Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Leave You Broken

Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Leave You Broken

Posted on: February 21st, 2020 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

With the new decade upon us, perhaps you have taken stock of what you want in the future. Maybe you have set some goals or set intentions to let go of a few things. One of the hardest things to do can be letting go of a relationship. Breaking up is hard to do (thus the song), whichever side of the break-up you are on. Keep in mind, relationships can mean romantic attachments, platonic friendships, professional relations, or even family dynamics. And we now live in a time where, although we have more awareness of toxic dynamics and more options for how to meet people, there can be more emotional distance between us. When Carrie got broken up with via Post-It Note on Sex and the City, it was painfully groundbreaking; now, ghosting happens all the time. Even though we know we have to do it, we can often avoid and evade the painful emotions attributed to the end of a relationship. By carving out some space and time to process our thoughts and feelings, we can fully let go and allow ourselves to move forward.

Uncertain about a break-up?
People avoid the tension and difficulty of break-ups because we are programed to numb, deny, or block ourselves from negative emotions. I mean, who likes being in pain? Avoidance often can keep us in a relationship too long when we know we don’t actually want to be in that relationship. Dating can be really soul-crushing, which can cause us to stick with the devil we know versus the unknown devil on the other side of our dating apps.

According to the Transtheoretical Model of Change, often referenced with addictions, making a change or even a decision such as what to do about our relationships can involve multiple steps. Why use an addiction framework to talk through relationships you ask? Because love—even the not-toxic, healthy kind—can be addictive and overwhelming, akin to using a substance. We often get stuck and do not move forward to make changes. We can be in the “Precontemplation” or “Contemplation” phases for a long time of either not being ready or starting to consider that we need to leave a relationship. These two phases can take awhile before we prepare to take or actually take action.

While considering the state of your relationship, it is good to evaluate what is really keeping you in the relationship. If you are investing in another person and your future, do you feel like you are getting a good return on your investment? Do you feel like you can trust and grow with your partner? Are you proud to be with this partner? Do you like who you are in your relationship? Certainly nothing and no one is perfect, but often we silence our intuition or feelings because fear takes over. So if you are unhappy in your current relationship, another important question is what is keeping you from leaving? When speaking about addiction, physician and researcher Dr. Vincent Felliti has said, “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.” Equally, it is hard to let go of something that almost works. But if a relationship is toxic, beyond repair, and makes you feel profoundly unhappy, it is important to let go of the fantasy of it working one day and accept the reality that it does not work now. And has not for a while.

Take time to end things
If you have decided that it is time to end a relationship, make sure that you take the time to tell the person you are ending the relationship in person. You likely started a relationship in person and it makes sense to end it the same way. Think about what you need to say and do your best to communicate how you are feeling. Also, be mindful that who you are leaving may feel very differently than you do. And they have every right to have those feelings. Have empathy for them, which means allowing your former relationship partner to say how they feel and really listening to them. But then you hold up the boundary of needing things to end. The goal of a break-up is not necessarily to agree, but to communicate and make space for emotions to be expressed on both sides.

(One caveat: No need to break up in person if there is an issue of safety. If you are ending a relationship because you are in danger, then skip the processing part and get yourself out and to a healthier, safer place!)

Once that tough conversation has happened, it means you actually have to leave. So often we get caught in this stage, almost like a relapse. We know we need to quit something and we have done it but then we backslide. The easiest way to work through this is to make sure we have time and distance. It is way too hard to let go when you are still connected. There is really something to “out of sight, out of mind.” It may be tempting to reconnect or try to stay friends, but just as a relationship takes time to build and start, the end needs time and patience as well. Emotional whiplash happens if one minute you are saying things are over and the next, you are reaching out to the person you just hurt. Breaking up is painful—do not prolong the pain or heap on confusion by sending mixed messages. Maybe far down the road friendship is a possibility, but give yourself and the person you are breaking up with plenty of time to get to that place.

Let go and move on
Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of a break-up, it can be tempting to speed through the pain, confusion, relief, sadness, frustration, etc. Hence the societal norm of rebounding! But the end of a relationship is like grieving a loss. There is the literal loss of the relationship but often there is much more like the loss of friendships, of a shared space, of family, of a lifestyle, and most importantly of a future together. So instead of numbing, denying, and avoiding, do your best to give yourself an outlet for that very normal, but often tricky, grief. Write down your thoughts and feelings. Instead of texting or calling your now ex-partner, write them a letter. But don’t send it! Allow yourself to say the things you didn’t get to say. Get out those feelings in some way. Use healthy self-care. Lean on your support system. Go to therapy. Figure out what went wrong and how you feel about yourself now that the relationship is over.

And then, one day in the future, you will wake up with what feels like acceptance and you will be ready to move forward. You may be a little sore and weary, as painful things often make us feel. You may even be a little skeptical or fearful. But you will be ready to dip your toe into love and relationships again. Every one of our relationships end until we find ourselves in the current long-term one. And every relationship, the good, the bad, and the ugly, move us forward. Have hope; you are not broken.

How to Manage Your Green-Eyed Monster

Posted on: September 5th, 2019 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

Like something out of a horror film, when you least expect it, a powerful, hideous monster attacks out of nowhere. No one is safe when it appears, spewing negativity and dark thoughts. And the worst part is that this overwhelming ugliness is actually a part of you. The phrase “green-eyed jealousy” has been originally linked to William Shakespeare’s 16th-century play, The Merchant of Venice, to describe a character’s jealousy. It is thought that the color green is used to denote this emotional state because of its ties to decay and illness—when sick, a person’s skin color can take on a green tinge, and when food is rotting, it often grows green mold to signal that it is going bad. Envy is also included as one of the seven deadly sins according to Christian religion; philosopher Betrand Russell described it as “one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.” An emotional state that is tied to physical illness, decaying food, monsters, and other really bad stuff does not sound good. Yet envy and jealousy are a common state that many of us experience on a regular basis. Given that it is so terrible but so present, let’s explore this bad part of ourselves and find ways to tame it.

Understand Your Monster
Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably but they are actually different concepts. If you think about all the monsters throughout history, they are often complicated, right? Homer Simpson, psychological powerhouse of television’s longest running cartoon, stated in a 2014 episode of The Simpsons, “I’m not jealous, I’m envious. Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has. What I feel is envy.” The patriarch of the Simpson family was correct. Envy involves two people, while jealousy is a three-party situation. We can feel envious about someone else’s luxurious lifestyle or their recent promotion. There is a sense of wanting what someone else has or is doing or maybe an absence of something. How often have you felt envious of someone having to work less than you? However, jealousy is a bit of a different monster. We may feel jealous of our partner’s coworker because we see how engaged our partner is with this person and that might trigger some fears or worries about losing them.

Maybe you can remember the first time you experienced envy or jealousy. Because these monsters are powerful characters, you can probably imagine that sensory experience of watching your neighbor getting that super cool new bike when you had the garage sale special with the bad stickers on the handlebars. Maybe you can imagine that pit in your stomach and that hot feeling that flooded your body. And often, because we have such a negative reaction to these monsters, you may remember trying to pretend it wasn’t how you really felt. How often do we respond with an “I’m fine” or “I don’t care,” when the reality is we are overwhelmed by these negative emotions? We are so programmed to get rid of negative emotions and those darker parts of ourselves. We deny, push aside, or run away from them, and in turn they get stronger and more powerful. Maybe that’s how it played out for you as a child—pretending you didn’t care stopped working and then you ended up pulling the streamers off of your neighbor’s bike to ruin their new, awesome thing that you wanted so you could get some relief.

Take Control of Your Monster
As negatively as jealousy and envy are characterized, they are monsters who are here to stay. It is good to normalize these emotions in some ways. We cannot expect ourselves to feel nothing but joy all the time. But if these monsters are showing up for you all the time, taking up way too much real estate in your mind—or if you still find yourself destroying your neighbor’s bike—it is time to explore that.

Jealousy and envy are both created by a cognitive distortion of what you think is happening. We live in a time where social media is the lifeblood of these monsters. We look online and are bombarded by a curated version of everyone’s life and…BAM! Everything starts to get really green really fast! So first, acknowledge when you start to feel that pull toward envy or jealousy. As we said before, these emotions are often felt in a very visceral way, so pay attention to what is happening in your body. Once we can identify that, okay, yes, the monster is starting to get a little closer, we can figure out what to do about it. Perhaps you can take a step back to compare how you felt in your body before you went online as compared to during to afterward. The aforementioned go-to move of your youth—denial, avoidance, or aggression—is not necessary. If you are noticing some moments of jealousy or envy, try to make some space for them or be curious about why they are showing up in this way and in this moment. What is creating a moment of insecurity or want in yourself? Try to challenge some of those thoughts by considering the source. Social media posts tend to be filtered and not a realistic representation of life. So if the fantasy is creating some of those monsters, acknowledge the lack of reality.

The strongest weapon you have against these monsters is gratefulness. American Humorist Josh Billings said, “Love looks through a telescope; envy through a microscope.” If you have love for yourself and your life, you can decrease the overwhelming aspects of jealousy or envy. Those thoughts and feelings are not nearly as strong if you are positive about your own side of the street. A gratitude journal is a great way to turn your focus to what is good in your life instead of focusing on what others have. Tapping into awareness of the nuance in our lives can also be helpful. We aren’t just good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, etc. So do not get caught up in creating a version of life that is black and white where what you have is bad and what everyone else has is good. Life is always changing and evolving and we can pay attention to the ebb and flow of positives and negatives in ourselves and our lives without getting stuck.

See the Good in Your Monster
Jealous and envy are nasty but we can also see some positive aspects of them. Don’t the Beast or Frankenstein’s Monster stir up some sort of empathy from us when we better understand them and their complexities? When we notice what others have, we can motivate ourselves to try harder or do better. It can push us to strive and not just be complacent with ourselves and our choices. If you feel jealous of a relationship your partner may be having, it could motivate you to be more engaged and engaging. If someone’s work schedule leaves you feeling envious, you may feel empowered to explore your own options. If the monsters move you to a place of motivation or allow you to examine your feelings in a more realistic way, then they are certainly not as bad as we have characterized them.

Take care of yourself and try to have a balanced viewpoint of your life. If monsters appear, you don’t have to be so scared. Maybe with some care and understanding, the jealousy or envy monsters in you will start to look or act different and come around less often.

I Now Pronounce You…Frustrated in Your Marriage

Posted on: August 27th, 2018 by Justin Tobin

Written by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

Summer is here and wedding season is in full swing. Wedding planning is a billion dollar industry and months, sometimes years can go into creating a memorable day that celebrates a couple’s shared love and affection. But once the cake has been eaten, the last song has been played, and the thank you notes have been sent out, reality can set in. Couples often find themselves adjusting to a life together that they did not anticipate. The day-to-day of how to live together and manage responsibilities often are not given nearly as much attention or care as picking out registry items or deciding on a wedding hashtag. Certainly, unforeseeable circumstances can occur in any relationship, but some pitfalls occur in virtually all marriages, such as how to address the division of labor. No need to be a complete skeptic during your toast to the happy couple, but here is a healthy dose of reality and problem-solving to ensure the wedded bliss witnessed over nuptials does not have an expiration date.

Before the “I Do’s”…Who Is Doing What?
In an ideal world, before the whirlwind ride of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage,” there comes some serious communication and exchange of expectations. Whether it is about finances, maintaining a home, intimacy, or parenting, it is easy to fall into a trap of feeling frustrated when someone is not doing what you want them to do. But if you never talk about it, your partner can’t know what you are thinking. Everyone is on their own journey with their own set of luggage from their past; maybe what you think is normal and obvious may not be so normal or obvious to your partner. If the rules and expectations aren’t clear, then it’s pretty hard to even play the game, let alone win. So be honest with your partner about what you want or expect. You may not agree, but there is likely room for compromise. The more communicating and compromising that happens, the less room for making assumptions. Maybe some of these topics, like parenthood or home ownership, are way off in the future or you aren’t sure if you have an opinion. That’s fine! But try it on and talk about it and then consider what your partner thinks or feels. As those topics become more real versus just far-off possibilities, make sure you are still checking in with each other versus making assumptions. Also, think about the non-negotiables versus topics you are flexible about. If having a clean house makes you feel less anxious and you can communicate that—the importance of it—that is easier to understand or work with, as opposed to the angry reaction when your spouse doesn’t pick up the dirty clothes off the floor.

Good, bad, or ugly, someone taught us by example (what to do or what not to do) of what marriage or a partnership is like. You may have moved away from your family system and never looked back. You may want to be nothing like them. However, you may think that Sunday evenings when you all had dinner together and then your dad did the dishes was pretty great and want that to be part of your lifestyle now that you are grown. You get to have thoughts and feelings about where you came from and how your family operated and incorporate them into (or excise them from) your lifestyle when you have your own family. But if you don’t take time to think about what is important to you or what you expect (or conversely, what would really bother you) and then share that with your partner, how are they going to know your needs and desires? How will they understand that doing laundry is important when they were raised with a housekeeper who did that for everyone and that makes sense to them?

Maybe you are reading this and thinking wow, great advice if I had a time machine to think about this before I married my spouse years ago. Here’s the thing: It is never too late to communicate. If there is a dynamic in your marriage that you don’t like, talk about it. If there is a dynamic in your marriage that you do like, talk about it. Find some time (when you aren’t arguing or about to go to bed) and check in with each other about how things are going. Start with the strengths—what is going well? Maybe for you, that is telling your husband that you are feeling really great about how much you guys are putting into savings each month. Maybe it is telling your wife that you are happy with how healthy your family has been eating since you haven’t used GrubHub this month. Get the positive stuff out there and then focus on an area you aren’t feeling so great about. Put your grievances out there but ask your spouse for help in devising a solution. At work, you probably have meetings with your boss or your coworkers to check in about how things are going. You likely have a performance review to evaluate how you are contributing. In school, there are report cards and parent-teacher conferences to discuss how a child is achieving. There is no pre-planned check-in to figure out how the marriage is going. So whether it is weekly, monthly, or whenever, get into the habit of asking your partner what they think about the marriage. And then make sure you share your thoughts and feelings as well.

The Honeymoon Is Over
Nothing reminds you more that “happily ever after” is a misnomer than when you realize your partner used the last roll of toilet paper and didn’t replace it. Just like you were thoughtful during the wedding planning, try to continue to think of the other person in your relationship while you are actually married. Your first dance wasn’t just you breaking it down by yourself. Your spouse was your partner for that first spin on the dance floor, so don’t suddenly pretend that person (who also uses the toilet paper) has now disappeared. Being considerate goes a long way.

Maybe you have heard or even doled out the complaints before: “You NEVER initiate sex” or “I hate that I am the one ALWAYS dealing with finances.” Whatever the flavor, the complaint results from a certain dynamic in the relationship that feels pervasive and personal. Sure, it can feel that way, but the truth is, it’s not actually that way. Do not fall into the trap of “always” or “never”-ing someone—no one is that consistent. This is where resentment grows, so something has to give. No one is getting what they want/need when everyone is being shut down with negativity. Where is the motivation to change or do better or differently if someone is telling you that you are doing something wrong not just once but always? Don’t ignore a problem but try to figure out what is contributing to that dynamic. Be a detective and problem-solve with your spouse versus being judge and jury and sentencing them to a lifetime of consistently bad behaviors.

Maybe your frustration is about feeling like you carry the majority of the mental load. It can be overwhelming to be the one who thinks about all the tasks and the dynamics. Life is complicated and often a married couple is responsible for a lot more than just themselves and the relationship. If you are feeling stressed about all the things to remember and do and your spouse looks perfectly engrossed in Netflix and oblivious to your rising frustration, well, I think we can guess how that one turns out. Not good. Again, communication is key. Talk about what you need before you explode, make a list to get organized together, divvy up responsibilities, and have faith that your partner will do what they have agreed to do. Here’s the thing: We are not perfect. That wedding day probably wasn’t perfect either, despite your best efforts to make it so. There are things we cannot control and we make mistakes. But pay attention to what works. It’s easy to focus on the problems or remember when things went wrong. It is often harder to acknowledge what makes things run smoothly in a partnership. Figure out what each of you is good at or what comes easily. For example, maybe finance is not your thing, or perhaps you would rather be good cop versus bad cop with parenting your children. Whatever comes naturally, that will be easy to divide up. Maybe you need to have a state of the union about the relationship every week or maybe you need a shared calendar. Maybe a list of groceries or house projects that is posted for all members of the family to see would work. The point is, be transparent and communicative. Operate like you want every person in your partnership to be successful and you want this thing—your relationship, your marriage—to also be successful.

Keep in mind that what may be important to you may not be important to your spouse. When planning that special day, maybe one person has more thoughts and feelings about the importance of seafood canapés and what the last dance song should be. You cannot expect your spouse to think and feel exactly like you do. Sure, maybe you have tons in common or maybe you could not be more different (after all, opposites attract). Regardless of your dynamic, once you have communicated what you need/want, you cannot expect your spouse to feel the same way. Your #1 on the list of tasks may be your partner’s #25 and that’s okay. All you can do is work through those differences by explaining why something is important or non-negotiable to you. Understanding is the goal, not necessarily agreement.

You’ll Need a Little More than Just Best Wishes
At this point, some say that it is easier to end a marriage than it is to stay together. Getting a divorce is complicated and costly but it is easier and has less shame attached than it did in the past. Yet despite the less-than-stellar odds, people continue to exchange wedding vows. There is still something very attractive (see aforementioned billion dollar industry) to that commitment and the idea of freely declaring your devotion to one another that has continued the idea of marriage and wedded bliss. Regardless of the varying dynamics, somehow a couple manages to compromise and communicate about what to do on their special day. And both people show up and try to be their best selves. So, whether you are about to get married or you’ve been in matrimony for decades, try to put some of that effort from planning the wedding into the marriage. Maybe get a third party like a couples counselor to help you on your journey. Marriage takes work and communication and compromise. But if you and your spouse can continue to exchange your thoughts and feelings just like you did during the planning process and on your big day, you will be celebrating wedding anniversaries for years to come!

The Overwhelming Aspects of Being Overscheduled

Posted on: January 30th, 2018 by Justin Tobin

Written by: Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

Is your calendar looking like a game of Tetris? Do you have a hard time recalling the last time you said “no” to something? Do you feel stressed, frustrated, and/or on edge? Are you thinking about all the things you should be doing instead of reading this blog post? If the answers to these questions are a resounding yes, then it may be time to admit you have overscheduled yourself. We live in a culture that values productivity and being active. However, the downside is that self-care and relaxation get pushed to the wayside. So for your sake, let’s figure out a way to have a more balanced lifestyle.

“No” is not part of my vocabulary
Take a hard look at that calendar of yours to determine the root cause of your hectic schedule. Oftentimes we really struggle with saying “no.” Feelings of guilt can manipulate us and force our hand to say “yes” when saying “no” is actually a healthier choice. As a parent during the holidays, it can become overwhelming if you feel like you have to attend all the holiday parties, follow through with every tradition, and make every celebration super special. Have you had one of those moments when you have tried so hard to make everything Pinterest-y and perfect and meanwhile, it feels like all the fun has disappeared and your family is hating this? Have you ever planned a huge bachelorette party for your friend and spent your entire time coming up with all the perfect details only to realize you are utterly stressed and over budget? When you are so far into planning, it can be a logistical nightmare to either reel something in or scale down. It can feel like “no” is not an option when it comes to taking on more. But in hindsight, you feel like you should have never said “yes.” Obviously being proactive is always better than being reactive. Before you bite off more than you can chew, take a realistic look at your current activities, responsibilities, etc. Can you take on this project without combusting? Often we convince ourselves that tasks are things we have to do when in reality, it is more like something we want to do or think we should do. But “shoulding on yourself” will get you nowhere fast. No one wants you to fail or cancel last minute because you overpromised and are now under-delivering. So be honest with yourself and others and try saying “no” every once and awhile. Saying “no” when you really can’t commit to something really doesn’t mean whatever your fear is…that people will be mad at you, stop asking you to do things, or judge you. Saying “no” to this one thing doesn’t mean saying “no” to everything. Look at how many people say no to you or around you? They often get passes. Give yourself one! Now let’s say your calendar is already resembling a run-away train; this is when you need to own up to the problem and ask for help or delegate. Most things take a village so lean a bit on your village. It’ll be okay.

This is just who I am
It can feel good to be a “yes man,” the person who is reliable, available, and responsible. Maybe you are that person to your family and friends. So in a lot of ways, you get something out of having that role. It makes you feel good to be wanted and needed. You might like being in charge and having control. It may feel more comfortable to just take things on yourself versus sharing responsibilities. Have group projects always broken down to just you doing the work regardless of the size of your established group? Maybe you grew up with parents who modeled a busy lifestyle and encouraged you to be a go-getter. Or conversely, maybe your parents shrugged off responsibilities and that caused a lot of chaos growing up and therefore you have grown to do the opposite. Group dynamics can reinforce whatever role we have established for ourselves. And our self-concept and how we see ourselves can dictate our behaviors. So there is a lot of pull to keep the homeostasis of being overscheduled and overwhelmed going. However, we are dynamic creatures and there is more to you than just being too busy. You have needs/wants and other parts of yourself that are important. So do yourself a favor and start to try asking others for help or sharing the load a bit. You aren’t going to become a different person, nor should you, but a more balanced you means being on the receiving end at times versus always being a giver. Ideally, you get a little and give a little. Show yourself you can still get all that positive reinforcement of being who you are while on occasion, slowing things down.

Pretty sure I am allergic to relaxation
When is the last time that you went on vacation and unplugged and really disconnected? Can’t remember? Never? You are probably uncomfortable or even unfamiliar with slowing down and taking care of yourself. But you are going to need to get yourself acquainted with the idea of self-care if you would like to continue to live in a productive state. Machines don’t run forever; they often need maintenance. You do, too! Maybe you aren’t going to jump on the mindfulness bandwagon and start doing yoga and meditation. That’s okay (although keep in mind all of those things have significant mind/body health benefits) but figure out what works for you. What feels restorative and relaxing for you? When and where are you able to tell yourself that it is okay for you to just “be” versus “do”? If you can pinpoint that or at least try on some options, self-care is going to start to feel less like a foreign concept or something you don’t have time for and more like a need. Earlier, I talked about the dynamics around you may be reinforcing this way of being. So whether it is you who has an aversion to you slowing down or it is the people around you who prevent you from doing that, you need to start communicating with your team to give you some relaxation time as well as remind you (kindly) to do it as well. You may need to find a relaxation buddy who will remind you and keep you accountable to squeeze this super important thing like a yoga class or a walk with a friend into your busy schedule. Whatever you need to do to make it stick, do it.

You really are valuable in both your most productive moments and in those moments when you merely exist. Try to remind yourself of that. Change takes some time and there can be push back to change internally and from others. But the toll that overscheduling yourself is taking on you and your relationships is not worth it. So find some time to breathe deeply and take it all in instead of having such a laser focus on the task at hand. Find some perspective. And start moving things around on that calendar so that “me time” is Is your calendar looking like a game of Tetris? Do you have a hard time recalling the last time you said “no” to something? Do you feel stressed, frustrated, and/or on edge? Are you thinking about all the things you should be doing instead of reading this blog post? If the answers to these questions are a resounding yes, then it may be time to admit you have overscheduled yourself. We live in a culture that values productivity and being active. However, the downside is that self-care and relaxation get pushed to the wayside. So for your sake, let’s figure out a way to have a more balanced lifestyle.

“No” is not part of my vocabulary
Take a hard look at that calendar of yours to determine the root cause of your hectic schedule. Oftentimes we really struggle with saying “no.” Feelings of guilt can manipulate us and force our hand to say “yes” when saying “no” is actually a healthier choice. As a parent during the holidays, it can become overwhelming if you feel like you have to attend all the holiday parties, follow through with every tradition, and make every celebration super special. Have you had one of those moments when you have tried so hard to make everything Pinterest-y and perfect and meanwhile, it feels like all the fun has disappeared and your family is hating this? Have you ever planned a huge bachelorette party for your friend and spent your entire time coming up with all the perfect details only to realize you are utterly stressed and over budget? When you are so far into planning, it can be a logistical nightmare to either reel something in or scale down. It can feel like “no” is not an option when it comes to taking on more. But in hindsight, you feel like you should have never said “yes.” Obviously being proactive is always better than being reactive. Before you bite off more than you can chew, take a realistic look at your current activities, responsibilities, etc. Can you take on this project without combusting? Often we convince ourselves that tasks are things we have to do when in reality, it is more like something we want to do or think we should do. But “shoulding on yourself” will get you nowhere fast. No one wants you to fail or cancel last minute because you overpromised and are now under-delivering. So be honest with yourself and others and try saying “no” every once and awhile. Saying “no” when you really can’t commit to something really doesn’t mean whatever your fear is…that people will be mad at you, stop asking you to do things, or judge you. Saying “no” to this one thing doesn’t mean saying “no” to everything. Look at how many people say no to you or around you? They often get passes. Give yourself one! Now let’s say your calendar is already resembling a run-away train; this is when you need to own up to the problem and ask for help or delegate. Most things take a village so lean a bit on your village. It’ll be okay.

This is just who I am
It can feel good to be a “yes man,” the person who is reliable, available, and responsible. Maybe you are that person to your family and friends. So in a lot of ways, you get something out of having that role. It makes you feel good to be wanted and needed. You might like being in charge and having control. It may feel more comfortable to just take things on yourself versus sharing responsibilities. Have group projects always broken down to just you doing the work regardless of the size of your established group? Maybe you grew up with parents who modeled a busy lifestyle and encouraged you to be a go-getter. Or conversely, maybe your parents shrugged off responsibilities and that caused a lot of chaos growing up and therefore you have grown to do the opposite. Group dynamics can reinforce whatever role we have established for ourselves. And our self-concept and how we see ourselves can dictate our behaviors. So there is a lot of pull to keep the homeostasis of being overscheduled and overwhelmed going. However, we are dynamic creatures and there is more to you than just being too busy. You have needs/wants and other parts of yourself that are important. So do yourself a favor and start to try asking others for help or sharing the load a bit. You aren’t going to become a different person, nor should you, but a more balanced you means being on the receiving end at times versus always being a giver. Ideally, you get a little and give a little. Show yourself you can still get all that positive reinforcement of being who you are while on occasion, slowing things down.

Pretty sure I am allergic to relaxation
When is the last time that you went on vacation and unplugged and really disconnected? Can’t remember? Never? You are probably uncomfortable or even unfamiliar with slowing down and taking care of yourself. But you are going to need to get yourself acquainted with the idea of self-care if you would like to continue to live in a productive state. Machines don’t run forever; they often need maintenance. You do, too! Maybe you aren’t going to jump on the mindfulness bandwagon and start doing yoga and meditation. That’s okay (although keep in mind all of those things have significant mind/body health benefits) but figure out what works for you. What feels restorative and relaxing for you? When and where are you able to tell yourself that it is okay for you to just “be” versus “do”? If you can pinpoint that or at least try on some options, self-care is going to start to feel less like a foreign concept or something you don’t have time for and more like a need. Earlier, I talked about the dynamics around you may be reinforcing this way of being. So whether it is you who has an aversion to you slowing down or it is the people around you who prevent you from doing that, you need to start communicating with your team to give you some relaxation time as well as remind you (kindly) to do it as well. You may need to find a relaxation buddy who will remind you and keep you accountable to squeeze this super important thing like a yoga class or a walk with a friend into your busy schedule. Whatever you need to do to make it stick, do it.

You really are valuable in both your most productive moments and in those moments when you merely exist. Try to remind yourself of that. Change takes some time and there can be push back to change internally and from others. But the toll that overscheduling yourself is taking on you and your relationships is not worth it. So find some time to breathe deeply and take it all in instead of having such a laser focus on the task at hand. Find some perspective. And start moving things around on that calendar so that “me time” is a regular date that you keep!

LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH: How to stay connected in a long-term relationship

Posted on: November 3rd, 2017 by Justin Tobin

Written by: Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

The chase begins. Intrigue. Uncertainty. Excitement. So many firsts come with getting to know each other. There’s risk and then the huge pay off of falling for someone as they fall in love with you. Ah, love. And then months and years go by. And that fire may become less of a spark and more of a slow burn or, in some cases, just a measly flicker. Sometimes long-term relationships start to feel more like unfriendly roommates than passionate lovers. We live in a time when it is easier to break-up or get divorced than it is to stay together. Being in a long-term monogamous relationship takes significant work. And this effort is markedly different than the preparation for a first date. The keys to making love last are more about communication, trust, and intimacy.

BUILD YOUR FIRE: CHANGE THINGS UP TO COMMUNICATE
If you haven’t watched the movie Up, you should. Wrapped up in a lighthearted Pixar cartoon adventure, the film demonstrates some of what goes on over the course of a long-term relationship. In a sweet, family-friendly way, the opening montage captures the ups and downs of a couple meeting each other, falling in love, marriage, sickness, and the eventual loss of a spouse. In real life, the struggle to actually stay together is a little more complicated than what is depicted in this children’s movie. However, what you can see from a few moments of a dialogue-free montage is that communication is key. The non-verbal communication between two cartoon characters exemplifies what can really happen—assumptions, miscommunication, frustration, and if we are lucky, just something to chuckle about later. But that’s the Disney version. In real life, when couples stop communicating, it often sends them down a rabbit hole of painful issues.

So if you haven’t had a deep conversation with your partner in a while or you are barely on speaking terms at this point, try to change it up. It may feel awkward at first; you may have to schedule time to talk, but put in some effort to increase the dialogue at home. Start with the easy questions: How was your day? Do you want to watch Veep together? Did you hear about [insert current event here]? Once you start acknowledging each other, you can dig a little deeper and eventually talk about the deeper stuff: Where is this relationship going? Are you happy? Should we have another child? But start with the basics and if you ask a question, actually listen to the answer. There is the old adage that we have two ears and one mouth because we need to listen twice as much as we speak. Maybe even ask a follow up question. Try to maintain eye contact and pay attention to body language and facial expressions. Hopefully your partner will also return the questions, ask for your take, and—voila!—communication starts to happen.

Of course, not everything is basic, mundane, non-emotionally charged discourse; stuff happens and we get upset. And we need to tell someone about being upset. Let’s say you worked all day and came home and your husband did not do the dishes or put the kids to bed and instead is engrossed in the Cubs game. You are pissed. Enter good communication, because here’s the thing: You can demonstrate how you feel (yell, curse, throw something) or you can communicate how you feel (“Hey Babe, how are the Cubbies doing? Oh good. Since they are ahead, could you please help me with XYZ; I’d really appreciate it! I’m feeling stressed about it.”). Demonstrating how upset you are may feel great in the short term but it has long-term consequences and probably will not convince your husband to start to help. If you want communication to improve, you may need to lead by example rather than waiting for something miraculous to happen. There has to be space to voice when you are not happy. But if you can approach it from a problem-solving perspective, it can be productive. Equally important is to notice what is going well and talk about that. Acknowledge and validate your partner and you will get the same in return.

Good communication happens when we are ready to have it. Surprises can happen, but in general a few factors need to be in place for a message to be conveyed and received. You can’t just throw a good meal together; you need some prep, the right ingredients, etc. Communication is similar. It may seem like a great idea to bring up something that is nagging at you late at night, like when your partner is just about to fall sound asleep: “Psst. Hey, Honey. Are you awake? I really want to talk about our finances.” Bad idea. Or when rushing to get out the door in the morning—not the time to broach the subject of a career change. You can’t avoid a discussion because you are waiting for the perfect time, but try your best to set aside time to talk when you can both be present and receptive (i.e., awake). Maybe that time is before bed once the kids are asleep and the Cubs game is over; maybe it’s during the commute together. Once you are able to get into the habit of carving out some time to communicate, a great thing to incorporate is a weekly check-in. It may sound awkward at first, but it can be immensely helpful to sit down once a week, look at each other, and take turns saying what went well for you, what you have struggled with/continue to struggle with, and what you appreciate that your partner did this week. You may be surprised what your partner says and the two of you will learn more about each other. And feel connected. And appreciated. And that’s ideal communication.

ADD KINDLING TO SUPPORT THE FLAMES: TRUST EACH OTHER
If communication is going well, trust will follow. Perhaps things have happened in the past and trust has been shaken or shattered. It is important to get some help with those ruptures. Couples therapy and/or individual therapy can be a huge asset in addressing trust issues. Oftentimes we can get so stuck with our feelings of hurt and betrayal that we can’t hear or understand our partners. Getting perspective from a non-judgmental third party like a trained mental health professional can be a huge benefit. If a couple can communicate where they are and what they are doing, trust can really build. There are no assumptions to make or secrets to have if you really know your partner and establish and continue to voice and agree on expectations for your relationship. Shared expectations are really important in a good, healthy relationship.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, time apart is integral to a positive partnership. Quality time is huge, as is communication, but we can’t expect our partners to satisfy every single need. Social media is rife with posts of engagement photos with captions like, “I can’t wait to marry my best friend.” Don’t get me wrong: Our partners often are or become our best friends. But we also need other friends, activity partners, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances. It takes a village to keep us all sane and we cannot put pressure on each other to do and be everything for each other. Being life partners is a tall enough order. Make each other a priority, but make sure there is more to each of your lives than just your partnership. And then keep communicating because as we are engaging in other parts of our lives, we need to be able to trust each other.

KEEP THE SPARK BURNING: MAKE TIME FOR INTIMACY
So now you are chatting it up all the time and have a strong foundation of trust—your relationship is sounding pretty great! Back to the spark I was talking about in the beginning: intimacy. From Disney-ready pecks on the cheek to passionate sex, intimacy can really cover the whole spectrum of passion. And like all the aspects of a relationship, intimacy takes work and effort. Start by scheduling date nights, which will get you both in the mindset of having quality time together. Take time to relax and enjoy your time together. Do not have the expectation of mind-blowing sex; just try to feel connected to one another while your clothes are on. Reminisce about those earlier days and recall what has been good between the two of you. This is where you can dig up some of those feelings of passion. Start to see intimacy as a way to feel connected to your partner. It does not need to be perfect or knock your socks off—it’s about spending time together and demonstrating positive feelings towards each other. The more you make time for it and are intentional about intimacy, the more that intimacy will naturally grow.

Maybe there was that point in your life years ago when you were just consumed with the idea of being in a relationship and meeting someone. And then you did, and it was fiery and passionate and wonderful. You probably didn’t consider how much work goes into keeping that relationship going once you’ve found it. But by putting in effort to talk, trust, and love each other, relationships can be meaningful and long-lasting. And to have a partner to share in all of life’s adventures, well, that’s totally worth it.

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