Healthy Relationships
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Last month we talked about how a healthy relationship starts with looking at ourselves. When we come at dating from a place of knowing our reasons for dating and what we’re looking for, we’ll be less likely to waste our time and someone else’s time, eliminating some of the inevitable risk of getting hurt and hurting others as well.  But this still doesn’t mean we’ll find ourselves a healthy relationship, even if we know ourselves really well and are in a healthy spot. 

So this month, we want to explore a few characteristics of healthy relationships. Begin to think about your own relationships or future relationships... are these qualities there in your current or potential relationships and partner?

Finding someone else who’s in a healthy place and creating a healthy relationship together is not as easy or simple as we hope it should be.  In many ways that’s why we date people, to find out if they could be a good long-term mate.  So while you go on dates, assess your relationship or are considering getting into the dating scene, here are three really important things to look for to determine if you have a healthy relationship that you may want to consider moving forward with.   

·              Mutual respect

Relationships shouldn’t be one-sided.  Yes, there are moments and seasons where one person needs more support than the other but in those seasons you should still feel respected.  If you find yourself giving constantly and not receiving anything in return, feeling anxious, alone and unsupported, you may want to reassess whether you wish to continue with the relationship. 

Healthy relationships include fairness and equality.  If your partner is going through a hard time there is a difference between supporting them through a hard season and being taken advantage of by someone who is not super healthy or doesn’t have the ability to ever give you what you need.  Even if your partner is going through a hard season of life, they should be able to recognize the support you are giving them and appreciate it, not take advantage of it.  If their struggles will likely be a long term thing, it’s important to consider how this will play out for you, your emotional and physical health and your relationship in the long term.

You should also feel comfortable to share your own struggles in a healthy relationship and should feel respected and heard.  Even if your partner is not in a place at the moment to be able to support you in the way you may hope, there should still be a willingness to hear you, try to be there for you and a respect for you and your feelings. A cold shoulder, ill-treatment or disregard for one’s time, energy and feelings can feel disrespectful.  Both people in a relationship should feel cared for, admired and safe to be vulnerable.

·         Good communication

Healthy relationships involve getting to know one another and understanding each other (or at least working towards understanding each other).  Two separate people will not think or act the same way all the time.  There will be disagreements and differences to navigate, even in a healthy relationship.  So it’s imperative that a healthy relationship involves communicating feelings, thoughts and expectations.  It involves being vulnerable about our own thoughts and feelings so the other person gets to know us and, in turn, also listening well so we can understand and get to know the other person.  Communication builds intimacy and understanding. These are healthy things that result from growing in relationship with someone.

·                  Honesty

Honesty has a lot to do with both respect and communication.  If you can’t trust what your partner says and there are repeated patterns of lying or withholding information, it will be very hard to grow together in true intimacy.  In a similar sense, if you don’t feel you can be yourself in a relationship, there is no opportunity to truly be known and loved for who you are. Look for someone you can trust. Relationships require both people to be trustworthy and honest. 

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Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of what a healthy relationship looks like but perhaps it’s a start.  It is important that we value ourselves and our partners, challenging each other to work towards bettering ourselves and the ways we communicate and do relationships with others. 

If you think you may be in an unhealthy relationship but aren’t sure, or don’t know how to move forward in a current relationship, you are in good company. Many of us desire to improve our relationships and struggle with finding the right companion. I encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend, family member or mentor about your concerns or questions.  You deserve love and respect. As humans that have also been through our share of healthy and unhealthy relationships, our client advocates at Pregnancy Options are also available to talk with you about your relationships and how to move forward in life and love with confidence and hope. You are not alone.

What are some other characteristics of a healthy relationship? Comment below if you want to share some ideas with other readers.

 

Healthy Relationships: A Start
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We’ve been talking a lot lately on the blog about what can go wrong with relationships… breakups, conflict… painful things.  Although these things can lead to growth and eventually a renewed hope, we thought it would be great to tackle a more positive topic this month. 

So maybe you’ve experienced some conflict or a breakup and are now in a place of singleness and wanting to know what you should look for in future relationships.  Or maybe you are currently in a relationship and wonder if you and your partner are headed in a healthy direction.  Or perhaps you’ve never dated and are wondering what your future relationships should look like. These days there is a lot of talk about making healthy and wise choices in terms of food and physical activity, but equally important is making healthy and wise choices in terms of our relationships, especially as relationships influence so many areas of our lives and our mental health.

I don’t know about you but I’ve definitely found that with each relationship I enter, I am blown away by how much better it is than the last.  From each relationship, I learn more of what a healthier relationship can look like or should feel like, more about what I am looking for and I become wiser in how I conduct myself in the search for a future partner.  And maybe that’s because I start to believe more about what I’m worth through the dating and heartbreak process. 

And I think that’s a good place to start in the search for a healthy relationship… ourselves.  In any relationship, two separate people are coming together into a partnership and each person is coming in with their own unique personality, experiences, strengths, weaknesses and, unfortunately, baggage.  We will never be perfect as individuals but in order to have the best chance of a healthy relationship we should take some time to know ourselves and make sure we are relatively comfortable with ourselves before we add another person (and their issues) into our life to co-mingle with our own issues. 

How can we work on ourselves to attempt to become a more healthy individual?

Take some time to learn how to gain some self-awareness.  Becoming aware of your motives for dating and relationships, what you’re looking for out of a relationship and what you can give to someone else will help you to better understand your own behaviour in the dating world but it will also help you to navigate relationships and make decisions that align with your purposes and goals. 

And most importantly know your worth.  Many of us will not feel one-hundred percent confident in who we are. The reality is we are a work in progress. Sometimes it’s easy to feel hopeless if we think we have to reach perfection before we can date or consider ourselves “healthy” enough to be in a healthy relationship. You aren’t going to be perfect, I am not going to be perfect. But, you have strengths and unique characteristics to offer a partner. Remember that and take some time to know your strengths and grow in areas where you feel you can grow in order to benefit your future and your relationships. And as you date, you will also continue to grow in your self-awareness becoming more of who you hope to be.

The first step of getting to know ourselves and our worth can sometimes be difficult but it can be extremely helpful too. When we come at dating from a place of knowing our reasons for dating and what we’re looking for, we’ll be less likely to waste our time and someone else’s time, eliminating some of the inevitable risk of getting hurt and hurting others.  But this still doesn’t mean we’ll find ourselves a healthy relationship, even if we know ourselves really well and are in a healthy spot.  In our next blog post, we’ll explore a few of the characteristics of healthy relationships and what to look for if you want a healthy and thriving relationship. If you’re waiting on this, maybe in the meantime, you want to take some time to ‘date’ yourself. I hope you learn some amazing things about who you are and who you are becoming in the process.

What else do you feel is important for you to know or learn about yourself as you date or consider pursuing relationships?

Resolving Conflict
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No one is conflict free forever. At some point it finds us. Whether that conflict is with a family member, friend, co-worker, or significant other we will all face it at some point.

So an argument has happened and things were said that may have turned into regrets. You believe that you are in the right and the other person is in the wrong, while the other person believes the opposite. Where do you go from here? You want an apology but more importantly you want resolution within the relationship.

I have worked with toddlers, children, youth, and adults and in every age group conflict resolution is a skill that has to be learned. Here are some tips that I have found to be helpful in both my personal and professional life.

1.       Breathe

I don’t know about you but when I am angry or upset I need some time and space away from the person I am upset with. This is because I know that what I have to say is no longer productive and will only cause me to have to apologize later. When we become upset our brains go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This is a survival instinct and is quite amazing when you think about it. However, the negative side to this instinct is that it can often take away our rationality. This is often why we say or do things we don’t mean in a conflict. So then how do we get our rationality back? One word… breathe! Deep breathing puts the emergency brake on our bodies when it is going into survival mode. It is telling our brains and bodies that we are actually safe (deep breathing can also be helpful for those struggling with anxiety). Once your brain believes you are safe your rationality will come back.

2.       Reflect

Now that you are calm and rational it is time to reflect on the conflict itself. Depending on the issue you may need more time to process and reflect. Personally there have been times that I have taken an hour, a day, or weeks to reflect on an issue. The goal at this point is not to retaliate and tell the person all the things you wish you said during the argument (and trust me I know that the best comebacks are the ones you think of afterwards). The goal is to think of a solution to the conflict and how to bring resolution to the relationship without causing more issues to the conflict.

It is important to be honest with yourself. Who knows you might even learn something about yourself. Helpful questions to ask are:

What is the core issue in this conflict? What specifically made me upset? Why did I get upset? How did this make me feel? What did I do that made the other person upset? How would I feel if I was in their position? What do I think the other person is feeling?

3.       Approach

So now you are calm and you have gained some insight while reflecting. You would now like to talk to the person you have the conflict with. How you approach that person sets the mood for the entire conversation afterwards. If you ambush them, demanding to speak to them then that person is going to be defensive and will not actually hear anything you are saying because they are too busy defending themselves. If you are approaching them in any hostile manner then you are most likely not completely done step one and two.

Inform them that you would like to speak to them and set up a meeting time. Let them know what you would like to discuss in that meeting as well. Nothing is worse than someone coming up to you and saying “we need to talk” but never explaining what it is about.

What if they do not want to talk?? Hopefully the person that you are having this conflict with is someone who is also looking for resolution in the relationship and is willing to have this conversation. However, if it is a co-worker, classmate, or an acquaintance they may not always be as willing, depending on your relationship with them.

4.       Share

Now this is your time, your time to say what you need to say. However, this is not permission for you to attack the person and speak down to them but instead share your feelings. I know it sounds gushy, but like I said above people cannot argue with your feelings. When sharing, keep the focus on you and how you feel and why you feel that way. Use “I feel….because….” statements. These statements allow the person to see your perspective. Other helpful phrases to use are “I don’t think you meant it this way but this is how it made me feel” or “I know we have a different perspective on this but this is how I felt and viewed the situation and why I reacted the way I did”. These phrases acknowledge that the other person may have a different perspective and also does not question their character. At the same time it gives a voice to your own perspective and feelings.

Hurt people, hurt people. Maybe you didn’t misunderstand them but hopefully they can recognize that what they said or did may not have been nice or helpful or at the very least how they said or did what they did was hurtful.

Even if what you are apologizing for is not what they are hurt by it shows them that you have given some thought to your own actions and can take responsibility for them as well. This can then maybe even encourage them take responsibility for their own actions.

5.       Listen

Now comes the hard part…. Listen. You have now said your part and have shared your feelings about the conflict. Now it is the other person’s chance to do the same. It is important to try and understand their point of view and perspective. Do not listen to defend or react, listen to understand. This can be hard but understanding each other’s views and perspectives is the only way to conflict resolution within a relationship.

What if they were not listening when you were sharing your own feelings? This can be difficult because our natural instinct is to treat them the same way that they have treated us. However, this will only cause more resentment within the relationship. Model the respect that they did not give you. Again this may cause them to be more willing to hear your side again later.

 6.       Apologize

I am not going to lie, this is the hardest part. No one likes to admit they were wrong or did something hurtful but it’s the only way to reconcile. This is not apologizing for the same things that you have already apologized for; this is apologizing for anything that they have revealed to you that you have done that was hurtful. This is potentially the stuff that you were unaware that you even did.

You can use phrases such as “I’m sorry for making you feel that way, it was not my intention” or “I am sorry for how I communicated/did that, I could have communicated/done that a better way”. 

7.       Move On

At this point you know if your conversation has gone well or not.  Hopefully it has gone well but it does not always go as planned, even if we practice it. At this point you are left with three different scenarios:

a)      The ideal situation is where you have both made your apologies and feel like you have a better understanding of each other now. Both parties are happy with the conversation and can chalk up the conflict as a misunderstanding.  It is important at this point to let go of the conflict and not hold it against the other person. If you have stated that you are good and have accepted their apology do not bring this conflict back up at another time. It is time to let go of any residual anger, bitterness, resentment, or annoyance with the other person.

b)      The second situation is usually when the conflict is a bit more serious. You both have apologized but the conflict still remains and the only way to conflict resolution is if there is some kind of change. Usually this comes in the form of “I’ll work on… and you work on….” For example “I’ll work on not reacting right away but to listen first and you work on communicating or explaining yourself better”. Sometimes even this is not enough and outside help is needed. Whether that is a counselor or just a neutral third party it is ok to ask for help. The important thing here is that change needs to happen because conflicts will continue to happen unless you take action. However, if the other person is not willing to make a change or get help then you have to decide if it is worth staying in that relationship. Healthy relationships only work when both parties are willing to put work into it.

c)       The last situation is where the conversation did not go well. If the person you have the conflict with is acting very hostile it may be too soon for that person to have this conversation. You may have to be willing to give them more time to process the conversation. Or again it may be beneficial to bring in a trusted neutral third party to facilitate the conversation. However, if the conflict still remains you may have to decide to either let it go for the sake of the relationship or decide if the issue is too big to continue being in that relationship.

It is important to realize that even if the other person does not apologize or can't understand your perspective at least you have communicated your feelings in a mature way. In other words you have done what you can do and cannot be responsible for the other person’s reaction.

Hopefully these steps help you find conflict resolution within your relationships. Any other steps or helpful tips that you have for conflict resolution? Comment below.

How to Survive a Break Up
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Romance is fun.  Getting to know a new person is exciting and hopeful.  Although relationships can be challenging, for the most part, dating and committing to exclusively spend time and share your life with one person brings us a lot of pleasure and happiness.  But the reality of life is that you and your current partner will either be together forever… or you’ll break up.  There is no third option.  One study, cited in The Rosie Project, reports that the average woman will have her heart broken two times before she finds “The One”. 

So you fell for someone and suddenly find yourself heartbroken - and maybe even completely blindsided - with hopes and dreams of a future together dashed.  Now what do you do with this new reality?

After walking through a couple of breakups in the last few years, and one quite recently, here’s some of what I’m learning:

1) Turn Off the ‘Self-Critic’

Whether you are the one who breaks up with someone or the one who is broken up with, it’s so natural to wonder what went wrong.  But oftentimes we put too much negative focus on ourselves.  What did I do wrong? Is there a way I can fix it?   We can easily blame ourselves for things that we may or may not have done.  We spend too much time entertaining “what ifs” when there is no way to go back and change things.  We may feel discouraged, believing we’ll never find love again.  We might think we are unworthy of love.  We might easily default to anxiety and insecurity about our newly single status, our looks, personality, interests... whatever we feel may have been ‘critiqued’ by our former partner during the breakup process.

Although all of this is normal, just because we think something or feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true.  Now is the best time to choose not to believe all the negative self-talk and to allow others to encourage you.  Without the extra love of that person, you have a greater need to be kind to yourself as you grieve.  (If you have a problem in this area, learning to value yourself is a wonderful thing to grow in during this season – see tip #3).

How can you turn off that critical person within you?  Be aware of what you are telling yourself.  Write any constant personal critiques down or share some of the things you are believing about yourself (due to the break up) with a trusted friend or mentor, someone who can confirm your value and care for you as you grieve the relationship.  Trusted people outside of the relationship can help you figure out if you are at fault for anything and can lovingly support you in that, while also helping you identify where you are being too hard on yourself.

2) Go ‘Cold Turkey’

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Time heals all wounds”.  Nobody likes to hear that phrase, because in the moment it doesn’t feel true.  There is some level of truth to it though; with time and distance it won’t hurt as much.  As hard as that is to believe, there is hope of this.  And the easiest way I’ve found to speed up this process is to treat the person like a drug addiction and go ‘cold turkey’ from them.  It may sound weird but you’ve likely invested a lot of time for the past number of months thinking about this person.  That doesn’t just shut off when you break up.  Whether you were the one to break it off or they were, you will be reminded of them often, especially for the first few months.  If you’ve built a lot of memories with the person you probably won’t need more reminders of their presence and it will be a lot harder to move on if you communicate with your ex, creep them on social media or show up where you know they will be.

I’m not saying that you have to cut your ex out of your life forever, maybe it’s just for a time.  Some people may decide not to do this tip and depending on your situation, it may not be an issue for you.  But I suggest this one because I know how helpful it has been for me.  Be kind to yourself.  As much as you miss the person and want to know what they are doing, oftentimes you will not feel better after looking at their page.  Instead you may spiral back into dwelling on the relationship, your pain and how you miss them.  Everyone puts their best foot forward on social media.  Of course you will see photos of your ex looking happy, doing fun things and living their life without you.  Naturally, the self-critic begins to suggest that they don’t miss you and are happy without you.

You will move on faster and clear that person out of your immediate priority list sooner if you take the time to ‘quit’ them.  Just because you miss someone, doesn’t mean they’re good for you or should be in your life.  Use this extra time and mental energy to focus on yourself… tip #3.

3) Focus on Yourself

Focus on what’s in front of you, the moment and season of life you find yourself in.  Unfortunately, it may not be a season you wanted to find yourself in, it’s painful and potentially confusing.  But there is hope.  Remember how many others have experienced break ups and how the average woman goes through at least two before finding a lifelong partner?  You can also make it through!  You are strong.  And why not come out even better because of it?  If you have to experience heartbreak, then try to focus on the positives and your future.

Challenge yourself in this time to take steps to become the type of person you want to be, to continue to hold yourself to your values as you walk through the difficulties that come with a breakup.  Take care of yourself, exercise, eat well, get adequate sleep, speak kindly to yourself and do things that are life-giving.  I’ve found it beneficial to do something active that serves others.  My mind may not have been able to emotionally help others but doing an activity (like washing cars for single moms) was a great way to feel like I was helping others and it took the focus off of myself.  Maybe a local food bank needs help serving the homeless or the animal shelter needs a volunteer (I hear pets can be an emotional comfort too!)

Learn who you are by taking yourself on a date.  When you’re in a relationship you tend to focus on who you are as a couple and invest so much time in each other that you may have forgotten what it’s like to focus on yourself or other aspects of your life.  Use this time to enjoy your own company, do things you like to do, discover new passions and interests.  (Bonus: now you don't have to be forced to participate in activities your ex loved that you didn't enjoy!) 

Work towards becoming the kind of person you wish to attract and surround yourself with.  It's important to take the time you need to process and be comfortable with who you are as a single.  Rushing into a new relationship right away may be tempting but it doesn’t allow you to experience all that you can learn to improve the quality of your future relationship(s).  Your next relationship will benefit from taking time to heal, process and grow through this experience, believe me!

4) Analyze the Relationship from the Outside; Don’t Dwell on It

There is much to be learned about ourselves while we reanalyze, recreate and achieve new goals and dreams for our lives post-break up.  But we can also learn a lot from our former partner and the relationship, no matter how long or short the relationship was.  We can learn more about what we need and want in a future partner and may recognize patterns, behaviours or emotional triggers that came up throughout the relationship. 

Maybe you don’t have hope for a future relationship right now or maybe you are still hoping your ex will come back to you.  That's okay.  This step doesn’t need to happen right away.  It’s important to give yourself time to deal with the grief you are experiencing.  It can be helpful though to not dwell on the relationship (and/or your ex), ruminating on it over and over again for a long time without intentions of healing or growing.  Wallowing will not change anything and doesn’t help us to move forward.  Instead, a tip is to try to view the relationship and the breakup as if you are an outsider or a fly on the wall.  When you are ready to look at the relationship for analytical purposes, remove yourself and the personal feelings as best you can when you think about the relationship. 

Again, the point of this is to avoid dwelling for months and months on the relationship and the breakup without moving forward.  There is a time to process and grieve the very real feelings accompanied with the relationship and break up.  Don’t ignore those!  But, if you have taken time to grieve, and been kind to yourself in that process by allowing yourself that time to sit in the grief, then you may be ready to move on and it’s good to look at what you learned so you can avoid certain character traits or patterns in future relationships.  You may find it helpful to journal and seek counseling or wise advice as you do this. 

If you’re aware of the self-critic, this process will be less painful and more beneficial for you.  Some things you may want to journal or think about include: what you learned about yourself, where you were challenged and how you grew as a person during the relationship or due to the breakup, any changes you may have to your list of qualities and things you’re looking for in a future mate, etc.

5) Have Grace for Yourself

It’s hard to choose the healthy options and behaviours.  It’s natural for “the heart to want what the heart wants”.  It’s not easy to choose to focus on yourself, to stop dwelling on negative thoughts and wondering if your ex thinks about you.  It’s hard to avoid the temptation to check up on them or ask your mutual friends how your ex is doing.  But anything of value tends to come with challenge and hard work.  It will take effort and intentionality to move forward.  But it won’t be easy. 

Nobody wants to sit in pain.  We want to be out of the pain as quickly as humanly possible.  These tips may help you to move forward faster but there is also value in learning to navigate pain and hard times in healthy ways.  Because life will unfortunately always have grief, loss and pain it's good to learn how to cope with it. 

Give yourself grace in the process.  Learn to sit in the grief and allow yourself time to process.  You won’t be perfect in doing all these tips.  Some days it may seem like two steps forward and some it may feel like one step back but keep bringing your focus back to the goals, learn to love yourself and look for the positives in the process.  You are strong.  You will make it through!

 

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of tips and ways to make it through a break up.  If you've been through a break up before, what are some of your tips?  Comment and share below.