The holiday season seems to come upon us earlier and earlier each year. Even before Thanksgiving, I started to notice all of the signs — colorful lights strung in front of houses, a glimpse of lit trees through windows and cheerful holiday tunes on the radio. Along with the high spirits the holiday season, a package of stress often arrives. This is especially true for divorced couples that struggle over how to make plans that optimize the holidays for themselves and, of course, their children — who want nothing more than normality. Read more
One of the best ways to think of a relationship on the rocks is to reflect on your expectations for your relationship. What are they? What is it that you really want from your partner? What could your partner do now that would — from your point of view — make the relationship work again? Make a comprehensive list, and pay special attention to what you now recognize your unique issues to be.
Most relationships have a set of “built in” rules. These rules define your relationship “default position,” such as what can and cannot take place between you and your partner (and others in your life), and what constitutes that which is normal. When you “break” those rules, you and your partner are likely to come into conflict. Generally the rules fit into three different categories: rules that are spoken, rules that are unspoken, and those that are automatic.
One key to avoiding the doldrums in your long-term relationship is to honor its uniqueness. The best relationships are custom jobs, which take the distinctive traits, needs, concerns and idiosyncrasies of each partner into consideration. For example, some couples need to work on ways to spend more time together, while for others spending less together time will optimize their relationship. For some couples, taking a nice vacation together will do wonders, while for others, taking separate vacations sometimes can be a relationship saver.
To develop a climate that goes a long way to keeping your unique relationship fresh and exciting for both of you, try this exercise — alone or together:
Create a vision. Make it a shared vision of what you would imagine your ideal relationship to each other would he like. Be as specific as possible about exactly what you would like to your relationship to be. In other words, if things were to work superbly for both of you — if you were able to get past all of your difficult issues and problems permanently, and were then able to take things to the level that you might first have imagined they could be when you originally got together:
What would be present for you that now is missing?
And what would be gone, that now stresses you as a couple?
Make your lists as long or as short as they need to be. But most importantly, make them comprehensive. Agree beforehand that nothing should be off the table, until it is thoroughly discussed.
Next, compare your actual relationship — as it now exists — to the one that you have visualized. Identify every specific thing you can that separates where you now are, from what you have envisioned as ideal. Once again, this can be an individual vision or a shared one, but the more you both participate, the better. Is there an ideal vision that both of you can live with? If you have identified anything that makes this vision impossible, note what that is and keep tweaking it until it is as “ideal” as it can be. Note where your relationship is working well, where it needs to be different, and what changes must occur for those problem areas to be completely addressed. This is an exercise that can be done anytime you wish to focus on the big picture. It is well worth the effort.
Set goals. Write a “job description” for the role of ideal partner. (Important: a job description focuses on what your partner does for you — never on who your partner is. Thus each thing in your description is something that is realistic and possible given who your partner is.) After both of you have done this — made them as thorough and detailed as you can– exchange your descriptions and then talk about them. Most couples surprisingly find that there is little, if anything, that is not doable or negotiable in each other’s ideal “job descriptions.”
Next, discuss and write down some specific goals for what you would like to see your relationship become with respect to specific periods of time. Just as in business, any important project, your finances or your career — relationship goals with time lines bring the exercise to a better level of reality and do-ability. Where would you like to see yourselves a month from now? Six months from now? In a year? Five years? Ten years? Ultimately? As you talk and/or think this through, pay special attention to anything that comes up which may he standing in the way of the goals you’ve identified for your relationship.
Some questions to discuss to help you clarify your goals include:
Where are we going? (With respect to our goals together, our communication, our sex life, our finances, parenting our kids, our careers, our lifestyle, etc., etc.)
Where would we like to (in all the important areas of life together and separately) to be?
What obstacles are there that separate where we are now from where we want to he? (Be as specific as possible.)
So talk it over, try these tips from my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, and begin to take action to customize your unique relationship and thus make it as ideal for both of you as it can be.
Practically everyone whose been in a serious romantic relationship with all of the deliciously intense and passionate feelings that go with it, have at one time or another experienced jealousy, which is really the fear that —to some degree— your partner is not being exclusive to you either physically or emotionally. But it’s what you do with your feelings of jealousy that can bring you closer together or ultimately tear your relationship apart.
Jealousy arising from the thought of your loved one with someone else can trigger many feelings. You may believe your jealousy is an indicator that you care about your partner. In this case, you see it as a sign of strength in your relationship; and perhaps it even elicits romantic feelings. On the other hand, jealousy can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger or even intense rage. That rage could be directed toward a person perceived as the ‘object of your partner’s affections’, your partner or yourself (in the form of putting yourself down because of your perception of not “measuring up” to that ‘other person’). In addition, jealousy can naturally lead to mistrust, which can wreak havoc in every aspect of your relationship.
One of the biggest problems with your feelings of jealousy is that they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a relationship will stay intact forever, or that your partner might not fall for someone else; but jealousy can be the catalyst in a chain of events that makes one of these possibilities become a reality.
Handling jealousy requires a look at how much you trust your partner. The fact is that it’s normal for him or her to find others attractive from time to time, just as you do, while understanding that this is not really a threat to the relationship unless acted upon. In other words, mental exclusivity is a very high, perhaps impossible standard. Obsessing about this only leads to needless pain.
Overcoming your jealously also requires you to look inside yourself. If you’re constantly worried by the idea of being compared to others your partner may find attractive, chances are your self-esteem could use a boost. Ask yourself where is the evidence that I am not good enough to withstand the comparison? Is this completely true?
Of course, there are some situations where jealousy is a sign that there is a realistic threat of your partner being involved with others, despite denials. In this case, jealousy is more or less a wakeup call and a signal to you either to have a talk with your partner or seek professional help to overcome what may be a much bigger issue in your relationship.
Only you can decide if your jealous is insecurity, or an indication that something in your relationship needs a closer look. Before jealousy makes your biggest relationship fears a reality, you have the power to make a change, either within yourself or with your partner, to get your relationship back on the right track. And remember, most people have experienced jealousy at one time or another. It’s what you do with it that dictates the outcome!
If you’ve recently experienced a relationship breakup, regret is one of the many emotions you might be experiencing. But regret is usually just a form of temporary and needless pain. Here are a few perspectives to make the end of your relationship an exciting and bright start to a new beginning for you:
There are a lot of things you don’t miss. This might come as a surprise, but I’ve never met anybody who wanted actually wanted their ex back! Usually what people want is a loving, cleansed, varnish-free, more enlightened version of their ex. And unfortunately this fantasy doesn’t exist or you’d still be together. If you were the one who ended the relationship, remember you did this for a reason! Something wasn’t working with your ex partner or the relationship you had. If it wasn’t your choice to end the relationship, you might be missing a version of your ex who loves and appreciates you more and can pull off a better way to dealing with conflict than running out the door. It’s easy to reflect on the positive parts of a person or a relationship once it’s ended; but remember, that’s only one part of the story. If you’re missing parts of the relationship, don’t forget about all the things you don’t miss.
There’s a moral to your story. The end of one relationship is a great time to take a look and rediscover what you really want. Whether or not you’re willing to admit it, the relationship ended because it wasn’t working. And if your relationship was working only for you — that’s not enough. The good news is there’s probably a lesson to be learned. Was there something you discovered about yourself regarding what you want or need so that your next relationship isn’t a repeat of this pattern when you’re ready to move on? While things are fresh in your mind, make a list of these insights and resolve to follow them in this most important part of your life. And if you find that you are labeling yourself a “failure” or putting yourself down in some other way; remember that relationships don’t fail, they run their course. Sometimes one or both partners outgrow each other or the relationship ends for one or more of a million other reasons. But it’s your choice as to whether the breakup remains a source of pain for you or an invaluable basis for personal growth.
You now get to focus on yourself. Being single frees some space for you to reconnect with yourself and perhaps others in your life that you may have had little time for. Maybe with the gift of time that follows a breakup, there’s a new area you’d like to cultivate: a hobby you enjoy, a project around the house you’ve been putting off or a trip you’d like to take that didn’t fit in with you ended relationship. There’s no better time to start than today!
Discover new outlets. What is it that you liked about your relationship? Is there a way to find or replace that in your life with something else? For example, if it was nice to have someone to debrief your workday with each evening, maybe you can reach out to friends or coworkers to meet for happy hour after work or grab dinner. If there was a certain activity you liked to do with your ex, find a way to continue this. Perhaps join a group of people in your area with similar interests to yours. If you and your ex went running on the weekends or enjoyed seeing movies, join a running or film club. Even more importantly, don’t be afraid to try certain activities by yourself that you may have only done as part of a couple; such as going to a nice restaurant, the theatre or ballet.
We all have the power to pick our attitudes. Look upon being free of a relationship that wasn’t working as a good thing. Expect sad moments here and there, but don’t forget that the relationship you’re ending was not without pain either. By utilizing your inner resources and the sources of support you already have around you, resolve to make this breakup the start of an exciting new beginning!
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Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.
1420 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Toll Free: 800-434-8255