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Adele Theron | The Naked Divorce - Part 2

How to Survive Christmas Alone: Part two

This is the second part of the series. Haven’t read Part One yet? Click here.

 

Okay, so you’ve pulled up your reindeer-print socks, you’ve got into the Christmas spirit (cabinet), you surrounded yourself with awesome friends and family until Boxing Day, perhaps you even scored a cheeky kiss on New Year’s Eve. But now what?

Everyone feels a lull after festive celebrations, and it’s not just the sugar comedown.

You pour all that energy into buying presents, preparing food, meeting with friends… there’s all the excitement and build-up and cheer and organised fun and then – it stops. Back to reality. Grey skies, if you’re in the Northern hemisphere. January, stretching out before you. Pretty much everyone is starting to feel a bit “meh”. If you’re preparing to start your first year in a long time as a singleton, it can feel rough.

If you’re preparing to start your first year in a long time as a singleton, it can feel rough

So how to stop yourself sinking back down into despair? How to make sure you don’t undo any progress you’ve made over the Christmas period to get yourself in a better headspace?

The important thing is this: don’t lose momentum. To feel strong, vital and in control, you need to be active.

Inaction is a very, very common problem after a breakup or a divorce. You sink into a passive state and you wait for things to change. You wait to feel better. You wait for the pain to pass. You wait to want to do things again. You wait for your ex to realise their mistake. You wait for someone to fix you. You wait for a new perfect partner to come along.

It doesn’t work.

The longer you wait, the more stagnant and helpless you become. The more your emotions will crystallize. The more “dead” you feel inside. You need to take the reins and turn the situation around for yourself.

So start by making yourself a New Year Resolution that will actually help you to start healing.

Resolve to let go of your suffering.

If you’re totally honest with yourself, is there a teeny – or not so teeny – part of you that’s actually clinging on to the pain your feeling? If so, why?

Ask yourself: what do I actually get out of being in this situation? What’s the upside?

For example, are you using your pain to get away with being downright lazy, or avoiding responsibility?

Does it give you a free pass to sleep all day, drink too much, eat whatever you want?

Or maybe it’s putting you at the centre of attention?

You’re getting pity and sympathy from your friends?

Or you get to feel righteous because everyone has damned your ex as a terrible person that’s totally in the wrong?

Is there something a bit intoxicating about the moral high ground?

Is part of you enjoying the drama?

Or are you frightened to death of what you’ll feel when you stop feeling all this anguish?

Give points and examples for each of these, if you suspect they might apply.

Be as honest with yourself as you possibly can, even if it hurts. Even if it makes you feel embarrassed. Even if it undermines your narrative as the helpless, wronged victim in the situation. Even if it means you might have to have to drag yourself off the sofa, do things you’d rather avoid doing, and start taking responsibility for your own emotional state.

Because that’s the next step in all this: working out how the choices you make to be passive are hurting you.

Write down how your wallowing state is negatively impacting on your life. What are you losing, or missing out on, by hiding away and feeling miserable? How does letting the spectre of your ex dominate your thoughts hem you in and stop you doing what you want? How is the constant need to have friends comfort you and feel sorry for you putting strain on your relationships? What is the cost to your health, to your career, to your vitality and well-being? What is the cost to your future love life and the chance of you meeting anyone else?

Scared yourself enough yet? Good, because it’s time to knock this wallowing on the head. It is time for you to ACT.

For each negative impact you’re listed, think of an action that could counter it. Think of a positive action you can take that will give you a sense of purpose.

That will help you to feel like you’re growing, that you’re vital, that you’re connected to others. That will get you far away from the sofa as you possibly can. Perhaps you’re going to start running again.

Perhaps you’re going to make sure you see friends for drinks or dinner twice a week, come hell or high water. Perhaps, for a little while at least, you’re going to ban any mention of your ex from conversation and focus on your friends’ problems instead.

Start small: that’s fine. Set attainable goals – but once you have, force yourself to work towards them.

When you feel yourself starting to slide, go back to the list you made and ask yourself why you’re drifting back to a self-pitying, self-damaging state. Get yourself back on the right track.

The point is that you’re replacing passivity with ACTION. Action breeds more action. It’s not a race. For now, you just have to set yourself on the right track. Once you start putting one foot in front of the other, it will get easier with every step.

 

What New Year Resolutions are you making this year?

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How to Survive Christmas Alone: Part One

How to Survive Christmas Alone: Part One

Christmas is a tough, tough time for the newly single. Ultimately, it’s a holiday that’s all about spending time with family and the people you love, which can feel like a slap in the face when your family unit is splintering or you’re slowly, painfully, falling out of love.

Everywhere you look, it seems the world is rubbing your nose in it. You’re surrounded by images of happy, loved-up couples, festive romantic comedies, adverts reminding you to buy a perfect present for that “special person” in your life. Not to mention the prospect of sitting through Christmas dinner with that emotionally defective great-aunt who can’t help asking intrusive questions about your divorce. What a minefield.

Faced with all of this, I can understand why part of you wants to tell your family you have the ‘flu, cancel your plans and curl up in a ball under a duvet for the whole of December, wallowing in your misery.

Don’t do that. Seriously: don’t. Self-pity is an indulgence all of its own – but not the Christmassy kind. You ARE going to get through this. Here’s how.

1) Force Yourself to Do Festive Things

Get into the Christmas spirit. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even though the niggling voice in your head is telling you it’s pointless and not to bother. Why let all your little Christmas traditions, the things you’ve always done and that make you happy at this time of year, disappear along with your relationship?

Buy a tree and decorate it, dammit. Put up those fairy lights or wreaths. Dig out the most ridiculous Christmas jumper you can find and get your festive playlist all cued up. Light the fire. If you’re lucky enough to get snow, rope in your friends or your kids (or your friends’ kids) to build a snowman. Laugh. Fill the house with Christmassy smells.

This is your home, it’s Christmas, and you’re free to make it as wonderful or beautiful or kitsch and cheesy as you like. Do it hope however you want to make a safe, cosy, joyful environment to be in.

2) Make Christmas All About Other People

Its super hard to drag yourself out of your own negative emotions, but one of the best ways to get out of your own head is not to let things become all about you.

Doing stuff for other people will make you happier. It will make you feel more useful, more valuable, more connected, more alive. And when better to do that than at Christmas, a time that’s made for giving and caring, being warm and generous and kind?

Take a minute to write a sincere, heartfelt note in the Christmas cards you send. Throw yourself into picking or making lovely presents and treats for your close family and friends.

That’s doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune: just think really carefully about what you can give them that has real meaning or would be special to them. Take pleasure in their pleasure.

Be social: invite your besties over for mulled wine and mince pies, turn on the cheesy Christmas music and have a good giggle. Browse Christmas markets with friends. Go see a play or a film with a mate. Ask your siblings how they are and really listen to the answers. Offer to babysit for a frazzled friend while s/he does their last minute shopping. Make an effort to turn up to the parties, dinners and drinks you’re invited to – even if it means bringing a friend in tow for moral support.

Even better, go a step further and volunteer.

Serve Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter. Send present parcels to Children in Need. Help out at a soup kitchen. Spreading some love and showing some solidarity with those who feel lonely and vulnerable – and who are in an even shittier situation than you – is good for the soul, good for your community, and good for you.

3) Practice Gratitude

You probably don’t feel like there’s much to be thankful for right now – but I promise that after you’ve started on steps 1 and 2, it will feel a lot easier!

Get into the habit of writing down at least one thing you feel grateful for at the end of every day. Make it something specific, like a kind word from a stranger, or how a friend went out of their way to make your afternoon fun, or the way your kids hugged you and said they loved you before they went to bed.

This help you to shift your mindset from focussing on the pain and negativity you’re feeling to the little nuggets of joy in your day. It helps you to remember the good stuff, and to look out for it.

Christmas makes this easier, not harder. It’s a time when everyone’s making an effort to meet up, when presents are exchanged, when you see people you’ve been meaning to call for ages. Everyone around you is in high spirits and willing to do nice things for each other. There are parties to go to where you can drink too much and perform ill-advised karaoke.

If you have kids, they’ll be making you presents and cards for you at school. You can get away with drinking Eggnog and Kir Royal and hot chocolate with booze in it. There’s yummy food everywhere to eat, guilt-free.

That’s a lot to be grateful for. Don’t let yourself forget it.

Feeling stronger and more festive already?

Click here for Part Two.

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Cling On – or let go? Pt3

Cling On – or let go? Pt3

Okay, we’ve now talked about how your relationship dynamic affects your basic needs to feel safe and secure Part One and your psychological need to feel loved and valued Part Two. But what about the top of the pyramid: self-fulfilment?

 

Self-fulfilment

In the grand scheme of things, at least for people from most walks of life, the chance to feel ‘fulfilled’ is a pretty new idea. In the past, a lot of couples would largely have settled for security, fidelity and companionship.

But in the last 50 years or so, all that has gone out of the window. It’s just not enough anymore. We all want and expect to feel fulfilled: in our jobs, in our relationships, in our lives as a whole. We want to reach our full potential and to feel as if we’re achieving something genuinely meaningful.

 

Self-actualisation

Here’s the thing, though. Self-actualisation is hard.

It takes a lot of work to be the best you can be. A hell of a lot of work. Work that only you can do, by yourself.

It takes a lot of work to be the best you can be. A hell of a lot of work. Work that only you can do by yourself. And while it’s totally reasonable that you’d want your partner to be supportive, encouraging and willing to help you along the way, expecting too much from them can destroy a relationship.

Eli Finkel, the American psychologist, puts it pretty well when he says that modern couples increasingly expect each other to guide them their journey and “grow as individuals.”

“People are looking to their spouses to help them discover who they are, and to achieve the best version of themselves,” he says. “You are really hoping that your partner can help you on a voyage of discovery and personal growth, but your partner cannot do that unless he or she really knows who you are, and really understands your core essence. That requires much greater investment of time and psychological resources.”

Being someone’s on-call Jiminy Cricket is a full-time job, and no one has the boundless time, energy and insight to guide their partner through every step of the way.

In other words, being someone’s on-call Jiminy Cricket is a full-time job, and no one has the boundless time, energy and insight to guide their partner through every step of the way. Besides, that level of emotional investment would mean neglecting your own goals, dreams and journey towards being the best you can be.

 

Ruthlessly pursue your own path

Does that mean that you should ruthlessly pursue your own path and leave your partner to their own devices? Of course not.

Really loving someone often means being willing to drop everything when they genuinely need your help, or sacrificing some of your own pleasures/temporarily overlooking your own needs if it means they’ll achieve something that’s really important to them.

But that doesn’t mean that they have the right to demand that they take priority all the time. Nor should you feel that your purpose is to elevate their needs above your own – that your role is to make sure they succeed at the expense of your own ambitions.

Your partner can help you stay on the right path, but they can’t carve it out or walk it for you.

Only you are in a position to do the things that will fulfil your potential. Before you ask anyone else to give you an extra push, you need to have the self-motivation, self-belief and the right attitude to push yourself – and you need an idea of what it is you want and how you’re going to achieve it. Your partner can help you stay on the right path, but they can’t carve it out or walk it for you.

 

Ask and expect

Trying to put all of that onto your other half is suffocating, and it’s unfair. By all means, ask and expect them to be in your corner, and don’t accept someone deliberately blocking the way of things that really matter to you. But don’t expect them to be your life coach – or your doormat.

Really listening to each other, giving encouragement, pep talks and constructive criticism, bouncing ideas around and suggesting solutions to problems, reassuring each other when you’re having a crisis of confidence, making sure you’re sharing the burden of day-to-day finances, household chores, childcare… all of these things help to create an environment that will facilitate fulfilling your potential.

Equally, giving each other space to pursue the things they want to succeed in, and trying not to become jealous or resentful when they (genuinely) need to put in the extra hours to make it a success, is vital.

 

How does your partner respond

One of the biggest indicators of whether a relationship will succeed, after all, is how they respond to each other’s positive news.

As UCLA researchers found in 2006: “When close relationship partners, specifically romantic partners, regularly respond to positive event disclosures in a supportive manner, disclosers report feeling closer, more intimate, and generally more satisfied with their relationships than those whose partners typically respond in a nonsupportive manner”

Being enthusiastic and excited about their achievement, promotion, great feedback from the boss etc. is absolutely essential – failure to be emotive in your response will undercut their good mood and make them feel hurt and rejected.

Even if do you have reservations, don’t make it all about you by leading with these. Save them until the initial buzz has worn off and you can talk them through together.

 

Congratulate first, talk second

If your spouse tells you they’ve just been given more responsibility at work, for example, don’t respond with “But you already work such long hours! When am I going to see you?” Congratulate them first – and mean it. After that, you can start to delve into the details of what the role involves and how you’re going to make sure you still spend quality time together. Otherwise, they will simply think you are shooting them down because you don’t really care about them reaching their potential – and they’re probably right.

Clinging on too hard too tightly to your other half makes it impossible for them to meet their needs on their own, or to be the best they can be, but being dismissive or indifferent to their efforts will kill your relationship, too.

Clinging on too hard too tightly to your other half makes it impossible for them to meet their needs on their own, or to be the best they can be, but being dismissive or indifferent to their efforts will kill your relationship, too.

 

The key

The key is to make sure that you are not demanding that the other ‘fixes’ you, making them choose between prioritising you and their goals, or turning your relationship into a competition – and that you are showing them that you believe in what they are doing and their ability to achieve it. It’s about both of you giving each other the support that will allow you to grow, and sharing in each other’s successes to bring you closer together.

 

Click Here for More Great Info  Part One | Part Two  

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The perfect relationship

The perfect relationship

Brad, Angelina and the Death of the “Perfect” Relationship

Ever been told “Oh my god, you guys are just SO GOOD together?” even as the doubts are starting to set in?

Or had friends roll their eyes when you mention issues that are starting to bother you because hey, your relationship is great – what are you whining about?

Or worse: broken up with your partner after much painful soul-searching, only to have your parents say: “Are you crazy? They were perfect for you!”

 

Brad&Ang
The perfect couple, or so many thought

Perfect

The problem with being the “perfect couple” is that you’re never allowed to break the illusion. The daily problems and struggles that every marriage experiences are glossed over, ignored, denied.

Sanitised for other people.

This puts insane, unrealistic pressure on your relationship. It makes you feel like every imperfection or tension is a personal failure. It prevents you approaching problems head on and working through them rationally. It speeds up the demise of your marriage when the cracks start to form.

And eventually, it deprives you of the support you desperately need right when you need it most: after your divorce.

 

Brangelina

Let’s take a look at the Brangelina breakup for a moment. These are two of the most beautiful, successful people in the world.

Two people that, on the face of it, seem to have the most picture perfect marriage.

They’re wealthy. They’re both top of their profession. They’ve worked together on a ton of successful projects, as well as pursuing independent goals. They’ve raised a beautiful family. They travel all over the world and own houses in far flung, exotic locations.

“It doesn’t matter how rich or beautiful you are, presenting a sanitised version of your relationship is exhausting.”

 

Performing

But you know what else?

They’re two people who spent their entire ten-year relationship in the public eye. Who have had to perform being happy in love for a press mob that picks apart every word and gesture for a decade.

They’ve had to put a flawless face forward even as they’ve negotiated some of the most stressful and emotionally exhausting events a couple can possibly experience together: the serious health problems and multiple, invasive surgeries, the death of parents, the high profile criticism of professional and personal choices, adopting and raising children, running their own businesses and managing their own creative projects.

Who had to cultivate a façade even for those people they see and speak to and confide in every day, in case their words are sold to a newspaper by a “source close to them”.

 

brad-pitt-angelina-jolie-happierdays
Brad and Angelina in happier times

Exhausting

It doesn’t matter how rich or beautiful you are, presenting a sanitised version of your relationship is exhausting. There’s only so long you can pretend that difficult, hurtful, stressful things aren’t taking their toll on your relationship. And when it falls apart, you absolutely need people who love you to step in, give you a hug, listen to you talk about what you’re going through and really listen.

Now, hopefully no one reading this will ever be in a position where the dirty laundry of their divorce is publicly strung up in the tabloid press, but I’m sure many can relate to the feeling that you’ve been horribly misrepresented by your partner, by your friends and family, by your social circle, or even (if, for example, you’re battling for custody) in a court of law.

If you’ve gone out of your way to present the happiest, shiniest, most perfect version of your marriage until now, it can be particularly hard to counter or handle this. Especially if everyone adores your ex and you’ve never attempted to disabuse them of the notion that this person is just as perfect as you’d always let them believe.

 

How do you backtrack?

How do you persuade them, after all this time, that actually things weren’t as wonderful as they seemed, behind the scenes? How do you trust someone to really listen and be supportive when you feel that they’re judging you harshly for “throwing it all away”?

Here’s the thing: you’re not going to be able to change a bunch of people’s minds when they’re dead set on siding with your ex. And do you really need to, anyway? What will you gain by it? Is it going to help you to move on?

Of course, if you’ve spent years putting on a show of being the perfect couple, it will most likely cut you deep that you’ve lost control of your “public image” now. You might panic that people no longer see in in the positive way they’ve always seen you in – or even as the cause of your relationship’s breakdown. At this point, it’s tempting to go on the offensive, painting yourself as the victim and telling everyone who will listen about your ex’s every fault.

 

Won’t help

But this will not help you heal and move on. In fact, it will do exactly the opposite.

Firstly, you will probably end up fighting a proxy war of he-did-this-she-did-this with your ex via your friendship group. That’s bound to get ugly, souring your relationship with your ex even more and leading to stuff coming out about you that you really didn’t want shared.

Secondly, you’ll find yourself becoming a person that you just don’t like. After all these years of fierce loyalty to your partner, striving to show both of you in your best light, here you are bad mouthing or exaggerating their faults to score points. That has to feel a bit grubby. It has to detract from whatever was actually beautiful about the time you shared together.

 

BradAngelina_divorce_battle_NakedRecoveryOnline
Will Brad and Angelina go into battle against each other?

Betray

If you go as far as betraying the trust of that person, unnecessarily disclosing intimate secrets or things that will really hurt or embarrass them, that’s even worse. Mutual friends will most likely think less of you for being so vindictive, your ex will (rightly) be appalled and you will have lost the moral high ground forever. From there, you can only keep clinging your ex’s wrongdoings and your victimhood in an attempt to justify yourself, admit guilt and grovel to your ex / your social circle for forgiveness, or continue along a path of petty revenge. None of these is exactly going to make you feel great about yourself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should lie, cover up your feelings or sugar coat anything your ex has done that led to this breakup. You’ve done enough of that already, and it probably contributed to your marriage’s demise.

“It’s tempting to go on the offensive, painting yourself as the victim and telling everyone who will listen about your ex’s every fault. But this will not help you to heal and move on. In fact, it will do exactly the opposite.”

 

Honest

Instead, it’s a case of being honest with a small circle of people you really trust, and being painfully diplomatic with everyone else.

Again, let’s go back to Brangelina. If, like them, you’re splitting up under the media glare, you have to be incredibly careful about what you say and who you tell. After all, they have six kids to protect as well as each other’s feelings, and they certainly don’t want to go feeding the sharks.

Instead, they decline to comment, or release carefully worded statements like this one, from Brad Pitt:

“I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the wellbeing of our kids… I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time.”

“I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the wellbeing of our kids… I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time.” 

Okay, you might not have to worry about hacks quoting you out of context, but you can take a valuable lesson from this. People are people and they will gossip and twist your words. This is even more the case if your relationship always looked perfect from the outside and your breakup came as a shock.

 

Open and honest

Make sure you sit down the people closest to you and tell them, frankly, that while things weren’t as rosy as you perhaps made them out to be, you are trying hard to keep things civil. Be strong: don’t minimise the things that hurt you or allow them to make you feel these were nothing, but don’t exaggerate them either. Emphasise that you’ve already made your decision and now you need their support, not their judgement.

Ask them to keep what you tell them to yourself. Be open about what you need from them in terms of emotional support. Tell them you’re hurting. Tell them you’re scared.

“If you want to heal, you’ll have to focus on dealing with your own pain and the proactive steps you’re going to take to move on and get your life on track – on your own.”

 

BradAngelina_PressDivorce
Outside pressure is the last thing you need when going through a divorce

Trash talk…

But apart from the specific concerns and frustrations you need to get off your chest, don’t make it all about trash talking your ex. This will become exhausting very, very fast and will prevent you from moving on.

The same goes for people who will inevitably pry or try to goad you into saying things about your ex you wish you hadn’t. Be gracious about this. Say that you don’t want to speak ill of them or go into detail about what went wrong, but ultimately it didn’t work out and you wish them well. Then change the subject and don’t get drawn in: you will feel better about it, and you will come out looking like the better person.

You have to let them go

Ultimately, the important thing is that you don’t fixate on your ex. After all, you’ve broken up now. They should absolutely not be the central focus of your life. You have to let them go.

If you want to heal, you’ll have to focus on dealing with your own pain and the proactive steps you’re going to move on and get your life on track – on your own. You need to work on treating the wound, not keeping it visibly open to win the support of your friends.

If you’re lucky enough to avoid a divorce as public as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s, embrace the privacy that this gives you to heal. Don’t turn it into a min media circus of your own creation. At the end of the day, it’s you that will get hurt.

 

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Change- ‘change’

Change- ‘change’

You have to accept what you can’t change… and change what you can’t accept

How much time did you waste in your last relationship, just hoping that your partner would change?

And how much time did you waste complaining about the situation – but doing nothing about it?

Perhaps you stayed with your ex for far longer than you should have done, just willing things to get better. Perhaps you’re angry with yourself, now, for the lost years you spent waiting around for the situation to improve.

Perhaps, deep down, you’re still waiting – and it’s stopping you from moving on.

Humans are irrational optimists. We tell ourselves all sorts of fairytales about the future. We desperately want to believe that things will fix themselves.

 

Take control

We’re really, really bad at realising that the only person we can rely on to make our lives better is ourselves.

And, ultimately, there are only two things we can do we can make a tough situation better.

We can learn to accept those things that we just can’t change – and stop trying to change them.

And we can change the things that are within our control.

Accepting what you can’t change doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and deciding that you’re doomed to a life of misery. It means being realistic about what you can live with, and what you can’t.

 

Case study

Take Jessica and Steve.

Jessica knows that Steve is the last person in the world to do something spontaneous. Left to his own devices, he’d happily while away every Sunday in the garden with a beer.

Jessica can’t understand it – when she makes plans on their behalf, he might grumble a bit, but they always have a great time. Yet despite her hints (and the fights), he never, ever, makes the effort to suggest something himself.

Frustrated and hurt, Jessica has decided to force him to change by not making plans and waiting around until he cracks and takes matters into his own hands. In the meantime, she bitterly complains to her friends, non-stop. All she wants him to do is to start taking the initiative. Why can’t he just try?

But of course, Steve is not going to change. He’s a passive guy. He probably won’t even notice what she’s doing and, if he does, he won’t respond in the way she hopes. It’s against his nature. She’ll wind up more and more bitter, and both of them will be miserable.

 

So what can Jessica do?

First, she has to admit to herself that Steve won’t change. She has to accept that this is who he is. If she wants to spend her weekends doing fun things together, she’ll have to organise them. Or she can leave him to his own device and spend her weekends with fun, spontaneous friends.If she can live with that, great: if she’s genuinely willing to end her struggle against the situation and stop complaining about it, she can start to feel content with how things are.

But what if this isn’t good enough for Jessica?

Unlike Steve’s personality, Jessica’s situation is within her control. She can end the relationship and try to find someone more spontaneous. She can end the relationship so she can be more spontaneous without a partner.

I know what you’re thinking: as if it just that easy.

Of course it’s not easy. It’s the hardest thing in the world. That’s why we ignore the problem and cling to the hope that our partner will magically become the person we want them to be, even though they are the one factor that we absolutely can’t change.

A partner who loves routine will never become adventurous. A partner who is a risk-taker will never become cautious. A partner who is cruel will never be kind.

And if we don’t come to terms with that, it haunts us even after we break up. It keeps us in the agonising purgatory of wondering: what if?

It keeps us going back to people who are wrong for us. It stops us moving on. It stops us healing.

And it means that, next time we find ourselves in the same situation, we repeat our mistakes over and over again.

I can’t tell you whether you should accept a relationship with unchangeable flaws, or change a situation that’s become unacceptable to you. But I can tell you: for your own sake, you have to choose.

 

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‘Change’ like boiling a frog

‘Change’ like boiling a frog

Hi ho – off to Helsinki tomorrow to get some people on board with a 16-country project I am managing for a client.

I was in Copenhagen a week ago and that was a tough trip – people were very resistant to the change of the project and it made me think.

 

Managing change is a bit like boiling a frog.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway gave a speech at the Harvard Law School in 1995. In this speech, Munger cited a small lesson from frogs. He said:

“If you throw a frog into very hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you put the frog in room temperature water and just slowly heat the water up, the frog will die there.”

This speech was given way back in 1995. So we can expect the current generation of frogs to have become intelligent enough to understand this mystery, but sadly this ‘frog in boiling water’ syndrome continues to play out for both frogs and change management.

 

Let me explain.

Most people dont do well by being thrown into a sudden change. It’s overwhelming and intimidating. They jump straight out of the pot, kicking and screaming. To allow people to adapt to the change, it helps to introduce it slowly – building up a great deal of context of why the change is happening and selling benefits and opportunities to them. As they get used to this change, they warm to the idea and relax a bit. Once they relax, they dont notice that the water around them is heating up and the reality of the change is coming closer and closer to them. Pretty soon they are right in the middle of the change and they totally accept it. Cooked. Dinner is served.

 

Change management

The job of a change management specialist is therefore to get people accustomed to the change happening around them by creating solid context and understanding prior to the change happening. Within my work, a combination of the context being built up with the rules and structures of the program creates a cocoon which enables them to be tough enough to handle the metamorphosis from the change.

So whilst I am in Helsinki, the game I am playing is to slowly but gently cook some frogs.

Parsley anyone?

 

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Cling On – or let go? Pt2

Cling On – or let go? Pt2

In the first part of this series, I talked about how all humans have a basic need to feel safe and secure, and how to make sure that you offer that to your partner in ways that are healthy and not controlling or counterproductive.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Or, in Maslovian terms, the base of the pyramid.

To recap, this is Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs:

heirarchyofneeds-e1412171967833

 

Okay, now let’s move on…

 

Psychological needs.

The moment we’re confident that we’re not going to starve and we’re safe from immediate harm, we start fixating on belonging and love. We need to feel part of something, that we’re understood and cared about, that we have mutual trust, affection and intimacy in our lives. And for that, we seek out companionship, friendship and romance.

But often, this is where the cracks start to form.

Especially when:

  1. One of you believes this need should must be met solely by your partner
  2. One of you underestimates how much the other is looking to you to fulfil this need

Let’s start with the first one: fighting too hard to make yourself the only person who meets this need.

At its core, this is jealousy and self-doubt. It’s the fear that if someone else can give your partner any part of the love or belonging that they need, you will become redundant. 

Maybe your other half is excited about a big night out with their friends. Maybe they’re up all night chatting to a sibling after you’ve gone to bed. Maybe they never miss training, no matter what, even though you’d much rather spend Saturday morning together. Whatever it is, it’s something that makes them happy – but that doesn’t include you. And it feels like a threat.

Okay: getting this bit right is a delicate balancing act. It’s the hardest part of any relationship.

Everyone has that friend who disappears the minute they strike up a new romance, never to be seen again until it all goes tits up and they need a shoulder to cry on. Everyone’s had that awful sinking feeling when the first flush of love starts to die down and they realise they’ve let their friendships slide for months, even years.

 

That feeling of loss

Everyone’s had that feeling of loss when they realise an important bond has slipped through their fingers.

The thing is, being with our partner meets our need to belong in different ways to those of our friends/family/teammates/others we care about.

These bonds aren’t mutually exclusive. They complement one another.

And while couples generally look to each other for love and affection, trying to isolate your partner from the friendships they had before they knew you is hugely destructive. Eventually, they will resent you for it.

Trying to isolate your partner from the friendships they had before they knew you is hugely destructive. Eventually, they will resent you for it.

Hopefully you’ll get on well enough with your partner’s friends and family that you’re a big part of each other’s lives and extended groups. Belonging to each other also means belonging to each other’s worlds. But at the same time, you need to appreciate that their closest friendships and family relationships exist without you – and respect that, when they want to spend time with these people alone, this is a legitimate need and does not threaten your bond.

 

Don’t try and replace

The important thing is not to try and replace or limit your partner’s access to other sources of intimacy. It’s making sure that you both strive to assure the person that you love them, so that you are comfortable enough in your relationship to loosen your grip.

That’s where the second part of the equation comes in: underestimating how much the other person needs you to feel loved, and that they belong.

If your partner tells you they feel lonely and neglected when you’re out all the time without them, hear them out. You might not agree, but don’t get defensive or impatient. or try to invalidate their emotions.

Are you taking them for granted? Are they kind of low on your list of priorities? Do you treat them as a fall-back option when other plans fall through? Do you readily cancel on them, or switch work shifts to accommodate other people when you never seem to be able to do the same for them?

Because if, deep down, the answer is “yes”, you need to get real with yourself about why.

Perhaps you had become a bit wrapped up in yourself, in which case, strike compromises that mean you spend more quality time together. But if you no longer enjoy their company and are not willing to work through your problems, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship. Either way, don’t act as if they are being unreasonable, because they have a right to expect love and companionship from their partner.

Even if the answer to these questions is “no”, berating your partner won’t make them feel more loved and less needy. You’ll wind up having the same fights, straining your relationship and exacerbating the problem.

Reassure them that you love them and love spending time with them. Make plans together and be enthusiastic about it. Look for ways to show them they’re on your mind when you’re apart, even if it’s just a text to see how they are. If they rely on you too much because they’ve let other relationships take a backseat, nudge them to spend time with the friends and family they’ve been neglecting.

And lastly, introduce them to your friends.

This isn’t just about making them feel included. It’s also about addressing psychological needs at the next level of the pyramid: Esteem.

Our esteem needs – the need to feel important, capable and valuable, to have a sense of accomplishment – are obviously met by many sources other than our partners; this comes from our careers, academic achievements, hobbies, passions and meeting important goals. But the dynamic we have with our partner can strengthen or undermine all that.

No matter how confident you are, no matter how talented or capable or good at your job, if your partner keeps you at arm’s length from their friends, family or colleagues, this hurts. You begin to think they’re ashamed of you in some way.

 

We all want to feel that our partner is proud of us

We all want to feel that our partner is proud of us, proud to be with us, proud to be seen with us.

It feels good to hear that they speak highly of us when we’re not there. It feels good when they want to show us off to other people in their lives.

The smallest gestures can communicate this. Making sure you let them know you’re impressed or proud of them for hitting that milestone they’ve been agonising about. Telling them they look hot when they’ve made an effort. Thanking them – sincerely – for something they’ve done for you. Complimenting them or bringing up something they’re proud of in front of other people.

 

You need to give each other space to breathe

You can’t do any of this when you’re consumed by jealousy and possessiveness. You need to give each other space to breathe and do your own thing so that you both have things you’re proud of, so that you can take pleasure in each other’s successes. It’s all about letting go, without pushing away.

 

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That takes us up to Part 3, where I’ll talk about making the tough climb to the top of the pyramid together – and how to give each other the chance to feel happy in your own skin. Click here to read it once released.

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Cling On – or let go? Pt1

Cling On – or let go? Pt1

They take no notice of me. They don’t support me or show any interest in my job, or my passions, or my interests. They don’t listen. They seem bored when we’re together. I don’t feel they’re proud to be with me. They don’t call or text to see how I’m doing. They’re always too busy to talk. I feel I’m last on their list of priorities. It’s like we’re not even a couple.

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe. They’re jealous. They want to know where I am all the time. They hate me doing anything that doesn’t involve them. They call constantly while I’m out with friends. They want to know exactly when I’m going to be home. If I have to work late, they sulk about it. They want to do everything together, all the time.

On the face of it, these two sets of problems sound like polar opposites, right?

You might have even heard the same person say these things about two different relationships. Or about the same relationship at different times.

At the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

Perhaps you thought they were being fickle – that they don’t know what they want. Perhaps you heard yourself saying something like:
“What are you complaining about? I wish my girlfriend was that laidback!”
Or:
“Count yourself lucky. At least he cares enough to get jealous!”

But the thing is, at the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

These things are hard to reconcile. But if you don’t strike the right balance, or understand how these needs fit together you will drive the other person away.

A great way of understanding this is through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

heirarchyofneeds-e1412171967833

Maslow pictured our physical and psychological needs building on each other like a pyramid. You need each type of need to be met before you can worry about the ones at the next level:

 

Let’s start with the basics.

At the bottom of the pyramid you have the survival stuff. You can’t focus on anything else when you’re scare about going hungry, just as you can’t function properly if you’re sleep deprived. If you’re reading this, you’re probably fortunate enough to have access to resources to tackle these fundamental needs. But to get by, even at the most basic level, we also need to feel safe and secure.

 

Safety and security are complicated

Safety and security are more complicated than they seem at first glance.

You might not be living in a warzone, but if you’re afraid of or intimidated by your partner, you will obviously not feel safe. You might not be in a physically abusive relationship, but if your partner cuts off your financial access, or makes it clear that they will kick you out / threaten your home life if they don’t get your own way, you can’t possibly feel secure.

What’s more, people often try to persuade their partners, outsiders and even ourselves that what we are doing is for their benefit, even when our motivations are actually selfish. When it comes to safety and security, these are easily translated for emotional blackmail.

 

Fine line

This means that there can be a very fine line between one person’s idea of being made to feel “safe and secure” and one person’s idea of feeling precisely the opposite.

These distinctions can be subtle. Sometimes only you and your partner really understand each other’s motivations. Sometimes only you know if you’re really doing something to make the other person feel safe, or to make sure they know you’re in control.

Take my friends Tia and Rob (not their real names).

From the outside, they’re adorable. Tia had a rough time growing up, she’s teeny-tiny, and she’s spent much of her life feeling vulnerable. She desperately needed to be in a relationship that would make her feel safe.

When you see her with Rob, he always has a protective arm around her. He boasts on Facebook about running across town in a thunderstorm to pick her up when she was in a crisis. Her friends joke that they wish their boyfriends sent so many messages saying “I love you” throughout the day. Rob is always looking after Tia, doing little things make her feel safe.

Or so I thought.

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met. Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

Until I found her crying in the bathroom of a bar and she admitted she was exhausted and wanted to get a cab home, but Rob controls the money and wouldn’t let her leave alone because it was ‘unsafe’ – and he wanted to stay out all night. Until she told me that, when they fight, Rob reminds her he’s the only thing keeping her from the streets. That she feels trapped and depressed, but she can’t really complain, because he’s just like this because he loves her, right? That she should be grateful that he wants her to feel safe and secure, even if it’s having the opposite effect.

Uh-uh. Nope.

 

What matters

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met.

Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

 

The key

The key is honest communication. It’s listening to each other.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

If your partner’s actions seem possessive rather than protective, explain this to them. If you feel harassed because they keep messaging you while you’re out, set boundaries. If you feel their aggression is targeted at you instead of whatever might hurt you, or that their “concern” makes you worried, stressed or dreading the next fight, you need to make this clear.

And If your partner says this to you, don’t flip out and tell them they’re ungrateful. That you only care about their safety. That you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. After all, if you claim you’re doing something for their benefit and it turns out not to, why keep foisting it on them? Listen to what they actually need from you – and what they don’t.

 

Out of reach

Equally, if you feel your partner is always out of reach when you need them, or you genuinely feel unsafe and unsecure because of their behaviour, tell them. It’s fair to expect someone whose reckless, dangerous or destructive behaviour undermines your peace of mind to tone it down.

Just make sure you’re being honest about which needs are actually being unfulfilled. Don’t claim, for example, that being alone in the house makes you feel unsafe if really you just feel bored or neglected. These are valid feelings too, but it’s a different type of problem, as we’ll discuss in Part 2.

Our basic needs for safety and security are fundamental to everything else in our lives. No matter what else is great between you, if your partner’s behaviour consistently makes you feel less safe and secure, or if they refuse to do simple things that that would help you fulfil this need, your relationship will turn toxic fast.

 

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Part 2 is coming soon, once released you’ll be able to access it here.

 

We’ll look at the psychological needs behind clinging on and letting go.

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Time heals. Really?

Do people keep telling you to give yourself time to heal? That you just need to put some distance between yourself and your trauma? Simply wait for long enough and you’ll feel much better, get over it, and move on.

Well… tell them to get stuffed.

Time is not a healer

Time doesn’t do anything, in fact. It’s passive. It just passes by. Everyone’s seen the elderly person that’s still bitter and angry about something that happened decades ago – clearly time didn’t heal for them. I’m sure you know yourself that old rejections and cruelties and breakups still smart years on, whereas the fights you strive to make peace over straight away are barely remembered a week later.

That’s because healing is an active decision, not a passive one.

Be proactive about tackling the problem head-on

If you want to get over an injury, you have to be proactive about tackling the problem head-on. You clean it, dress it, fix it and make sure it heals properly, so that it doesn’t keep giving you trouble for the rest of your life. We know this about physical ailments. Why pretend it’s any different for psychological ones?

Do you have emotional scare tissue?

If you don’t come to terms with your trauma, it just sits there, like a festering wound. Eventually scar tissue might grow over the top, covering over the cut, but it’s still the same old untreated wound.

Worse, this emotional scar tissue is incredibly damaging, because it acts as a kind of “false healing” that prevents you from ever getting to the root of the problem. If you keep telling yourself that you’re fine when you aren’t, if you keep waiting in hope that the anger or pain or dysfunction you’re experiencing will simply diminish over time, you not only deny yourself the healing you so desperately need – you will also keep repeating the same self-destructive behaviours and mistakes that caused the trauma in the first place.

The chances of divorce increases each time they get married

Did you know that the chances of divorce increases each time they get married? As in, you were to marry a second, third or fourth time, there’s less hope of it working out every time you do? You might think that someone whose first two marriages had gone tits-up, who had lived through the awful trauma of divorce twice already, would learn from their mistakes, get better at choosing the right partner and become more adept at navigating the issues that damage or weaken a relationship. But statistically speaking, they don’t.

Why? Because they trample from relationship to relationship with the same baggage, the same hang-ups, the same issues in tow. The more you repeat an action or way of responding to something, the deeper it becomes ingrained as a habit. The more instinctive that behaviour feels to you. Ironically, it makes you feel safer to repeat a behaviour or a decision you’ve made in the past, purely because you recognise it – and even though it hurts you.

Feels safer to repeat a behaviour or a decision you’ve made in the past – even though it hurts you

False healing doesn’t address these problems. Waiting around until the ache isn’t as sharp as it used to be won’t stop you doing the things that caused the ache in the first place. It doesn’t help you to walk into your new life or your next relationship with the skills, self-awareness and confidence to do things better. It might give you a brief feeling of reassurance that your past misery is behind you, but it doesn’t place happiness firmly on the horizon.

Brighter future

If you want your future to be brighter than your traumatic past, false healing just won’t cut it. Don’t wait for “time” to fix things. Take control. Decide it’s your time to heal, right now. And commit yourself to doing the proactive, practical things you have to do to make it true.

 

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Second marriage mistakes…

Second marriage mistakes…

Starting a Second Marriage? Don’t Assume You’ve Learned from Your Mistakes.

No doubt you already know these depressing statistics: nearly half of all marriages in the US and the UK end in divorce.

What you might not realise is that this number doesn’t decrease as we get older and wiser and (theoretically) better at figuring out what we want in a life partner. In fact, it goes up and up every time people try again.

In America, divorce rates for second and third marriages stand at 67% and 73% respectively.

How can this be?

Let’s just think about that for a moment. It’s scary enough to imagine that, statistically speaking, your first attempt at lifelong commitment is equally as likely to fail as it is to succeed. But for your third attempt to be three times more likely to screw up than to work out…? That people actually get dramatically worse at keeping a marriage together the more chances they have to get it right?

It’s a common and entirely natural compulsion to leave a relationship swearing to yourself that you will never, ever, fall for someone like that again. That, next time, you’ll go for someone utterly different.

And then, in your rush to prove to yourself that you won’t fall into the trap, you find yourself charging headlong into a relationship with someone that, on paper, is the polar opposite of your ex.

Becomes a purely superficial exercise

Now, I’ve talked before about how the main problem with this way of thinking is that, far too often, this becomes a purely superficial exercise.

That’s because the thought process tends to go something like this:

“My previous partner was a total workaholic who never had time for me and it made me miserable – so now I’m going to go for this super-carefree-seeming person who is mostly interested in having fun, and I’ll be so much happier!”

Root of the problem

But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It doesn’t address the communication issues or the self-defeating psychological habits and kneejerk reactions to problems and conflict that, in all likelihood, dominated the decline of your relationships.

It doesn’t help you to recognise the destructive cycles of behaviour that you and your ex were exhibiting. It doesn’t help you to heal and change.

Instead, it externalises the issue in a way that almost dooms you to fall into the same traps, time and again.

Let me explain.

Take the example I gave above. No one really divorces someone because they work long hours and are deeply involved in or passionate about their job.

You might divorce them because you feel feel hurt, neglected or even jealous that your emotional needs seem always to be secondary to something else in your partner’s life.

Or perhaps because you hate feeling shut down or belittled when you try to make demands on your partner’s time.

Or maybe because your partner is actually pretty miserable and resentful about having to work so hard to pay the bills – and that’s translating into aggressive or unpleasant behaviour at home.

Or even the real reason your partner is pouring so much energy into their work is because there’s been a breakdown in communication between you, or there’s a fundamental lack of connection in your relationship, that neither of you have been willing to address.

In which of these cases would it help to avoid a career-focussed partner and opt for a carefree hedonist instead?

Zero, is the answer to that. Zilch.

Just because the hot party animal bartender you’ve hooked up with on the rebound bears no obvious resemblance to your investment banker ex doesn’t mean that your problems and hang-ups will magically disappear. That they’ll treat you or relate to you any differently. Or that either of you will be better equipped to handle conflicts when they inevitably arise.

You aren’t going to feel less hurt and neglected because they’ve ditched you to go on a 5am bender than you did when your ex called to say they had to stay in the office until 10pm.

You aren’t going to be any less upset when they tell you you’re being clingy, dismiss your feelings out of hand or start taking out stress and frustration on you, whatever the cause.

And you aren’t going to be any better at expressing your emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. Or preventing either one of you becoming domineering or bullying in the way you communicate.

Change or expect the same outcome

In short, unless you do the hard work of interrogating your own feelings and behaviours, figuring out where and how to draw boundaries and facing up to the ways that you, too, might have contributed to your breakup, you will not begin to heal. And until you heal, you are dooming yourself to repeat (and to accept) the self-destructive behaviour or coping mechanisms that killed your first marriage, again and again.

And each time you do, you’ll wind up feeling even more helpless. Even more confused. Even more fearful, on some level, that you are unlovable

And each time you do, you’ll wind up feeling even more helpless. Even more confused. Even more fearful, on some level, that you are unlovable.

And even more likely to start pre-emptively sabotaging your next marriage before it has even had a chance to succeed.

This is a seriously important issue. These days, nearly a quarter of people in the US who are currently married have been married before. That’s a quarter of married people potentially carrying around the baggage of a previous marriage. A quarter of married people who, based on divorce statistics, aren’t learning from their mistakes.

A quarter of married people who, if they don’t get their act together and start taking control of the situations, are 67% likely to end up going through the pain of another divorce.

Divorce is traumatic

Divorce is a truly traumatic event. It is psychologically devastating. It harms your physical health and wellbeing. It’s financially catastrophic. And while, when divorce is necessary, you have to find the strength to survive it, you never, ever want to put yourself through that pain for reasons that you can absolutely avoid.

No matter how left of field you think you’re being in your dating choices, there is only one person in your new relationship that you can ever be sure will behave differently this time around – and that’s you.

Focus on how you will do things differently

So focus on how you will do things differently. Instead of shifting all responsibility for making the relationship work onto your next spouse, focus on how you yourself will grow, change and adapt your behaviour.

Be honest with yourself

Work on pinpointing the specific ways you react to problems that might escalate and exacerbate them, or on the other hand, that allow them to fester unchecked. Work on recalibrating the instinctive behaviours that are hurting you and the people you love.

Focus on figuring out what you really need from someone and how you will communicate that to them.

Think about how you’ll really figure out if the next person you fall for really meets the criteria you need – and how, if they don’t, you’ll spot the danger signs and change course long before you find yourself walking down the aisle.

And then, listen to yourself. Learn from the past. Break the cycle. Give yourself a chance, this time, to really be happy.
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