HOW TO GET OUT OF A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DIGNITY INTACT
Learning how to get out of a toxic relationship and not go back is
one of the best things you can do for yourself. Ending it isn’t as easy as you
If you’re at the point where you know you need to learn how to
get out of a toxic relationship, well, you overcame a huge step. But now, it’s
the time to take action. Get yourself out of the relationship. But like I said
before, it is easier said than done.
So, if you’re feeling stuck at this point, don’t. I have a
couple ways for you to get yourself out of the relationship in a healthy way
and maybe with your dignity intact. You may be leaving a toxic relationship,
but you don’t want to bring that toxicity with you on your way out the door.
How to get out of a toxic relationship
I had a bad string of relationships where I just couldn’t seem
to break the pattern of being with someone who didn’t respect me. Of course, it
wasn’t just them. In essence, I didn’t respect myself because I allowed them to
treat me this way. Now, you’ve probably received advice from people and most of
them say, “just end it.” But is it that simple? Of course, it’s not.
Firstly, people with toxic partners don’t necessarily realize it
until much later on in the relationship. Secondly, when you have feelings for
someone, ending the relationship is hard to do even when you know it’s the
right thing. Doing what’s good for you isn’t always easy. You need to end the
#1 Accept your part in the relationship. It takes two to
tango, right? What I’m trying to say is you need to accept your role in the
relationship. Though you may not have done things that you think were as bad as
your partner, you’re certainly not blameless.
Reflect and think about your behavior. But also make a
commitment to yourself that you won’t let yourself get sucked back into an
#2 Stop making excuses. I know it’s hard to leave a
relationship. Honestly, most of us stay in unhealthy relationships because we
become accustomed to them. Simply, we’re comfortable. But stop making excuses
as to why you’re in the relationship. You need to ask yourself some
questions. Do I want to spend time with x? Do I feel good after
spending time with x? Do I genuinely like x? These are simple yet
important questions to answer yourself.
#3 What are the benefits? Even the shitty
relationships have some benefits. There’s a reason why you’re staying with this
person. Now, you need to figure out what those reasons are before you try
figuring out how to get out of a toxic relationship. Maybe they make you feel
attractive or is a good parent towards your children. There are reasons why we
stay with people who are inherently bad for us. Figure out what those reasons
#4 Fill those benefits. You’re staying with this person for
specific reasons, right? But you do know that they’re not the only person that
can provide you with those benefits. You have the power to give those positive
feelings to yourself. This is where self-reflection and self-love come in. Find
alternative ways to make yourself feel whole.
#5 Stop all contact. Yes, I know, this is going to be
really hard. But you have to do this. If you really want out
of the relationship, then be very strict regarding the contact you have with
your ex. If you have children with them, then you’ll have to have contact, but
keep it at a minimum. If you’re single, well, then just cut them out, and do it
#6 Surround yourself with love. You need to make
sure you’re surrounded by a strong support system that loves you. This will
help you when you’re experiencing hard moments after leaving your toxic
relationship. When you’re surrounded with support, the likelihood of going back
to them reduces. You’re able to start living a healthy life.
#7 Remember your value. Through all of this, remember who you
are and what you’re worth. It’s easy to go back to a toxic relationship when
you forget what you’re worth. To leave a toxic relationship, you need to always
remember what you can offer and who you are.
Of course, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to
miss your ex, but just because you miss them doesn’t mean they were good for
#8 Focus on your emotional states. You’re probably
going through various emotions. One day you’re sad, the other you’re angry.
This is all normal when you’re planning on leaving a relationship. But you need
to be able to recognize the emotion and where it’s coming from. That way, you
understand your feelings in hopes of being able to express them openly.
#9 Express your feelings. You still may be
with your partner or just recently broke up with them. Whatever state your
relationship is in, it’s important to express your feelings. If you avoid
expressing your emotions, they’ll build up and you’ll resent your partner. If
you want to leave the relationship in a positive way, repressing your feelings
won’t help you.
#10 You’re going to go through self-healing. As much as we try
to push these feelings down, many of the adult problems we suffer from are due
to childhood trauma. Now, rid yourself of the shame that we have when leaving a
toxic relationship, dig down deep within yourself.
Look at what brought you to get involved in a toxic relationship.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find the answer.
#11 Forgive your ex. This isn’t for them, this is for you.
If you want to fully move on from your partner and leave the relationship, then
you need to forgive them and their part of the relationship. If you’re holding
feelings of anger, sadness, or regret, then you’re only going to hurt yourself.
In order to completely leave the relationship, you’ll have to let go.
Otherwise, you’ll still mentally be connected to them.Now that you know how to get out of a toxic relationship, what are you
waiting for? It’s time to move onto something healthy and new.
WHAT IS A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP? 16 SIGNS TO RECOGNIZE IT AND GET OUT
The person you thought would be your partner is slowly becoming your worst nightmare. It is time to stop wondering what a toxic relationship is and get out.
I would love to say
that I’ve no personal experience to answer the ‘what is a toxic relationship’
question and that all my previous dating experiences have been a walk in the
park. Of course, that would be lying. In reality, I come from a long history of
failed relationships—most of them toxic.
Either the guy was
using me, manipulating or degrading me, or my self-esteem was so low that I
chose to stick around. Those were definitely dark times.
In those moments, it’s
hard to think about what you deserve and how to get it. If anything, you assume
this is the best you’re going to get. That’s really the saddest part. You
16 answers to the
question: What is a toxic relationship?
In my first serious
relationship, I dated someone who you would call a verbally abusive alcoholic.
In the beginning, it was fun, but there were clear warning signs I ignored. And
trust me, there are always signs. The only difference is
whether you’re paying attention to them or not. And this just gets worse if
you’re not sure what a toxic relationship is in the first place.
No matter how much you
love your partner, keep your eyes open for the signs. If not, you run the risk
of losing yourself. Coming back to your normal self isn’t easy. If you’re not
sure what is a toxic relationship or what it looks like, well, here are the
signs to help you figure it out.
Not all relationships
are healthy ones.
aggressive. I think we’re all
guilty of being passive-aggressive at times. It’s not easy talking openly about
your feelings and emotions. But if passive-aggression is their middle name,
it’s time to take a second look at your relationship. Not talking about your
feelings is a sign of immaturity, and can lead down a dangerous road.
#2 Jealousy. A little bit of jealousy isn’t necessarily
bad. Unfortunately, the line is very thin, and people assume excessive jealousy
as a positive trait. If you can’t leave the house without them becoming
jealous, or if they’re searching your phone for an incriminating text or
picture, you’re in trouble.
#3 The blame
game. I’m all too familiar
with the blame game. My ex would give me percentages of how
much I’m to blame versus him. Can you believe it? Natasha, in this
fight, you’re 80% to blame; I’m 20%. If your partner never takes
responsibility for their actions and blames everything on you, that’s toxicity
at its best.
#4 Avoidance. You basically tolerate each other’s presence,
which is pretty messed up considering you’re in a relationship. What will
happen if you get married? You won’t spend time with your spouse? Avoidance is
the first sign that the relationship has run its course.
#5 You don’t feel like
yourself. You can’t make the
jokes you’d normally make or watch TV without feeling like you’re doing
something wrong. And you’re not doing anything wrong; you’re yourself. But if
your partner doesn’t appreciate who you are, they’ll try to change you. And
this is what’s happening.
#6 Arguing. It’s normal for couples to argue. Don’t think
because you argue you’re in a toxic relationship. But there’s a difference
between arguing and communicating and straight-up yelling
without any resolution. If they’re just yelling at you, it’s not going to get
vibes. People underestimate
the power of energy. Every animal on this earth is made up of energy. If you’re
constantly feeling uncomfortable or anxious around your partner, there’s a
reason why. You’re reacting to the energy they’re giving out. Negative energy
emotionally drains you and breaks you down.
#8 You only make them happy. When you’re with your partner, they don’t care
about your happiness. Instead, you spend most of your time trying to please
them. You eat what they want, do what they want; you’re basically their
personal slave. They don’t ask you how your day was or what you’d like
#9 You can’t
grow. When someone grows in
a relationship, that’s a positive thing. You want your partner to grow and
develop, and you want to do the same. If you want more, but your partner likes
things the way they are, well, that’s not good. They’re holding you back from
achieving your life goals because they don’t want to develop.
#10 You don’t feel
like fighting for the relationship. When two people love each other, they’ll go above and beyond to
make things work. They will fight as hard as they can for the relationship. But
with you, you stopped caring a long time ago and so did your partner. You feel
like there’s no point; the relationship isn’t going anywhere.
#11 You’re not
happy. When was the last time
you laughed with your partner? When was the last time you felt really happy
by their side? You’ll know when you’re in a toxic relationship because you
won’t be happy anymore. Something inside of you is telling you to move on for a
#12 The drama never
ends. But really, it never
ends. Every day there’s something wrong in their life, and it’s usually around
something you did wrong, even if you did nothing! They live for the drama
because it distracts them from their own failures.
#13 You never do
anything right. At least in their eyes.
Everything you do comes with criticism and loads of it. At the end of the day,
you feel like a complete failure and unworthy of their love. But that’s not
true. They’re not worthy of your love and affection since they don’t appreciate
#14 You feel like the
worst version of you. When
you’re with someone you love, they usually bring out the best in you. And
that’s when you know you’re with the right person. But if you’re becoming
someone you don’t recognize, you need to think hard about your relationship. Is
this really someone you want to be with?
#15 Your friends and
family don’t like them. Listen, I know you don’t want people to dislike someone you
chose to be with, but sometimes your friends and family are right. If they tell
you that you’ve changed and your partner is toxic, listen. Your friends and
family love you and want the best for you.
#16 They’re stuck in
the past. Instead of thinking
about their future with you, they constantly remind you about the past. “The
good times you had,” runs out of their mouth often, and it makes you wonder if
they’re enjoying the relationship now. But they’re not; they’re stuck in the
After reading the
signs, what do you think? Can you answer what is a toxic relationship? If you
feel that you are in one, it’s time for you to make a change.
HOW WE USED THE AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT TO REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP
My partner and I got into a huge fight about our cat’s litter box.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.
We both said things we didn’t mean. She told me I didn’t care about our cat and that my work mattered more to me than the well-being of Miss Rexy. I told her she was irresponsible for sleeping in and leaving the litter box to me as she bolted out the door late for work.
How could we get mad at that face, right?
As John Gottman’s research has shown, it’s not what you fight about that matters, but how you repair when your inevitable differences in personality, perspective, and needs collide.
If you don’t process these conflicts, then you may both find yourselves feeling disrespected, lonely, and neglected—drifting away from each other like two ships without anchors.
According to Julie Gottman, when couples come to therapy, partners “often sit side-by-side like enemy ships, war-torn but still afloat. Many have fired rounds at each other, and there’s been damage done.”
Often these wounds are left open. They’re so painful that we tell ourselves “never again will I let my partner see that vulnerable side of me.”
The problem is no matter how much we want to suppress our hurt feelings, they don’t go away. The avoidant strategy of “just get over it and move on” only works temporarily, at best. In fact, this approach to conflict is often a learned response from the internalized belief that no one will ever be there for you when you need them, so it’s better not to even attempt to discuss things.
As humans, we struggle to let go of a memory until we’ve emotionally digested it. It’s likely this has led to our survival as a species. Our brains remain hypervigilant to the things we deem unsafe.
According to neuroscientist Evan Gordan, our brain is constantly scanning the world around us, asking: Is it safe or dangerous right now?
With significant unresolved problems, it becomes nearly impossible to make the safe emotional connection necessary for a secure relationship.
As a result, we often perpetuate insecurity in our relationship, even over things like a cat’s litter box, because we don’t feel safe enough to express our deeper, more vulnerable emotions like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear of abandonment or rejection, and shame of not being “enough” or being “too much.”
Instead, our partners see a different side of us. They see our anger, jealousy, resentment, and frustration. We hide our softer emotions behind a mask of the harder, more reactive emotions as our poor communication habits continue to wreak havoc on our emotional connection, making it harder for our partner to hear our longing for love and connection.
The good news is learning how to process regrettable incidents makes it easier for us to reconnect and ultimately grow.
In the Love Lab, John Gottman noticed that couples who were able to process past hurtful events were able to build a relationship as strong as steel. Discussing the regrettable incident became the fire through which they forged a stronger bond.
Am I ready to process this regrettable incident? According to Julie Gottman, “processing” means that you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again.
Have my emotions been calm today and can I have a calm conversation about this incident? It’s helpful to think of watching this incident on your TV. This can help create some emotional distance necessary to discuss what occurred.
Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade my partner?
Am I willing to ATTUNE to my partner’s feelings and what the event meant to them?
Are we in a distraction free space where we can be fully present with each other?
When my partner and I are both able to respond yes to all of these questions, we begin processing our regrettable incident using the five steps outlined below. For a more detailed version, purchase your copy of The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.
Step 1: Express How You Felt During This Event
The goal of this step is to only list the feelings you felt during this event. Do not share why you felt this way and do not comment on your partner’s feelings.
My partner went first and explained that when we fought over the litter box, she felt angry, unloved, not cared about, and overwhelmed.
I shared that I felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and taken for granted, and that these feelings had made me stubborn.
For a list of feelings, you can use the “I Feel…” deck in the Gottman Card Decks App here or The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.
Step 2: Share Your Realities and Validate Each Other
The next step is to choose a speaker and a listener. As the speaker, your goal is to share your own reality of what occurred during the regrettable event. Focus on using “I” statements and what you noticed (“I heard…,” not “you told me”) and what you needed during the event. Avoid criticizing your partner.
As the listener, focus on seeking to understand your partner’s unique experience. Then summarize what you heard them say, not what you believed they meant, and validate their experience by saying things like, “When I see things from your perspective, it makes perfect sense why you were so upset.”
After you validate your partner’s experience, ask them, “Did I get it right?”
If not, ask them to share what you’re not understanding and continue to validate until they say yes. As Julie Gottman reminds us, “Validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand even a part of your partner’s experience of the incident.”
It’s also important to ask, “Is there more to this for you?” This may uncover deeper meanings or other aspects of this event that they have yet to discuss. Remember, the goal is to make your partner feel completely understood. This makes them feel safe and loved, which makes it easier for you to repair and build a stronger connection.
Then switch roles. Do not move onto the next step until both partners feel understood.
My partner started as the speaker and shared that she felt overwhelmed because her cat who had been in her family for 13 years was dying, and she was probably going to have to put her down soon. She also felt unloved and angry because, from her perspective, I had refused to clean the litter box and instead chose finishing work over caring for our cat.
Even though I really wanted to defend myself as my partner was sharing, I bit my tongue and focused on truly understanding her experience. I reflected what I heard back to her: “So you felt overwhelmed because you are facing the tough decision of when to put your beloved cat down after so many years. I also hear that you noticed I was working and telling you I did not have time to clean the litter box, which caused you to feel like I didn’t care about Rexy. Is that correct?”
After my partner agreed that I had it right, I asked her, “Is there more to this?” After a few more exchanges, she felt like I completely understood her experience and we switched roles.
I shared how I felt unappreciated because I had done many other things to help with Rexy, including taking her to the vet while my partner was at work. I also felt my “working hours” were taken for granted since my office is in our home and that I was expected to drop everything I was doing to do what my partner wanted in that moment. I also mentioned to my partner that she probably was unaware that I had 15-minutes to finish two important emails before I needed to leave for my personal therapy session across town.
My partner validated my experience and I felt she completely understood me.
Step 3: Disclose Your Triggers
Beneath difficult conflicts, even silly things like a litter box, are emotional triggers. These sensitivities stem from personal histories and often make minor events quickly transform into major blowups.
During this step, take turns as a speaker and listener and disclose what triggered a big reaction in you. Add any previous experiences of when you felt similar in the past, including during your early history or childhood, and share that with your partner, so your partner can understand this sensitivity.
My partner shared that she felt helpless and alone, something she knows all too well. Ever since high school, she’s been one of the primary caregivers for her father who has severe Parkinson’s disease. With her mother and brother on the other side of the country, she has felt alone and abandoned in the moments when she needed her family most. She shared that the idea of losing our cat and not caring for her well during these last days of her life stirred up these deeper feelings.
I validated her triggers, and since I’ve sat next to my partner while she has cried over this very thing many times before. I understood what she meant and shared that understanding with her.
I then shared my triggers, which include a sensitivity to feeling disrespected or like my needs don’t matter. As an anxious lover, I’ve often neglected my personal needs over the needs of others. Because of this, I have often ended up feeling inadequate and like my needs don’t matter. Over time, this has made me wary. When my partner requested that I stop working and instantly take care of our cat, I felt like my needs didn’t matter.
My partner asked more questions about this sensitivity and learned more about my history of not asking for what I need and the difficulty I’ve had in asserting my boundaries. She came to understand that this is something I’ve spent years of therapy working on.
Step 4: Take Ownership for Your Role
If we lived in a perfect world, it’s unlikely this regrettable incident would have even occurred because we would have already felt emotionally calm, connected to each other, and fully accepted and loved.
Unfortunately, we get stressed and feel unappreciated by our partner, which makes it easier for us to have regrettable incidents. It’s helpful to acknowledge the things that set us up for miscommunicating with each other, take ownership, and apologize.
This step is about taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. My partner shared that she had been stressed, irritable, and overly sensitive lately. She then mentioned that she regretted how critical she was of me and how she spoke to me. She then apologized for overreacting and attacking me.
I shared that I had been turning away more and had been very preoccupied with work and running on empty lately. I regretted responding defensively and accusing my partner of being lazy. I then apologized for being defensive and attacking my partner’s character.
We both accepted each other’s apologies and acknowledged that things got out of hand.
If the apologies are not accepted when you are doing this with your partner, each of you should say what you still need.
Step 5: Preventative Planning
Have an open conversation with your partner and share one thing you could do to make discussing this issue better next time, and then share one thing you think your partner can do to make it better. Remember to make this a positive and actionable request, such as “I need to know more about what has been stressing you out lately,” not “I need you to stop being a jerk.”
It’s important to ask, “What do we need to do to put this incident to rest so we can move on?”
Focus on what you can agree on together.
My partner and I agreed to get back in the habit of our stress reducing conversation, so we can continue to check in with each other about our cat and the stress we’ve both been holding inside recently.
Conflict as an Opportunity for Intimacy
Every conflict, even the regrettable ones, offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of each other. While this fight about a litter box seems silly, it highlights how often little things can become big things because of the underlying feelings and meanings beneath.
The problem with these incidents is that we do not repair or take proactive steps to prevent them from escalating in the future. Going through The Aftermath of a Fight Guide has been something my partner and I have had to do time and time again.
Even Julie Gottman admits that she and her husband, John Gottman, have “been married for nearly 30 years with too many [regrettable incidents] to count!”
Constructing a great relationship is hard work and requires growth from both partners. At times this will mean processing difficult events and tolerating discomfort. The good news is these regrettable incidents, when processed, can be used to build a stronger and more meaningful relationship.
A primary school teacher asked her pupils to write an essay on ‘A
wish you want from God?’ At the end of the day, the teacher collected all the
essays written by her pupils. She took them to her house, sat down and started
While marking the essays, she sees a strange essay written by
one of her pupils. That essay made her very emotional. Her husband came and sat
beside her and saw her crying.
The husband asked her, “What happened? What’s making you
She answered, “Read this. It is an essay written by one of my
The pupil had written: “Oh God, make me a television. I
want to live like the TV in my house. In my house, the TV is very valuable. All
of my family members sit around it. They are very interested in it. When the TV
is talking, my parents listen to it very happily. They don’t shout at the TV.
They don’t quarrel with the TV. They don’t slap the TV. So I want to become a
TV. The TV is the center of attraction in my house. I want to receive the same
special care that the TV receives from my parents.
“Even when it is not working, the TV has a lot of value.
When my dad and mom come home, they immediately sit in front of the TV, switch
it on and spend hours watching it. The TV is stealing the time of my dad and my
mom. If I become a TV, then they will spend their time with me.
“While watching the TV, my parents laugh a lot and they
smile many times. But I want my parents to laugh and smile with me also. So
please God make me a TV.
“And last but not the least, if I become a TV, surely I can
make my parents happy and entertain them. Lord I won’t ask you for anything
more. I just want to live like a TV. Please turn me to a TV.”
The husband completed reading the essay and said, “My God,
poor kid. He feels lonely. He does not receive enough love and care from his
parents. His parents are horrible!”
The eyes of the primary school teacher filled with tears. She
looked at her husband and said, “Our son wrote that essay!”
Relationships often start with plenty of demonstrations of affection and appreciation for one another. There is a sense of “this person gets me and accepts me for who I am”. The infatuation makes you want to attend to even the silliest requests from your partner. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, your partners request feels like demands that can’t be met. You feel confused and hurt that no matter what you do it’s never good enough to please them.
At first you chalk it up to some stress that has been going on in your lives. Soon you realize that your partner is constantly criticizing and blaming you. And things like this happen:
5 Things a Hard to Please Person Does
There is always an “if you just…then I would…” bargaining/ blaming statement happening. The bargaining portion serves the purpose of pretending you have a choice in behavior – you can do this or have the consequences. The blaming serves to keep you responsible for their behavior and entitlement. Their frustration that something isn’t to their liking is usually your fault for not following “the correct steps”. It is a trap that you constantly fall into because you want to “get it right”.
Their expectation can’t ever be achieved. Even when you do what they want the response is that you didn’t do exactly how they wanted, you took too long or you have to do more now. The standards are constantly changing. They might take over the task without letting you try, which causes insecurity and resentment for you.
You feel invalidated in your feelings and needs. If you express disagreement or disappointment you are met with “I didn’t mean it that way, so you shouldn’t feel that way.”
Every argument ends with you giving up and letting them have their way as if it was a game they need to win.
They compare the relationship and/or you to their ideal model. This idealization might come from someone in their lives (parents, former partner) or from beliefs about relationships. In any case you always lose since you’ll never be as good as their vision.
Now that you can safely identify that your partner can’t be pleased you are left with a question: Why? You have been blamed for their dissatisfaction for so long that it is hard to imagine other reasons for such mind games and control. Before you lose all hope of happiness it can be helpful to understand why.
The possible reasons:
High anxiety: Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you. Notice that you are not the only target of their criticism. There is a constant hyper-vigilance about what is going on around them and how they need to make it right. People with high anxiety are very critical of themselves as well as others. The dissatisfaction is due to a high standard that basically no one can achieve for being so idealized. There is a belief that anything and everything can always be better than it is.
“Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you.”
The world is unsafe: Critical people might have learned that the world is unsafe and you must be always on the offense and defense to not get hurt. The critical and controlling behaviors are to keep them with the upper hand in life. In this case you will notice a “winning behavior” – a need to be always right and “win” arguments no matter what.
Resentment: Something might have happened in the relationship that triggered the dissatisfaction. Your partner has resentments towards you that they neither express nor let go. This is a passive-aggressive (though it feels very aggressive to you) way of dealing with conflict that has to be addressed.
Role models: Dysfunctional role models of what a relationship looks like can cause your spouse to not know how else to interact with you. Experiencing negative role models also has a side-effect of leading him or her to try and maintain control of the relationship so they are not hurt like their parents.
Finally, we get to the part that concerns you: What can you do about it? Resolving conflict always takes both partners engaging in the work. You also have responsibility to change the situation.
What you can do about it:
Accept that you have responsibility: You have been reinforcing this behavior by trying to please your spouse at any cost. Every time you give in and do what they want you are sending the message that it is OK to hurt you that way. However, responsibility doesn’t mean blame. It is not your fault that your partner became critical and possibly abusive. Accept that you have been enabling the behavior and use the knowledge to change interactions.
Set reasonable boundaries: It is OK for partners to make requests, but not demands. Set a boundary of what you are willing to work with your partner and how you expect to be asked to attend to their needs. Don’t allow name calling, shaming or invalidation of your feelings. If needed take time out to cool off and re-engage in discussion later.
Unsolvable conflict doesn’t necessarily mean
that your relationship is doomed to fail though.
It actually means the opposite. That is, if
you manage conflict constructively.
Unsolvable conflict is defined as conflict
between partners that is reoccurring with no long-term resolution. These
unsolvable conflicts are rooted in fundamental differences or needs of the
partners in the couple.
Couples who fail to build a bridge between
these differences tend to attack the core of who each partner is.
On the other hand, couples who use humor,
clear communication, and affection to navigate their unsolvable conflict often
leave the conflict feeling closer and more emotionally connected to one
another, despite not having a resolution.
“You don’t have to
resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive.” – Dr.
Here’s an example:
Susanne and Kit have reoccurring conflicts
over how much time to spend together. Susanne would complain about not being
loved or cared for because Kit wouldn’t spend more time with her and Kit would
whine about being smothered by how much time they already spent together. This
fundamental difference in closeness and autonomy collided like tectonic plates.
As they each fought for what they needed and dismissed what their partner
needed, the foundation of their relationship became shaky.
When they were given the tools to explore this
challenging topic, Susanne and Kit truly listened to each other and began to
honor their unique differences. They learned how to manage this unsolvable
problem by proactively discussing it in their weekly relationship meeting. They
began to intentionally make space for we-time and me-time.
With the right tools, they were able to
transform a problem that led to fights that got out of control into something
that was manageable and honored both their needs. Not to mention, both partners
have a deeper felt sense of being known.
Sadly we are often taught that if there is
unsolvable conflict in our relationship that it isn’t going to work.
To change this message and teach you the
skills to healthily navigate conflict, even the unsolvable ones, I decided to
be part of Briana MacWilliam’s Relationship Rescue course.
Briana and I spent an hour talking deeply
about unsolvable conflict, but we also tackle a ton of other important conflict
topics, such as:
Four Horsemen of relationship conflict
to approach conflict in a healthy and effective way
importance of being mindful of the way you navigate conflict conversations
techniques you can use for effective conflict management
main differences seen between happy vs unhappy couples and how they
so much more!
Briana’s course is available for enrollment until Dec. 1, and believe me when I say that
there is a bunch of helpful information in there for couples (and individuals)
when it comes to really enhancing and healing your relationship.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. ─ Genesis 21:17-19 NLT
Encouragement for Single Parents
It’s been called the hardest job on the planet—being a single
parent. Well it can be overwhelming, but being a single parent is more than
just a job. If you’re a single parent
today, you need to know that you have more strength than you realize. You are
going to make it. God is going to supply your need just as He provided for
Hagar and Ishmael in the desert in our scripture for today.
Here are five things successful single parents
Forgiveness – it’s imperative for you to reach the point of
forgiveness. We are to forgive one another just as Christ forgave us.
Unforgiveness hurts you, and often harms your kids.
Goals – start working toward new goals. Consider and pray about
God’s intention for you as a single parent to raise your children His
Friendships – make sure the friends you bring into your life are
healthy relationships. You need people who are going to take you to another
level of growth in different areas of your life.
Boundaries – establish healthy boundaries and enforce them.
Expectations – set realistic expectations and dream new dreams
if the dreams you had before you became a single parent are gone. Be open to
new ideas and a new direction for your life.
As a single mom or dad, you are not stuck. It’s tough, but just
as God opened Hagar’s eyes to see His provision, He will also show you His way.
How do you respond to your strong-willed child? Can you do
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. ─ Galatians 6:9 NLT
Today’s One Thing
Review the list above of the five things single parents think about and choose one area to focus on for this week. Spend time in prayer about it, and then take necessary action steps to move forward in that area.
WHAT DOGS CAN TEACH HUMANS ABOUT APPROACHING CONFLICT
Have you ever watched two dogs meet each
other? When some dogs meet, they are gentle and curious about each other. When
other dogs meet, sometimes one of the dogs is growling and showing its teeth.
How does the one dog respond to the growling
The dog may reciprocate, showing its teeth and
growling in return.
The way these dogs approach each other closely
resembles the way couples sometimes approach conflict with one another.
If one partner brings up a topic in a harsh
and accusatory way, it makes sense that their partner wouldn’t respond with
kindness, empathy, or understanding. Instead, the response would likely be
In fact, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have
found that 96% of the time the way a conflict conversation ends is determined
by how it begins.
How conflict is brought up, including with
difficult topics, influences how well your partner will hear your needs and
understand you. It influences how well you two will work together to
better understand how to make the relationship better for
In other words, a positive and healthy startup
will more than likely result in a positive and healthy conversation and
A harsh startup is the opposite and usually
includes someone starting a conversation with some form of an insult. In fact,
a study of 124 newlyweds validated that it was possible to predict who would
divorce within six years based on the presence of a harsh startup during the
first three minutes of a conflict conversation.
A harsh startup often includes the presence of
what Dr. Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Criticism,
Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling).
These four horsemen are the equivalent of
showing your teeth and growling at your partner. It doesn’t make them feel safe
to be honest or listen to your needs. Instead they feel attacked.
Let’s revisit our dogs at the park. Dog A has
approached Dog B in a gentle and curious manner, and now the two of them are
rolling in the grass and chasing each other as if they’ve been best friends for
years. Their tone at the start of the interaction set up the dogs for an
overall positive outcome.
How can couples have a startup that will allow
them to also end up frolicking in the field of conflict resolution and intimacy
To learn the necessary skills to implement a
soft startup, read:
When we use these speaking skills, we are able
to significantly increase our chances of getting our needs met while also
strengthening our emotional connection with our partner and helping them
understand what we feel and why. And your partner will feel less
attacked and may be more willing to make adjustments to improve the
relationship with you.
So the next time you have a “bone to pick,”
approach your partner with softness and a curious stance, and you may be
surprised at how quickly you both will get back to having fun together.
It’s a dull, subdued sensation when your heart is breaking,
like the muffled sound of a distant gunshot. It doesn’t physically pierce your
skin or tear you to pieces, but the sensation is physically present – the
paralyzing discomfort of realizing that something you took for granted is
leaving for good.
Although it’s hard to accept at first, this is actually a
good sign, having a broken heart. It means you have loved something, you have
tried for something, and you have let life teach you.
Life will attempt to break you down sometimes; nothing and no
one can completely protect you from this reality. Remaining alone and hiding
from the world won’t either, for endless, stagnant solitude will also break you
with unhealthy nostalgia and yearning.
You have to stand back up and put yourself out there again.
Your heart is stronger than you realize. I’ve been there and I’ve seen
heartbreak through to the other side. It takes time, effort and patience.
Deep heartbreak is kind of like being lost in the woods –
every direction leads to nowhere at first. When you are standing in a forest of
darkness, you cannot see any light that could ever lead you home. But if you
wait for the sun to rise again, and listen when someone assures you that they
themselves have stood in that same dark place, and have since moved forward
with their life, oftentimes this will bring the hope that’s needed.
It’s so hard to give you advice when you’ve got a broken
heart, but some words can heal, and this is my attempt to give you hope. You
are stronger than you know!
1. The person you liked or loved in the past, who treated you
like dirt repeatedly, has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you in
the present moment, but more headaches and heartache.
2. When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary
preparation, and other times it’s necessary protection. But the time is never
wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going look back on this
time in your life as such an important time of grieving and growing. You will
see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was
3. Some chapters in our lives have to close without closure.
There’s no point in losing yourself by trying to hold on to what’s not meant to
stay. Remember this, and always keep two simple questions in mind: What
opportunities do I have right now? What’s one small, positive step forward I
can take today?
4. One of the hardest lessons to learn: You cannot change
other people. Every interaction, rejection and heartbreaking lesson is an
opportunity to change yourself only. And there is great freedom and piece of
mind to be found in this awareness.
5. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company.
And when you do decide to give someone a chance, do so because you’re truly
better off with this person. Don’t do it just for the sake of not being alone.
6. Be determined to be positive. Understand that the greater
part of your misery or unhappiness from this point forward is determined not by
your circumstances, but by your attitude.
And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know
that you are not alone. Many of us
are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and
get our lives back on track.
You might want to nag or scold, but positive
reinforcement is more effective.
As a child psychiatrist, I have spent eons in school studying
developmental psychology and human behavior. Learning this, you might assume
that I would know all the research on effective parenting techniques and be a
perfect parent myself. You would be wrong on both counts.
There was a
question that I wanted to answer, for me as a father as well as for the parents
whom I counsel in my private practice: “If your child is doing something that
is not harmful, but is also not especially adaptive or appropriate, when and
how often should you correct her behavior?”
your 5-year-old is eating peas with her fingers; she’s not hurting anyone, but
the grandparents are coming over in two weeks and you’d like to show them that
you’ve instilled some basic table manners. Or, when my 9-year-old greets an
adult while staring at his shoes, when and how often should I remind him about
the importance of eye contact to increase the chances that he’ll actually start
attempting it? In my field, the consensus on certain parenting techniques is
clear: Repeated studies have shown that spanking is damaging and ineffective, for
example. The harmful effects of yelling and shaming, too, have been widely
publicized. But what does the research have to say about the mild, low-level
scolding and nagging that so many parents engage in?
After many hours
spent reading studies on this topic and interviewing experts, I concluded that
I was asking the wrong question. When I asked Alan Kazdin, the director of the
Yale Parenting Center and the author of over 700 articles and books on child-rearing,
when you should correct behavior you’d like your child to change, his answer
was straightforward: “Never!” According to Dr. Kazdin, it is never helpful or
effective to scold or nag a child about behavior that’s not harming anyone.
“Don’t attend to the eating of peas with fingers,” Dr. Kazdin said. “If you
give attention to something, the behavior you don’t want could actually
Hearing this, I
was surprised and a little embarrassed. I can think of dozens of times that I
have reprimanded my son (usually gently) for behaviors that were socially
inappropriate or merely annoying. When I dug into the research on this topic,
though, I learned that Dr. Kazdin was right: Not only is scolding ineffective
for long-term behavior change, it can actually make certain behaviors worse.
studies suggest that certain approaches — standing close to the child,
maintaining eye contact and speaking softly — may increase the effectiveness of a scolding.
But if you want permanent change in the behavior, the evidence is lacking for
scolding as an effective technique.
So, if we are
looking to decrease behaviors that are socially inappropriate, instead of
asking when you should correct your child’s behavior, the better question is
probably “How should
you modify a child’s behavior to be more appropriate?” Daniel Bagner, a
professor of psychology and the director of the Early Childhood Behavior Lab at
Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families, told me
that after identifying the behavior they want to change (a child looking down
at her shoes when greeting an adult, for example), parents should “identify the
positive opposite of the behavior, such as making eye contact, and consistently
provide positive consequences, such as praise, when the child displays the
it is important for parents to implement the positive consequence immediately after
the child’s behavior.”
This idea is
also sometimes referred to as “catch them being good.” There is ample evidence
that positive reinforcement — providing something positive right after a
behavior — is very effective in increasing how often that behavior occurs. What
Dr. Bagner is saying is that instead of focusing on the behavior you don’t want,
find times when your child is exhibiting the behavior you do want
and give that behavior lots of attention.
Dr. Kazdin gave
me a very similar message, but I asked him, “What if your child never does the
positive opposite behavior, such as making eye contact when greeting people?”
Dr. Kazdin said that the secret in that case was to use something called “differential reinforcement.” This is where you
find a behavior that is close to the behavior you are trying to get and
positively reinforce that behavior. For example, Dr. Kazdin said, “In the
example of your child avoiding eye contact, when you go in a room together, ask
them to look up. Or say ‘I bet you can’t look up.’ Then, when they do look up,
say something like ‘Nice job looking up, that was great’ and smile and give
them a pat on the shoulder.” If you keep doing this every time your child looks
up, Dr. Kazdin said, he will start to do so more often. And any time you
“catch” him making eye contact, positively reinforce that, too. Eventually, you
will have more eye contact and less looking at shoes.
technique that experts agree on is that, since children tend to enjoy games, it
is possible to use games to improve behavior in a fun way that still gets
results. In the example of a child eating peas with her fingers, Dr. Kazdin
proposed turning it into a contest. “Tell them ‘we’re going to have a game. The
winner is the person who can put one pea on their fork and put it up to their
lips the slowest. I’ll show you.’
model slowly lifting a pea to your lips on the fork. As soon as your child does
it, praise them to reinforce the behavior. Then after the game is over, don’t
mention it the rest of dinner.”
I reached out to
Jane McGonigal, a best-selling author, game designer, and the director of games
research and development at the Institute for the Future. “As a parent, when
I’m trying to influence my child’s behavior, I would leverage one of the
phenomena we see in gaming, which is that kids love being better at their
favorite video games than their parents,” she said.
“So, I would
create a game where I would ask my kid to help me do the thing I want them to
do. I would ask them to try to spot me not using my fork and eating with my
fingers, or to notice if I’m not looking someone in the eye,” she added, “and I
would enlist their cooperation in this way and turn it into a multiplayer game
where they know more than me and they are helping me. This would give me the
chance to model for them why the behavior matters, by thanking them and
explaining why I want help remembering.
instead of trying to directly change the behavior and telling them what to do,
let them experience the fun of ‘owning’ the behavior and being in charge of
telling me what to do.”
more about the science of behavior change, I have been hesitant to give up
scolding because it’s easy for me and automatic. But I have been trying
positive reinforcement more with my own children and have been thrilled with
Kazdin’s advice, I made a game out of eye contact for my 9-year-old son. I said
“I bet you can’t look me in the eye for 10 seconds straight.” He proudly proved
me wrong. Now, each time he makes even two seconds of eye contact with me, I
smile and touch his shoulder and say something like “Great job making eye
takes a little more attention and self-discipline on my part, but my son’s
ability to make eye contact has been steadily improving, with no more scolding
or nagging from me.