Signs of Grandparent Alienation

grandparent alienation

If the parents of adult children don’t have healthy relationships with their kids, it can be hard for those grandparents to have healthy relationships with the grandkids. After all, the grandparents have to go through their kids to have access to the grandkids. This can lead to grandparent alienation.

Grandparent alienation is about power and control. The parents have the control. They use the grandkids as instruments to wield it. This can be a way to “punish” the grandparents or manipulate them to do things the parents’ way. Here are some examples that can suggest that this is happening.

  1. Parent withholds or limits contact with grandchildren via phone, Facetime, or face to face.
  2. Creates strict rules around when, where, and how contact can happen.
  3. Ties contact to the parents’ needs or desires, such as babysitting, the child’s need for transportation, or money to pay for something for the child such as school, sports, or other activities.
  4. Avoids including the grandparents in things like holidays, birthdays, or school functions.
  5. Parents don’t allow the grandchildren to speak lovingly of the grandparent.
  6. Parents subtly teaching the grandchildren to treat the grandparents poorly.
  7. Lack of appreciation or acknowledgement for the grandparents’ positive influence in the grandchildren’s lives.
  8. Criticizing the grandparents in front of the grandkids.
  9. Lying to justify the parents’ behavior.
  10. Blaming.
  11. Telling the grandchildren about adult issues that don’t concern them.
  12. Refusal to have a conversation based on the issues.
  13. Ignoring the grandparents.
  14. Grandparents feel that their child is “brainwashed” by the spouse.

This is unhealthy for all parties. Although the grandparents love their grandchildren, many disengage because they fear that the damage to the grandchild is made worse by their involvement. There is no one size fits all solution to this problem. If this is impacting your family, you may wish to speak to a therapist to find your way through it.

Healthy Boundaries for Grandparents

healthy boundaries for grandparents

It’s holiday time! Lots of stress can happen when expectations are high, time is short, and buttons are pushed. Old family issues can rear their heads making this an unpleasant time for some people. Here are some guidelines for healthy boundaries for grandparents that may help.

The Parents Rules are Your Rules

“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” That means that the parents get to decide what are the rules for their children. Consistency matters. It helps to create stability. So, defer to the parents when it comes to bedtime, diet, discipline – everything. This doesn’t mean you have to ask how to do every little thing. Observe how the parents do things and keep the rules the same when the kids are with you. It shows respect and confidence in your kids’ ability to parent. This will go a long way with the parents and the kids.

Don’t Pass the Baby!

Times are different. The previous generation did a lot of things that today’s moms don’t do. One of them is pass the baby. Babies have undeveloped immune systems. Passing the baby to many different people can make the baby vulnerable to infections. Let people admire the baby from afar. If mom wants baby to be held, let her pass the baby to others.

Don’t Ask About (More) Children

Today’s adults are having fewer children or even no children. Trust that if they want kids, they will have them when they are ready. It’s not “wrong” to wait, be childless, or stop at one or two. Infertility is also on the rise. The inability to get pregnant could be a sensitive topic. Avoid talking about it unless the subject is brought to you.

Don’t Let Your Grandkids Run Amok

It can be tempting to be the “good time” grandparent and let your grandkids just run wild. Unfortunately, you don’t have to deal with the temper tantrums later. Kids need discipline. If a child gets away with being sassy, messy, undisciplined, you’re teaching them that’s it’s worthwhile to manipulate and have temper tantrums. It’s much healthier to show them how to make amends, be pro-social, and cope with disappointment.

Don’t Sneak the Kids Treats

Lots of grandparents want to treat their grandkids. Back in the day, that was often done with sweets. Many of today’s parents are more food conscious than in the past. We have a lot more food-like substances and foods with sugar added than in the past. Many people have struggled with emotional eating, too. So parents may not want their kids to associate sugar with rewards. Follow the parent’s guidelines.

Don’t Pump Your Grandkids for Information

Grandparents may be concerned about how things are going. Asking the grandkids for information is not the way to get it. Let your relationship with your children dictate what is shared. Don’t go through the backdoor to get information.

Don’t Use Guilt or Manipulation to Get Your Way

Guilt and manipulation are never the way to improve relationships. They are power plays that create a winner and a loser. If someone loses, the relationship loses. Approach the parents with respect. Allow them their dignity. Respect their power. Parenting is a huge responsibility. They need support. Give it to them.

Assume the Best

People are different. Generations are different. There are bound to be differences in values when it comes to how your kids are rearing your grandkids. Assume that the parents want the best for their kids and are doing their best. Unless the kids are being abused or neglected, it’s all going to be okay. Even the most well-meaning parents make mistakes. Most of us turn out okay.

Grandparents can assume that being a grandparent gives them certain privileges and rights. When children grow up, they become sovereign beings who guide their own lives. They may decide that their rules for themselves are different than those that they were brought up with. That’s okay. Everyone is healthier and happier when their boundaries are respected.

When Is It Time to Walk Away From Your Relationship

walk away

Relationships are tough! It take a lot of bravery to enter into one and even more to walk away. So how do you know when it’s time to walk away?

Why Relationships Are Hard

Relationships are hard because we tend to be drawn to those who fit our into comfort zone. We like people who inspire us to be our highest and best selves, love us the way we want to be loved, and help to maintain our shadows. This last piece keeps us in our dysfunction unless we grow. And if we do grow, then that person is no longer a match.

For example, if our pattern is to find comfort in taking care of others, we choose partners who need that care. If we feel inferior, we may choose a partner who puts us on a pedestal. If we have a lot of shame or guilt, we may choose someone who either validates that by putting us down or someone who accepts us as we are. Either way, the partnership keeps us in our shadow.

When we begin to grow, if our partner isn’t growing with us or in the same direction, we grow right out of the dynamic that brought us together. So, it can often feel like we have to choose between what’s in our best interest vs. what’s in the interest of the relationship. If we choose the relationship and stay the same, a part of us dies.

When To Walk Away

So, when is it time to walk away? Well, there is no right or wrong answer. What is “right” for one person won’t be right for another. It’s not black and white. So, the guideline is to know yourself. Know what your deal breakers are. They are times when the cost outweighs the gains. Here are some possible deal breakers.

Safety Issues

I put this one first because I hope that we all agree that where there is no safety, there is no relationship. I refer to physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. We all have a right to sovereignty. Our bodies are a sanctuary. Our thoughts and feelings are also precious. They are ours. We have a right to them. If they are invalidated or violated, we cannot thrive. We all owe it to ourselves to choose situations that allow us to be our highest and best selves.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that our partner agrees with us or caters to us. It does mean that we are free from harm, coercion, and judgment.

Children Issues

Children are forever relationships. They are non-negotiable. If one of you wants children and the other doesn’t, it’s a deal breaker. Forcing someone to parent who doesn’t want to parent is a recipe for disaster.

If you already have children and the children don’t accept the new partner, the relationship will endure unbearable stress. You may be able to help the kids feel more secure in time. So, this could be more of a “let’s slow down” thing than a “we need to break up” thing. If the children perceive it’s a choice between them and your partner, someone is going to lose. It’s best for all if things move at a pace where everyone can feel loved and like they have a choice.

If your partner’s ex makes co-parenting with you impossible, that could also be a long term hassle that is just not worth the cost.

The other common issue with children is when partners have a radically different parenting style. Believe it or not, money and children are the top two reasons that couples argue. When one is too lax and the other is too strict, this can be a deal breaker. Parents care about their kids. They want them to be healthy and happy. When parents have different ways of achieving that, it can feel invalidating.

In-law Issues

Compatibility is a balance between sameness and differences. The things that are the same provide us with a foundation for commonality. Our differences keep things exciting so that we grow. Compatibility looks at things like socio-economic status, age, religion or spirituality, education, intelligence, recreational preferences, political ideology, sexual likes and libido, etc.

Unfortunately, one of the things we often overlook is our families. We say, “I’m marrying you, not your family” when in actuality, it’s a package deal. We might get away with not seeing the in-laws often, but if there are kids, the in-laws become aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are now a part of their lives and your family. If they are inappropriate, violent, aggressive, disrespectful, or have radically different ideas than you, you can only go so far away. Separating your partner from her family isn’t a reasonable request. Separating yourself from your partner’s family isn’t very unifying either.

Addiction Issues

If we’re creating a trend, it’s “deal breakers are anything that make you choose between yourself and something or someone else.” In this case, it’s addition. Lots of people in a relationship where their partner has addiction issues say that it’s like having another person in the relationship. The person with the addiction seems powerless over it. So you never know when the next shoe is going to drop. Maybe the next surprise is a financial hit, an affair, a medical issue, or a legal one. It often feels like a betrayal. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when, what, or how. So, it’s like waiting to exhale.

Dishonesty

There are all kinds of ways to be dishonest. They range from telling withholding the truth, telling “white lies”, half-truths, bold face lies, and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is deliberately manipulating to make the other person question their sanity). Relationships are based on trust. Anything short of honesty undermines trust.

It takes two to tell the truth. One to speak it and the other to hear it. If the fall out for telling the truth is not worth it, then perhaps the relationship is not healthy enough to sustain itself. It’s like a choice between “Am I going to maintain my integrity for me, or am I going to sacrifice it to stay in this relationship?” And if you choose the latter, is it a relationship that you want to be in?

Works in Progress

We’re all works in progress. We make mistakes. All relationships go through growing pains and challenges. Sometimes we go through period of the problems above and we can work it out. Sometimes we compromise our integrity or comfort for a while out of love for our partner. That’s not a bad thing. Commitment is often lacking in our modern world, so it’s commendable. Only you can choose when enough is enough.

If you’re going through this process, I suggest you ask, “What is staying costing me? Is this a price I am willing to pay?” Then proceed mindfully. Accept the consequences and cost. Look at the growth opportunities for you and allow the situation to take you out of your comfort zone and into a healthier place. Whether you stay or go, you will come out healthier, so it’s a win/win.

 

Am I Out of Control?

Am I Out of Control?

I recently posted an article about how to deal with a toxic family over the holidays. But what if you are contributing to the problem? Let’s take a look at how you can reframe the situation so that things stay safe and calm for everyone.

Am I Out of Control?

Few people are truly out of control. Those that I have seen are usually incarcerated or in a psychiatric hospital.

Do you keep it together at work? What about at the gym, grocery store, or other places away from family? If so, you’re not out of control. You may be choosing to lose control at home because you don’t have the same repercussions. It’s safe.

This is not the same thing as “I can’t stop myself.” If you truly could not stop yourself, you’d lack control in all situations. So the good news is, you can learn to use the same control that you exhibit in some situations and generalize it to all situations.

Everyone deserves to have a safe place. Even you. When you lose control, you are negatively impacted too. So let’s look at how to regain that control.

What Do You Really Need?

Sometimes when we blow up at people, what we really need is to feel safe. Things are too tense, so we want some space. We create it by pushing people away with ugliness. If this is what is happening, you could use the direct route and just ask for what you need. Or you can excuse yourself so that you can get that space. It’s okay to ask for what you want.

Sometimes we go for alcohol or drugs when we really just want to relax or feel more social. The alcohol helps, but then we go overboard. We end up doing or saying things we regret. If you want to relax, there are hundreds of effective techniques you can learn that will help with that that don’t have the side effect of leading to hurtful or undesirable behavior. If you want to be more social, you can learn skills that make this easier and more comfortable.

Sometimes being difficult is about needing to release the tension of being overstimulated. It’s hard for some people to deal with the stress of too much noise, too many people, expectations, and traffic that the holidays can bring. So, we meltdown. Instead of melting down, you can cope ahead and make a plan of what to do so that you can pace yourself. Take breaks and go outside. Limit the amount of time you spend at parties or with others. Have a plan for what to do afterward to decompress.

Healing begins with self-awareness. Find out what you need. If it’s something that someone else can give, ask for what you need. If this is something you need to do for yourself, follow through. Perhaps you don’t know what you need or what to do. You can get help to figure it out. Change is possible if you want it.

Limit Vulnerabilities

Coping is easier when you limit vulnerabilities. “Vulnerabilities” are anything that makes the stress worse and the chance for behaving in an undesirable way more likely. Common vulnerabilities are:

  • fatigue and a sleep routine that is not regular or long enough
  • being hungry or eating unhealthy food
  • consuming unhealthy substances like sugar, alcohol, and drugs
  • lack of exercise
  • being inside all day, sitting
  • not having a regular spiritual practice
  • harboring anger
  • loneliness

As you can see, the holidays are a perfect time for vulnerabilities to skyrocket. There are sweets everywhere. Social demands increase so we may skip exercise, meals, and sleep to accommodate others. The days are shorter and cold, so we might not get outside. This leads to resentment that we don’t express. And we can feel more alone in a crowd. This is why it’s even more important during holiday season to stick to your self-care routine.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is the best way to make your life more pleasant for you and everyone around you.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Everyone has power. Even if the problem starts with someone else, you are in control of how you respond. You don’t have to contribute to the problem. You don’t have to respond. If you have the skills, you could even do something to halt it or improve things. When you hold yourself accountable for your part, you gain a sense of contr0l over the situation. Powerlessness is crippling, so this is a great way to regain your footing again.

What About Trauma?

Maybe all this sounds like common sense, but what if it seems supremely hard because of a trauma history? That’s legitimate. Having a trauma history does make it challenging to do simple things like say, “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” It does make it harder to know what’s happening inside of you before you blow up or meltdown.

Fortunately, there has been an explosion of training in mind/body techniques in recent years that makes treatment more accessible, shorter, and more effective. Seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment could be the best thing you do for yourself. Starting now could make next year’s holidays very different.

So, whether things are out of control or you are out of control, there is a way to smooth the path forward. It starts with you. The changes that you make can make all the difference.

 

 

Surviving the Holidays With a Toxic Family

toxic family

I often talk about the importance of family ties. Family is important to one’s sense of self, connection, and happiness. Yet when our family is not healthy, navigating our lives around them is hard. Surviving the holidays with a toxic family can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to help with that.

What Do You Want?

You can start by asking yourself what you want. There are many ways to have a happy holiday. You don’t have to do it any particular way. It doesn’t have to be expensive, grand, include particular people, or anything at all. It can be whatever you want it to be. So let go of expectations and ask yourself, “What do I want?”

If what you want is to not share the holidays with your family, don’t. Do it your way. You can do it alone, at a restaurant, at a resort, with your spouse and children, with friends, or whatever tickles your fancy. You don’t have to cater to tradition, someone else’s fantasy, or other people’s expectations. It’s your holiday too. Make it a happy one.

Stand Your Ground

Share your thoughts and feelings and stand your ground. You don’t have to explain, rationalize, or justify. If you offer excuses for what you want, it invites others to offer solutions or objections. A simple declarative statement will suffice. (Examples: I’m going; I’m not going; Not this year; We have other plans; I’ll be there for an hour. I can come at this time).

Cope Ahead

What calms you? Think about those strategies and have a plan in place for before and after so that you can maintain or regain your equilibrium. Maybe this means you get a night of deep sleep, schedule a massage, or do some yoga. Maybe you plan an outing with friends, turn off your ringer, or do a hike in the woods. Having a self-care plan makes it more likely that you will follow through with it when it’s needed.

Witness But Don’t Engage

If someone is turning up the crazy, witness it but don’t engage. Sometimes people will quiet down if they can’t get a reaction. If not, well it still doesn’t have to be your problem. Remember “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

If the drama is focused on you, this is a lot harder to do. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s just directed at you. You have a choice to engage in your old roles or create a new one. Seeing through the lens of empathy, compassion, and detachment can help you step back and let whatever is directed at you flow past without touching you.

Limit Your Exposure

Even a saint has a hard time in unhealthy environments. If you choose to be in one, it may be a good idea to keep it short. It’s a lot easier to endure stress for two hours than two days. If you can duck out for a few minutes, that’s even better. Does someone need something from the store? You could volunteer. Do the kids want to play a game of football outside? You could join in. The further away from the drama, the better. Perhaps you can even avoid the whole thing this way.

Acceptance

Whatever is happening, accept it. Trying to change it, control it, pretend it’s something else, or complain about it only intensifies the distress. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it. It’s just a way of staying present. Staying present keeps you from being carried away.

Know Your Limits

If your family is not just dysfunctional, but truly toxic, know your limits. Sometimes it’s really better to cut ties. Family is important, but stability is even more important. You can’t have a relationship with anyone if you are crying in a corner somewhere. You can’t heal if you’re being wounded all the time. Do you, and love them from afar.

Two People Can’t Be in a Crisis At the Same Time

When parents lose a child, it often ends in divorce because two people can’t be in crisis at the same time. Each is in a place of need and the other isn’t available to give because they are also in need. This leaves both feeling alone and unsupported. 

Losing a child is a pretty extreme example. Here are some others that show how this can happen in less extreme ways:

  • When someone has an affair, the Betrayer is dealing with the events that led to the affair, the fallout, and potentially the loss of the new lover. The Betrayed is dealing with the betrayal. They are not in an ideal place to help each other because they are the source of a lot of pain. They are also in a space of overwhelm. We can’t help from that place.
  • When each partner in a relationship has a mental health issue, each can escalate and get lost in their own needs. They then become unavailable to help the other because they are overwhelmed. For example, if A needs to feel connected and B needs to get away to feel safe, A can chase. This is the exact opposite of what B needs. B can then blow up to push A away. This often makes things worse as well.
  • If a couple uses the Hero-Victim-Oppressor triangle (codependency), and one of them steps out of their role, it can feel so alien and scary that the other behaves in such a way to make them go back to the dysfunction. This sustains the status quo and prevents them from moving to a more healthy way of being.
  • When there is a new baby, mom can be tired because of the time and attention that the baby demands. Dad’s not sleeping so he’s tired. He’s also frustrated by losing mom’s affection. Neither has anything to give the other so both can feel neglected.
  • Or more simply put, two overwhelmed people can’t help each other. They don’t have any juice to give to the other.

The Giver & Taker

We all have a giving side. Some of us live there. We all also need to receive. Some of us are great at receiving and being taken care of. Others not so much. Often Giver and Taker find each other because this feels like a comfortable fit.

The healthiest way to function is to have healthy Giver and Taker energy within us. We can give and receive from others, but we primarily do this for ourselves. That is what makes us sovereign people. We rely on ourselves for what we need but lean on others for connection and meaning.

What to Do When Crisis Hits

When we’re in crisis, the first priority is getting out of the crisis. You can’t take care of others. You’re in fight or flight. That’s what crisis is. It’s hard to think when we’re overwhelmed. It helps to have a plan beforehand. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a list go to people you can call to talk to. Include hotlines if you don’t have people you can trust.
  • Create a comfort box that contains things that help you be grounded. Some suggestions are tactile squeeze toys, photographs of happy times, coloring books and crayons, music, and hard candy to suck on. It can hold anything that distracts you in a happy, calm way.
  • Create a safe place and go there. This can be a corner of a room, a tree in the park, or your car. Sit there, away from the stimulating thing, until you feel calm again. Breathing helps.
  • Have a mantra or practice that helps you to stay grounded in your body. For example, you can say, “I am safe now” or practice tightening and releasing different parts of your body. So you can squeeze your eyes shut as you inhale, then exhale as you relax the muscles. Do this all over your body.

We want our closest partners to be there for us when the chips are down. Sometimes they can’t. When you’re both in overwhelm, it’s just not a realistic desire. Remember “Two people can’t be in crisis at the same time.” When this time hits, take care of yourself first. Insist on it.

Don’t expect your partner to hear you or even recognize that you have a need when they are overwhelmed too. Maybe he or she can, but it could be at the expense of his or her own health. It’s a lot to ask.

It’s okay to lean on family members or friends who aren’t in crisis. However, if the source of your crisis is your partner, don’t share that part with others. They may take sides and this can make the relationship worse. You don’t need others to agree that your situation is hopeless. You need people who will help you get back on your feet.

Recap

When you and your partner are in crisis:

  • Focus on getting out of the crisis first.
  • Prioritize yourself and meeting your own needs.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Lean on family, friends, a hotline, a therapist, but not someone else who is in crisis. Don’t add to their overwhelm.
  • Stay close and connected to your partner. Witness their struggle, but don’t attempt to help if you don’t have it to give.

This probably doesn’t feel very satisfying. We all want a lot from our partners. It’s really risky rescuing a drowning person because they often take you down with them. It’s the same as getting involved in someone else’s crisis. We can’t help if we’re depleted. Accepting it for what it is helps it to sting less.

Yearning for Sovereignty

sovereignty

The young girl wants to spend time with her friends, choose her own clothes, and make her own career choices. She’s fighting with her parents who want her to do and be something else.

A grown man doesn’t know who he is. When he was growing up, if he said he liked pink, his mom said, “You don’t want that. That’s a girl’s color.” If he said he wanted to be a waiter, his mom said, “No, you want to be a lawyer.” When he cried, his mom said, “You’re okay.” Now he’s unsure how to make a decision without consulting someone else.

A worker hates going into the office because his boss nitpicks. Nothing is done right, on time, at the level of quality that his boss wants. No matter how much unpaid overtime is “donated,” it’s not enough. So being there is soul-stealing and stressful.

A wife says “I don’t know” many times a day because if she goes left her husband tells her she’s wrong. If she goes right, her husband tells her she’s wrong. Little things like how much sauce to put on spaghetti can lead to an explosion. So waits to see what’s okay before she can move.

A girl sits in a mental hospital. She spent her childhood in anxiety over good grades so that she could get into a school her parents approved of. She spent her young adulthood in a program of study that she wasn’t interested in to have the status to fit into her family. And one day she broke.

An elderly man is haunted by the voice of his dead father. He has been gone many years, but he still feels controlled by his judgment and disapproval. He feels he will never be good enough. Now that his father is dead, his chance to win his approval and be set free is gone.

All of these people are yearning for sovereignty. We all need sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the space to be who we are, to do what we want, and to have autonomy. We all have a place in the world that we control. For some, it’s just the bubble around our bodies. For others, it’s huge companies, homes, and large tracts of land. It’s the space that we care for and express our uniqueness. It’s how we say “I am here. This is me.”

Maybe I do it by singing. Maybe you do it by wearing quirky clothes. Most often it’s little things that others can’t even notice like going to bed when we’re tired, feeling our feelings, and thinking our thoughts. Nobody wants to be controlled. Nobody wants to be invalidated. We’re all legitimate.

There are so many things we can’t control in life. The bubble within is our own domain. We can stand up and say, “Hey, this is me! I want this. I don’t like that. These are my feelings! This happened!” That’s living. When we do that, we don’t have to yearn for sovereignty, we can be sovereign.

You’re enough. Be sovereign.

May today be the start of that adventure.

How to Have a Healthy Break Up

healthy break up

Relationships are risky. Sometimes they don’t work out. This can be true even if both parties are great people. Maybe there aren’t enough shared interests to keep them connected. Maybe they each want different things. Or perhaps they just make better friends. It happens. Not all relationships are forever. So, it’s good to know how to have a healthy break-up.

Talk It Out

It’s not always easy to talk about cutting ties – especially if this is not your choice. However, if at all possible, communicate openly about your thoughts and feelings. Talk about what was good, what didn’t work for you, and keep it positive. No blaming, complaining or fighting.

Whatever you do, don’t lie. Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t make promises you won’t keep to let someone down easy.

Leaving on a respectful, high note is so much nicer than having a knockdown drag out fight. It gives you both dignity and helps close the door on this chapter of your life so that you can move on.

Set New Boundaries

It’s a good idea if both parties agree on what the new ground rules will be. Does a break up mean no contact? Are you planning on maintaining a friendship? If you were best friends, share mutual friends, like the same hangouts, or have kids, this is an important thing to consider.  Having clear boundaries will keep you from having a long period in limbo.

Respect the Boundaries

It’s tempting to go back to old habits. For you and your ex, it’s better to respect the new boundaries. You’re not a couple anymore. That means things change. Let them change. This is a great time to focus on yourself, not your past or your ex.

Spend Some Time Alone

It’s usually a good idea to have some time and space after a break up to reflect. Relationships can teach us a lot if we pay attention. If we don’t give ourselves this time, we may simply go right back into a new relationship with the same dynamics that we left. So, give yourself space to grow before you connect with someone else.

Having some space can also give you the privacy to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be upset, let down, angry, lonely, or jealous. You feel what you feel. When you’re done feeling that, a new feeling will come along. For now, be here.

Stay Busy

While it’s a good idea to feel your feelings, you don’t want to get bogged down in them. Everything in moderation! Making time for friends, family, engaging in hobbies, or taking that new class can help to heal the pain of a break-up. Staying busy keeps you from going into dark or destructive places too.

Maintain Self Care

It can be tempting to let go of everything and mourn. When we feel this way, it’s most important to maintain self-care. Be sure to eat healthy foods, take care of hygiene needs, exercise, have social time, and make space for your spiritual practices. Don’t overeat, indulge in alcohol or drugs, or use gossip as a way to escape. This will only prolong the pain of the break-up.

Things end. All the time. This is part of life. When we rehearse and participate in healthy endings, they are easier to endure. They just become natural. So if you are experiencing an ending, remember that they are also beginnings.

 

Why Defensiveness is a Relationship Destroyer

defensiveness

If someone says something that we perceive as “You’re bad,” we generally respond in one of two ways:

  1. You’re even worse (attack).
  2. No, I’m not! (defense)

Both of these are relationship destroyers. Most of us know that attacking leads to fighting and away from connection. In this article, I will discuss why defensiveness is a relationship destroyer. I will also let you know what to do instead.

When two people are connected, they play off each other. If you zig, I zag. So, when someone gets defensive, it puts the other person in the position of being the attacker – whether they actually were or not. Both attacking and defending sends the message, “You’re the bad guy!” This sets up the hero, victim, oppressor triangle. There are no winners here. This pattern can last forever with no forward movement, only hurt for all players.

So what do you do instead? Here are some skills to help.

Observe

The first thing that has to happen is that you notice that your buttons have been pushed. When our buttons are pushed, that alerts us that we have buttons. Buttons are growth opportunities. It’s not about what the other person did or said- even if it truly was hurtful. It’s about how we responded to what they did or said that made us vulnerable. So this step is about noticing that we were tweaked and now we’re in a vulnerable position.

Take a Moment to Pause

Slowing down gives us a chance to respond with thoughtfulness. Our impulses may get us in trouble. Take your time. Step back and breathe.

Achieve Clarity

Think about what really happened. What observable data do you have? Are you jumping to conclusions? What does this situation look like if you remove all the judgment? If you are unsure of what you heard, saw, or interpreted, ask for clarification.

Be Effective

When choosing your next move, be effective. What is your big-picture goal? For many of us, our immediate goal is to feel safe again. This is why we attack or defend. Resist that impulse and lean into the problem. If your big-picture goal is to retain connection with this person, think about what will get you there. Think about the data you just got from getting clear.

Did this person really communicate that you’re a bad person or was that your past training creeping in? If this person really did attack you, was he playing out some past issue? Can you bring it back to the real issue? If you feel safe enough to do this, go vulnerable. It’s a really easy way to neutralize conflict when you’re dealing with someone who cares about you.

Let’s look at an example to make this more clear.

Guy: Are you wearing that?

Sheila:

  1. Look at what you’re wearing! You’ve got some nerve asking me about my wardrobe. You’re not exactly fashionable yourself. (attack)
  2. What’s wrong with what I have on? Are you calling me fat? (defensive)
  3. Yes, I love this outfit!
  4. Oh! Do you think it’s not a great choice? I really care about your opinion. What prompted your question? I feel pretty when I wear this. It’s one of my favorite outfits.

Do you see the difference? The first two are probably going to lead to hurt feelings. The third doesn’t show any signs of buttons being pushed. It’s assertive and creates no conflict. In the fourth, a button was probably pushed. It acknowledges the hurt feelings, asks for clarification, and shares the speaker’s perspective. It’s much more connecting and honest than the attack or defensive answer.

Defensiveness is one of the Gottman’s Four Horsemen that predict relationship failure. Chances are, if you have one, you have more than one. If you want healthy relationships, you have to know what kills them and what nurtures them. Removing defensiveness as a coping strategy will help you grow with people instead of away from them.

Early Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships

early warning signs

It’s a lot easier to not get into an abusive relationship than to get out once it’s started. Since abusive relationships don’t usually start out bad, it’s good to know the early warning signs to avoid getting deeply entangled. Let’s take a look at some of the common signs.

Love Bombing

If the relationship starts off with over the top enthusiasm, gifts, and praise, this is a red flag. Many of us want to be swept off our feet and showered with love, but when it happens in real life, it could be a sign that what he really wants is for you to let your guard down and let him in. Humans are taught to reciprocate. We don’t like to say no to someone who gives us something or likes us. This is a great way to reduce objections.

Everything Happens So Fast

If you feel your new relationship is happening at a whirlwind speed, this is another sign that things need to slow down. Get to know each other’s friends, family, likes, dislikes, politics, religion, feelings, and everything else. This takes time. We don’t reveal our whole souls in a couple of months. It may take a while to know whether or not you’re compatible. If things move too fast, you won’t get a chance to find out until it’s too late.

She’s Never Wrong

If you can’t disagree with your new partner because she’s never wrong, this is a red flag. Life comes with conflict. It’s okay to have different feelings and opinions. It doesn’t have to mean someone is wrong. Or maybe it’s a factual error and someone was wrong. That’s okay. Being able to admit that and move on is a sign of a healthy ego and good problem-solving skills. Hanging around someone who is never wrong foreshadows a rough road ahead.

Flashes of Anger

Does your new guy show flashes of anger and then backs down? Trust that! Those flashes of anger could turn on you. They could mask fury that will be directed at you. Anger is a normal healthy emotion. We all get angry sometimes. It can be a problem when it escalates out of control. Watching how anyone new who enters your circle handles anger is a good idea. If it’s not healthy, perhaps you should create some distance from them.

Lying

Lying is always problematic. You can’t have trust where there isn’t truth. The abusive partner can take this to a whole different level. Perhaps it’s about lying about little things that make no difference just to confuse or test you. Maybe it’s making up stories to make you think you’re crazy. Or maybe it’s covering up things that would make you leave. All you need to know is that if someone lies to you, they are not trustworthy. You can’t have a healthy relationship without trust.

My Way or the Highway

If you don’t have the freedom to make your own choices, you’re not in a relationship. You are in a dictatorship. Where you have no power, you can have no happiness. You’re an adult. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, what to wear, what to think, or how to spend your time. It’s okay to have differences of opinions. That’s what makes life interesting. If you think you need someone to tell you what to do, get some help with that. Giving your power to someone else will be a really costly choice in the long run.

You’re Afraid to Talk About Certain Subjects

When you’re afraid to bring up certain topics, it’s probably because some part of you dreads the consequences. Healthy, equal partners have to talk about tough topics sometimes. It’s not always pleasant, but it won’t end with someone feeling beaten down, marathon fighting, name-calling, or being hurt. This red flag doesn’t mean your relationship is abusive, but it does indicate that you have some communication issues. If there are other red flags as well, you could be in an abusive relationship.

You Struggle to Be Happy With Your Partner

Relationships are living things. They either thrive or suffer based upon our shared experiences. If we have positive ones, they grow and feel good. When we struggle or have negative experiences, our relationships stagnate or hurt. If you spend your time mainly arguing, working on something, or repairing something, you may not be the best match for each other. So you might have to ask yourself if a good five minutes is worth a not-so-great rest of your life.

Everyone has lovable qualities, even people who are abusive.  Anyone can fall for someone who is abusive. If you have your eyes open, you don’t have to stay there. So what do you do if your relationship has these early warning signs? Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to find out for sure if your relationship is abusive. If you need help getting out, they can help with that as well.