Posts in relationships
How To Curb Loneliness Over the Holidays

Family.  Wonder.  Fun. Hope.  Friends. Peace.  Bright lights.  Giftgiving.  Joy.

This is normally what people think of when Christmas comes to mind, isn’t it?  Fun, excitement… why would anyone dread the holidays?

It seems there’s something inherently peaceful about Christmas time and the origins of the celebrations.  Yet, culture’s focus on Christmas has made a natural shift over the years and become quite solely focused on family and consumerism.  Most holidays have become this way, but particularly Christmas.  Family is definitely not a bad thing to prioritize and celebrate but when the focus becomes heavily centered on community, it often marginalizes those that don’t have it.  The reminders are painful; the loneliness experienced at other times of the year becomes even more palpable. 

In many ways, the loneliness is exasperated because we feel alone in our grief or loneliness, we can feel as if we are the only ones that feel this way.  When we glance at social media or look around in our daily lives we see couples in love, new romances flourishing, families together, engagements, new baby arrivals and many joyful photos popping up everywhere…  We feel like nobody else is experiencing loneliness, that nobody understands our pain, that we are alone.  The reality is this may not be true but the pain, the misery of feeling alone – it’s still there. And it’s not easy to experience, especially at Christmas.

Loneliness is painful, but reaching out or putting oneself “out there” is also scary.  Taking small steps towards community can add value to our lives and, although sometimes scary and difficult, intentional small actions can have long term gain.  So here’s a few tips on how to deal with loneliness during the holidays:

1) Pick one person to deepen your connection with over the holidays

Finding community isn’t about going out and finding as many people to hang out with as possible.  Extroverts may love this idea but for most people, extroverts included, finding deep and meaningful connections fulfills some of the longings of a lonely heart and mind.  A small step to take this Christmas season is to find one person in your life that you can reach out to and build a relationship with.  Perhaps do an activity together, spend some time catching up over coffee or over text.  Make an effort to check in and ask them about their life.  Finding a good friend in this season is important; a reciprocal relationship that is deeper than surface level can add meaning and value to this difficult season.

2) Say yes to one social invitation

Even if you just go for an hour, say yes to one social invite over the holidays.  It’s hard to put yourself out there but it will get harder and harder the more that you isolate yourself.  Many times people who feel discouraged and lonely will believe that an invitation isn’t genuine or that they are only receiving the invite out of pity.  The reality is that oftentimes the person extending the invite genuinely does enjoy their friend’s company, doesn’t feel it’s a bother that they spend time with them and is often happy to extend invites and include friends in their holiday plans.  Don’t overthink; take a risk and challenge yourself to go, even for just a bit.

3) Try something new

Especially for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones during the holidays or those who are discouraged after heartbreak, breakups or family conflict, the holidays hold many memories of activities and calendar dates that can trigger more sadness and pain than happy memories.  It’s important to allow space to grieve and honor memories of loved ones and the happy moments of life, but it’s also helpful to challenge yourself to try new things and create new memories and traditions that will honour the stage of life you are in.  If you are single but grieving the loss of a romantic relationship, perhaps you can go with a friend to a new and fun Christmas event or market.  If you’ve experienced estrangement in your family due to family drama over the holidays you could create a new tradition with friends like doing a White Elephant gift exchange over a brunch.  In any stage of loneliness, you could also serve at a soup kitchen or create a gift basket for someone in need.  Serving others is a great way to give meaning to your time, while also taking the focus off of yourself.  It is a distraction for a time from the loneliness you may feel.  

4) Be honest

As discussed, it’s so important to have authentic and meaningful connections in our lives.  Our loneliness is a craving for intimacy and intimacy involves deeper relationships where we can feel known and loved just the way we are.  We will not feel fully known and loved if we are not open about how we are feeling.  When you find that one person to reach out to – that one friend you trust, that one person in an online community that you feel safe to share with, etc – be honest; take a risk to build a real relationship with someone.  You do run the risk of rejection but starting small in trusting a friend with personal things can help you test out the person’s safety level.  Be honest about how you are really doing when they ask.  “Actually I find this time of year challenging for me. I get lonely.”  Perhaps they may not say much. BUT, perhaps they’ll share they feel the same way, or maybe they’ll invite you to join them in some of their Christmas plans.  What do you have to lose?

Let’s face it, the holidays can be a hard season when you feel down or lonely. What’s helped you make it through?

Building your Boundaries
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A common topic that arises when discussing romantic relationships is boundaries. Not just physical, but emotional, social, and every aspect that makes us who we are. Knowing our limits, expectations, and clearly communicating those to our partners is not only important to our well-being, but to the foundations of our relationships. It helps us to not only value ourselves, but protect ourselves from potentially painful situations. If our partners know from the beginning our expectations in a relationship it allows for a smoother and more compatible relationship.

Often when I hear the word “boundaries” I immediately think of a wall being built to keep certain things out and certain things in. It may be helpful to visualize those barriers when talking about healthy relationship boundaries. It is a way to keep those healthy wants, needs and desires in and keep their unhealthy counterparts out. You may want respect, honesty, compatibility, and similar beliefs to be inside of your boundary. On the outside, you may want disrespect, abuse of any kind, and differences on bigger issues.  Each list is unique to the person that makes it, so finding someone with a similar list can help you stay true to your own.

A boundary that you may set in your relationship could be that your partner is not in control of your every action.  Your partner should respect that you have friends you want to spend time with. If they insist that you cancel your plans simply because they don’t want you to go, that is an example of an unhealthy relationship and broken boundary. If you have trust and mutual respect, they should trust your judgment and encourage friendships and vice versa.

Another boundary example could be that you would like your arguments to be talked about amongst each other, and not to others. My partner and I give space after a disagreement to decompress and then talk face-to-face about it after. If there is something I need help processing, I have a select few people that I will talk to. This is only with the permission of my partner as I do not want to disrespect their privacy. A common practice is to rant to friends, or online about how you are being treated in a relationship. This leads to a lack of respect for each other’s personal lives and could be infringing on your partner’s boundaries as well.

These are just a few examples, but there are many more to set and choose from. It is important to set your own boundaries and find a partner that not only respects your boundaries, but has a compatible list. This allows not only for the obvious compatibility, but also allows you to be on the same page and work as a team.


What kind of boundaries have you already established in your life? How can you incorporate healthy boundaries in current and future relationships?

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. 

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.