Do we know what we are doing when it comes to modern relationships, or are we just being hi-jacked by primitive emotions?
There’s a scene in the 1996 movie ‘Jerry Maguire’, where Tom Cruise famously says to Renée Zellweger, “You Complete Me”. It’s a dry your eyes romantic moment, but it’s at the heart of what goes wrong in relationships.
We are drawn to another person for a sense of completeness. We hope that this relationship will heal or fill an empty space in our life. And for a short time we are wrapped up in a cloud of ‘feel good’ hormones and everything looks and feels better. Then, our brain chemistry normalizes, reality comes crashing in, and we notice that the partner we chose to fill our void, is trying to make changes in us to fill their own. Welcome to codependency!
Modern relationships come in many forms; dating online or in person, cohabiting, marriage, divorce, single-parent dating, remarriage, to name a few.
I’ve experienced all of these and as a researcher and writer on self-leadership, I have a few pieces of advice for those of you who are still looking for ‘the perfect relationship’.
- Would you live with you? Before we can successfully be in a relationship with another person, we need to be comfortable with ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect, that’s not what self-esteem means. We need to be comfortable with our imperfections. We need to know what we want, need, value, and believe or how else will we authentically communicate this to a partner.
- Learn from the past, don’t repeat it. Your past relationships are not failures, they are part of the learning process to understand what you want, need, value, and believe. If it didn’t work, be honest with yourself about why that was and avoid repeating the pattern. For example, if you are looking for someone to fix, to make your feel better, and they leave you after being ‘fixed’ – there’s a good chance that will happen again.
- Understand that the only person you can change is you. People to grow and evolve together but only when they accept each other as they are. The fatal mistake in relationships is to try and change something in someone else. You can communicate how a behavior makes you feel, but the choice to change rests firmly with them. And saying, “If you loved me, you’d do this…” is manipulation 101 and never ends well.
- Don’t settle. For a relationship to last, it has to be physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. We often try to settle for 2 or 3 out of 4. If the sex is great but you can’t enjoy a movie together because of a difference in intellect or education, then things are going to turn sour. If you can express your emotions with each other, but spiritually your values clash, then a schism is on the horizon.
- Communicate. This is the most fundamental of relationship advice – and the most powerful. Learn to authentically communicate your wants, needs, values and beliefs and listen openly to your partner without judgment. You are unlikely to be in relationship with your clone, and so there will be differences, but these conflicts can often be resolved by communicating in the following way; a) here’s what’s happening, b) this is what I feel, c) this is what I need, d) and so this I my request. The power of this 4-step communication strategy is that there is no blame. You are not making it your partners fault you have a feeling or an unmet need, but you are giving them an opportunity to adjust their perspective or behavior through a request.
Well hello! By now you’ve hopefully experienced the new and improved eHarmony — there’s a lot of useful stuff to introduce but before we do, we’d just like to say one thing; you had everything to do with this.
That’s right. You spoke up and we listened. You told us what worked and what didn’t and we committed ourselves to go above and beyond, to think differently, and to take all our new research and turn it into actionable change that would make a difference. The end result was an entirely redesigned communication experience that we hope will make it more enjoyable and easier for you to find that special someone.
That being said, communication is key in any successful relationship. It is also vital in making the right first impression, which is why we’ve put so much time into updating our communication experience. Now, taking the first step feels a bit warmer and more natural in the Guided Communication process.
What is Guided Communication? It’s designed to help you get to know someone at your own pace; if you want more control of the conversation you can go with Quick Questions or you can skip this step and go directly to sending custom messages.
Sending pre-written Quick Questions that ask the hard stuff for you (but in a more welcoming way) efficiently gets to the heart of what you’re looking for. Quick Questions also takes the pressure off of you since the questions come from us. The goal is to help you learn more about someone, easier.
We provide fun yet meaningful questions for you to choose from, so you select the most important ones to ask. Then send them to your match. Your match will then choose from the pre-selected answers, making it a fairly quick process. Your match then gets to send you Quick Questions of their own. You can send as many Quick Questions as you want to. Oh — did we mention that the Quick Questions process is free? Yup! However, if you prefer to write your own answer to a Quick Question you must be a subscriber to do so.
Dear Sara: About a month ago, my boyfriend of two years broke up with me (I’m 30 and he is 31). It came as a heartbreaking surprise. I’ve been in several serious relationships, and this one seemed like a wonderful fit—loving, easy, drama-free. He took most of the steps to advance the relationship in the first year or so, and we had continued to deepen our bond since then.
He couldn’t really give a satisfying explanation for ending things, and seemed confused himself. We were living in a temporary apartment together (he recently moved to my city after finishing grad school) and were about to get a more permanent place, but he said that [he] was having doubts about the city we live in, the job he has, or what kind of lifestyle he wants, and that he needed some time on his own (single) to figure things out—which I suppose means he had doubts about the relationship, too. He’s also going to start therapy to try to work through some of these issues.
Your writing has helped me to understand that our breakup doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me, and that looking for answers as to why it ended is probably futile (thank you!). I know I should probably wait to find someone who is truly excited to be my partner and have me as theirs. But I really love him and cherished our relationship, and I wonder if (after some time) I should ask him if he’d be open to trying again? Is there ever a time when it makes sense to “fight for it”? — H
Dear H: It might be true that your ex is just at a funny place in his life and will come back to you.
The problem is, I don’t think there is any way for you to know if that’s the case. More important, I don’t think there is much you can do to make that happen.
He has told you he needs time to sort things out, and that he needs to do that alone. So I don’t think there is any way for you to be part of that process.
But you can let him know the door is still open. I would do this in a very quiet way—liking something he posted on Facebook, or sending him a quick birthday message. You want to let him know that things are still friendly, that you aren’t holding a grudge. But you don’t want to put him on the spot. If he’s still working through all of this, he might not be ready to answer a direct question about trying again.
After that, I suggest doing what you can to move on. You’re still grieving this relationship, so it’s natural that at times you’re going to daydream and plot about getting back together. You don’t have to stop thinking about him cold turkey, but see if you can wean yourself off these thoughts. For example, if you find yourself fantasizing about your reunion, stop, take a breath and say to yourself “I’ll think about this later.” You can even set a time. “At 5 pm, after I’ve finished all my work, I’m going to think about him for fifteen minutes.”
Think dating is difficult? Try dating with a five-year-old or fourteen-year-old watching your every move. Suddenly your romantic life is immersed in the morals, values, and integrity you’ve established for your children. Can you hold fast to them or are you just talking out of the both sides of your mouth?
Every single parent must remember they are showing their kids how to date: what to look for in a man or woman, how to act, how to be treated, is sex before marriage ok, is a lot of sex with a lot of different people before marriage ok?
Children notice a strange man in mom’s bedroom, they notice a half naked woman in the kitchen in the morning. They’ll quiz you incessantly about your date, did you like the guy, do you think you might get married to that woman. They’ll also be loaded with opinions about your dates: be ready to hear not that just “he’s nice” or “she’s pretty” but “he looks mean” or “She doesn’t like me, I can tell.”
So there are some proven suggestions for loving, caring parents who for one reason or another find themselves back in the dating game.
- Ask yourself — how important are your kids to you? This is a serious question. “I love them to death,” isn’t a serious answer. “I love them so much I’m willing to put off any relationship for a year or two or three,” is a serious answer. I’m not saying that’s always necessary, but sometimes it is. God put the destiny of these young children in your hands, you can’t be willing to throw it out the window for the first good-looking regional manager that walks into your life.
- If your first relationship ended in divorce, remember your kids probably still love their parent. They don’t want to hear how much nicer this new woman is than their mother. For awhile they won’t want to hear how much more you love this new person.
- You don’t have to, in fact you shouldn’t, introduce every date to your kids. This will only confuse them and let them build up false hope about a person they unexpectedly like.
- Let every date know you have kids. This will eliminate future complications with prospective partners who absolutely aren’t ready for the responsibility of kids.
- Do not let your kids find half-naked strangers roaming around your house in the early morning.
Without resolution, awareness, and acceptance, your relationship history may have a strong influence on your current dating life. With a past that feels heavy, heartbreaking or disappointing, dating in the present may feel very draining and trigger anxiety and fear.
Your past has a lot of influence if one of your greatest fears is having it be repeated. Therefore, you utilize behaviors designed to protect yourself, which makes it difficult to trust others and take chances toward intimacy and connection.
If the end of a previous relationship came as a shock or devastation to you, you may struggle to get close to someone new and approach dating with walls of emotional protection. If an ex betrayed you, you might be hesitant to trust a new partner and become fixated on determining if certain behaviors (for example, not responding to a text quickly) is a sign of cheating or future rejection. You might find yourself debating over giving into urges to check a potential partner’s email or phone for other clues.
If your past isn’t resolved, you may assume that the person you’re dating now will abandon you or break your trust just as your ex did, even if everything is going well in your current relationship. You may doubt if you are lovable, wonder what you have to offer, and beat yourself up about your relationship history and current singlehood. While these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are understandable as they can be protective in nature, they represent the past remaining unresolved and dictating each moment.
Here are five ways to approach dating when you have had difficult relationship experiences in the past:
Reconstruct and modify the narrative in your mind for healthy closure
It is true that you can’t erase the past, but you can take control of how you think about it, which is what matters most and drives your behavior in the present. Spend time thinking about the story you tell yourself about your previous relationships, your ex’s, and breakups. What is the feeling that accompanies these thoughts and relationship stories? If your narrative feels very negative, is filled with anger, blame, resentment or fear, see if you can modify it to feel more neutral or positive. For example, can you find the silver lining? Can you focus on what you learned about yourself, your needs, and relationships instead of staying stuck? Can you find some space to create a new and improved version of an unhealthy or uncomfortable narrative by making modifications to the story you tell yourself? Rewrite your story and change any scripts that are not serving you well.
Watch your assumptions about the past
Most of what happens to us in life is not personal. This concept can be especially tricky to believe in the relationship world because relationships involve vulnerability and breakups can by nature feel personal. Also, unfortunately not all relationship endings involve healthy closure or communication. This can cause your mind to run wild with false ideas about what happened and believe stories that may or may not be true. Your brain may naturally want certainty and closure so badly that it will create answers to unresolved questions regardless of how factual they actually are. Therefore, it is important to watch your assumptions about why an ex treated you the way he or she did or why your relationship ended, as well as how your ex is doing now, especially if you are bothered by their current relationship status. Always remember that thoughts are not facts no matter how believable they may seem.
There is a literal pain that comes with the loss of a relationship: a sharp, palpable pain that most people feel at the point that their lower ribs connect. It’s a pulsing, weepy pain that digs into your diaphragm, and takes your breath away. It’s a pain that defies distraction, repels food, and throbs even through sleep.
For many broken-hearted people, this physical pain is one of the worst parts of going through a bad break up or divorce. For one thing, it scares them. They can’t make it go away, so they wonder when it will ever stop, or whether they will ever feel better.
Furthermore, maddeningly, it feels like contact with their ex is like the only thing that will stop the hurting. This is true even if they know intellectually that the relationship with their ex is toxic, and any contact will only bring more pain in the end. They still crave the temporary relief it might bring.
If you are in this aching, confusing place here are some tips to help you get through it:
1. Stop beating yourself up.
Most people who are going through this experience believe that there is something wrong with them for feeling the way they do. This is because there is a powerful, and false, myth circulating in our culture that you should just be able to “get over” a relationship without such massive pain and devastation.
Not true. Everyone who has lost a deeply cherished relationship goes through what you are going through. The people for whom breakups were easy simply weren’t bonded to that particular person as deeply as you were to your ex. You hurt so badly because you loved so deeply.
But ironically, the people who experience this sort of devastation often feel ashamed and like there is something wrong with them. So they hide / numb / suppress the pain, and try to get through it alone. You are not alone. And there is nothing wrong with you. On the contrary — you are good at bonding and attaching to others. That is a wonderful thing, in the context of a healthy relationship.
2. Reframe this as withdrawal.
Human beings are built to bond, and form extremely powerful attachments. There are physical systems in your brain and in your body that emotionally weld you to other people. These systems have a great deal in common with the physical systems of addiction. When your attachment bonds are broken, you go into withdrawal.
Heroin addicts, deprived of their fix, writhe sweating on their beds in physical pain, craving the only thing that will make it stop — even though they know, intellectually, it could kill them. They often literally trade their lives for the hope of a few more hours of peace in the arms of Morpheus.
Similarly, heartbroken people lay curled on their beds like shrimp, in the grips of pain that feels like being slowly impaled through their solar plexus. In their agony, they crave the temporary peace of contact with their ex, even though they know it will almost certainly only lead to more disappointment, rejection, and shame.
The difference is that heroin addicts know that they’re in withdrawal. And they know that if they can make it through a few days, it will get better. People suffering through the pain of a breakup have no such assurances, and just feel scared and helpless.
When you consider what domestic violence is, you likely have those scary images in your head of an outraged partner physically attacking his wife or worse, their children, resulting in a frantic 911 emergency call. While – of course – violence is not only terrifying but damaging, the much more common type of abuse has nothing to do with someone using his hands, but rather, his words. In fact, therapists often say that many people (especially women) are emotionally abused every single day without realizing it.
“Emotional abuse can happen in any relationship once in awhile or continuously. I think that most people at one point in their lives have experienced some form of emotional abuse. Berating a person, yelling at them, calling them names, making them feel less than, all of this would constitute emotional abuse. At the base of emotional abuse is that the victim is made to feel bad about themselves. Emotional abuse can be dangerous if the person allows themselves to be abused, and then begins to put themselves down,” explains Dr. Dawn Michael, clinical sexologist and relationship expert.
You’re getting yelled at for nothing.
Every couple – no matter how much of a match you are for one another – has disagreements. Therapists actually say that arguing within a relationship can be healthy, as it helps you better communicate to your partner and can help widen your own perspective. But there’s a difference between bickering over who last walked the dog and your partner screaming at you inappropriately. “We call this the feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’ or in other words, when even the smallest mistakes you make has the person getting mad at you. This in turn can cause a person to become nervous around that person and make even more mistakes,” Michael explains. “This one is particularly insidious because if you do something small that they don’t like, your expectation would be that they either brush it off or say nicely not to do it, but a person who yells at the small stuff is usually a person that is controlling and has very little patience and therefore allows little mistakes to upset them. For instance, one time you don’t put the toothpaste cap on and they scream at you and tell you that you don’t care about them because you left the cap off.”
They say sly remarks that beat your confidence.
Though your boyfriend might tease you for the way you peel an orange or the crazy way you like to eat your french fries with ranch dressing and ketchup, an abusive partner will carefully say certain things that rub you the wrong way. Not only is it a tactic to always have the upper hand, those remarks overtime beat down your confidence and lead you to rely more solely on him for your own self-worth. “An emotionally abusive partner will put you down, instead of lift you up. Instead of complimenting you, they put you down, which can make you feel bad about yourself. They may say that if you were smarter you would have a better job, or if you lost weight people would like you more. It can even be putting you down to make you feel small so they feel better about themselves. This is not a nice person!”
Love is in the air. It’s that time of the year again: Valentine’s Day. Co-workers may be receiving gifts at work, restaurants will be crowded with couples trying to make the night special, and to others it may as well just be another day. But does everyone really celebrate Valentine’s Day and go all out for romance? In one of our latest surveys, we dared to find out.
We asked around 3,000 people if they had plans for Valentine’s Day, and about 64% of them said they did plan on celebrating the holiday with somebody special. Now we were curious, what goes into their Valentine’s Day plans?
Planning the Date
Most people who said they had Valentine’s Day plans had put at least a little bit of thought into it. 17% of people said they had not planned anything yet (and this survey was done 3 days before Valentine’s Day!), and 6% had said they put a lot of planning into the event.
So who’s doing the planning? According to our survey, it seems like chivalry is not dead. Men were more likely to say they had done a fair amount of planning or a lot of planning for their valentine, where as women were more likely to say they had done very little to no planning at all.
What about when you get married? Do the plans for Valentine’s Day slip away over time? Not as much as you may be thinking. When you are dating somebody exclusively, you are the most likely to have plans. 89% of people who are dating somebody exclusively have had made at least some plans, and 82% of married couples also had plans. Couples who are engaged were the least likely to have made any plans despite saying they were celebrating the holiday, with 25% of them saying they had done no planning.
We’ve all had them — one of “those” days. And for singles, having one of “those” days might include one of “those” dates. Bad days–and the occasional bad date–are unavoidable.
Here are 15 effective ways to better handle life’s hassles:
1. Identify your style. Are you a night owl or a morning lark? Are you a creature of habit or do you hate routine? Knowing these things about yourself will help you get more out of every area of life.
2. Plan ahead. A little foresight goes a long way. So do some research on that must-try restaurant before you find yourself facing a two-hour wait (and a frustrated date).
3. And have a backup plan. You wouldn’t prepare a presentation without backing it up. Apply this same mentality to your dating life, and expect the unexpected. If that concert gets rained out, have an alternative ready to go.
4. Make an appointment with yourself. Give yourself a set amount of time each day to get organized. That way, you can enjoy yourself when it’s time to relax.
5. Be your own best friend. Dating can be challenging and sometimes hard on your self-esteem. So resist the urge to be your own worst critic. Self-reflection is one thing, self-scrutiny is another.
6. Unwind. If you’re constantly on the go, it may be time to slow down. Take your date someplace relaxing and soak in the peace and quiet — together.
We are all emotionally needy to some degree in relationships — meaning simply that, during a difficult time, we need more emotional support than usual. We all long to be understood, supported, loved, and accepted.
It’s OK to reach out and ask for help — sometimes. And that’s okay. Yet, being overly emotionally needy — too demanding, clingy, annoying, fragile — can spell trouble for your relationship.
A person should be able to stand on their own, tolerate aloneness, and manage their own ‘stuff’ for a healthy relationship to exist. How we go about expressing our needs has a lot to do with our personality and our attachment style — our style based on how we learned to relate to our parents and how emotionally available they were…or not.
There are 3 styles of attachment that help create how secure or insecure we feel in relationships: secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Secure people present themselves as warm and loving and were most likely raised with caregivers that were consistently caring and responsive. Avoidant people often come across as dismissive, often minimize closeness and were raised in an environment that was less emotional and one in which insecurity and neediness were not tolerated.
However, people with an anxious attachment style are the ones that present and who are seen as overly needy. Some of the key characteristics are:
•Minimizing or denying their needs and look to others to fill their emotional gaps and emptiness in a way that often becomes manipulative.
•Worrying about their partner’s love and ‘search out’ for all the mannerisms and nuances that might indicate that their partner doesn’t love them.
•Emotionally overwhelmed and will reach out and ‘need’ their partner more to make them feel secure or constantly remind them of how they feel.
•Insecurity and oversensitivity to any slight.
•Had parents (or a parent) who was inconsistently nurturing. This created inner angst and turmoil and contributed to their anxiety — especially around relationships.
However, this often leaves their partner emotionally tapped out and overwhelmed by their neediness. They are worn out. And yet, anxious people do the very thing they fear the most will happen — they push their partner away. Their behaviors are counterproductive, yet hard to stop doing in the moment.
For the other person, there is nothing they can do to help this person. You cannot encourage growth, compliment them, or reassure them — enough. They have an insatiable and exhausting emotional ‘neediness.’
Technology has exploded our dating options and put dating effectively on amphetamines. The sheer quantity of choices gives us the feeling that we can and will meet someone through technology. How could we not?
And yet, precisely because there is so much choice, we often don’t give the person we’ve met a real chance. If anything isn’t to our immediate liking, we dive back into our device, back into the land of possibility. Sometimes we do this even when we like the person we’ve met, because we can, and there still could be someone better.
Technology creates a climate of always chasing better—something else.
Rather than focusing on the relationship in front of us—giving it our full attention, we look outside for what we might be missing out on. Consequently, it can feel like no one is ever good enough to stop searching for better. As a result, relationships that, before technology, might have turned into successful partnerships, never get the chance. It was difficult enough for a relationship to get out of the starting gate before technology, but now, despite or maybe because of all the possibilities, it can feel nearly impossible. There’s more potential but the potential remains unrealized.
These days, when a relationship does start, the primary form of communication is often texting. This can create a host of challenges that didn’t exist before technology. When we begin dating, we don’t know someone well and yet we text as if we do, sometimes communicating dozens of times in a day, sharing banter, minutia, and whatever else comes to mind. We communicate as if we are integrated players in each other’s lives, which we are not, at least not yet. So too, we now text with a flirtatious confidence, sometimes sexual, that does not match the actual level of intimacy we’ve achieved. Then, when we meet our person in the flesh or even on the phone, we have to play a game of emotional catch up, to try and bring the real relationship into sync with the virtual. We feel embarrassed and awkward, overexposed. We are building a relationship between two avatars, but not these two humans. But we can’t turn back, we’ve gone too far down the virtual road, and so are frequently left to continue in the virtual relationship, or nothing at all.
Dating in the age of technology presents challenges that can be difficult even for the most confident of daters. It is now possible to know if and when someone has read our text, which means that if our recipient has indeed read our words but not responded, or chosen not to read it at all, to leave it in the dreaded unopened, we are forced into the often unkind and frequently brutal hands of our inner dating critic.
With the help of modern technology, we are left to live a good portion of our dating life inside the maze of our own personal narrative. While we naturally craft our own story about what is happening within the relationship, technology exacerbates the storyteller within us by providing just enough information to send our mind into a tailspin, but not enough to set us free.
Technology is remarkable for many tasks, but if what we really want is to find meaningful connection with another human being, then technology is probably not the right means to achieve that end. Online dating allows us to meet people we would never get to meet, it provides options and inventory, but after we meet, we still have to be willing to do the real life work that real life relationships require. If we’re over the age of three, getting close to another person takes time and effort, but when we put in that time and effort, the infinitely possible can become infinitely real.