How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship with Your Dignity Intact

HOW TO GET OUT OF A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DIGNITY INTACT

Natasha Ivanovic

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 may think.

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 toxicity.

#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 unhealthy relationship.

#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 are.

#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 cold turkey.

#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 you.

#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

WHAT IS A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP? 16 SIGNS TO RECOGNIZE IT AND GET OUT

Natasha Ivanovic

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 settle.

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.

#1 Passive 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 anywhere.

#7 Negative 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 to do.

#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 reason.

#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 it.

#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 past.

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.

Choose a Partner You Can Be Playful With

CHOOSE A PARTNER YOU CAN BE PLAYFUL WITH

Hannah Eaton

As children, many of us were encouraged to play and create as we took in the novel world around us with a sense of wonder and awe. Our playful and frolicsome spirits were often celebrated, delighting caregivers and strangers alike and bringing a bit more joy into their worlds.

As we grow older, more often than not, we are encouraged to subdue playful tendencies and to replace them with a more serious and professional air, as we strive to have it all figured out. We are discouraged from climbing trees, swinging on monkey bars, building sand castles, messily finger painting nonsensical artwork, or dancing freely when the music moves us. Our culture conditions us that publicly pursuing childlike activities may run the risk of appearing foolish or unprofessional. We are taught that you only dance when it is appropriate, like during dance classes, in a club, or at a wedding.

And yet, deep down, I believe we all yearn to experience that deep sense of joy and delight we often see on the faces of young children, when they are creatively playing, or dancing freely anywhere they hear music.

I can’t help but to think back to a conversation I had with my dad as a senior in high school, as I was preparing to leave for college the following year. “Life will be really difficult at times,” he said, “which is why it is so important to choose a partner who can be playful with you, and will make you laugh. This element of our marriage has brought your mother and me through some difficult seasons.” While my life had not been all that difficult up to that point, I was fully aware that my father had experienced many family tragedies, so I must have ingrained these words deep into my subconscious.

As an “adult,” I have been fortunate to find a partner who embraces this sense of playfulness in our relationship. Through the inevitable ups and downs of our relationship thus far, we have understood the value of pursuing some “childlike” characteristics. We seek to see the world with a beginner’s mind, delighting together in the novelties of everyday life. We pursue activities that are playful and nourishing to our minds, bodies, and spirits, deliberately encouraging one another that “it doesn’t matter if people give us weird looks.” We support one another by fostering the artists within each other, even if that involves exploring means of creative expression which don’t fit the traditional box of “art.”

Dancing together has been one such powerful means to help cultivate this culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage.

Novelty, or the Beginner’s Mind

In going through the grinds of daily life and the inevitable high and low seasons, it is healthy and nourishing to find new, shared activities as a couple. As children, there is excitement in the abundant novelties we are surrounded by, but as we get older and may feel we have a better understanding of the world around us, we may lose some of our ability to see the world and our experiences from a beginner’s mind.

However, there is great power and potential in strengthening your beginner’s mind as you seek out novel experiences as a couple, or engage in familiar experiences with a fresh set of eyes. Dancing can do this naturally, as every step is a new, endless opportunity.

Research has shown that engaging in novel experiences as a couple activates the brain’s reward system, which can produce favorable benefits for couples. Dr. Arthur Aron and his colleagues conducted experiments and revealed that couples who go on “exciting” and novel date nights, or engage in fun and challenging activities, have higher relationship satisfaction. Such novel experiences release dopamine and norepinephrine, the same chemicals which are released during early romantic courtship.

As a couple, one of the beautiful and powerful elements of dancing with your partner is that you have the opportunity to continually experience novelty together as you learn more about dance in general, and your unique dance as partners. This process can help deepen your friendship and sense of shared meaning, both of which Drs. John and Julie Gottman indicate are key to happy and healthy relationships.

Play, or Twistin’ and Groovin’

As you engage in new experiences or forms of dance as a couple, it gives you abundant opportunities to play and explore with a sense of wonder. During our dance lessons at Flow Studios, we learn new techniques or concepts each week, and then we are given the freedom to play with the ideas and one another as we make the dance our own.

During a recent lesson, our dance teacher, Michael, encouraged us to bring out more of our playful sides. “I want to see you flirting with each other more!” he shouted over the music.

After a long, somewhat stressful day, this type of playful connection is just what I needed. As we began to “flirt” and playfully explore our movements together, I could feel any remaining stress and worries melt away.

Throughout our dance, we continued to make bids for this type of playful and joyful connection, and we had abundant opportunities to choose to turn toward one another in a spirit of childlike play. We may have looked somewhat foolish as we giggled and ruthlessly spun one another in circles, but these types of playful interactions are endlessly freeing.

In recognizing the joy and freedom that comes from dancing, we have been purposeful to take this type of playful connection outside of the dance studio and to move together wherever the music moves us. While our bodies may feel the urge to dance when we hear fun music, we have had to train our brains to let them know that it’s okay, and actually liberating, to dance like children in public at city parks or on the beach.

Creativity, or the Blank Canvas

Dancing as a couple also opens you to a world of endless creative possibilities. Your dance, like your relationship, is unique and an ever-unfolding artistic process. The dance floor is your blank canvas, and you, as a couple, are artists purposefully collaborating and creating something that has never been done before.

This creative process is one you can choose to explore and embrace as a couple. It does not have to be perfect, flashy, or entirely graceful like the dancers we see on “So You Think You Can Dance,” or “Dancing with the Stars.” In fact, your dance may never be so polished. But if you can let go of the notion that art is “over there” (in museums, on TV, on stages), you may begin to see yourself and your partner in this artistic light.

Instead, you can choose to recognize that moving together through space, moment by moment, is a continuously exploratory form of artistic expression as a couple. You can purposefully move across the dance floor or in public parks or, really, anywhere for the sake of creating and pursuing beauty together.

When we shift our perception of art, we have limitless opportunities to create together.

Since we have been taking dance lessons, it has provided us the weekly opportunity to pursue and strengthen a culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage. We eagerly look forward to those evenings where we purposefully let go of the expectations and pressures, learn new tools to navigate life together with creative beauty, and literally alter our brain chemistry for the better.

And, as a bonus, we get to dance.

Couples Who Play Together, Stay in Love Together

COUPLES WHO PLAY TOGETHER, STAY IN LOVE TOGETHER

Kyle Benson

I want you to meet Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo.

Play is the air that keeps their love inflated.

Without it, both partners would deflate emotionally and feel stuck in a flat relationship.

Dr. Gottman’s research states that 70% of a relationship’s satisfaction is determined by the couple’s friendship. This is true for both men and women.

The couples who found ways to play together at every stage of their relationship stayed together. The couples who didn’t eventually separated or endured an unhappy relationship.

Play makes emotional connection easy and enjoyable. It invites both partners to open up emotionally. Play is a form of intimacy, because it requires an intimate knowledge of your partner’s inner world. A playful friendship with one another creates a strong relationship.

Maybe you grew up struggling with the concept of play. I know I did. I always felt that it came second to winning prizes or achievements.

Your play style is a reflection of the emotional security you were offered as a kid. It remains true for adults. Couples who create an emotionally secure relationship are often more playful than insecure couples.

Couples who lack trust or commitment tend to be kidnapped by their insecurities, thus blocking the part of the brain that activates play.

Learning to play well with each other is also what helps us fight well. Stan Tatkin, PsyD states that “secure couples know that a good fight stays within the play zone.” In other words, the conflict isn’t allowed to get nasty. Since both partners are committed to each other for the long haul, they are able to keep their walls down.

Part of cultivating an Intentionally Intimate Relationship is creating a culture of play.

Here are 3 Ways to Increase Play in Your Relationship:

#1 Try New and Unfamiliar Activities: Psychologist Arthur Aron recruited 53 middle-aged couples to study novelty and boredom in long-term relationships. The couples were asked to do one of three things: (1) engage in activities that were familiar and enjoyable, (2) change nothing about their routine, or (3) to find something new to do together.

After ten weeks, who do you think had a better relationship?

You’re correct!

The couples who did new and unfamiliar activities had a much higher satisfaction in their relationship than the couples who spent their time doing familiar things.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Take a walk in a different part of town or venture to a new park together.
  • Visit a new restaurant in town.
  • Try a new activity such as indoor rock climbing, roller skating, bowling, or mini golf.
  • Take a day trip. Get in the car and drive. Stop whenever you feel like getting out and exploring.

#2 Reinvent Date Night: My partner and I recently tried a date night box called “Night in Boxes.” The theme was called “blind date.” We were asked to create an obstacle course, and then lead our blindfolded partner through the course using only verbal instructions.

It was a great way to connect and be playful with one another without leaving the comfort of our home. I highly recommend it!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Get dressed up and take a class together, such as salsa dancing, or a paint and wine workshop
  • Bike to a coffee shop to sip warm drinks and chat
  • Take a tour in your hometown that you’ve never been on

#3 Participate in the 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge: I’m taking a select group of couples on an exciting seven-day virtual adventure—but in the comfort of their own home. Get ready to reconnect with your partner in a very playful way! Check your email tomorrow for more details.

Play is essential to making love last. It is created by both partners and requires intentionality as an adult, since it might not come as naturally as it once did when we were children. Like scheduling sex and date night, we need to schedule time for play, exploration, and adventures. These activities revitalize our love life and deepen our emotional connection.

Without play, partners tend to drift apart from each other, making it impossible to sustain emotional intimacy.

To prevent this, Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo tether to each other with a long rope. That way if they drift too far apart, they can intentionally pull each other closer and reconnect through playful activities and adventures. Shouldn’t you do the same?

Nothing I Do is Good Enough for My Partner

NOTHING I DO IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY PARTNER

Patricia Cochran

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.

69% of relationship conflict is unsolvable

69% OF RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT IS UNSOLVABLE

Kyle Benson

Does that statistic sound scary to you?

If it does, I totally get it.

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. Gottman

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:

  • The Four Horsemen of relationship conflict
  • How to approach conflict in a healthy and effective way
  • The importance of being mindful of the way you navigate conflict conversations
  • Multiple techniques you can use for effective conflict management
  • The main differences seen between happy vs unhappy couples and how they approach conflict
  • And 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.

Enroll now here.

6 Things to Remember When Your Heart is Breaking

6 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOUR HEART IS BREAKING

Angel Chernoff

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!

Please remember…

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 changing.

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.

The One Daily Talk That Will Change Your Relationship

THE ONE DAILY TALK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

When Steven gets home from work, his partner Katie asks him, “How was your day, dear?” Their conversation goes like this.

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: There you go again. Overacting and blaming your manager. When I met her she seemed very logical and reasonable. You’re probably being insensitive to her worries about your department. (siding with the enemy)

Steven: The woman has it out for me.

Katie: And there’s your paranoia. You really need to get a handle on that. (criticism)

Steven: Forget I ever said anything.

Do you think Steven feels love by Katie in this moment?

Probably not.

Instead of providing a safe haven for him to be heard, she adds to his stress.

Learning to cope with external pressures and tensions outside your relationship is crucial to a relationship’s long-term health, according to research by Neil Jacobson.

A simple, effective way for couples to earn deposits in their emotional bank account is to reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went. This is called the “How was your day, dear?” conversation, or more formally, the Stress-Reducing Conversation.

Like Steven and Katie, many couples have the “How was your day, dear?” conversation but the talk does not help either partner relax. Instead it escalates the stress and tension between them because they end up not feeling heard.

If this sounds like you and your partner, changing your approach to these end-of-the-day talks can ensure that they help both of you unwind.

The 4 Agreements of Love Talk

Before you start your end-of-the-day discussion, I’d recommend making some agreements. Agreements are what I use with my clients to bring their unspoken expectations into view.

Agreement #1: Agree on Timing
Some individuals want to connect the moment they walk into the door. Others need to decompress on their own before they’re ready to interact. When this expectation goes unspoken it can create tension and leave both partners feeling missed by each other. Agree on a time that will meet both of your needs. This can be at 7 pm every night or it can be 10 minutes after both of you get home.

Agreement #2: Dedicate Your Presence for 20-30 Minutes
Some couples struggle because they don’t spend enough time in the presence of each other to allow love to be cultivated. Take time to truly connect during this conversation.

Agreement #3: Don’t Discuss Your Marriage
This talk gives you and your partner the space to discuss about whatever is on your mind outside your marriage. It is not the time to bring up conflicts between you. Instead, it’s a chance to truly support each other in other areas of your life.

This conversation is a form of active listening in which you respond to each other’s venting with empathy and without judgement. Since the issues have nothing to do with the marriage, it’s much easier to express support and understanding of your partner’s worries and stresses.

Agreement #4: All Emotions are Welcome
This conversation is an opportunity to unload about irritants or issues, both big and small. If your partner shares sadness, fear, or anger and it feels uncomfortable, it may be time to explore why. Often this discomfort is rooted in childhood restrictions against expressing negative emotions. If this is the case, check out “Coping with Your Partner’s Sadness, Fear, and Anger” on page 103 in The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work.

Allow this space to be a place of celebration too. If you have a victory at work or as a parent, mention that. Beyond sharing frustrations, a relationship is about sharing and relishing in the victories of life together. That’s what makes it meaningful.

7 Steps to an Effective End-of-Day Conversation

Below are detailed instructions for using active listening during the stress-reducing and intimacy building conversation.

1. Take turns. Let each partner be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Show Compassion. It’s very easy to let your mind wander, but losing yourself will make your partner feel like you’ve lost touch with them. Stay focused on them. Ask questions to understand. Make eye contact.

3. Don’t provide unsolicited solutions. It’s natural to want to fix problems or make our lover feel better when they express pain. Often partners just want an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Unless your partner has asked for help, don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Just be present with them.

Men get caught up in this trap more frequently than women, but it is not the man’s responsibility to rescue his partner. Often trying to “save her” backfires. In the Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman noticed that when a wife shares her troubles, she reacts negatively to her husband offering advice right away. What she wants is to be heard and understood.

It’s not that problem-solving doesn’t have it’s place. It is important, but as psychologist Haim Ginott says, “Understanding must precede advice.” It’s only when your partner feels fully understood that they will be receptive to suggestions.

4. Express your understanding and validate emotions. Let your spouse know that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a list of phrases I have my clients use.

  • “Hearing that makes perfect sense why you’re upset.”
  • “That sounds terrible.”
  • “I totally agree with how you see it.”
  • “I’d be stressed too.”
  • “That would have hurt my feelings too.”

5. Take your partner’s side. Express support of your partner’s view even if you feel their perspective is unreasonable. If you back the opposition, your lover will be resentful. When your partner reaches out for emotional support (rather than advice), your role is not to cast judgement or to tell them what to do. It’s your job to express empathy.

6. Adopt a “We Against Others” attitude. If your partner is feeling alone while facing difficulty, express that you are there with them and you two are in this together.

7. Be Affectionate. Touch is one of the most expressive ways we can love our partners. As your partner talks, hold them or put an arm on their shoulder. Hold that space for them and love them through thick and thin.

Here is how the conversation changed after these instructions were given to Steven and Katie.

Katie: How was your day, dear?

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: What a jerk! She is so rude. (us against others) What did you say to her? (expressing genuine interest)

Steven: I told her I feel like she is out to get me and it’s not fair. I am the number one salesman on the floor.

Katie: I completely understand why you feel like that. I’m sorry she’s doing this to you. (expressing affection) She needs to get taken care of. (us against others)

Steven: I agree, but I think she’s doing it to herself. The CEO doesn’t appreciate her telling him everyone is incompetent but her. It’s probably best to leave it alone.

Katie: I’m glad he’s is aware of that. It’s not good and will backfire sooner or later.

Steven: I hope so. I feel like pizza, cuddles, and a movie tonight. You in?

Katie: Of course, love.

If you have this conversation everyday, it can’t help but benefit your relationship. You’ll come away with the feeling that your partner is on your side, and that’s one of the foundations of a long-lasting friendship.

The 3 Key Non-Conflict Ingredients for Constructive Conflict

THE 3 KEY NON-CONFLICT INGREDIENTS FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT

Kyle Benson

My partner took me out to celebrate my birthday over dinner and surprised me with axe throwing.

As my partner hit the bulls-eye and smiled at me, I thought to myself how she was, without a doubt, my best friend.

I’m sure you’re aware of the cliche, “Marry your best friend.”

Just like other cliches, there’s a reason it’s around.

Hint: because it’s TRUE.

There are three parts of a strong friendship based on longitudinal research of emotionally connected couples:1

One: Up To Date Love Maps

A love map is when a partner asks open-ended questions to get to know their partner better, creating a map of their partner’s inner world.

During dating, partners do this frequently. They ask questions about work, family, and each other’s likes and dislikes. Successful couples continue to ask these seemingly “basic” questions throughout life, especially around life transitions such as a new job, moving, having a kid, etc.

These love maps help us see what makes our partner unique, and in turn, feel seen by our partners.

For example, before surprising me with axe throwing, my partner began teasing me that she bought us tickets to a concert knowing fully well that I do not find concerts pleasurable.

I felt very unseen in that moment . I started thinking, If she actually bought us concert tickets, then she doesn’t really know me. I feared that she had a bad love map of my inner world.

But when she surprised me with axe throwing, something I do enjoy, I felt known. I remember thinking, What a great surprise and a fun way for us to spend time together.

When couples do not continue to update their intimate knowledge throughout time, it’s easy to feel emotionally distant and for each partner’s satisfaction to decline over time.

So go update your love map of your partner by asking an open-ended question. For ideas, click here.

Two: Frequent Expressions of Affection, Appreciation, and Admiration

When observing 3,000 couples interact during an “events of the day” conversation and a conflict conversation, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues noticed that emotionally connected couples had a habit of looking for what their partner does right and pointing it out.

Even as simple as, “I really appreciate you cooking dinner tonight. It was delicious!”

Couples with high levels of admiration speak positively about their partners to others. These emotionally connected couples are also verbally and physically affectionate with each other.

Couples who struggle with this area of the relationship tend to have a habit of noticing and pointing out the negatives in their partner’s behavior or character. Oftentimes, this leads to escalating conflict or avoidance of one another.

Have you developed the habit of being affectionate, appreciative, and admiring in your relationship? This is often one area that all the couples I work with benefit from by adding it back into their relationship.

Three: Respond to Bids For Connection by Turning Towards Your Partner

Every day, partners make hundreds of bids for connection. Even unhappy couples. These bids can be as indirect and as small as a sigh or as big and direct as “I need a hug right now.”

Whenever a bid is expressed, partners have the choice to connect with their partner’s bid.

Attachment theory indicates that how available, responsive, and engaged partners are, influence how secure the attachment bond between partners is.

At its basic level, when we make bids for connection we are asking the question “A.R.E. you there for me?”

When that answer is yes, we relax and focus on other things or being playful.

When that answer is no, we struggle. We wonder if we can trust our partner. Insecurity seeps in.

Ironically, after watching 900 clips of couples having conflict conversations, Drs. John and Julie Gottman came to the conclusion that most often couples fight about “nothing.”

Often it is less about the topic and more about “Can I trust you to be there for me?” “Will you seek to understand me?” “Can I count on you?” “Will you work with me to build a better relationship?”

Trust is built moment to moment when we connect with our partners. We know they can count on us and we can count on them.

These three ingredients mix together like concrete and are the foundation by which a relationship succeeds or breaks apart.

Couples who continue to build these three aspects of friendship within their relationship have been proven in observational studies to have a better time navigating conflict. After all, if you are close friends, it’s easier to feel like intimate allies in life and come together when things are difficult.

These traits of friendship provide partners with the ability to see their relationship for all of the great things it is – their shared humor, their affection, and the presence of positive aspects necessary to have healthy and constructive conflict.

This in turn enables them to transform their problems into material for constructing a stronger relationship, brick by brick.

Not only do these aspects assist with conflict, but they’re also shown to be the basis on which romance, passion, and good sex happen.

Getting to continuously know your partner, expressing all of the things you admire and appreciate, and consistently responding to their bids for attention strengthen the foundation of your romantic relationship.

My Dream of Motherhood Was Eclipsed by Widowhood

MY DREAM OF MOTHERHOOD WAS ECLIPSED BY WIDOWHOOD

Katie Hawkins-Gaar

The writer with her husband

Surprisingly, grieving the death of a spouse mirrors the emotional landmines of new parenthood.

“We were adopting a baby.”

That’s the first thing I blurted out after my husband, Jamie, was pronounced dead. Although I was surrounded by emergency room staff, I was met with silence. No one knew what to say.

I didn’t know what to say, either. I sat stunned, holding Jamie’s lifeless hand, trying to wrap my head around how much had shattered in that moment.

Jamie and I began our journey into parenthood in October 2016, once we finally settled on an adoption agency. Over the next few months, we completed background checks, got letters of recommendation from friends and family, passed the in-home case worker visit, started reading parenting books and made some hefty agency payments.

Our next big hurdle was recording a series of videos — self interviews, testimonials from others and miscellaneous footage of our daily lives — that aimed to show prospective birth parents how well-rounded our lives were and how well-suited we were to raising a child. We recorded our final video on Jan. 31, 2017. It was a chilly Tuesday night, as we played volleyball with spirit, if not skill, for the camera.

Four days later, Jamie died. He was 32. He collapsed while running a half marathon, not far from the finish line where I was standing. The autopsy revealed that he had fibromuscular dysplasia of atrioventricular node arteries — in simpler terms, a rare and difficult-to-detect disease that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

I fully expected that 2017 would be the year I became a mother, not a widow. I envisioned witnessing our baby’s first breaths, not my husband’s final gasp. I anticipated soothing our crying child, not wiping away my own endless tears.

It’s now been almost three years since that fateful race. Plenty has changed since then. I’m 34, two years older than Jamie will ever be. I quit my full-time job and doubled down on my dreams of becoming a writer. I’ve done lots of solo traveling and have found solace in nature. I’m in a relationship with a wonderful and patient man, who’s teaching me what it means to love again.

One thing that’s remained consistent over that time is the reassurance I’ve received from other widows and widowers who have come before me, about both Jamie’s death and my thwarted dream of parenthood. They’ve told me what’s normal, what to expect, and what they were going through when they marked the same amount of time post-loss as I had.

My friend Stephanie reassured me that things won’t always feel so hopeless. My mother reminded me how she made sense of the world after my dad died. And I’ve learned so much from the wonderfully wise Nation, who taught me that grief never really goes away, but you learn how to live with it.

Navigating widowhood shares a surprising number of similarities with figuring out parenthood — or, at least, what I expected the experience would be like. Of course, there’s the important distinction that parenting means welcoming life instead of contending with death. But new widows and parents both obsessively count the days, weeks and months since their lives dramatically changed. They eagerly look for other people who are going through the same thing they’re experiencing. They gently tell each other that things will get easier — just after you make it past the next milestone.

There were plenty of moments where the present I was experiencing seemed cruelly juxtaposed with the future I had imagined. Just before his death, Jamie and I excitedly began to clean out closets to make room for a new member of our family. Now, I was faced with the difficult task of emptying Jamie’s closet and donating his belongings. Our would-be nursery remained a guest room, and our house — suddenly home to just me and my dog — felt bigger than ever.

In online groups and in-person meetups, I’ve noticed that widows introduce ourselves to each other by sharing how long it’s been since our partners died. That information offers valuable context. Just like caring for an infant is different from parenting a preschooler, there’s a vast difference in navigating grief at six months versus six years.

Those of us who have lost partners know that the first months of widowhood are a blur; it’s a struggle to digest our new reality. Four months out, for many of us, is when the loneliness becomes unbearable and we daydream about someday dating again. All the progress we thought we’d made falls apart around the one-year mark. And year two, nearly every widow I’ve met laments, is the toughest to face.

“Is this at all what parenthood feels like?” I asked in an online support group, wondering if my theory was sound.

The widows who are now solo parents — women and men doing an incredible job at a seemingly impossible task — shared how similar the extremes can feel. In both cases, you experience a significant shift in your identity. You have no idea what you’re doing, and worry how your early choices will affect the future. You face the reality that life will never be the same again.

In parenthood and widowhood, as in life, there are endless ups and downs. Amid the joys of parenting, there’s plenty of exhaustion and despair. Likewise, the heaviness of grief contains surprising moments of lightness. As parents and widows, your heart is broken wide open — you love deeper than you ever thought possible, and you find gratitude in the smallest moments. And whether you’re caring for a newborn or grieving a new death, you find yourself acutely aware of how fragile life truly is.

As one mother and young widow told me, “When my husband died, I gave birth to death.”

These days, I’m uncertain whether I want to become a mom, either biologically or through adoption. Sometimes, it feels like my uncertainty is rooted in fear. Other times, I’m unsure due to a lack of closure. I haven’t been able to mourn the loss of my hypothetical baby the way I’ve been able to mourn the death of my husband.

Many times, it simply seems pointless to head down this path once more. I allowed myself to be hopeful before. Why would I do it again?

Lately, though, I’ve had moments when I dare to dream again, and allow myself to imagine becoming a parent. Although it’s a surefire way to make me cry, I’ll occasionally watch our adoption footage, remembering how giddy Jamie and I once were. My favorite videos, the ones that make me cry the most, are of Jamie answering the agency’s pre-written questions, like what skills would make me a good mom.

“I think her ability to persevere, and to work harder than anybody else, is a skill that will benefit our kid,” said Jamie, chuckling at himself as he started to tear up. “I think she’s amazing. Her ability to persevere is incredible, and our child is going to benefit from that as well.”

When we recorded those videos, we had no idea they would one day become pep talks that kept me going. Widowhood, like parenthood, teaches you that you can’t control the way things turn out. I don’t know whether I’ll ever become a mom, but I’m grateful for the chance to even reconsider it.