Archive for the ‘Love and Intimacy’ Category


Burnout Pt.2: The Causes – and why it may be a blessing in disguise

November 13, 2010

In part one, I described some of the many symptoms of burnout. In the second part of this article, I look at why burnout is not necessarily a bad thing and list some of the causes of this increasingly common syndrome.

Firstly, however, we will briefly discuss the possible physical cause of burnout. It is usually attributed to a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system and the adrenal glands. The autonomic nervous system is a combination of nerves, connections and glands which works in conjunction with practically every other system in our body. All of our body’s regular activities are performed by this system, such as breathing, digestion and so on, and it is this system which acts as the body’s thermostat,  ensuring that it adapts accordingly to external forces – for example, adjusting your breathing and heart rate if you walk up a hill.

Your body can also interpret your external environment using the five senses – sight, sound etc. These perceptions are then transmitted through the brain, which ensures that the appropriate response is activated by the nervous system.

Problems begin when the part of the brain which controls the ‘fight or flight’ stress mechanism starts firing at an abnormally high rate. This can occur when we overanalyse potential danger and perceive threats where in fact there are none, or suffer stressful events which feel like danger because they threaten our sense of self or wellbeing. The adrenal glands begin releasing hormones such as cortisol to deal with the stress, but if this stress is overwhelming then too many of these hormones are produced, swamping the nervous system. This results in autonomic overload, as well as depleting the adrenals, leading to adrenal burnout – and resulting, ultimately, in the symptoms described in part one. (You can read more about this in Coping with a Stressed Nervous System by Dr Kenneth Hambly and Alice Muir.)

Of course, if you are a HSP (highly sensitive person) or an empath, then you will have been born with a nervous system which is already hypersensitive to external stimuli, making you more susceptible to burnout than others with a less sensitive system. This is why HSPs and empaths need to practise self-care a good deal more diligently than most. However, even if you were not born with a sensitive nervous system, you may find yourself becoming increasingly sensitised if you have had a particularly stressful or traumatic life.

As we have seen from the symptoms, burnout can be extremely distressing. However surprisingly, there is a positive aspect to burnout. It can be viewed as a transformative event in our lives – a turning point, a wake-up call and a cry from the soul. Somewhere deep within the heart of us, the barely discernible voice of our intuition is trying to inform us of what our soul really needs and put us in touch with our authentic self. If we listen to this voice then we can transform our lives immeasurably – but if we fail to heed the warning, then the outcome could potentially be fatal. (Viewed in this more positive way, it is also then no coincidence that the symptoms of burnout are so reminiscent of the symptoms of awakening.)

Dr Dina Glouberman talks about this in more detail in her book, The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning:

The area in which we eventually burn out, whether at work, with our children or parents, in an intimate partnership, in a social or political group or elsewhere, has two defining characteristics. It is where:

* We invest our creativity, our passion, our heart and/or our ability to contribute.

* We earn a sense of identity, value, belonging, purpose and/or meaning.

As long as the situation we are devoted to is working and our contribution is effective, appreciated or rewarded, we remain wholehearted. Our energy is high and vibrant and our life probably seems positive and successful both to others and to ourselves. But if anything upsets this picture, we become candidates for burnout.

At some point, something changes either in us or in our situation or in the relationship between the two. Our heart goes out of our situation. There is a dawning awareness, often hardly conscious, that there must be another way, that it can’t be right to continue as we are.

Some of us listen to this feeling and make significant changes in our lives – a new job, a new relationship, or a new approach to our old job or relationship. In this way, we stop ourselves from continuing on the burnout trail.

But those of us who keep going, denying everything that contradicts the path we are on, are likely to head for a major burnout. Driven by fear of losing what we had rather than positive intention, we are no longer in a flow with ourselves or with our lives. We cut off from our bodies, our feelings, sometimes our friends and family. We become divided against ourselves. Our head, heart and soul are not in alignment. We operate like a car with the accelerator and the brake working at the same time and the tank down to empty.


So what kind of scenarios, experiences, traits and behaviours can lead to burnout? Here are some examples:


If you suffer from one or more traumas in your life, then you are increasingly at risk of burnout. Initially we can feel that we have handled the trauma well, but find ourselves burning out further down the line when our life seems to have settled down again, as the effects on our nervous system catch up with us.


The ‘drip-drip-drip’ effect

Often it is not one major trauma but a series of minor stresses, disappointments and frustrations which can slowly drive us to burnout. Several years ago, I moved house and for six months, found myself plagued with petty problems which involved me making numerous phone calls to a variety of call centres. Anyone who has ever had to ring one of these places will know how frustrating it can be, particularly when the issue you are trying to resolve requires you to call back again and again and again, due to the company’s incompetence. If you’re a sensitive, you probably also know how difficult it can be to make these calls, particularly when you’re already under stress. Needless to say, after six months of dealing with this on almost a daily basis, I was on the verge of complete burnout.



If your lifestyle leads you to neglect your self-care, and you’re not getting enough sleep, not eating or exercising properly and are using stimulants to keep yourself going, then you’re going to be much less able to cope with the issues life throws at you. Living a fast-paced, high-stress and/or fear-based lifestyle is also a sure recipe for burnout. You can also burn out from too much exercise – after a very stressful period resulting in several warning signs such as fatigue, weight gain and emotional problems, Louise embarked on an intensive training regime to try and boost her health. Unfortunately this was the last straw as far as her body was concerned, and the excessive exertion hastened Louise’s decline into severe burnout.


Work issues

Overworking and perfectionism, or alternatively job dissatisfaction and lack of challenge can ultimately lead to burnout symptoms. Everyone has heard of the phenomenon of the business man who, when he finally takes a holiday, immediately falls ill. And working day after day in a job which fails to challenge you in anyway is simply soul destroying. Our society is increasingly economically focussed, and sadly this seems to be at the expense of our wellbeing. If you don’t have a sensible work-rest balance or if you are doing a job you hate simply for the money, then you’re a high-risk candidate for burnout.


Feeling unappreciated or unrecognised for your efforts

This can be in any relationship, whether business or personal. Joanne is a busy mum of four, who also runs her own business and is studying at college. Already finding herself feeling increasingly tearful, she finally broke down when faced with her teenage daughters’ filthy bedroom. Her frustration and disappointment at the constant lack of respect and appreciation shown by her family for her efforts at keeping the home and family life running smoothly became too overwhelming and Joanne was in great danger of burning out.


Lack of social support

Even when we lead busy lives and are constantly surrounded by people, we can feel unsupported and isolated. On the path to burnout, it can feel as if no-one understands us, has time for us or truly cares for our wellbeing.


Negative relationships

Nothing will drain your energy more than being around negative people. Abusive and/or violent people, energy vampires, people who are critical or contemptuous towards you, or people who constantly fight or bicker with you are the kind of people who will slowly but surely drive you towards burnout.


Lack of confidence

If you lack confidence in yourself, then you will find most situations outside of your usual comfort zone difficult. Being crippled with self-consciousness makes events which would be a breeze for most people a total nightmare. Some people are born with this lack of confidence but others lose their self-confidence later in life, perhaps due to a difficult experience or a health problem.


Lack of assertiveness

At work and in your relationships, a lack of assertiveness can create difficult situations for you, as you fail to communicate to others your wishes and needs. Constantly sacrificing your own needs and being unable to say no to the needs of others will inevitably lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration, and to feeling unappreciated and unrecognised, the forerunners of burnout.


Unhealthy responses to stress

If you have ineffective coping strategies, you will be more prone to burnout, for example if you have a tendency to worry, get angry or anxious, or if you try and avoid potentially stressful situations.


Unhealthy attitudes and thinking habits

The way you think about life, people and the world in general can affect how likely you are to burn out. Are you overly hostile, aggressive, or suspicious? Are you pessimistic, withdrawn, or negative? Or perhaps you have too high expectations, of yourself and of others. All these attitudes are liable to increase your chances of becoming overloaded.


Unresolved emotional issues

To prevent yourself suffering from burnout due to accumulated emotional baggage which, as we have seen, can make your nervous system hypersensitive, it’s important to spend some time dealing with this and resolving any remaining issues you may have from the past. Living constantly with feelings of rage, bitterness, resentment, hatred and fear will in time almost certainly result in chronic burnout.


People who give too much

This is particularly an issue for empaths and others who work in caring professions or roles, particularly if part of the reason for us giving is the need for appreciation. We can find ourselves becoming over emotionally invested in people – friends, family or clients – which can lead to disappointment when the person fails to appreciate our efforts or respond to our help in what we feel is an appropriate way. We can also find ourselves suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’  if we are working regularly with traumatised clients or are spending time with anyone suffering from trauma, be it physical or emotional.


These, then, are just some of the ways in which burnout can creep up upon us. If we are willing to take the time to heal, however, we can turn our experience into a positive one by using it to increase our knowledge of our inner selves and find the way to our true path. In part three, we’ll look at how we can heal ourselves when suffering from burnout and explore how we can prevent it from happening to us now or in the future.


Is it love or is it projection?

October 20, 2009


Back in June, I wrote an article about dreams in which I briefly touched on Jung’s theory of the animus/anima. I mentioned that I would return to this topic in more depth in the future as I feel that an awareness of how the animus/anima affects our relationship choices is empowering.

After making a few disastrous choices myself on the relationship front some years ago,  I elected to spend some time being single to give myself the opportunity to get to know and value myself. During that time, I sketched out a  rough draft for a novel which explored the theme of the animus and how it impacts women’s relationships. The story initially appears to be a simple love story – the female protagonist meets  a man early on in the book and through their relationship she learns many truths about herself which she had previously denied, consciously and unconsciously. Eventually however, the woman reaches a point in her self-awareness and personal development where she recognises that she no longer needs to be with a man as she already has everything she needs psychologically within herself. It is at this point  – when the woman’s desire for the man is no longer steeped in immature need – that the couple finally make love; and it is at this point that the reader realises that he was actually an element of her psyche made real, for as he enters her body he literally vanishes. The woman has taken her projection of the animus back and incorporated it into herself. (I also toyed with the idea of the woman then giving birth to herself at the very end of the book but thought that might be a symbolic metaphor too far…)

Learning about the animus/anima – and incorporating that with dreamwork and counselling – helped me learn a lot about myself and paved the way for the more positive relationship I am in today. The article below explains some more about this concept – if , after reading this, you feel you would benefit from some personal guidance on this matter via an e-mail session with me, then please feel free to contact me (currently unavailable)


The Anima/Animus Phenomenon

by Rebeca E. Eigen

There is something very magical about the experience of “falling in love.” Psychologically it is their feeling function (the water element) that gets activated when two lovers first meet. Emotions burst forth and sparks fly that ignite a passion and an unmistakable bliss. When you are with that person, you are “in heaven,” so to speak. And when you are away from them, you are longing for the next encounter and there is a poignant angst that replaces ordinary consciousness. As the song says, “Suddenly life has new meaning to me,” and they are transported into the realms of the Gods (the archetypes). In our Western culture, our movies provide us plenty of examples of this experience — so much so that we all yearn for it.

We mistakenly call this love, and many find themselves searching for their other half, their “soul mate.” We believe that this is what will complete us and that this magic is what we feel we must have in order for us to truly value another person. As you will see when you understand the nature of the “Anima” and “Animus,” this is only the beginning of an encounter with our unconscious.

It’s interesting that the word “soul” also means psyche. In the psychology of Dr. Carl G. Jung, he explains this phenomenon of projecting our Anima and Animus (the contrasexual soul images in our unconscious) onto each other. The psyche seeks wholeness, and a union of our inner opposites is what Jung called the process of individuation. When projection occurs, this process has begun as these contrasexual images within us are now out in the open. We will learn a lot about ourselves by the people we either extremely love or hate.

Many times we will fall in love and get involved in some very unsuitable, destructive and soul-destroying relationships, but these, too, are showing us aspects of our shadow. In order to grow and be a whole person, we need to become aware of what is really happening to us. When someone is “into us” (as a current book on the market calls it), we need to ask ourselves, is it love or is it just projection? Two people won’t really know until a period of time has given them a chance to see who each other actually is — and this requires self-honesty and self-disclosure.

Jung teaches that there is no other way to see these parts of us, so it’s inevitable that they will be projected. The intoxication and the intensity of the experience are clues that we are into a projection. Ordinary human beings do not evoke the instant passion that “love at first sight” evokes.

The Anima and Animus

A woman carries an image of her male counterpart made up largely of her history with her father, the first male in her life, brothers and any early experiences with men. This inner masculine, the “Animus,” helps her to achieve her goals, gives her greater intellectual clarity, helps her have clearer boundaries and becomes a mediator between her ego and her unconscious. This unconscious inner male is her God (soul) image that gets projected onto a man in the outer world. As inner and outer create a mirroring effect, she will know a lot about what shape her inner partner is in by the person upon whom the projection lands. This can be a real eye-opener if the person is willing or ready to see his or her own shadow.

As I said, the clue to knowing a projection has occurred is the peculiar feeling of intense fascination or obsession with a man whom she will feel is her ideal mate. He, of course, unless he has a huge ego and enjoys the power that he now has over her, will feel as if something sticky and uncomfortable is smothering him. He will make comments to her like “You don’t even know me.” His perception is a correct and valid one. She doesn’t know him at all. She is seeing only a reflection of her shadow or her Animus — as the two can become contaminated with each other.

According to Jung, a man faces a similar dilemma. When a man projects his perfect God (soul) image onto a woman, she becomes the carrier of his “Anima.” His Anima, his inner feminine, can help him get in touch with his feeling nature, his receptivity, his personal relating and nurturing skills and his ability to create. His Anima acts as a muse to bridge the gap between his inner and outer worlds. She animates him from within.

When this happens to both people at the same time, we call this “falling in love.” They definitely fall. They fall into their own unconscious image as each projects part of himself or herself onto the other person (same sex or opposite sex), evoking a feeling of fantasy and Eros. The erotic and sexual nature of the encounter is psychologically quite symbolic. It is each one wanting to merge with or penetrate into themselves. In reality, this is an unconscious, narcissistic impulse and a distortion of reality. If either of them remains stuck in this kind of projection for too long, it can even be a deterrent to any real or authentic, long-term, loving relationship. Its primary importance for both people is that it heralds the beginning of the individuation process.

A very good movie that came out last year that describes projection perfectly is the romantic comedy Alex and Emma with Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson. Another example more recently was in the film called Shall We Dance? In this movie Richard Gere meets Jennifer Lopez, a beautiful dance instructor who has caught his “Anima.” In time — and time is of essence to see what is going on — he is able to see that the reason his inner feminine has been projected is that he is bored and unhappy with himself. Instead of blaming his wife, Susan Sarandon, for this unhappiness, he takes dancing lessons, which help him feel alive again.

Now as time goes on, it is inevitable that these projections are going to fall off. They actually have to so that we can see who the other person actually is and relate to a real person instead of a God or Goddess (a symbiotic extension of oneself). When a relationship reaches that stage of familiarity, many people addicted to this kind of high start looking around outside their primary marriage or partnership if their maturity level is still in the puella or puer aeternus stage of consciousness. This is the archetype of the Peter Pan, an adolescent eternal child, where we want to be mirrored instead of related to the people in our lives. Many relationships end at this stage and the alchemical process begins all over again with someone else. Some go on to marry the person with whom they feel they are in love, and become disillusioned when they realize that they have married a person who is not who they thought they were.

On the other hand, if the two people are committed to their relationship, growing and becoming conscious, when the projections wear off, there is an opportunity that arrives for both people. They can now discover and embrace their missing halves. This is not an easy task as it takes work and often involves a painful encounter with the self. In his book, Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung says that an experience with the self is always a defeat for the ego but that the death of the ego (the self as you knew it) allows one to be reborn into one’s own wholeness as projections are taken back.

The value of taking back our projections is that we can now see and accept our partners for who they are — not what we wanted them to be; not what we wish they would change into; not for what they can give us; but who they are. The love that can now grow between two partners is profound because it is REAL. Real love, unlike projection, is a willingness to see and support another person to be their own unique, separate self. This will untangle us from seeking in them the perfect parent-mirror image of ourselves, for as long as we are still seeking to be completed by another person, we will not allow them their own autonomy.

As the Rune “Partnership” describes it, two separate and whole beings — equals in the true sense of the word — can help each person feel their own union with the Divine within instead of through projective identification with their partner. As the love between them grows and expands to the entire cosmos, this kind of love gives each partner their freedom — the greatest gift of all. As the duet by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion professes, LOVE will be the gift you give yourself.


The Meaning of Life (part three)

September 4, 2009

Jack White

In part two, I discussed the first step towards finding true meaning in your life, referred to by Frankl as ‘your attitude towards unavoidable suffering’.  If you are able to deal with your past and present negative baggage with a positive attitude, you  will find that the way becomes clear for you to discover what you – as oppose to your parents/peers/partner or society – really value. To illustrate what I mean by this, I’m going to share some of my own story with you.

The Free Dictionary offers this definition of an epiphany:

A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: “I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself” (Frank Maier).

There have been two significant epiphanies of this type in my life. The first occurred in my mid-twenties when I lost my job (also mentioned in the ‘On Being an Empath’ article) and finally faced up to the fact that the way I was living my life was unsustainable. I was well and truly stuck in the vacuum and it was killing me – my life had no meaning, though this was hardly surprising as I had no idea who I was and what I really wanted. Consequently I decided enough was enough and embarked on the path of personal development which would change my life.

Over the next ten years, I made many momentous discoveries whilst on that path. I acknowledged that a lifestyle based on consumerism wasn’t for me and that working purely for financial gain was akin to selling my soul, prompting me to retrain as a counsellor as I sought out work which would give something back. I reframed negative past events and, after learning the important lessons those experiences had to teach me, was finally able to make peace with them and let them go. I learned a lot about how I related to others including how to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive, and how to establish healthy personal boundaries. I also learned a lot about the real meaning of love through my relationship with my child and I most definitely learned the hard way what I didn’t want from my more intimate relationships. And best of all, as my false self image – created from the distorted reflections of other people – crumbled, I grew to like the person I really was and began to enjoy spending time in my own company. Yet something still seemed to be missing. It was as though I’d stripped my inner self clean of all the baggage and now my authentic self stood there raw and fresh and blinking in the sun, saying ‘well, here I am at last – so what next?’

Fast forward, then, to my mid-thirties. Over the previous decade I’d come a long way and now it felt like the final pieces were clicking into place. However, like running a marathon or climbing Everest, this last stretch was proving to be particularly difficult, not least because I’d ended a relationship with someone who I loved deeply and who I still believe was a true soul mate but who, due to difficult circumstances, was unable to show me the level of respect I deserved. Though I learned some valuable lessons about my own behaviour in intimate relationships which would stand me in good stead for the future, the feelings of hurt and betrayal due to his casual treatment of my finer feelings was still hard to take.

In an attempt to move on, I agreed to go on a long weekend break with a friend. Unfortunately the break was a disaster and I was forced to finally admit to myself something I had tried to deny for years – that this friendship was a little too one-sided for my liking. I’d been hurt and let down by this person several times over the course of our friendship but because I’d known her for so long – and had, at one time, looked up to her – I’d put my misgivings to one side. Now I’d finally reached a point in my personal development where I cared about myself enough to no longer tolerate relationships – be they with partner, friend or family – that were detrimental to my wellbeing. The rationality of this decision, however, belies how difficult it was for me on an emotional and psychological level. I literally felt like my heart was breaking and found myself plummeting into a particularly intense ‘dark night of the soul’.

During the break, I treated myself to a CD copy of Get Behind Me Satan by the White Stripes. I hadn’t really listened to them before but I’d recently seen their Glastonbury set on TV and was really blown away by Jack White’s powerful performance and the way he took command of the stage. The day after we returned, my daughter left to spend the week with her father so I decided to make the most of my free days and enjoy some much needed solitary time. Whilst relaxing, I played my new CD continuously, and the more I listened, the more impressed I was by the way Jack White expressed his feelings so vividly through the music and lyrics. In yet another marvellous piece of synchronicity, the theme of the album reflected perfectly the emotional turbulence I was going through love, betrayal, grief, anger, all exquisitely and impeccably portrayed. Even the title of the album seemed appropriate in reflecting how I was putting the negative aspects of the past – events, relationships and my own behaviours – behind me, once and for all.  (A bit of research uncovered the fact that prior to making this album, Jack had suffered a relationship break-up and been badly burned by a number of old friends ).

In my early years, creative writing had been a very important part of my life. Even as a child, I spent much of my spare time producing stories and poems but for some reason as an adult I kept closing the door on that intrinsic part of myself. That week, thanks to one man’s work, I rediscovered how powerful creativity could be and I finally realised what was missing and what my authentic self was screaming out for. Expressing my ideas through the written word to help others is simply what I was born to do.

As you can see, then, the second step towards discovering meaning in my life, as described by Frankl, was experiencing something – in my case, experiencing the power of creativity. I was still unsure how I would express this creativity – I initially began by simply pouring out my feelings onto paper then moved on to working on a novel – but further experiences and synchronicities ultimately lead me to the final step, referred to by Frankl as “creating a work or doing a deed”. That work is, of course, my Empathic Guidance project which so far includes a website, this blog and an upcoming book.  I also have people in my life who seem to thoroughly enjoy being with the authentic me and who support and encourage me wholeheartedly in expressing that. It’s taken some time and effort – and a vast amount of soul-searching – but I can safely say that my experience of the existential vacuum is a long way behind me now.

To end this article, we’ll revisit someone I mentioned in part two, Stephen Hawking. His positive attitude towards his suffering, coupled with his sense of purpose and encountering someone who he fell deeply in love with gave his life more meaning than it had ever had before, and for me, this quote sums up much of what I have attempted to express in this article:

My dreams at that time were rather disturbed. Before my condition had been diagnosed, I had been very bored with life. There had not seemed to be anything worth doing. But shortly after I came out of hospital, I dreamt that I was going to be executed. I suddenly realised that there were a lot of worthwhile things I could do if I were reprieved. Another dream, that I had several times, was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. After all, if I were going to die anyway, it might as well do some good. But I didn’t die. In fact, although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research, and I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met just about the time my condition was diagnosed. That engagement changed my life. It gave me something to live for.”


The Good Relationship Guide (part two)

July 22, 2009


6. Trust me, I’m your soulmate

In part one I talked about how respect and consideration are the cornerstones of a healthy relationship. Intrinsic to these cornerstones are the qualities of trust and loyalty. Trust is often talked about as being a key factor in a good relationship and most people tend to think of this as being able to trust that your partner will be faithful to you. However fidelity is just one facet of the kind of trust which is necessary in a good relationship.

Whenever we care about someone, we are giving away some power over our feelings and our wellbeing. It is impossible to love without giving away some of your power (though equally important that that you do not give away all your power, as discussed in part one). When we choose to love someone and share our intimate selves with them we are giving them the power to make us happy and the flipside of that, of course, is that we are also giving them the power to hurt us, or instil anger or fear in us. It is therefore vital that you are able to trust your chosen loved one with your deepest feelings, and trust them not to abuse your love for them. Loyalty to the relationship is also important and again, this does not just mean being monogamous, but that you also see the two of you as a team. You need to be able to trust in your partner to stand by you, to back you up and to not diminish you in front of others.

Of course, trust does not always come easy if it has been severely damaged in the past. Someone who genuinely loves you will understand and respect that and will be happy to work with you to gently build the trust in your relationship. However, if you are the one who is struggling with trust issues, it’s also important to remember that all men/women are NOT the same, and just because your previous lover/s let you down, it does not mean that your current partner inevitably will. If you have followed the advice in part one and are listening to your inner guidance, then you will know in your heart of hearts if this is someone you can trust. However if you continue to lack trust for your partner, with no real evidence for your negative beliefs, then perhaps you need to take a step back and do some more emotional healing work on yourself.

7. Communication

This is the one that all relationship experts bang on about and for good reason. If you can’t communicate with your partner, then what are you actually getting out of the relationship? We’ve all seen those couples in pubs and restaurants who sit there staring into the distance with grim expressions, barely uttering a word to each other. Maybe occasionally one of them will say something, only to get a contemptuous grunt in response. Who in all honesty wants a relationship like that?

As I said in part one, your partner should be your best friend. For instance, when something important happens to you or you hear some significant news, who is the first person you think of to ring? If you are in a good relationship, then it will probably be your partner. Sharing the day-to-day stuff is also important. When you care for someone, then you will quite naturally be interested in their life and will enjoy hearing about their day, sharing amusing anecdotes perhaps or giving them a sounding board to vent any work frustrations. And remember that sense of humour – not all communication needs to be serious and true soulmates love to play, have fun and laugh together.

8. Conflict resolution

Finding a conflict resolution style which suits both of you is crucial to the success of your relationship. If one of you becomes abusive or contemptuous, stonewalls or prefers to blame the other for any problems, then this does not bode well for your relationship in the future. Occasional fights are inevitable in any relationship, but if you learn how to handle them in a mature and just manner, then your intimate connection will reap the rewards.

When Diane and David first got together, David struggled to deal with conflict – his family background meant that he felt threatened by any kind of confrontation, so he would simply say ‘I’m leaving’ and walk away if an issue arose which upset him in any way. He soon realised that this hurt Diane deeply and was counterproductive to their relationship, so he learned to bite the bullet and to stay and discuss any issues between them. In turn, Diane respected the effort David made for the sake of their relationship and ultimately working through this – and other conflicts – brought them closer together.

However, it’s also important to pick your battles. If your partner begins to feel harangued because every move they make seems to be wrong, then your relationship will not last long either. Save up the intense discussions for the issues which you feel could genuinely damage your relationship. For example, if your partner stays up late watching TV once in a while, then it’s not really a big deal. However, if your partner is doing this every night when previously you both went to bed at the same time, then you have every reason to address this and share your concerns with your partner.

And remember, unlike the myth perpetuated by the film ‘Love Story’, love does sometimes mean having to say you’re sorry. If you’ve messed up and you know it, then admit your mistake and apologise. Sometimes an apology is all that’s needed to thaw the cold war between you and allow a more open and healthy discussion of your dilemma to take place.

9. Let’s get physical

The one factor which distinguishes your relationship with your partner from your relationships with everyone else in your life is the physical intimacy you share, so it’s  essential that you fancy each other like mad.  As we already discussed, being best friends with your partner is  important but if your relationship lacks that vital spark – also known as ‘chemistry’ –  then however much you like each other, things will fizzle out pretty quickly.

On the other hand, love-making has been trivialised in our over-sexualised society (sex is portrayed as a selfish act – something you do for a quick buzz, like drugs or alcohol) to the point that many people seem to develop their relationships backwards these days. Rather than spending time building a close friendship first with a potential lover, they leap into bed together only to realise – usually as the passion wanes – that they’re not that keen on this person after all.

Love-making with someone you genuinely love is truly amazing and once you’ve experienced this, then the ‘backwards’ approach to relationships will no longer hold any interest for you. Sharing your whole self with your partner, body and soul, is one of the best gifts you can ever give to them – and it’s a gift which will make both of you feel special and loved.

And of course, physical affection does not need to be restricted to the sexual. Holding hands as you walk down the street, cuddles and kisses as part of your daily communication, a loving touch and a smile as you pass each other in the hallway – this is all love-making too and helps to keep the intimate bond between you strong.

10. Nobody’s perfect

Even your one true love and soulmate will irritate, frustrate, anger or disappoint you sometimes. No-one – no, not even you, dear reader – is perfect. We all have our quirks, flaws and bad habits, we all have differences of opinion in some areas, and we all have bad days where we just feel plain cranky and ready to pick a fight with anyone for no reason at all. If your partner only gets on your nerves about five percent of the time, then you can rest assured that your relationship is normal and healthy and you don’t have much to worry about.

A couple who really care for each other will also probably do what they can to reduce that five percent. If you know that it irritates your partner when you don’t tidy up after yourself when you’ve made a sandwich, then teach yourself a new habit of clearing everything away when you’re done. Your partner will be delighted that you’ve made this effort for them, you’ll be happy that you’ve made them happy and your relationship will benefit enormously from a small effort and simple action on your part.


The Good Relationship Guide (part one)

July 16, 2009

happy relationshipLast week we looked at relationship break-ups and how to handle them in a healthy way. Many relationships break down because people are focusing on the wrong values and qualities when they initially pair up or have unrealistically high expectations of their partner whilst having low expectations of what they actually need to put into the relationship themselves.

Anyone who has lived in a negative relationship like this will know how demoralising, all-consuming and generally detrimental to your wellbeing it can be. On the other hand, a good relationship can enhance an already positive existence immeasurably. So bearing this in mind, here is a brief guide to finding, recognising and maintaining a good relationship.

1. Know – and love – yourself.

At the end of my last blog entry, I stated that ‘the better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find the person who you can truly be happy with’. I really cannot reiterate this enough, as I truly believe that for most of us, this is the one and only condition necessary for meeting ‘Mr/Ms Right’.

When I was married, I can remember looking through my wardrobe to find something to wear and realising that my clothes were in a number of radically different styles. Within this small selection of garments was the punk, the hippy, the businesswoman, the ‘wife’, to name but a few – but which outfit defined the real me? Who on earth was I? The fact was, I had no idea so was desperately trying on different identities in an attempt to find out. Of course, simply changing my external image was never going to lead to a deeper knowledge of my inner self, and it was little wonder that with such a lack of self-awareness, my marriage ultimately foundered.

If you don’t know who you are, then you will not be in touch with your inner guidance, you will not know what brings you real joy and you probably won’t like yourself very much either. Consequently, you will enter a relationship, not because you want to enjoy an intimate friendship and share a lifetime of mutual love and support, but because you are hoping that your chosen partner will fill up the empty shell which exists where your authentic self should be, or will be your escape route from something, be it physical circumstances or psychological/emotional torment. You will end up attracting someone with similar or complementary insecurities and when the initial buzz is over, you will find yourself stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with someone you probably don’t even like all that much, never mind love.

Paradoxically, the best way to guarantee a positive relationship in the future is to spend some time as a single person, getting to know and love yourself. Loving yourself means developing self-respect (treating yourself in a loving way) and self-acceptance (loving yourself, warts and all). Why would you expect anyone else to love you if you don’t think you’re lovable? So take some time out from the relationship merry-go-round and do some personal development work to heal your emotional wounds and break the unhealthy patterns which drag you back into dysfunctional relationships time and time again. It may take some time but the rewards you gain through discovering your authentic self  – namely, fulfilment, harmony and serenity  – are definitely worth it. (For more on this, check out my blog entry ‘The greatest gift you will ever give yourself’.)

2. Listen to your inner guidance

As you get to know yourself better, you will become more in tune with your inner guidance or intuition – and as you feel more at ease with yourself, you will be more inclined to listen to this wise inner voice. If you think back to previous negative relationships you may have had, you probably knew quite early on that something was amiss, but your desperate need to be in a relationship overrode your inner wisdom. I once met a man whose opening words were ‘I was never unfaithful to my ex wife or ex girlfriends’. This immediately set alarm bells ringing and I actually went home and wrote in my journal ‘Watch this one – could be a ladies’ man!’ Unfortunately I was feeling particularly vulnerable when I met this man, so ignored my intuition and ended up having a fairly miserable two year relationship with him – which ended when I caught him in the arms of another woman.

As well as helping you to avoid the rotten apples, your inner guidance will also lead you to the good ones too, if you get out of your own (or your ego’s) way and allow yourself to pay heed to it. Karen was invited to a party which she didn’t really want to attend – she was single and knew it would be mostly couples, and it was in a local pub which she didn’t really like. However the voice of her inner guidance seemed determined she should go despite her misgivings, so she arranged a babysitter for her small son and went. That night she met the man who turned out to be her soulmate. Interestingly, it transpired that he had also been reluctant to attend but felt the same inexplicable pull as Karen to turn up anyway.

And of course, it will be the voice of your inner guidance which will let you know, quietly but insistently, that you’ve finally met ‘The One’….

3. Share similar values and interests…

This does not mean that you’re into hot guys and he happens to be hot, or you’re into rich women and she happens to be rich, or any other similar superficial ‘quality’. If such things are still your main criteria for a relationship then you will never be happy and will always be on the lookout for something better – after all, there’s always the possibility that someone hotter or richer is just around the corner. And of course, just because someone is hot or rich, it does not necessarily follow that they are pleasant or compatible in any way with you.

What this actually means is that you have similar values regarding love and life. Does he or she value positive qualities such as compassion and integrity? If you’re looking for a serious commitment with this person, then you also need to be sure they’re on the same page as you in the areas which are most important to you – for example, how and where you want to live, how you feel about marriage and children, your views on work and money, political and spiritual beliefs and so on.

It also helps if you have similar interests – perhaps you both like to go walking at weekends, or share a love of live music. Enjoyable shared experiences are an important bonding tool and create a history of happy memories which can be important when you go through an inevitable rough patch.  A similar sense of humour is also essential to see you through the good times and the bad – couples who laugh together, last together. Ultimately, if you fall in love with someone who is also your best friend, you can’t go far wrong.

4. …but keep some of your life for you.

Remember Penny from the ‘dumpee’ blog? Because she had a full life in her own right, with her own friends and a variety of creative interests, her relationship with Paul was not the centre of her universe. Penny chose to be in the relationship because she enjoyed being with Paul, not because she needed to be with him. Subsequently, when he left, though she was very upset, she knew that she would get over it and didn’t feel like her life was over.

There’s nothing attractive about someone who needs to be with you constantly and appears to have no existence beyond their relationship with you. A healthy relationship is interdependent – the supportive and mutually beneficial union of two independent adults – rather than co-dependent – the desperate attachment of two needy wounded children. Time apart from your partner doing your own thing makes you a much more interesting and well-rounded person who will have so much more to bring to the relationship, and is also healthy for your own personal growth and holistic well-being, giving you the opportunity for relaxation and reflection.

5. Do unto your partner as you would have your partner do unto you.

The cornerstones of a good relationship are respect and consideration. People seem to forget that ‘love’ is a verb and therefore protestations of love are simply not enough. If someone is declaring their love for you, yet they can’t be bothered to ring when they say they will, turn up on time or talk to you in a civil way; or if they ignore you in public while flirting with other people, are unfaithful to you, or prefer to spend all their free time out drinking with their friends rather than be with you, then their actions are speaking much louder than their words.

Mutually loving partners will demonstrate this love consistently through loving behaviour. This doesn’t have to consist of big flamboyant gestures, though these are wonderful for special occasions; simple daily actions which show that you care for someone’s wellbeing as much as your own are sufficient. As well as the basic courtesies like punctuality, faithfulness, civility and so on, these actions could also include things like: running them a bath or giving them a foot rub after a hard day; surprising them with a bar of their favourite chocolate or that CD you heard them mention a few days ago; bringing them a cup of tea in bed in the morning; warming their gloves on the radiator before they go out in the winter; or a quick call or text to say ‘I love you’ during the day. Small things, perhaps, but it is little gestures like these which bring sunshine and joy into your lives and enhance your existence as a couple.

More in Part Two


How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part two)

July 9, 2009


The Left

If you’ve read part one, then you’re probably thinking that an appropriate alternative title for this article would be ‘The no-nonsense guide to breaking up’. Although the end of a relationship is a very emotive time for all involved, experience – both personal and in my work as a counsellor – has taught me that a healthy relationship break-up can only be achieved if there are clear boundaries – hence the ‘no-nonsense’ approach. As we have seen, the rule of thumb as the leaver is ‘Be firm but fair’. As the one left however, the rule is ‘Above all, hold your head high and keep your dignity’.

When you leave someone, you can guarantee that their true colours will come out. I often say – tongue firmly in cheek, of course – that if you’re unsure about how genuine someone’s feelings for you are, then try breaking off the relationship, as the way they respond will make it abundantly clear whether they really love you as a person in your own right or simply view you as an extension of their own ego.

To demonstrate what I mean, here are two very different examples.

Penny and Paul had been in a relationship for two years when Paul said that he wanted to break up. A few years younger than Penny, Paul felt that he hadn’t explored the world enough outside the context of their relationship, and wanted the opportunity to do this as a single man. Penny was utterly devastated, but respected Paul’s request and despite her grief, wished him well. Luckily Penny had a very full life outside of the relationship, with plenty of friends who all rallied round, and a number of creative interests which she threw herself into to help her move on. She did not attempt to contact Paul and asked mutual friends not to tell her if they’d seen him.

Six months after Paul left, he suddenly appeared on her doorstep. He told Penny that he’d made a mistake and that he missed her terribly. He asked for her forgiveness for hurting her and if she would consider taking him back. Penny agreed to consider his request and eventually decided that she loved him enough to give their relationship another go. A year later, they were married.

Contrast this with Kate and Karl’s break up. They had been married for fifteen years and over this time, the relationship had gradually become more like a business arrangement. Karl felt increasingly depressed and frustrated at the lack of affection and companionship offered by his wife, despite his best efforts, and felt that Kate was becoming increasingly contemptuous of him. A sudden death in the family was a real wake-up call for him, and Karl decided that life was too short to stay in a loveless marriage a moment longer.

Kate’s reaction came as a complete shock to him. As she had threatened to kick him out on more than one occasion, he believed she would probably be glad to see the back of him. Instead, she was mortified – ‘How dare he leave me!’- and she embarked on a series of manipulative behaviours in an attempt to keep him under her control. First she tried to seduce him with sex and gifts. When that didn’t work, she tried crying, pleading and threatening suicide to guilt trip him into staying. When this too failed, she became angry and abusive towards him, told anyone who would listen what a ‘bastard’ he was – with a big dollop of ‘poor me’ thrown in for good measure – and did her utmost to make his life as difficult as possible. She bombarded him with phone calls and texts and when he eventually began a more healthy and happy relationship with a former platonic friend who had been supportive of him, she did everything she could to try and destroy that relationship. She also refused to accept that she may have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage (despite the fact that her attempt at belatedly offering loving gestures in the form of sex and gifts demonstrated that she knew deep down what had been lacking) and put the blame totally on Karl and his new partner. Karl had initially felt guilty and sad about ending their marriage, but Kate’s behaviour quickly made him feel relieved it was over and killed off any residual positive feelings he had for her. As he said: ‘The way Kate has behaved is like a spoilt child throwing a tantrum. She treated me like an old toy which she no longer had any interest in, but when that toy was taken away, she screamed blue murder, demanding it back. She didn’t give a damn about me – the only reason she wanted me back was to satisfy her own ego.’

If you are the one being left, here are some dos and don’ts to help you through:

Don’t behave like a victim. Obviously you will need time to grieve, but reserve this for private moments. Don’t walk around with slumped shoulders, a hangdog expression and ‘he/she done me wrong’ written all over your face. Don’t bore your friends rigid with your tale of woe either. People will be sympathetic and supportive for a while, but if your complaints about your ex and the terrible thing he/she did to you continue for more than a month, then you are not only going to find yourself without your partner, you will soon be pretty short of friends too. If you are really struggling to come to terms with your loss, then consider seeing a counsellor or undergoing some other form of emotional healing to help you assimilate and accept your experience and move on.

Whilst it’s fine to wallow in your grief for a while, don’t torture yourself by spending the next six months listening to ‘your songs’, looking at photos of the two of you in happier times and visiting places which remind you of your ex. It is important to work your way through the stages of grief (as famously documented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) as if you don’t, you are simply storing up psychological problems for the future. However, don’t wear your grief like a badge of honour – there is much more to you than your former relationship, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to get out there and reacquaint yourself with you. If there’s something you’ve always had an interest in but never fully explored, why not contact your local college and see if they run classes in your chosen subject? It’s advice often given in agony columns, but with good reason – not only will you be able to distract yourself by throwing yourself into your new interest, you will also get the opportunity to broaden your social circle, which could be useful if the only people you know are mutual friends with your ex. If the thought of meeting people face to face seems a bit much to start with, then you could always ease yourself in gently and try an online course. Many of these also have forums where you can discuss the subject with fellow students, giving you the chance to chat with like-minded people. Alternatively, try undertaking some kind of project – something you can really get your teeth into and which will give you a boost. I once redecorated my entire house from top to bottom in 30 days after a relationship break-up and was really proud of my achievement. Or perhaps you could start an exercise program, go for a complete make-over, or travel to some places you’ve always wanted to visit. These are just ideas to fire your imagination  – only you know what appeals to you most and what it will take to kick start your life again.

Don’t, whatever you do, behave like a ‘bunny boiler’ (the prototype may have been female but this applies equally to men). Driving past their house, turning up on their doorstep uninvited on a regular basis, following them around town and ‘just happening’ to be in the same bars as them, ringing/texting/e-mailing a hundred times a day, then screaming, crying, begging, threatening suicide or being aggressive towards them when they reiterate that the relationship is over is NOT going to win back anyone’s love. It might just win you a restraining order though. Behaving this way has got nothing to at all to do with love, as Karl soon realised. If you genuinely love your ex, then like Penny, you will respect their wishes – as the saying goes ‘If you love someone, set them free’. The following quote also sums this attitude up beautifully, and refers us back to the initial ‘rule for dumpees’: “To behave with dignity is nothing less than to allow others to freely be themselves.” Real love means caring about the other person’s happiness – and if they are not finding that happiness in their relationship with you and choose to walk away, then let them go and wish them well, however difficult that may be. Consider again the story of Penny and Paul – would Paul have wanted to resume the relationship had Penny behaved like Kate, do you think? Keeping your dignity does not guarantee that your ex will come back to you, of course, but you will at least maintain your self-respect and get over the break-up much more quickly. It is two years since Karl and Kate broke up, and whilst Karl has moved on and is happy with his new life, Kate is still alone and living in the past, eaten up with resentment and bitterness,  and still thoroughly miserable and angry that she  (in her mind) ‘lost the game’.

On the other hand, if your ex tries to contact you – not to resume the relationship but because they want to ‘stay friends’ – then ask them to show you some respect and give you a chance to get over the break up. Your ex may be hanging on due to their own insecurity, or because there may be some advantage for them in continued contact, or even because they just don’t want to burn their bridges. If they expect to still be able to see you whenever they wish but have made it clear that they don’t want to continue an intimate relationship with you, then this is very unfair and selfish of them, and you would be wise to keep your distance until you feel you are over the relationship, however long that may take.

Above all, remember that clichés are clichés for a reason and that time really is a great healer. If you deal with your break-up in a healthy way, you will emerge from this time as a stronger, wiser and more self-aware person – and the better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find the person who you can truly be happy with.


How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part one)

July 6, 2009

break upOver the next couple of weeks,  I’m going to talk about the subject which seems to be everyone’s favourite – relationships.

Right now, it’s beginning to feel like almost everyone I know is going through some kind of relationship breakdown or crisis. Relationships seem to be falling like dominos – every week there’s another break-up. And the ones who haven’t broken up are going through such major issues that in many cases separating seems to be the inevitable conclusion.

Many of these people have been turning to me for an empathic ear and a bit of advice so I thought I would summarise some of the main points here for reference. I will talk about how to have a healthy relationship break-up,  and  how to break the pattern of  negative relationships and attract  a more positive one into your life.

How to have a healthy relationship break-up

Part One: The leaver

Relationship break-ups are never easy, whether you’re the ‘leaver’ or ‘the ‘left’. Usually it’s the one left who is thought to be the most hurt by a separation, but I’ve known people stay in relationships well past their sell-by date simply because they couldn’t bear the pain of hurting someone they once loved, and are most probably still fond of, despite no longer wanting an intimate relationship with them.

Generally, people end relationships for one of two reasons. Either your partner’s behaviour towards you is no longer acceptable or you have some pressing need which cannot be fulfilled within the context of that relationship. This article (in two parts) describes some examples of relationship break-ups, both healthy and unhealthy, seen from the perspective of the leaver and the left, with advice on how to survive the process with your self-respect intact.

The Leaver

Lynn has been married for some years and has three young children with her partner, Lee. At Lee’s suggestion, they decided to move to a new area to improve their quality of life. Lynn moved first with the children whilst Lee stayed in the old place for a few months to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, Lee took the opportunity to exploit his temporary ‘freedom’ and behave like a single man, including indulging in a number of flirtations and an ongoing sexual liaison. He confessed to this behaviour on one of his visits to Lynn, but his sole purpose for doing so seemed to be to relieve his guilty conscience, and he quickly became angry and impatient when Lynn did not instantly forgive him and continued to be upset, with an understandable need to discuss what had occurred.

Initially Lynn’s reaction was to try to save the marriage. However Lee’s continuing selfish behaviour and evident lack of respect for her feelings became intolerable to her. Lynn decided to make the most of a week away from the children – who were spending some time with Lee – and took herself off on a pamper/relaxation break (at hubby’s expense, of course). With time alone to consider her situation, she decided that she valued herself far too much to continue to be treated this way  – plus she had already proved to herself that she could cope just fine as a single parent. She decided to break off the relationship and wrote Lee a long letter explaining why for her, the marriage was over. Lynn is proud of the strength she has shown through this harrowing time and relieved to finally have some peace of mind, and even though she is faced with one of the biggest changes of her life so far, she feels very positive about her future. In her own words, “Life is good… and I hope I can offer strength to others in the same situation.”

If, like Lynn, you’ve decided to break up with your partner, here are a few dos and don’ts:

Don’t break up with someone if you don’t mean it. For some people, a relationship break-up is just another part of the elaborate and manipulative game which their relationship has become. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of game – i.e. someone breaks up with you one week then wants you back the next, only to break up with you again in a fortnight’s time, I would advise you to bring the game to a very swift end by breaking it off yourself. And if you and your partner seem to both thrive on this kind of stress-inducing behaviour, then you may want to examine why you need such high drama and tension within a relationship to keep it interesting.

If you are breaking up with someone because you feel the relationship just isn’t working for you anymore, then be cruel to be kind and make it a clean break. Don’t stay friends – at least, not straightaway – as you will only give the other person hope. And perhaps you should ask yourself – are your motives for staying friends entirely altruistic? After all, even though you no longer want an intimate relationship with this person, there will still probably be aspects of your association you will miss. If you keep the break-up reasonably amicable and you are both decent people, when the dust has finally settled a few months (or possibly years) down the line, there is every chance that you could become good friends. My ex-husband and I were terrible partners and fought like cat and dog, but because we still basically liked each other and dealt with the break up in a mature fashion, fifteen years on we are still great pals.

If you are breaking up with your partner because you feel they have  treated you badly and you want to vent your feelings, do it once (perhaps write it down in a letter, like Lynn did, as that way you can be sure you’ve expressed everything you feel) then move on. Don’t get caught up in revenge and resentment as the only person this hurts ultimately is you.

Don’t play the victim either. The fact that you have broken off the relationship shows strength. Allow yourself time to grieve – even if you’re just mourning the unfulfilled promise which all relationships start out with – but don’t wallow or drive your friends away by continuing to do nothing but weep and wail about your terrible relationship months down the line. Move forward with your head held high, and like Lynn, be proud of yourself for dealing with a negative situation in such a positive and assertive manner, and for respecting yourself enough to give yourself the good life you deserve.

If your former partner was abusive in any way, break off all contact. If you have children, keep contact to the minimum required to deal with any issues relating to the children. Refuse to enter discussions about your former relationship otherwise you are simply prolonging the agony. A clean break and no contact is the only way to send a clear message that for you the relationship is over. If your ex continues to harass you, stalks you, or exhibits any other menacing or violent behaviour in an attempt to goad you into retaliating or worse, to intimidate you into going back, then again, refuse to become involved in any kind of confrontation. When an ex of mine sent me threatening messages telling me to move away from the area ‘or else’, I immediately contacted the police to make sure they had a record of these threats for future reference. It turned out that my ex had a history of this kind of behaviour, so the police paid him a visit. When my ex realised that I was not going to enter this kind of game playing, the threats soon stopped.

Equally, don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into taking someone back when you know in your heart of hearts that the relationship is dead in the water. Seeing someone you once loved sobbing and pleading with you to come back can be very difficult to take, particularly if you are a sensitive and caring person, but if you do return the relationship will continue as it did before,  only this time tinged with resentment on your part due to your partner’s emotional blackmail. Again, no contact is the only answer. Don’t answer the door to them, get caller display and don’t pick up the phone when their number (or for a while, number withheld) comes up,  don’t respond to texts or e-mails  and definitely don’t agree to meet up for a friendly drink – in other words, don’t allow yourself to get engaged in any kind of personal interaction with them. If you refuse to respond, your ex will eventually get the message and give up trying. If they don’t, then this constitutes harassment and you will be justified in taking appropriate measures to stop this. Don’t be swayed by the tears – if they are refusing to respect your wishes then however much they protest, they actually don’t give a damn about you – this kind of behaviour is all about their feelings, not yours. And I’ll talk about this more  in part two – The Left.

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