Tag Archives: relationships

On Coupling

Below is a portion of a couples’ questionnaire that I send people who are coming in for relationship counseling. Sometimes it’s to address moving in together, getting engaged/married, becoming parents, or even breaking up in an honorable fashion: the next step questions.

I love working with couples. There is a magic that happens when individuals decide to share their lives. It’s also hard work.

Usually, when I start working with a couple, I ask questions that are streamlined for their specific situation. This questionnaire is extremely baseline; I work with couples who are in different combinations and permutations of relationship; there is no formula.

Here are some of my questionnaire items to possibly discuss with your partner.

Children related questions

  • At this point in the relationship, you may already know the overall “will we or won’t we” as regards to raising a family. But digging a bit deeper into the topic can be a beneficial exercise, since it can reveal areas you might want to work through.
  • How many children do we want to have, and what’s our ideal timeline? Will we adopt?
  • Do we want to hire a babysitter or nanny? Will our children go to day care? Or will one of us stay home?
  • If yes to a parent staying home, how long before we return to work?
  • Will our children attend public or private schools? How important is this to each of us, and why?
  • How do we hope to parent our children? What are the values that we find most important as parents in raising children?
  • What will we do if our parenting styles or values conflict?
  • What role will our extended family play in our parenting?
  • How will we speak to our family members who may favor a different parenting style from what we hope to implement?
  • What will we do if one of our children/child has special needs or is diagnosed with learning or behavioral concerns?

Religion and faith related questions

  • Whether you’re devout, undecided, or somewhere in-between, religion and spirituality are typically a tough topic for couples to discuss on their own. You may also have your own faith based counseling that you would like to engage.
  • Secular couples counseling provides the opportunity to voice your desires and concerns by asking questions like:
  • How important is religion / faith to each of us?
  • How much influence do we want religion to play in our lives and our children’s lives?
  • Which religion will be taught and celebrated in the home or could different religions be celebrated?
  • Will we celebrate religious holidays? If so, to what extent? What will those holidays look like?
  • What are our core spiritual values as individuals and as a couple, and how do we see ourselves upholding them?
  • How can we handle any conflicts between our individual values?
  • What happens with our extended family situations if our religious values are not commensurate with theirs?

Money related questions

  • For many, living together/marriage marks the point at which income and finances may become a shared responsibility.  But it’s not always as easy as opening a joint bank account and calling it a day; you may also need to discuss the nitty gritties of the “f” word… finances:
  • How much do each of us expect to contribute to the household?
  • How much of our income will we spend on our own personal hobbies or interests?
  • How much of how income do each of us envision saving
  • Should we have a monthly budget? How will we set it and stick to it?
  • Do we want to combine our finances completely or keep some accounts separate?
  • How much debt do we have, and how much money do we have saved?
  • What will we do if we have an emergency expense or an unexpected loss of income?
  • How much do we plan to spend on shared interests, like vacations? If we plan to spend some of our money on a vacation, what type of vacation do each of us enjoy?
  • What is the importance of earning money to each of us?
  • How much is expected from each of us in terms of earning money for the family?
  • What happens when we have significant discrepancies in income?
  • What are the emotional reactions we have around money, earning, spending, saving?

Work and career questions

  • One person’s long hours is another person’s normal. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about career expectations.
  • How much will each of us work?
  • Do we expect or want to make any significant career changes in the future?
  • How will we balance careers and childcare if we have children?
  • How can we support each other in our career goals?
  • How much sacrifice is each of us willing to endure for the other person’s career goals and the pursuit of success? What if one of us becomes unemployed or under employed?
  • What happens if one of us wants to pursue future goals that require time and any commitments such as advanced degrees?
  • How many hours per week does each person expect the other will be away from home (or working at home) in order to pursue career goals?
  • How will we negotiate future ambitions and endeavors, such as one of us wanting to start a business or go into self-employment
  • Questions related to where you want to settle, in the short and long-term. Whether you both want to move, or put down roots where you are, it’s great to touch base now.
  • Where do we want to settle down? Will we want to live in the city or in the suburbs?
  • What is our shared vision of the future? Are there any significant differences?

Sex related questions

  • It’s a tricky topic, but crucial to be honest about. After all, who better to discuss sex with than your partner? NOT talking about sex can become a habit that makes it harder to communicate in the bedroom.
  • How important is sex to each of us?
  • How much sex do each of us envision having every week?
  • How will we handle any problems in the bedroom down the line?
  • How is our current sex life going? Do either of us have any unmet sexual desires?
  • Are we monogamous in the longterm? What will we do if either of us is interested in changing our relationship model in the future?
  • What other forms of intimacy and romance are important to us?
  • Do we make time to be together as a couple or do our other responsibilities take over?
  • Are we able to talk about sex, from preferences to complaints?

Social lives questions

  • Every relationship needs a healthy balance between friends, family, career, self-time, and each other – what does yours look like?
  • How much socializing is important to each of us? How much time do we want to spend with each of our friends and family?
  • How important is maintaining friendships outside the marriage to each of us and to what extent should our attention and shared resources be devoted to these (e.g. weekend bachelor and bachelorette parties, girls’ night out, weddings, showers, visiting out of town friends, etc.)?
  • How close are each of us to our immediate and extended family members? How much time do each of us expect to spend with our families (alone and with one another)?
  • How comfortable do you feel about your partner having friends of the opposite gender?
  • What are the rules around social media and having online friendships with opposite gender connections?
  • How do we feel about time spent away from family that is spent with friends, individually and as a couple?
  • Do we have friends that we share, individual friends, or both? What happens if we don’t like our partners’ friends?

Vacations and holiday related questions

  • How do each of us envision spending our weekends? Where do we want to spend them?
  • How will time off, and holidays, be spent?
  • How much of our vacation time will be devoted to visiting family versus traveling together as a couple or family?
  • Do we have a bucket list of places that we both want to explore?
  • How much time and expenditure do we want to spend on holidays?

Conflict resolution and decision making questions

  • How do we resolve conflicts?
  • What communication style works well for us, and where do we struggle?
  • How can we effectively express difficult emotions like anger and sadness?
  • How will we make major life decisions together?
  • Where can we turn for support if we disagree about a big decision in the future?

Household responsibility questions

  • How do we divide up household duties?
  • Do we have any particular challenges around sharing a household?
  • Which tasks will (or does) each partner handle?

Personal history questions

  • What are our plans for combining our different backgrounds, whether racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, or otherwise?
  • Do we expect any conflicts related to our different backgrounds?
  • How might we plan to resolve those potential conflicts?
  • How do we handle medical and mental health issues?
  • How do we feel about the health of each other and how to best be supportive If your partner is under the weather?
  • What happens if one or the other becomes physically or mentally disabled?

Also read Healing in Relationships: Imago Therapy for Communication.

Sit… Stay? When It’s Fido Or You.

A recent British psychology research study found, on average, couples fight about pet related concerns three times a week. Based on the average lifespan of a dog, that is more than 2000 arguments. Over 17% of the couples admitted that the arguments were significant enough that one or the other slept in the guest-room. Dealing with allergies, cleanliness, and overall sensitivities to pets and their behavior(s) were among the most significant areas of strife.

Reasons why pets may come between a couple:
Pets are a source of strong emotional connection, often pre-dating the start of new couple relationships

  • During the pandemic, in the face of loneliness, uncertainty, and quarantines, there was a significant uptick in animal adoptions. Not just during pandemic years, people report feeling significantly less alone at times of distress when they have companion animals.
  • Pets are good for medical health; they force people to get out of the house and take a walk, run errands to get food and supplies, and keep to routines essential for animal care.
  • Pets are great for mental health. A synopsis of studies on depression and suicidal thoughts indicates the following “perfect storm“ – feeling like a burden to others; feeling isolated; feeling hopeless/useless about the future. Having a pet can make people feel needed, loved, appreciated, and more structured on a daily basis.

As such, people may become a new couple in conjunction with an important pre-existing relationship… with a pet; a print by artist Stephen Huneck titled ménage a trois depicts a couple in bed with a large Retriever sprawled between them.  A male client recently told me after a series of hurtful arguments with his new wife about his love for his dog: “My pup was there for me when nobody else was. She is also my family.”

Pet problems spotlight deeper relationship issues 
Pets can become an area of compromise, acceptance, or non-negotiation. It’s not uncommon as a couples therapist to hear that an engagement or relationship ended because of disagreements over companion animals. Points of contention include shedding, licking, jumping up, pouncing, biting, accidents in the house, barking, begging or stealing food,  sleep disruptions, chewing, delegation of responsibilities, and odors.

While many of these concerns are certainly legitimate, they can usually be addressed with training, implementing household rules, and setting boundaries. When they cannot be addressed through training, couples therapy, or ongoing communication, it may speak to deeper-seated issues. Pet related conflicts can be based on cultural, family, religious, and individual differences in personal relationships with animals. In the United States, nearly 40% of pet owners describe their companion animal as their child, family member, or best friend.  However, many people grew up without pets, or in households or families where pets were present but not treated as “part of the family”.

Pets can create jealousy

In a 2018 survey conducted by Purina, it was found that half of all female dog owners say they would rather spend more time with their dog than their partner. Over 50% of individuals reported they turn to their pets as the primary source for emotional comfort during times of stress. At times, this can cause some feelings of resentment in human companions if time, attention, and financial resources are going to the pet rather than the partner.

Pets can spark financial arguments
Pets can be expensive. From standard veterinary care and medication, training, to the astronomical costs of medical emergencies, food, walkers and pet sitters, grooming, doggie day care, caring for aging animals and their needs, to treats, toys, outfits, and every type of accoutrement, the companion animal product and veterinary industry is increasing exponentially. Couples may not always agree on the appropriate amount of financial output for pets, from medical bills to cleaning requirements.

Spontaneity and event planning may suffer
Spontaneous outings, staying late at a party, taking a vacation, working late, and scheduling activities and events are all affected by having pets.

Pets require ongoing responsibility (both time and labor)
After returning from work, dogs have to be walked, animals have to be fed, kitty litter has to be changed. Pets require attention. These time sensitive commitments can be difficult for couples who are not used to building that into their day.

Pets can get in the way of intimacy
A questionnaire to 1,000 adults by Harris Poll found that over 70% of pet owners allow their pets to sleep on the bed. So that leaves about 30% of pet owners who don’t. If you’re someone who needs your pet there with you to sleep, it can cause an issue between you and your partner if they’re not into it.

What to do?
Practice Good Communication
If you’re starting a new relationship, take time to discuss your values regarding pets. If having an indoor cat or a dog that sleeps in your bed is important to you, you’ll need to ensure your partner shares these values or risk ending up in conflict. If you’re already in an established relationship, it’s time to begin communicating clearly and openly. Don’t get a new pet without consulting with your partner and getting their consent.

Get specific with the problem
When there’s conflict over pets, getting specific about the problem can help you figure out a solution. If your husband complains about your dog constantly or your wife snaps at your cat, you might assume that the pet is the problem or that your partner hates your pet. But a change as simple as teaching your dog not to beg or keeping your cat off the desk could remedy the issue. If you’re the pet lover, ask your partner specifically what the issue is and what would fix it. And if you’re the one resenting your partner’s pet, be clear about what you need to feel better.

Consult and expert
A poorly trained dog or aggressive cat can be frustrating to everyone, but the person who brought the pet into the relationship can sometimes feel more defensive. If your partner is annoyed by a specific behavior such as excessive mouthing, jumping, or scratching, it’s time to call an expert. A trainer can work with you to make your pet a more mannerly member of the family, and a veterinarian can help you uncover hidden health problems that could contribute to annoying behavior.

Accept differences
You and your partner don’t have to agree about everything. You may find that one of you is simply less in love with your pets than the other. As long as your partner isn’t abusive toward animals, they do not have to feel forced to cuddle with them.

Do the work
If you’re the one who brought the pet into the relationship, be prepared to do a little extra work. There’s no reason your partner has to love your pets as much as you do, or even spend as much time caring for them. As long as you can strike a fair balance that ensures your pet’s needs are met, consider giving your partner a pass on pet duties.

Related post: Teens and Their Dogs.

The importance of validation in relationships

Have You Met You?

How many times did you return from a stressful day of work, or experience of a deeply stressful situation and tell your partner, family member, or friend how you felt, and they responded by saying “I am sorry, that stinks, or you should have done this instead of that”.

In these moments, many feel alone or judged. Certainly unheard.

Some Research:
Seeking to better understand why some couples have healthy, lasting relationships while others do not, psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues arranged their clinic and research lab at the University of Washington to look like an inviting bed and breakfast. They asked research participants, 130 couples, to spend a day at the retreat and watched as they did what most people do on a typical weekend—prepare meals, chat, clean, and hang out.

As Dr. Gottman and colleagues studied the interactions of each couple, a pattern was observed. Throughout the day, partners would make small, seemingly insignificant requests for connection from each other. For example, partners would express interest in a movie or show, something they had read, or an event that happened in the past week outside of the relationship, Gottman and colleagues call these requests for connection “bids.”

Dr. Gottman and colleagues define positive and engaging responses, showing genuine interest, as “turning toward” and negative and passive responses as “turning away.” As it turned out, the way couples responded to these bids had a profound effect on their satisfaction and well-being. Gottman found that couples who had separated or divorced during the six-year follow-up period had “turn-toward bids” just 33 percent of the time—meaning only three in ten of their requests for connection were met with interest and compassion.

In contrast, couples who remained together after the six-year period had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nearly nine times out of ten, the healthy couples were meeting their partner’s emotional needs by the seemingly simple trio of listening, reflecting, and validating.

Now here’s the kicker: by observing these types of interactions, Gottman and team was able to predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples——will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy, several years down the road.

Yes, there was emphasis on diversity and combinations of defined couplehood, an extremely important factor (that merits further studies).  While much more needs to be learned and applied to be truly effective in helping couples, this is a promising start.  At Embolden Psychology, our perspective emphasizes the importance of friendships and work relationships, not just  romantic or intimate ones. How relationships proceed seem to have certain trajectories that can be observed and used in helpful ways.

How to recognize invalidation
You don’t have a say in decision-making
They reject your emotions and instead tell you how you ‘should’ feel.
They resort to stonewalling or silent treatment when you try to put your point across.
They pin the blame of your distress or unhappiness on your perceived sensitivity.
They shut down the discussion and dismiss the whole point of having a conversation.
After a conversation, you feel ignored, rejected and judged.
Your relationship has turned into a one-sided conversation.
There is an absence of cues that suggest they are listening.

How to validate someone’s feelings
In order to effectively emotionally validate your partner/friend/loved one, here are simple steps you can follow.
Stop what you are doing and listen. This is very hard to do when we are preoccupied. Like meditation and mindfulness, practice strengthens the pathways.
Understand the emotions that your partner is expressing and if you cannot, respectfully ask for clarification.
Work to understand what contributed to their feeling.
When responding to their distressing situations work to show unconditional positive regard.
Demonstrate genuine understanding to their individual experience of the problem.
Reflect. The only way to check out what you actually just heard or thought you heard is to find out.
Try to adjust your energy level in sync with their mood and response. For example, curb any unnecessary emoting when they are sharing a personally distressing narrative.
Refrain from giving unsolicited advice.
Being validated is so powerful. It’s meeting yourself and seeing it reflected in someone else’s eyes.

Learn more about emotional intelligence and the workplace here.

The neuropsychology of heartbreak

Using a series of elegant studies with fMRI scans, psychological assessment, and self-report questionnaires, Dr. Helen Fisher was the first to show that there are actual structural and functional changes in the brain in the midst of romantic love. When we are in love, parts of the brain experience a tidal surge of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that plays a key role in pleasure and feelings of relaxation. Interestingly, parts of the brain that are implicated in judgment, negative thoughts, and fear  experience a reduction in neural activity at the same time.  Love IS blind, at the brain level.

However, after a break up, there is a decline in dopamine and slowed caudate brain functioning that is akin to that experienced after a severe injury. Parts of the brain that light up during physical pain are equally activated when study participants were asked to relive and describe a bad breakup. Having a more brain-centered understanding of romantic grief may be crucial for mental health, psychotherapy, and healing.

Five factors that may help, based on the neuropsychological research:

  1. Avoiding visual reminders of the former partner.  These may include pictures, places, and social media that remind us of the heartbreak.
  2. Re-building dopamine, through working out, going for walks, being with a companion animal, and community service/volunteering.
  3. Using social support. Talking to friends, close family members, and even friendly strangers has been associated with increased dopamine activation.
  4. When needed, seeking professional support through counseling or psychiatric consultation, to help manage anxiety, depression, and dopamine depletion.
  5. Creating new routines and schedules separate from the past loss.  Creating novel experiences and laying down patterns of unassociated activities starts the creation of neural pathways separate from past memories.

Final note:  There’s no way around a broken heart. It’s a working through thing. Using information from neuropsychology as a tool helps.

Also see The Neuropsychology of Ghosting.

Mental distress and social exclusion

Her: I usually feel excluded at work; with colleagues, meetings, or in conversations. I’m invisible: I don’t matter.f
Him: One of my best friends recently started dating somebody. I’m happy for her, but she has no time to chat or hang out. I feel like I don’t matter.
Them: My partner has a new job. Everything is about their work. I feel like I don’t matter.

Humans are “herd animals.” We all want to feel included. As much as we will hear “don’t care about what other people think,” “do your own thing,” that’s not how we’re built.

Belonging and ‘fitting in’ are core needs. Long-term social exclusion can lead to emotional distress and a host of mental health problems. One study even found that social exclusion can lead to impaired self-regulation, meaning that people may struggle to make healthy decisions for themselves when they are being socially excluded. For example, if you are feeling alone, you might eat that quart of ice cream or finish that bottle of wine. In contrast, people who are in close, caring, and secure relationships and friendships show elevated levels of oxytocin, which is the love/bonding hormone that keeps us ‘on course’, even at the cellular/neural level.

So it’s completely normal and understandable that you might feel rejected if you feel left out of plans or your friend group or people you care about are having fun without you.

If you feel left out regularly, there are some things you can do to deal with these feelings. We all get left out and ignored sometimes (no one can be liked by everyone), but we can learn to surround ourselves with people who truly want us around. In addition, we can learn to manage our feelings better, so we don’t feel as bad in the times we will be left out.

Accept your emotions
A lot of our hurt comes from trying to deny, suppress, or run away from our feelings. Giving space for our feelings can paradoxically make them more manageable. Accepting your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to love your current situation as it. You can still try to change and improve the things that are bothering you in life.

What does accepting emotions look like in practice? Let’s say you’re feeling left out of family gatherings or friends who are spending time together. Accepting your feelings means saying to yourself: “right now, I’m feeling rejected, and that’s tough. There is nothing wrong with how I feel. I can be still be kind to myself.” Self-compassion is not static; you may have a wave of hurt that takes you by surprise. Contrary to popular belief, self-actualization or Nirvana are not phases that are permanent; you have to soothe yourself as the feelings come.

Make sure you haven’t misread the situation
Sometimes we assume that we have been purposefully left out or rejected, but that isn’t always the case. It’s worth examining the situation and how we feel about it. Note that examining your emotions doesn’t mean shaming yourself for them. Your hurt feelings are still valid even if you misread the situation. Shaming yourself isn’t going to help.

Let’s say that you hear of two friends hanging out together on a day you were free. You may feel hurt and sad because they didn’t ask if you want to join them. Feelings of envy, jealousy, inadequacy, and shame may creep up. Thoughts like, “I guess we’re not so close after all” may fill your mind.

Ensure that you’re making yourself available
How do you deal with the feeling of being left out? Some people share their feelings, while others may pull away in an attempt to protect themselves.

It may come out of a fear of “burdening others” with your needs or presence. Or perhaps it’s a deep fear of abandonment or rejection.

Some people “test” their friends by not responding to their texts for a while. They wait to see if their friends check up on them and “prove that they care.”

The worst communication is tit for tat: they did not respond to me, so I’m not going to text them. They did not invite me so I’m not going to invite them. They don’t care about my feelings, so I’m going to show them I don’t care.

Bottom line is that you do care. You can learn how to make your overall communication appear more friendly and approachable. Just reply to messages and calls. Let people know you appreciate them. Give and receive compliments with grace. These actions send the message that you’re available for new connections.

Check if your expectations are realistic
People have different expectations from friendships and romantic relationships. Some people need a lot of time together, while others want to have a lot of alone time. While some people prefer to have two or three close friends they do most things with, others prefer to have many friends, contacts, followers, and acquaintances.

As we get older, our friendships change as well. As people become parents, they spend more time with their children and expanded families. When they meet up, they cannot be as spontaneous as their friends with no kids. They have to be back home by a certain time to say goodnight to the kids or send the babysitter away. Sometimes they’ll need to bring their children with them and prefer to go to kid-friendly places. This also relates to people who have companion animals who require attention. If they are rushing home to take care of their furry companion, it’s a responsibility that needs to be respected.

We also tend to get busier as we get older. Obligations such as work, juggling work, family both young and old, self-care, and keeping up the house take more of our time. Our interests change as well. You may have had friends you bonded with over late nights, meaning of life conversations, and barhopping, who may no longer have those interests or ability.

In some of these cases, friendships can adapt and grow. You may not see a friend for several months as they adjust to a new job, relationship, or parenthood, and you may hear from them again when things have settled down. Another friend may have moved away but reconnects. With virtual communication and travel, distance is not what it used to be.

Enjoy time spent alone
You’ll feel left out more if you’re not enjoying the time you spend by yourself. Learn how to be. Eat the delicious food, drink the delicious libations, watch your favorite show, read the book that you’ve been saving, light your favorite candle. Just as you nurture people you love, spoil the one who is with you the most.

Remind yourself of your amazing qualities
When we feel left out, we might come up with all sorts of stories about ourselves. You might start thinking: No one invites me because they don’t like me. I’m boring and needy. If I were fun to be around, I’d have more friends. Then, we start to believe ourselves. We feel that we don’t have anything to offer others, affecting how we interact with people, leading to a vicious cycle. Try to make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them often. You can use daily affirmations or put post it notes on your laptop or mirror. Let yourself celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a mental high five when you try something new, pay off a bill, or go for a run.

Meet new people
How do you know if you have flaky or toxic friends? If you find yourself extending yourself to others, with your time, energy, finances, and interest, and not receiving the same effort back, it may be time to make new friends.

A friendship that leaves you feeling consistently feeling left out and rejected may be doing more harm than good.

A good friendship should feel overall balanced and reciprocal. There are often periods in a long friendship where one person is busier than the other or needs more support. That’s normal and something you can work through together. But if you feel like you’re the only one giving in in your relationships, you may consider taking a step back.

Talk to a therapist
If you find yourself feeling left out frequently, there may be something deeper going on. It may be that you’re misreading situations and feel left out even around people who enjoy your company and want to include you.

Or you may be struggling to recognize when someone wants to be your friend, leading you to choose unhealthy friendships or put yourself in situations where you will be hurt.
In either case, you may benefit from working one-on-one with someone who can help you identify where you’re stuck. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to remove these blocks and make changes in your social interactions.

Honest communication; or how to express your needs. 
When bringing up sensitive topics, it’s always best to focus on “I” statements. Talk more about how you felt than what the other person did, so it does not come out as an attack. When people feel attacked, they are likely to respond defensively, and the conversation can turn into a conflict rather than coming up with solutions.

For example, if you want to share that you feel left out, avoid saying things like:
“You’ve been ignoring me.”
“I’m always calling you, but you never call me.”
“If you cared about me, you’d have made time for me.”

Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t expect your friend or partner to “fix” them for you. Listen to what they have to say and try to come up with a solution together.
Takeaway: Being kind to ourselves sets the standard for what kind of behavior we accept from other people. This does not minimize normal human feelings of pain, loss, abandonment, jealousy, even anger.

All lost relationships hurt badly. The one you have with yourself is your constant.

Seven myths that get in the way of relationship effectiveness

  1. Getting even feels good and is worth any negative consequences; you have to get back at people.
  2. Other people should approve of me and like me.
  3. People should know what I want and I shouldn’t have to ask.
  4. I know everybody lies and you can’t trust them.
  5. I shouldn’t have to work at getting what I want.
  6. People don’t deserve me and everything I have to offer.
  7. I don’t have much to offer.

See also How Mental Flexibility Helps Romantic and Family Relationships.

Life After Gaslighting

Gaslighting refers to when someone tries to overwrite your memories, experiences, or perceptions. Simultaneously, they may convince you that you are wrong if you attempt to question their “edited” version of reality. Over time, the individual being gaslighted starts doubting their own thoughts and memories. Most mental health professionals consider gaslighting to be a form of emotional abuse that’s particularly insidious.

Gaslighting can look like a friend or partner saying you are overreacting, exaggerating, or misunderstanding the situation.

It can be a parent telling a child that they are oversensitive or dramatic.

It can even happen in the context of social justice, with minimization or denial when an individual is upset about sexism, racism, and other forms of injustice.

Life After Gaslighting:
Release and express strong emotions.
Crying easily, feeling angry, doubting feelings of happiness are all common after an extended period of doubting or suppressing emotional expression, or being punished or even ridiculed for emotions.

Learn to See the Positive in Vulnerabilities
Often people end up feeling ashamed of their emotions after having been told they are wrong over and over again. Being vulnerable takes practice. Allowing yourself to be expressive in vulnerable ways can be tried out with trusted friends or professionals.

Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Gaslighting erodes your trust in yourself. When you’re constantly hearing that you’re doing something wrong, it’s only natural to begin to question whether you can do anything right. You might find yourself constantly apologizing. Being able to safely make mistakes without being criticized or mocked helps regain your trust in yourself. It also helps you see that you are human, and making a mistake is not a big deal.

Be Gentle With Yourself
Many people turn against themselves when they realize they’ve been gaslighted, blaming themselves for not recognizing or confronting it. Keep in mind that this kind of self-criticism is a common result of gaslighting. Try to let go of self-blame, and be compassionate with yourself.

Surround Yourself With Love
Spend as much time as you can with people who love and appreciate you. Talk with them about the doubts, insecurities, and fears that became a part of your life through the gaslighting relationship. Allow them to validate your reality as you let go of constant self-doubt. Let these connections nourish you.

Create a psychological first-aid kit
What are some healthy things you can do right now to soothe your hurt and treat yourself with TLC? What are the things that give you energy? Create a list of the activities and things that raise you up. I call this a “psychological first-aid kit.” When you are feeling low, turn to it, to practice some good self-care. Some psychological first-aid kits might include going for a walk, calling a trusted friend, painting or coloring, reading, watching a movie, cuddling a companion animal, and meditation.

Forget Closure
If you feel like you need closure to move on, you probably aren’t going to get it from the narcissist/gaslighter. When a “relationship post-mortem” discussion is not possible, the onus of the healing process falls on you. You will likely not hear an apology or explanation. In addition, gaslighters are adept at telling you not to talk to other people about what happened, so often there are very few people to bear witness about what you have experienced.

Reconnect
You may have become isolated from your friends and family. Gaslighters/narcissists work to distance you from others. Reach out to friends and family that are emotionally healthy. Make sure you ask them if they’re emotionally available so you don’t create a burden inadvertently. You’ll know they’re emotionally healthy because when you are around them you feel relatively calm, and most importantly, like you can be yourself without judgment or criticism.

Learn From Your Experience
Learn from your experience, but keep in mind that you may see everyone as a potential gaslighter for a while. The trauma of gaslighting can lead to being emotionally cautious and leery. Give yourself time to process and heal without having to plunge into new relationships.

Also see The Anxiety Toolkit.

Surviving A Relationship Break-Up

Surviving a relationship break-up can be one of the most difficult things we ever do and on an emotional level can be one of the most painful processes in our lives.

People are not well equipped to deal with break-ups, because we rarely are taught anything about healthy coping after a break-up.

By using these suggestions, it will not stop you from experiencing the pain of the loss, but instead, will help you move through the grieving process as quickly as possible and let you move on to ultimately have more satisfying relationships in the future.

1. Don’t Fight Your Feelings
A break-up is often accompanied by a wide variety of powerful and negative feelings including sadness, anger, confusion, resentment, jealousy, fear and regret, to mention a few. If you try to ignore or suppress these feelings, you will likely only prolong the normal grieving process, and sometimes get totally stuck in it. Healthy coping means both identifying these feelings and allowing ourselves to experience these feelings. As hard as it is, you cannot avoid the pain of loss, but realize that by experiencing these feelings, they will decrease over time and you will speed up the grieving process. The stages of grieving frequently include: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, depression and eventually acceptance. Extreme grief feels like it will last forever, but it doesn’t if we cope in some healthy ways.

There are several conditions that will likely intensify your negative feelings, including:

    • Not being the one who decided to break up.
    • Not seeing the break-up coming.
    • This being your first serious relationship.
    • Your ex being your only real close friend.
    • Continuing to run into your ex.
    • The relationship having made you feel whole or complete.
    • Your ex starting to date someone right away.
    • Thinking about your ex being sexual with their new partner.
    • Believing that your ex is the only one in the world for you.

2. Openly Discuss Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings related to the break-up is an equally powerful tool to manage them. As we talk to supportive friends and family members, we can come to some new understandings and relieve some of our pain. Holding all of these negative feelings in just doesn’t work, although there may be times when this is necessary, such as in public settings, at work, or in class. As we talk to others, we usually discover that our feelings are normal and that others have survived these feelings. Above all else, don’t isolate yourself or withdraw from those people who can give you support.

3. Write Out Your Thoughts and Feelings
In addition to talking to others, it can be very helpful to journal your thoughts and feelings related to the break-up. People are not always available when you need to get out your feelings and some feelings or thoughts may be too private to feel comfortable sharing with others. The act of writing your feelings out can be very freeing and can often give you a different perspective about them. The psychologist, James Pennebaker, found that writing out your thoughts, stream of consciousness, in a journal, 15 minutes a day, had significant therapeutic effects that were commensurate with therapy.

4. Understand That Break-ups Are Often An Inevitable Part Of Loving/Dating.
Remember that many of our dating relationships will end up in a break-up. This is the very nature of dating. Until we find our best match, we are going to be moving in and out of relationships, so expect it. This way, we won’t feel so devastated when it does happen. Relationships usually end for some good reasons and they should end if we want to find our most suitable partner. Of course, no match will be perfect and we have to decide how long to keep looking and what we can live with. Finding a complementary partner is more than about love and therefore, it is going to likely take many dating relationships to find.

5. Don’t Personalize The Loss
It is natural after a break-up to blame yourself, but try not to personalize the loss for too long. Much of the pain of a break-up comes from seeing the loss as your fault and regretting the choices you made while in the relationship. This process of self-blame can go on endlessly if you let it.
It is far more helpful to see the ending as a result of conflicting needs and incompatibilities that are no one’s fault. Each person in a relationship is trying to get their own needs met and some couples are able to help fulfill each other’s needs and others are not. One of the biggest issues is being able to communicate and negotiate those needs. It’s not easy to learn, so don’t blame yourself and try not to blame your ex. He or she is likely also doing the best they can, given their personalities and life history. No one goes into a relationship with the goal of making it fail, or hurting the other person.

6. Prioritize Basic Self-Care
Self-care refers to ensuring that your basic needs are being met, despite the fact that you may be feeling upset and depressed due to the break-up. You may not feel like eating but do it anyways, and try to make some healthy choices in what you eat. Give yourself ample time to sleep, particularly since this may be difficult for you. The short-term use of some herbal alternatives or sleep medications may be necessary to ensure you get the sleep you need. Sleep deprivation will only compound your suffering. Keeping up or starting an exercise routine can also make you feel better both physically and psychologically. Remember, exercise causes the release of endorphins, which can make you feel better.

7. Get Back Into A Routine
Since going through a break-up can create a sense of chaos in many areas of your life, continuing on with your routines will give you a better sense of stability or normalcy. Although taking some expectations off yourself temporarily can help, returning to routines shortly after the initial blow can help calm you down and give you a returning sense of control. This might include routines around wake-up and bedtimes, meals, educational or work related activities, exercise, and time with others to mention a few.

8. Indulge Yourself
If there was ever a time to pamper yourself, it is after a break-up. You need to do something that will actively make yourself feel better. Indulgence can take many forms, depending upon what you really enjoy, but could include: going to a special restaurant, going to a movie with a friend, having a hot bath, trying a massage, going on a short trip, buying something new, taking the weekend off, taking a yoga class or reading your favorite book.

9. Give Yourself Some Slack
Expect that you are not going to be functioning at full capacity for a time due to the distress you are experiencing. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to lighten your load for awhile.

10. Don’t Lose Faith In People Or Relationships
Since you may be feeling very hurt after a break-up, it is easy to assume that all men (or women) are bad or untrustworthy, but this just isn’t true. By holding on to this belief, you will be denying yourself all kinds of opportunities for a great relationship in the future. We can’t over-generalize from relationship history and assume that it will never work out.

11. Let Go Of The Hope You Will Get Back Together
Unless there is some very strong evidence that you will reunite with your ex, try to let go of this possibility. Bringing closure to the relationship is impossible if you continue to hold onto the hope that the relationship will be resurrected. This means don’t wait by the phone for a call, or try to e-mail or text them to try to have a little more connection, or beg to get back together, or make threats to get them back (i.e., you will commit suicide). These options will only perpetuate your emotional distress in the long term and make you come across as desperate, which will further impact your already shaken self-esteem. Life is too short to wait for someone to come back to you after a break-up.

12. Don’t Rely On Your Ex For Support Or Try To Maintain A Friendship
It’s not helpful to depend on your ex after a break-up, especially to help you overcome the pain of the break-up. It makes it a lot harder to get over someone if you’re continuing to see them or trying to maintain a friendship. After a significant period of no contact, a friendship might be possible, but wait until you’re feeling very emotionally strong again.

13. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Strategies
There are several ways of coping with a break-up that are considered quite unhelpful and will likely only compound your problems. These include such choices as drinking excessively, doing drugs, overeating, self-harm, gambling or shopping excessively, or becoming a workaholic. You may be tempted to do whatever you can to avoid feelings of loneliness and pain, but it is essential to find healthier ways to cope.

14. Make A List Of Your Ex’s Annoying Qualities
If you have been feeling bad because you keep thinking about how much you miss your ex or how well suited you were to them, it can be helpful to make a list of all of their less endearing qualities. Particularly if you didn’t initiate the break-up, it’s easy to focus on everything about your ex that you will miss, which can only magnify your suffering. If you spend some time reflecting, you may come to see incompatibilities in the relationship that make it easier to let go and come to see that there is likely a better match out there for you.

15. Avoid The Temptation To Take Revenge
The idea of retaliating against someone who you feel may have hurt you significantly is very tempting, but making this choice may have unforeseen consequences.

16. Examine What You Can Learn From The Relationship
We can learn a lot from all the relationships we have been in, particularly ones that are painful. It’s very helpful after a relationship ends to spend some time thinking about and writing down what you have learned so that you can have better relationships in the future. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up or blame yourself for the relationship not lasting. Learning promotes growth, while self-blame (i.e. feeling you’re a failure) only extends your suffering.

17. Make a List Of All The Benefits Of Being Single
Although being single again may be an unwelcome event, if you were not the one who chose to break-up, it is worth reminding yourself there are some definite benefits to being single.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • You are now much more able to put your own needs first.
    • You will soon have the excitement of dating again, even though this may feel a little
      scary.
    • You will have more control over your daily routines, not having to negotiate these with someone else.
    • You can spend more time with friends and family, who may have been feeling neglected.
    • You can do some traveling, that you might not have been able to do with your partner.
    • You can eat what you want, when you want to.
    • You can go to bed and get up on your own schedule.
    • You will be able to meet lots of new people, since you now have more time to do so.
    • You may now be free of criticism.
    • You will have much more individual freedom.
    • You have the whole bed to yourself.
    • You now have more time to read.
    • You can be as messy as you want.

18. Perform A Closure Ritual
At some point in the process of letting go and grieving the loss, it can be very helpful to have a closure ritual. This symbolic gesture can be very meaningful if it is well thought out and considers the right timing. This could involve such things as: writing a letter to yourself or to your ex with your final words regarding the relationship, removing all of the photos you have of your ex, or burning some reminders of your ex in a ceremonial fashion.

19. Remember That You Can Survive On Your Own
It is important after a break-up to remind yourself that you were able to survive on your own before you entered the relationship and you will be able to survive on your own now that you’re no longer together. Relationships do not and should not make us whole, even though they are a part of our life and our happiness. We all need to be able to stand on our own and meet our own needs, regardless of the status of any one of our relationships. Remember, the healthiest relationships are with two people who are able to meet their own needs.

20. Start Dating Again
Although it is often hard to decide when the best time to date again is, don’t jump right back in and don’t wait forever. You do need to grieve the loss and discover what you can learn from the past relationship, but you also have to move on, which means beginning to date again. Keeping the dating more casual at first might be wise, rather than jumping right into a deep, meaningful, long-term relationship. Dating can help you see that there are lots of other possible connections out there, if you open yourself up to this possibility.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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