Tag Archives: relationship tips

Dear Anita,

I was dating this guy for almost a year and he just dumped me. It took me by surprise and now I’m struggling. I think my friends are tired of hearing about him. It’s been three months since the breakup but I can’t get over it. Can you give me some tips to get over him please?

– Julia in Chicago

 

Hi Julia,

Being dumped by surprise can be one of the worst feelings. You can’t focus at work or school, you become obsessed with memories of your ex, and you lose your appetite. When my clients come to me in these kinds of situations, I find that tips with specific actions are extremely helpful. Here are a few to get you started:

 

  1. Date. I know it’s sometimes the last thing people want to do after a breakup, but there are so many men out there for you to go out and have fun with without the expectation of a serious relationship. Just be upfront about your intentions. You can tell your potential dates that you’re casually dating or wanting to explore the city, but aren’t looking for anything serious. Those who have similar intentions will stay in the game.
  1. Fill your time. If you used to make dinner with your ex every Sunday night, plan an activity that you’ll look forward to until the pain of Sunday nights subsides. Get together with your friends, volunteer, take a class, or catch up on your favorite shows. Fill that time that you used to spend with him doing something fun or productive. Some of my clients know when they’ll have idle time so they ask their friends to hang out – and promise not to bring up the ex!
  1. Plan for weak moments. You’ll have your weak moments when you may want to contact your ex. Have a go-to plan in place – exercise, call a friend, distract yourself with work, pick up a book, etc. And whatever you do, don’t cyber-stalk! You’ll be upset if you see something you don’t like or can’t explain – “Who is that girl in that photo with him?” Even better, unfriend him on Facebook if you haven’t already done so and if necessary, block him so you won’t sneak a peek. Also, allow your friends to take your phone away at times of weakness.
  1. Keep count. If you’re an “out of sight, out of mind” person this won’t work. But if you’re not, use a calendar to keep track of the days you’ve gone without contact. Having a visual reminder can also keep you from reaching out.
  1. Remember why you broke up. Visual reminders can be extremely helpful. Keep a list or use sticky notes with the reasons why you broke up in the first place. Leave them in your purse, put them on your nightstand or hang them on your fridge. Were there any red flags that you missed? Write those down and look at them often. If you had friends who disliked your ex, this would be a good time for them to remind you how much they disliked him.
  1. Avoid your relationship haunts.It’s ok to avoid your usual hangouts until you feel better. It doesn’t mean your ex has power over you, it means you’re paying attention to your emotions and doing what’s best for you in the moment.
  1. Get out of routine. Getting out of routine can elevate mood. Whether it’s taking up a new hobby, trying different restaurants, or taking a trip to a place you’ve never been, these little and big ways can make you feel happier, which can also give you hope that you can happily move on.

Although time can heal all wounds, it’s what you do with that time that can be a key difference to you healing more quickly.

 

I know, I know…some of you are rolling your eyes at the title of my blog. Seriously, what can The Bachelor teach us about love? When the first season aired in 2002, I too thought, What are these women thinking? Where’s their self-respect? But when I watched this season’s episodes, I had a different take on the show. It’s not because it’s any different now than 13 years ago, but because I’m different. In 2002 I was still in college. Now, I’m a dating and relationship coach who has spent the last several years specializing in love and researching what makes relationships work. It’s been my job to help my clients figure out why they act like they do when it comes to love. Are people truly crazy and irrational, or can behaviors actually make sense? In the context of love and our need to connect with a person, the bachelorettes’ behaviors seem pretty reasonable. Here are 4 lessons from The Bachelor that can be applied to your love life:

  1. The need to feel special.

During one of his guest appearances, Jimmy Kimmel made a joke about how many times the word “amazing” was uttered this season. But really the key word should’ve been “special.” Every woman on the show wants to feel special. It’s what the rose symbolizes–I choose you, you are different than the others.

Britt, after getting a rose on the stage of a Big & Rich concert, was sure feeling pretty special to Chris. But in the next episode she confronts Chris when Kaitlyn gets the rose over her. Britt wanted to know that she’s his top choice and said she literally asked and begged Chris for validation. She added that she doesn’t want her husband to see her as a second, third or fourth choice. We all want to feel special, to know our date or partner only wants us. We may focus on behaviors that show we’re unique, like how much time we spend together or the compliments and affection we receive. But how did social media spin Britt’s desire for this feeling? That she has a “meltdown” and “breakdown.” Although she could have picked a better time to be vocal, knowing the rules of The Bachelor isn’t enough to stop the heart from wanting what it wants.

  1. The importance of security.

During every episode I love to read the Twitter feed about the show. One word that pops up a lot is “crazy.” In the context of the need of feeling secure, the women’s behavior makes sense. The women do what they can to increase their feelings of security with the Bachelor–they pull him away from other women, sneak time with him, ask him where they stand, wondering if he reciprocates their feelings, etc. There’s nothing crazy about this. We all have the need to feel secure with the object of our desire.

Maybe you’ve had times in your love life when you haven’t been as sure that your date or partner likes and cares for you as much as you do. Maybe you’ve wondered about exclusivity with your partner–wondered about what the next step is, felt anxious about it and the uncertainty of not knowing. All of this is perfectly normal and to be expected. My female clients sometimes tell me that the man they’re dating or in a relationship with calls her “crazy.” Some women worry that they’ll come across as being too needy or desperate if they ask for reassurance about the relationship or seek affirmation of his feelings. But we all have the need to feel secure, and the more we feel this security with our partner, the stronger our relationship.

  1. The need to be vulnerable.

When Chris dismissed some of the bachelorettes, he said that things just hadn’t progressed as far as with the other women. I believe it. The women have mentioned having their guards up and not wanting to be hurt. In the episode when Kaitlyn was let go, she stated that the feeling of profound hurt she was experiencing was exactly what she had wanted to avoid. But being hurt is inevitable–none of us can avoid that. And being vulnerable is scary but a necessity in order to get your date or partner to truly know who you are as a person. Hopes, dreams, fears, the skeletons in our closet–when we share these things and get acceptance and support from our partner, it makes us feel closer. You have to take the risk. Without risk, deep intimacy is harder to come by.

  1. There’s more than one good match.

When there were 3 women remaining, Kaitlyn, Becca and Whitney, the Bachelor told the host Chris Harrison, “I’m down to three really excellent women that I can see myself spending the rest of my life with.” And he probably could make a lifetime work with each of them. The Bachelor has often said that a lot of the women on the show have various qualities that he would like in his future wife. The thing is, for all of us, we have to pick which ones are more important and be able to accept and work with the rest. Looking for “The One” can keep you single. There’s no way you can meet someone who sees eye-to-eye with you on everything. Many people can be a good fit, but you have to believe that in order to make it work with one person.

 

One evening my boyfriend came over, and stopped at Chipotle on his way to bring me some dinner. He texted me to see what I wanted. My brief responses of “chicken taco” and “you know what I want” apparently didn’t help him too much, because he didn’t get my order right. I wondered, “How could he not know that I prefer corn over flour tortillas, and that I love sour cream with my Mexican food?!? We’ve been dating for almost 8 months!” When I asked him, he then threw down the gauntlet – “What do I like at Chipotle?” Without missing a beat I recited his usual order and he replied by putting his hands up in the air and saying, “Ok ok, you proved your point.”

 

I wasn’t upset with him that he didn’t know my order because, well…it’s something I’m highly aware of because of what I do for a living. As a relationship therapist, I work with my clients on the importance of increasing attentiveness to their partner and being attuned to what’s going on in their world. It’s what happy couples do since it increases feelings of closeness and security and it feels good knowing that your partner “gets you.”

 

And it goes beyond knowing your partner’s favorite foods. What are your partner’s current stressors? What do they worry about most? Who do they admire most? What are they sensitive about? How has their childhood and past relationships influenced who they are today? The more you know about your partner and vice versa, the deeper your friendship will get. A strong friendship is a necessary component to a lasting relationship – it’s a buffer against disconnection that plagues couples and is a leading cause of divorce.

 

The good news for you is that you don’t have to be a relationship therapist to turn this into a positive habit as well. Through practice it’s become second nature for me to file information that my boyfriend shares with me that I’ll use later to brighten his day, or show him how much he means to me. It’s not “work” for me, it’s a habit. Maintaining feelings of connection doesn’t happen automatically because you love each other. It takes effort and a conscious awareness of your partner and their world and then following through with actions, whether it’s planning a surprise, just listening or being present in the moment.

 

You can also strengthen your connection with your partner by sharing your opinion and being open. Sometimes people want to appease their partner or “go with the flow,” or don’t want to bring up hurtful past experiences, but you miss out on prime opportunities for your partner to learn more about you and use this information to strengthen your bond. For example, if you’re sensitive to feeling excluded because of a childhood experience and your partner is aware of this, they can make that extra effort to have you feel like you belong at parties or events by including you in conversations, introducing you to people and telling you how much it means to them that you came with them. These are small acts that can make a big difference.

 

The daily stuff matters, too. When your partner asks, “What’s wrong?” don’t say, “I’m fine” when you’re not. Again, you’re preventing the opportunity for your partner to know what’s going on in your life. Although my boyfriend didn’t know my Chipotle order to a T, he is very attuned to my emotional states. He can always tell when something bothers me or if I’m feeling “off,” and asks about it so that he knows what’s going on. It shows me that he not only pays attention, but that he cares about my well-being, so I make sure to open up to him. Talking to him about stressful things and having his support and understanding increases feelings of trust and safety for me. Talk with your partner about what it does for you.

 

The more details you know about each other, from the silly to the serious, the more likely you’ll make your relationship last.

 

And the next time my boyfriend brought over Chipotle, he didn’t forget the sour cream.

A common problem presented to me is, “Anita, I love my partner, but I’m just not in love with them anymore.” Usually my clients don’t realize that they were active participants in falling out of love by the choices they made over the course of their relationship. Frequent pitfalls they seem to experience include:

 

  1. Keep making negative comparisons. You not only spend more time thinking about what your partner is doing wrong than right, but you also think someone else would be better for you. Perhaps you start thinking that someone else would appreciate you more, understand you more fully, and that your life overall would be happier with someone else. Negatively comparing your partner and your relationship to others primes you to slowly chip away at your positive feelings.

 

  1. Don’t speak up for your needs/wants. A fast way to let disappointment and resentment build up is to not speak up for what you need and want in your relationship. Although your partner should stay attuned to your needs, it’s also important to be direct with your partner when you feel they are not being met. When you don’t openly express this, you increase the likelihood that you won’t feel as satisfied or happy in your relationship, and again open the door for more negativity.

 

  1. Pull back emotionally. Love can be scary. When you put yourself out there with your deepest desires, you can get rejected and hurt. It takes courage to keep being vulnerable with your partner. But if you don’t, you won’t feel as connected. Many of my clients talk about lacking that in love feeling with their partner, and they stopped being vulnerable a long time ago.

 

  1. Don’t prioritize your partner. Relationships require both partners to be active participants. Too often I see couples placing their relationships on the bottom of the list, after children, work demands and family obligations. You have to continually reignite the passion and connection by focusing on your relationship. You won’t feel in love if you don’t take the necessary time to continually cultivate those feelings.

Sometimes falling out of love comes down to the choices you make. If you’re struggling with your feelings but make an effort to avoid these pitfalls, you can begin to change the course of your relationship to feelings that are more positive and loving.

I can’t believe I’m married to such an idiot.

You finished one thing on the list. Do you want an award for being ‘Partner of the Year’?

You call that picking up after yourself? Can’t you do anything right?

You always spend too much money. Why are you so irresponsible? Can you be any more selfish?

Do you have interactions between you and your partner where you feel your partner is mean and even downright cruel, or vice versa? Do you feel like your partner is disgusted by you, or maybe you’re disgusted by your partner? If so, you’re in dangerous relationship territory.

Contemptuous exchanges like those above are the most toxic behaviors for a relationship. Contempt shows a lack of respect for your partner, and you think you’re better than them. You put your partner down and show them they are worthless. Contempt comes in many forms – mockery, insults, name-calling, eye-rolling, sighs of disgust and even sarcasm. I meet a lot of people who are proud of their sarcastic sense of humor. Because it is a form of contempt, be careful how you use it with your partner!

Contempt doesn’t appear in a relationship overnight. It usually develops because you’ve allowed negative thoughts about your partner to simmer over a long time. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if you haven’t resolved your differences. For example, maybe you think your partner is doing things the wrong way, and your ways are better. Your partner probably thinks they’re doing things the right way, and thus you have a stand-off without a resolution. As the conflict continues, you get more and more fed up, and simple disagreements can turn to contemptuous exchanges over time.

Contempt is so toxic that research shows it is the biggest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated. And if you’re thinking that’s impossible, research shows that among happy couples, the frequency of contempt is almost zero. Happy couples convey admiration and respect for their partner, and it’s never too late for you to do that with your partner.

To counteract contempt you can do three things:

1. Consistently practice sharing fondness and admiration with your partner. To get you started, think about the following: What are your partner’s strengths? What are your top three favorite traits about them? Why did you fall in love with your partner in the first place? How can you compliment your partner today? You have to create a positive mindset about your partner and go a step further by expressing it to them. Be genuine and give yourself time for praise and admiration to seem more natural, especially if it hasn’t been a part of your relationship for a long time.

2. Complain (as opposed to attacking your partner’s character). Think before you speak. Instead of, “Why didn’t you clean the kitchen like you said you would? You’re so lazy, I have to do everything!” you can say, “You said you would clean the kitchen but you didn’t. I’m very upset by this.” You want to focus on the behavior without the character assault.

3. Understand your partner. As I frequently tell my clients, the goal is not necessarily to agree with your partner, but to understand where they are coming from. Does their perspective make sense? You can both be right, and that can go a long way toward repairing the damage of contempt.

Although contempt is the most toxic relationship behavior, you do have the power to eliminate it. If it’s been present in your relationship for a long time, it may take some time to feel comfortable with the new positive and affirming behaviors. But if you want your relationship to have a fighting chance, contempt absolutely must be eliminated.

You meet someone new. You think about them all the time and can’t wait until the moment when you see them next. You can’t eat, sleep or concentrate. You check your phone a hundred times a day to see if you missed their call or text. You feel energized like never before, you have butterflies, feel nervous and worry about what you do or say when you’re with this new person. You’re in the romantic love stage of a relationship and it feels so wonderful and magical and you want it to last forever.

 

But it doesn’t. The spark faded, the thrill is gone. Now what?

 

You may panic, wondering if you made a mistake or if you’re not meant to be together. You should always have those feelings for someone if you’re in love, right? Research says no. For every relationship, it’s natural and normal for the I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-you feelings of romantic love to fade over time. In fact, on average, it only lasts about 18 months.

 

The couples I work with commonly talk about dampened desire, getting too comfortable and being bored. It’s easy for a relationship to feel stuck in a rut. It may sound unromantic to have to create the conditions to reignite passion with your partner, but it can be achieved:

 

  1. Give each other space. When you initially met, you probably didn’t know what your partner was doing every day. You fantasized about what they were up to during your time apart, eagerly awaiting the time you could be together again. Now that you’re in a relationship, you spend more time in each other’s company. Although that’s important for you to maintain a connection, you also need time apart. As the Poet Kahlil Gibran recommended, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” You need some degree of separateness from your partner in order to maintain passion and desire from them. When a reward (the reward being your sexy self) is delayed, it increases brain chemicals that help stimulate romantic passion. Take different classes, engage in different hobbies or take a night off to do your own thing. Missing each other is a good thing.
  1. Get out of routine. Some of my couples call each other at the same time every day, or have date night the same night of the week. With routine comes boredom or a sense of obligation – “It’s that time, I have to call her….” It can be tough to feel hot and heavy for your partner when you also feel bored. Mix it up! Go to a comedy show on a weeknight or take a Ferris Bueller Day and play hooky with your partner. Variety is key to keeping things fresh. Do a boredom check – studies show that boredom predicted declines in relationship satisfaction over time. If one of you is bored, brainstorm what you can change up.
  1. Do novel things together. Do you ever wonder if the Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants really mean it when they profess love to each other so quickly? Believe it! Studies show that exciting experiences not only enhance attraction, but couples who do thrilling things together feel more satisfied in their relationship. Develop a variety of interests, especially those that both of you would find exhilarating. For some of you it may be skydiving or a day riding roller coasters, but even going to an event last-minute or playing tourist in your own city can work, too. Add some fun challenges to your relationship. Do you and your partner root for opposing sports teams? Place bets and loser gives winner a massage or makes dinner. Just remember to keep it light and playful!

The bottom line is that effort is required to maintain passion. Giving your relationship space to miss each other, adding variety and sharing in new experiences can all boost your relationship out of any rut.