusting, and positive.

If your partner does not share with you, if your partner shuts down, if your partner finds it easier to talk to other people than to talk to you, instead of engaging in name calling and blaming and saying things such as “you’re secretive,” “you don’t know how to express yourself,” “you never talk,” “you’re such a coward,” “you don’t respect me,” etc, Turn inward and ask yourself:

  • What am I doing or not doing that is causing my partner to not feel comfortable sharing with me?
  • What can I do to show my partner that I am interested in what they want to share and I am committed to holding a safe space for them to express themselves fully?
While we can not take full ownership of another person’s feelings, what we can do is acknowledge and hold ourselves accountable for how we are showing up in the relationship. What are you doing to create safety for yourself and for your partner?
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6 WAYS TO CREATE EMOTIONAL SAFETY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP

1Listen non-defensively – listen to understand the emotions and feelings coming up for your partner and validate them. Having empathy is important, however even if you are struggling with feeling empathy you can still practice validation. Usually, when people do not share it is rooted in fear of being misunderstood or dismissed. Vulnerability is nakedness, and most people do not feel comfortable being vulnerable with someone they feel is a potential threat. If you want your partner to open up, create a space in which they will be able to do so.

Damage is done when you: get defensive, tell your partner not to feel the way they do, name call and/or blame, dismiss what they are feeling/sharing, change the subject, do not acknowledge or speak to their feelings, make overall invalidating comments.

Safety is created when youvalidate their feelings, when you empathize with what they are sharing, when you listen non-judgmentally, when you do not internalize and make it about you, focus on trying to understand your partners feelings.

 
2) Let go of toxic thoughts about your partner
. Rather than holding them to old labels you may have for your partner (overly sensitive, stubborn, combative, weak), open yourself to seeing them differently. Extend a tabula rasa aka clean slate. Challenge your old thought patterns and narratives about your partner and about the relationship, and instead of thinking “She feels like this because she is overly sensitive” practice not labeling who she is or her emotions. If you hear your husband share his feelings, try not to jump to “of course he’s feeling this way, he never sees anyone else’s point of view” challenge yourself to ask questions rooted in what feelings are coming up for him. As soon as you realize you are labeling your partner, identify it as a toxic thought, and make the decision to change it!

Damage is done when you: hold your partner to old negative labels of who they are, are bought into the belief that they will never change, struggle to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

Safety is created when you: give your partner an opportunity to show you something different, shift any negative/toxic thoughts to positive and loving thoughts, enter into the conversation open to experiencing them in a more positive light, practice trust.

 
3) Body language and Touch matter
. Body language matters a great deal in creating a safe space. Research shows that over 55% of communication is non-verbal. While there is some controversy around the actual percentage, current research tells us that it’s anywhere between 55% – 90%, in other words, it is pretty important. While words matter, body language matters just as much, if not more.

Damage is done when you: turn your back, roll your eyes, walk away, fold your arms, stand/sit at a distance, have a tense facial expression, sigh, etc

Safety is created when you: turn towards your partner, give them eye contact, make facial expressions that show them they have your attention, sit/stand in close proximity, touch their hand. In other words, join them where they are.

4) Emphasize and Reinforce your commitment. The most damaging reactions a partner can have is using exit language (I want out of this relationship, maybe we should break up, I think you should move out, I want a divorce), or shutting down/withdrawing emotionally. These two behaviors are extremely damaging as they lead the partner to feel unsafe, insecure, and may trigger old wounds/fear of abandonment. If you want to create a safe space, reminding yourself and your partner that you are in this together and committed to figuring things out is imperative to creating a safe space. Statements such as “we really need to figure this out” “we are better than this” “we’ve got this” “I’m not going anywhere” “I may be feeling hurt right now, but that doesn’t mean we are breaking up” all support reinforcing the fact that you are committed to your partner.

Damage is done when you: use exit language (break up, divorce, moving out, etc.), withdraw/shut down emotionally, and/or give your attention to other people.

Safety is created when you: make “we” statements around resolutions, talk about future hopes and goals for the relationship, speak to the commitment such as “we will get through this,” and comments/statements to let your partner know that you are committed to figuring things out and continuing to work on the relationship.

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5) Thank Them – whenever your partner shares with you, regardless of the content and how it made you feel, thank your partner for opening up. Thank them for trusting you, thank them for being vulnerable in front of you, let them know that you appreciate learning more about them. It does not matter if you do not see eye to eye, what matters is that you trust one another enough to have the conversation.

Damage is done when you: do not acknowledge when your partner is vulnerable and has the courage to share something with you that may have been difficult to share and/or you make negative/dismissive comments about what they share.

Safety is created when you: acknowledge that being vulnerable is not easy, thank them for trusting you enough to share their feelings, validate what they have shared with you, and encourage them to continue to open up and know that they will be met with love and understanding.

6) Be Consistent – with your words and actions. Consistency builds trust, because you know what to expect, words and actions are aligned, you learn you can count on your partner. Be consistent with your partner, if you say you are going to do something, do it. If your behaviors and your words are not consistent with one another, it will be hard for your partner to trust you. If you are consistently inconsistent, you are ultimately sending a message to your partner that you can not be trusted.

Damage is done when you: make promises that you do not keep, treat your partner lovingly and shower them with attention one day, and then have limited interaction with them the next day for what feels to them like no reason, you tell your partner that they can call you anytime and you will be there for them and when they call you are not available/do not pick up. Damage is done when you commit to do something and do not follow through. Inconsistency and unpredictability cause people to be constantly on guard which is a major cause of anxiety and stress, making it nearly impossible for someone to feel safe.

Safety is created when you: follow through on what you say you are going to do, keep your word, establish trust by being consistent. Be yourself at all times and if you put your best foot forward in the beginning of the relationship, then put your best foot forward throughout your relationship. Consistency sends a message to others that you can be trusted.

Remember, you are part of a couple relationship and if either you or your partner does not feel safe in any capacity, then you both play a part in what has been created. When emotional safety is created, conversations are smoother, trust is established, connection feels stronger, and sex is better! The great news is that at any point, the two of you can make a decision to create safety in your relationship, as long as you are both committed to the process and take ownership of your individual roles.

 

As always, best of luck creating the relationship you desire!

Validation Do’s and Don’ts for Couples: An Essential Component to Finally Feeling Understood!

interracial couple hetero

“Listen to me, indulge me, allow yourself to be immersed into our process and together we will come to understand the power of “we.” TF

Ever feel like screaming “Validate me!!!!!!?”

It probably sounds more like, “You just don’t get it,” “you don’t understand me,” “I give up trying to make you understand.” “Can you just listen to what I am saying.”

How many times have you and your partner had the same argument?  Many disagreements have occurred so often that individuals can predict their partner’s responses, as if the argument were scripted.

So many couples get stuck in what feels like Groundhog’s day, that same old argument and it can be about the same or different topics, the issue is the process, not the content. In other words, it is not about what you are disagreeing about, it is about how you communicate with one another.

The same old same yields the same results, yet so many of us continue doing what we are accustomed to doing. There is one sure-fire way to change the conversation, one sure fire way to feel heard and understood, one sure fire way to feel like your partner finally gets it. That sure fire way is validation!

It shows up in the therapy room quite frequently, at least 8 out of 10 couples are struggling to validate one another.

Top reasons why people find it difficult to validate their partner:

  • They do not feel as though their partner understands their point and they are not going to validate them, until they are validated.
  • They believe that they must agree with their partner to validate them and usually they do not agree. In fact, some people feel as though the other person is completely wrong and if so, can refuse to validate their feelings
  • They do not believe their partner should be experiencing the feelings that are coming up for them and try to convince their partner how come they should feel differently

Usually when someone shares something that they are experiencing strong emotions around, they do not want advice, they do not want someone to come up with solutions, they do not want to feel judged/as if they did something wrong, and they do not want someone to tell them not to feel that way. If the person would like advice, they will usually ask. Providing unsolicited advice without validating first and empathizing can leave a person feeling misunderstood, dismissed, and/or invalidated. Most non-validating responses are said with noble intent, however, to the person on the receiving end, they can still feel frustrated and misunderstood.

 Common Non-Validating Responses:

“Well, let me tell you about how bad my day was and then you’ll see that yours wasn’t so bad”

“How many of your friends wish they had a provider like me, so I missed our anniversary, I have a lot on my plate”

“Well you work hard for us, you’re supposed to work hard, you’re the provider”

“You’re too sensitive”

“You should have handled it differently, next time try to do it like this”

“Sleep on it, tomorrow is another day, let’s not talk about this now”

“I can’t believe you are that angry about something that doesn’t matter”

Some of the above are well intended attempts to “make” the person feel better, other responses sound dismissive, mean, and blaming. They are all equally non-validating. Have you said any of the above? Have people in your life responded to you this way? If so, how did that make you feel?

Then there are the attempts at validation such as:

“I get it, but…”

“I hear you, and….”

“I understand what you’re saying, so….”

The above ARE NOT validating statements, they come across as, “I hear you, and let me tell you why you shouldn’t feel that way.” Step one, slow down.

What Validation is and How to Validate Your Partner:

  • For starters remember, you are validating feelings and EVERYONE’S FEELINGS ARE VALID. The reason why they feel the way they do is not as important as addressing the feelings that they are expressing to you. Once you are able to let go of the content (which you may not agree with) and focus on how they are feeling (which is always valid), you will be able to support them.
  • Validation is the affirmation, recognition, and acceptance that another person’s internal experience aka FEELINGS are valid. 

 

What can I do? What can I say?

1. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to understand how they are feeling, do not internalize and make it about you, do not get defensive, do not try to solve. Again, listen to understand and be there for them. Simply being present and patient. You will have to let your guards down to be able to listen unfiltered. It is a practice, practice listening to your partner. You will have your opportunity for them to validate you later.

2. Empathy goes a long way. Again you may not agree with the content, however, you can empathize with the emotions they are feeling.

  • “It can be difficult to focus on the children, when you are feeling so hurt by what I said”
  • “I understand that our arguments drain you, it really bothers me when we argue as well.”

3. Repeat what they share in their own words or rephrase their words to show them that you are paying attention and that you understand. Ask questions about their feelings, to show genuine interest and gain a better understanding.

  • “So when I told you I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, you felt as though I was bored of your company”
  • “I am so sorry that when I did not pick up my phone when you called it brought up feelings of anxiety for you”
  • “I did not realize that when I walk away when we are arguing it brings up feelings of abandonment and makes you feel angry, I can see why that would upset you and I am sorry those feelings come up for you”

4. Normalize their feelings by sharing that most people would feel the way that they do if they were in a similar situation. Share with them that their feelings are “normal” given the circumstances.

  • “Anyone would probably feel hurt if their partner forgot their anniversary”
  • “It makes sense that you feel lonely, anyone who has a partner that travels as much as I do would”

5. See it through their eyes. Try to see the situation from your partner’s perspective and think about other times similar feelings have come up for them, or other times they shared their feelings with you and you might have missed them.

  • “This reminds me of last year when I forgot our Anniversary and you felt as if I do not share your values, I am sorry for forgetting something that is important to you”

6. Touch them. Physical touch is one of the 5 love languages. Sometimes a simple, gentle gesture such as taking their hand, rubbing their back, stroking their hair, or giving them a hug can be all your partner needs. During conflict, this may not be the best time to get physical, however if you are discussing the situation calmly, it can be an opportunity to connect.

7. Use your Body Lean in, make facial expressions that match theirs (if they look down, you look down, if they shake their head, you shake yours). Do not stand with your arms crossed; do not look away when you do not agree. Stay open to your partner and they will be more inclined to stay open with you.

When couples do not see eye to eye, it can be challenging to validate. It is important to remember that both partners, regardless of their stance, deserve to have their feelings validated. It is a reciprocal process, which can turn that same old argument into a brand new effective way to communicate! Validation creates a feeling of safety and trust. Validation allows defenses to go down. You both deserve to feel heard, loved, and understood. The tools above will support that process. Find a method or methods that you feel most comfortable with and feels authentic to you, and then put it/them to practice!

Wishing you the best in creating the relationship you deserve and desire!

 

Infidelity: Now What? Ease the Pain of Heartache with These 7 Self-Care Practices!

Infidelity hurts. There’s no sugar coating it, an infidelity is a betrayal and while partner’s can betray one another a variety of times and in a variety of ways throughout their relationship, there is something about the betrayal of infidelity, whether emotional or physical, that strikes a chord that is a bit more piercing than any other form of betrayal.

This blog is not about who is right or who is wrong. There is no blame here and no labels. When infidelity occurs, it is usually indicative of hurts and wounds experienced by both partner’s during the course of their relationship. While there is no justification for cheating, there are drivers to that behavior. This blog is about what you can do and how to take care of yourself, when you first learn about the infidelity. The focus is on self-compassion throughout the process.

As a human being, I have been impacted by infidelity. I have felt my heart stop and then race uncontrollably. I have felt numbness, fear, and insecurity. I have felt the disappointment and the anger.

If you are experiencing an infidelity, I know it is hard, and if your heart is hurting, I am sorry you have to feel that kind of pain. I recognize finding out your partner has cheated brings up different thoughts and feelings for people. We are all so unique and our views about relationships, cheating, and ourselves vary. Although, there are differences in perspectives, most people will agree that infidelity hurts.

As a licensed marriage and family therapist, who has now worked with hundreds of couples, and individuals impacted by infidelity, I have held space for people in the midst of the trauma, in the middle of confusion, and have helped them ground themselves after experiencing days, and sometimes weeks of deep sadness, anxiety, and denial. Their coping skills vary from seeking out support to maladaptive behaviors that can be harmful to them or others.

Breaches hurt, especially when they are made by the people we love and trust the most. That initial shock can be the most difficult time in your process. Whether you are the person who stepped outside of the relationship or the partner who recently learned that the person they trusted has been unfaithful, infidelity hurts all those involved. Most partners do not set out to “cheat,” and what this indiscretion can mean for the relationship may still be undetermined. It is true that some couples come out of this shake up stronger than ever, however, there are times when that is not the case.

One truth is that infidelity changes things. It changes the people involved and it changes the couple dynamic. It can be the catalyst to growth and expansion, whether it be together or apart.

I have heard a lot of perspectives around whether a couple should stay together after an infidelity or part ways. Common questions I receive are:

Can the relationship be saved?

What does it say about me if I stay?

What does it say about me if I go?

These are heavy hitter questions. They are the questions we hope to never have to ask ourselves. For many, infidelity is their greatest fear.

The question I have for clients when they come into my office after learning about the infidelity is…

Question: What does it say about you if you give yourself the time, space, validation, and energy you need to figure this out?

Answer: This is a person that is not reactive, that gives themselves permission to not rush their process, and will hopefully come to a decision that they believe is best!

You get to give yourself the time you need to heal. No one else gets to tell you what to do or how to do it.

When you learn about a betrayal, it can be traumatizing and trauma takes time to process.

You get to allow all your feelings to be felt and acquire tools to learn how to sit with and validate uncomfortable feelings so you can move away from guilt, blame, and shame and get to non-judgment, validation, and acceptance.

Judgment is never helpful, whether it is judgment about your partner, yourself, or your feelings. It is not the time for judgment, it is a time in which high doses of self-compassion get to be taken throughout each day, because you truly need your love and attention as you move through this time.

You may feel overwhelmed. You may feel numb. You may feel angry. You may feel all or none of the above and I am here to tell you that your feelings are valid and you get to feel how you feel! The initial shock is tough and people handle it differently due to a bunch of different reasons ranging from how you were raised, to the current state of your relationship, to whether or not there are children involved.

No two relationships are the same, and the reasons why people decide to cheat vary, so there is not going to be a quick, fast, absolute, or “right” decision to make in terms of your next steps.

The one move that can be most helpful is to seek support. Yes, I am a therapist and I do believe in the therapeutic process wholeheartedly. I am also a person who has experienced infidelity and will share that no one should have to go through that alone. Seek support. Whether it is a friend you trust, a family member, a religious/spiritual group, or a licensed professional. If you are struggling, confused, feel isolated, anxious, and/or it is impacting your job, other relationships in your life, and the way that you are taking care of yourself, I encourage finding someone to support you.

You deserve your time.

You deserve your care.

You deserve your self-compassion.

You deserve your self-love as expressed through your boundaries, using your voice, and taking the time you need to process how the infidelity has impacted you. You get to make the decision that is best for you at this time.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you to take a breath, to slow down, and to give yourself permission to take the time needed to figure things out. Oftentimes, people feel compelled to take an immediate action and make a decision around next steps for their relationship right away. While you do not want to prolong the process, you also do not want to rush it.

People will have their opinions, and their opinions may support you, but your opinion matters most. Again, an infidelity will be the end for some relationships and for others, it will be the catalyst for change within the relationship that supports them with creating the relationship they desire together.

If you decide to work on the relationship and the infidelity opened the door to having difficult conversations, and creating a new, more fulfilling, relationship together, I absolutely wish you the best. The fact is that for some couples, with therapy and support to help identify the drivers that led to the infidelity, solutions and interventions can be discovered to help resolve them, and couples decide to stay together and can have a stronger relationship than they did before.

There are times that with or without processing some couples decide not to stay together. Sometimes that decision is mutual, other times one partner makes the decision for both. When infidelity is involved, it is often unpredictable how a couple will proceed until they have both had time to unpack what it means for them individually and what it means for their relationship.

I would never recommend staying in an abusive relationship. If your relationship is abusive or you feel unsafe, get immediate support.

7 PRACTICAL TIPS TO SUPPORT YOU AFTER LEARNING ABOUT THE INFIDELITY:

I have worked with hundreds of clients who have gone through infidelity, while in group practice and currently in my private practice. Here are some immediate steps:

  1. Prioritize your mental health and well-being: by putting yourself first as you work through these steps.
  2. Validate your emotions: accept all of the feelings you are experiencing without judgment and allow them to flow through you.
  3. Try not to be reactive: try not to make an immediate, emotionally charged decision.
  4. Seek support: either a therapist or someone you can trust.
  5. Practice self-care: nutrition and proper sleep are vital. Practice compassionate self-talk, take care of your hygiene and if you are struggling with self-care, please refer to #4.
  6. Identify your needs: reflect, journal, and check in with yourself around what you need in this present moment.
  7. Establish boundaries: create your own emotional safety by creating boundaries.

I have created a journal that includes prompts, practices, affirmations, and exercises that pull from mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and attachment theory to better understand your feelings at this time. It was created to help individuals work through their initial shock and uncomfortable emotions, create healthy boundaries, and nurture self-love by providing information, validation, and tools that will be useful throughout their lives, long after they have processed the infidelity. I have used the tools in my own life and many of the tools have supported hundreds of clients. I am happy to be able to share them in the form of a journal. The journal is called, “Healing from Infidelity: A Guided Journal,” and is currently on sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. It is not meant to be a replacement for seeking support at this time. It can be a useful tool on your healing journey.

Sending you love and reminding you that you get to be the author of the story of your life. An infidelity does not have to define you or your relationship.

YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND DESERVING OF TRUTH

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