Ending a Relationship

How do you know when to end a relationship?  Hmm…unless you’ve only been with someone a matter of weeks, breaking up with someone is usually a very difficult decision. There may be obvious signs that you need to pull up stakes and move on, but for some reason you just keep standing in the same spot.

I’ve been asked, “How many mistakes should I put up with before I decide to leave”?  That is a hard question to answer because everyone believes differently.  What one person wouldn’t put up with one time, may not seem like a big deal to someone else.  I usually throw the question right back at the person asking.  What do YOU think?  Does it really matter if your best friend wasn’t able to forgive their boyfriend or girlfriend for something?  Does that mean you’ll be able to call up your boyfriend or girlfriend and break it off with them with no second thoughts if they do the same thing?  Probably not.

One thing I know to be true is this…You can’t tell someone else when it’s the right time for them to leave a relationship.  Even in extreme domestic violence situations when it is obvious the relationship is causing more harm than good, it still futile to tell someone to leave if they aren’t ready.  There really is no “right” time to leave.  The right time is when YOU don’t see any other option.  The complicated thing is that everyone doesn’t get to that point at the same time.  When students come to me with this question,  I tell them that only they know when they’ll be ready to leave.

I usually see people in my office when they are in the position of being in pain no matter what they do.  They want to break up with the person because there are many things in the relationship that cause them pain.  However, the alternative of being alone or being without this person brings about thoughts of even more pain.  You may go back and forth with the decision.  I always say, if you still have doubts, you aren’t ready to break up yet.

So, what can you do during this time of uncertainty?  Work on ways to fix what you think is broke.  The trick is to remember that you can ultimately only control your own actions.  If you spend all your time thinking about how the other person can change to make your relationship better, you will be in for a very frustrating ride.  Even if the person is 95% in the wrong, you still can’t make them change.  You can tell them what hurts you or bothers you.  You can share your thoughts and feelings, but other than that, there isn’t much else you can do to try to change a person.  Let’s say you’re married and angry at your partner.  Is it easier for you to kick your partner out of bed and make them sleep on the couch, or is it easier to go sleep on the couch yourself?

Trust me, it is easier to focus on yourself within the relationship.  For example, if your partner cheated, can you really control whether they will do it again?  If you could, then you wouldn’t feel so nervous about them repeating the action.  Following them around and stalking their Facebook page gives you a false sense of control.  Micromanaging the relationship and taking your anger out on your partner isn’t going to make the relationship better.  Not that you don’t have any power.  You can still communicate your feelings to your partner in a healthy way that tells them how hurt and disrespected you are, and you can let them know you would like them to be more open if they want to continue in the relationship.  However, you can’t force those things to happen.

Since you can’t control your partner’s actions, then do your best to keep the focus on yourself.  Take time to reduce your anger and stress.  Maybe take up kickboxing, talk to a counselor, journal your feelings, go for a run or make sure you get enough sleep.  Think through the issues in your relationship.  Spend time figuring out if there is anything you can change that will make things better.  How much time are you spending with your partner?  Are you trying to communicate your feelings in healthy ways?  Are you trying to be a positive or negative influence?

Face it, you aren’t going to be ready to leave until you feel like you’ve done everything you can on your end to make things better anyway.  If you do this and your partner still continues to hurt you or take advantage of you, you’ll be ready to leave way sooner than later.  My husband always says, “Lead by example”.  Or as Ghandi would say, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  Only be the change you want to see in your relationship.

It will be hard to treat your partner well because they have hurt you, but it is the quickest way to know if they’ll hurt you again.  What this does is either make things a lot better because your partner appreciates the change and makes more of an effort themselves, which causes the relationship to grow.  Or it is causes the pain to increase tenfold when you’re really trying and they continue to crap all over you.  If you really put 110% into the relationship you will see a dramatic change one way or the other.  Even if you partner reacts positively at first, but then falls off, it won’t take long for you to reach that pain threshold again which may be just the push you need to get off the fence and end your relationship for good.  Trust me, you’ll just KNOW when you’re really ready to leave.

Do You Think My Ex Misses Me?

Do you ever wonder if your ex thinks about you?  If they broke up with you, you might assume that they are moving on pain-free.  If you were dating a heartless and selfish person, this may be true.  You may think they are being heartless and selfish, but most of the time there are good reasons for a break up.  It just can be hard to feel that way.  Trust me, your ex isn’t escaping without any pain.  They are probably still thinking about you more than you realize.

However, that unfortunately doesn’t mean they want to get back together with you.  So, why are they still thinking about you if they don’t want to be in a relationship any more?  The sad truth is that life is complicated.  In some cases your ex may have broken up with you because they were scared of how close you were becoming.  They weren’t ready for that type of commitment.  In those cases is really is about them and not you.  Fear is a powerful emotion that make people do irrational things.  This will make you want to reason with them, however you can’t reason with their fear or make them ready to face it either.  The more you push, the more they will dig their heels in and resist.  The best thing you can do is try to move on.  If they are running from you, the best thing to do is give them their space.  If they decide to conquer their fear of commitment or intimacy, they’ll come find you.  At that point you can decide if you want to give them another chance.

In other cases, your ex realized that something about the two of you wasn’t adding up.  Something was missing.  It isn’t because you aren’t good enough.  The rejection may make you feel this way, but the reality is that it is hard to find all the right connections in a relationship.  Sometimes you may connect really well emotionally, but be missing that sexual spark.  Other times you may have a really cool intellectual connection, but don’t have any recreational interests in common.  Different things are going to be more important to different people as well.  Some people can live without having a lot of common interests as long as their values are the same and the sexual spark is there.  However, not everyone feels or thinks the same.

Your ex may have needed more from a committed relationship.  There will be moments when they doubt their decision, but at the end of the day they know they need more than you are able to give.  That doesn’t mean they won’t miss the connections you did have whether it be your friendship, the sex or going to the movies with you.  It is just that the piece missing from your relationship was too important for them to give up.  I know this won’t help, but it isn’t your fault.  You have to be you.  Trying to be someone just to make your ex happy won’t work in the long run.  In time you’ll find that it is much better to be with someone you can be yourself around and know that it is enough.

Another case is your ex realizing you can’t make each other happy.  It is not about asking too much, it is about asking too much of this specific person you are with.   Your relationship may be good overall, but an underlying conflict keeps surfacing.  This can cause your ex to finally decide to move on.  For an example, it can be a problem if you are someone who values consistency, yet your boyfriend or girlfriend is someone who lives in the moment.  You may have a great sexual spark, be able to talk for hours, and enjoy spending time together, but if you make plans that your boyfriend or girlfriend always forgets or cancels the last minute, it can make things hard.  You may feel like they aren’t valuing your time and they feel like you are always lecturing them about it.  At the end of the day, some couples realize they won’t be able to compromise on an issue, and it tends to ruin everything else in the relationship.

Is it too much to ask for someone to be consistent?  No, but it may be too much to ask of your ex.  They may not be able to bend enough to make you happy.  It may bring them to the breaking point and they finally call it quits.  This will be painful for both of you.  Even though they broke up with you, they will still miss you.  They will have doubts.  This type of relationship may actually go through several break ups before it is finally over because there is a lot of good aspects.  Not to mention the relationships they developed with your friend’s and family.  It is usually not easy to follow through with a break up.  This is why your ex may end up texting you after a few weeks or still want to be friends.  It is painful on both sides.  However, one issue can become a major conflict.  If the resentment builds, it can be hard to overcome, and the overall happiness in the relationship dies.

The hardest part is convincing yourself not to beg.  You may want to text them and try to convince them why they were wrong to break up with you.  You may feel if they only knew how much you miss them and wanted them back, it would convince them to give you another chance.  You may want to convince them you can change.  What I know is this…begging and stalking never made anyone look good.  Try to fight your instinct to reach out to them to tell them one last time how much you still love them.  This will not make you more attractive in their eyes.  It may weaken their resolve momentarily.  You may get a conversation, a meeting, or even sex out of your efforts.  Remember, I’m telling you they do still miss you.  However, it won’t last and then you’ll be going through the pain of losing them all over again.

The point of this post is to remind you that you aren’t a loser.  Your ex didn’t break up with you because there is something wrong with you.  (If you did do something wrong, then work to fix that mistake whether they come back or not.  Some mistakes can’t be fixed within your relationship.  All you can do is hope to correct that mistake with someone else in the future.)  Most of the time there was something wrong BETWEEN the two of you.  That means there are things your ex will miss about you.  You may not be ready to think about finding someone else yet, but don’t bash yourself too hard while you’re grieving this break up.  The reason your ex broke up with you may not be an issue for someone else, so don’t go changing yourself for someone who has already closed the door in your face.  After you feel a little better, you will realize there are a lot of other open doors with people behind them who will be able to love you for you.

Am I Dating a Master Manipulator?

Have you ever met someone and everything just clicked right away?  But then a few months down the road you ask yourself, “Who is this person”?

In the beginning of a relationship most people put their best foot forward.  They make sacrifices they wouldn’t normally make because they are so excited to be in this new relationship.  This is normal.  At first you may watch that basketball game even though you don’t like it.  Or you may go to church with that person even though you haven’t been to church in years.   Most people want to make that other person happy and it is easy in the beginning because the relationship is exciting and new.

As time goes by people usually settle into the relationship and you may share that you don’t prefer to eat seafood or like to go backpacking in the wilderness.  Those changes aren’t so dramatic.  The longer you are in a relationship the more you find out about each other and realize both of you will have to make sacrifices at some point.  No two people are exactly alike.

But there are people out there who will pretend to be just like you in the beginning of the relationship.  The person I am describing is capable of mimicking anyone they approach.  They often convince others that they are just like them.  They are very persuasive and can read people really easily.  They are adept at sizing people up by watching nonverbal cues and reading people’s faces.  They use that information to get close to you and you may feel like this is the first person who really “gets” you.  They seem to understand you so well that you feel like they have been able to see inside your heart and soul.  When in fact this is not the case.  They are just very good actors and should try their luck out in Hollywood.  However, before you know it, you’ve fallen in love.

The blissful part of the relationship may last a couple of months.  By this time you have become very attached and may even feel ready to be with this person forever.  Then all of a sudden they seem to change.  They may become mean at times, impatient, or refuse to do things they used to do.  They may stop calling you back, be late for a date, or not even show up.  This is when the roller coaster begins.   You feel mad, betrayed, upset, hurt.  You text them constantly to find out what is going on, but they don’t respond.  Then out of the blue they text you back or call.  They may try to convince you that you’re overreacting.  At first, just hearing from them is enough to forget how mad you were, so you may agree that you overreacted and blow it off.   Those feelings of love coming pouring back into your heart and you forget about your hurt feelings.   A week later, it may happen again that they don’t text you for a day and then tell you they left their phone at their friend’s house.  You believe them and all is well again.

Over time this happens more often.  Instead of being nice for a week, its only for a day.   You start to hold onto the anger longer.  When they realize it isn’t going to so easy to smooth things over, they’ll start to apologize and promise to  make it up to you.  They then usually become so attentive that you end up forgiving them.   It is so great when you’re together it convinces you that you’ve turned a corner in your relationship.  However, it never lasts.  When they are not with you, you wonder what they are doing because they ignore you.  When you finally see them again, they are so loving and kind you feel like an idiot for ever doubting them.  The fighting may increase, but the intermittent reinforcement of their attentiveness and promises of love keep you hooked.

It takes a very long time to break off a relationship like this.  Even though all your friends and family will start to hate this person, you feel like you know another side to him or her.  In time though, you will wonder if anything they’ve ever told you was true.  It is hard to say.  Were they being real when they were telling you how much they love you and giving you a lot of attention?  Or were they being more real when they were ignoring you and putting you down when they were mad?  There may have been times when they were genuine, but it was so inconsistent that you may never know the true answers to those questions.

They may have loved you in their own way.  They may have been sincere in that moment when they apologized, but when that moment passed, that sincerity was gone.  It is hard to trust someone like this.  They have a hard time following through with anything, not just relationships.  They usually pick the loyal, kind, giving types of people to hook up with.  You are not stupid for being a loyal, kind, giving person.  Just be aware that not everyone is as genuine and as unselfish as you are.

In most cases, these relationships eventually implode.  They will end up hurting  you so much over time that you eventually do end up leaving for good.  It can be hard not to blame yourself.  Remember, most of the time they KNEW what they were doing and preyed on your vulnerable emotions.  Eventually your heart will heal and then you can use what you learned to be more aware of these patterns in the future.

One thing I see as a red flag is someone who is too complimentary.  If someone barely knows me and continues to tell me how great I am or constantly tells me how great I look, that is a red flag to me.  You have to really know me to be able to compliment me genuinely.  However, this works because it is very hard to resist someone who seems so into you.  The other thing is they love the chase.  Resisting them sometimes eggs them on.  It is a red flag if a person doesn’t eventually give up if you tell them you aren’t ready for a relationship.  Or at least listen to you and give you some space.  This person seems to become more aggressive in their pursuit to get you to date them.   These two things are very common in manipulative people.  Please be aware that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

The one last thing you can do to safe guard yourself from a person like this is to become more confident.  If you feel good about yourself, you won’t be so vulnerable to someone who compliments you all the time.  If you are confident being single, then they won’t have that edge when they pursue you so aggressively.  You’ll be able to resist and they will go find someone easier to manipulate.

Being A Supportive Friend

When a friend is going through a break up or a hard time it can be hard to know what to say or do.  Most people mean well when they say certain things, but it can end up sounding more hurtful than helpful.  Here are a few statements that can really miss the mark:

1.  “It’s for the best”

2.  “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else”

3.  “Just try not to think about it”

4.  “He/she wasn’t good enough for you anyway”

5.  “Why would you want to stay with someone who did this to you?”

I know these sound good in theory, and most of them are probably true statements.  However, they don’t work because our emotions are stronger than our intellect during a breakup.  We know something in our head, but don’t feel it in our heart.  For example after watching a scary movie I KNOW there isn’t a serial killer in my shower, but I FEEL like there is because now I’m scared.  So, I pull back the shower curtain to double check.  My emotions win, not my mind.

The same thing happens during a break up.  Even if your friend KNOWS the breakup is for the best, they aren’t going to FEEL like it yet.  They still feel extremely hurt and upset.  It is hard for friends and family to watch someone they love be so sad.  Most people want to cheer someone up or just make them feel better.  The intentions are good, but only time will help your friend’s heart get on the same page with their brain.  Trust me, no one wants to get over this break up faster than your friend, but you can’t fast forward through time unfortunately.

So what can you do when your friend is still in love with someone and has been hurt?  Sometimes you just have to let your friend feel sad.  Things don’t always have to be “alright”.  They mostly need you to listen and give them a hug.   Yes, they will need to talk about it, and most of the time they will feel guilty about needing to talk about it so much.  Processing their feelings will help them.  They also need to cry.  It can be hard to watch someone cry, but being there during that time to offer emotional support without giving any suggestions will be valuable to them beyond belief.   Your friend can’t be rational at this point.  Let them know it is okay for them to be sad and again, give them a hug.

It may be helpful to remind them that it is healthy to balance a break up by feeling sad for awhile and then trying to find a distraction to give the brain and heart a little break.   Encourage your friend to vent, and then try to distract them by going out and doing something fun.  People going through a hard time need both time to feel the reality of the situation and time to pretend they’re fine and that everything is okay.

Remember, your friend didn’t choose to go through this break up.  Most likely it was forced upon them.  They still see good qualities in this person, and for an undefined widow of time they will jump to take this person back.  It is easier for you to see how this person has hurt your friend and to hold on to that anger.  Your friend will be irrational about the negative and want to cling to the positive things they miss about their ex.  It is hard to listen to, but realize they will start to get better with time.  Like I said earlier, break ups take time to get over.  Try to be patient.  If you feel they need to talk to a counselor because they are having trouble moving on, then encourage them to go.  It does help a lot of people to talk to someone who is a neutral to the situation and a counselor will keep what is said confidential.

The reality is that emotions can take a long time to heal and that is okay.  Also know that your friend can move forward and still feel sad at the same time.  They may start to move on and still feel “love” for their ex.  It is normal to go back and forth for awhile, like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back.  Eventually their pain will lessen and finally their brain will kick into gear all those things you’ve been thinking from the beginning.  And if you say those phrases above months after the break up, they may finally hit the mark.

On the Rebound

“The quickest way to get over someone is to get under someone else”.  I’ve heard this quoted to me in the past and it made me stop and think.  A lot of people after a break up are just looking for a distraction right?  They don’t want to think about the pain they are in.   Sounds reasonable, but is this the best way to get over a break up?  Well, you are reading a blog by a counselor, so guess what I’m going to say???  No, I don’t think the quickest way to get over someone is to have sex with someone else.  What I think is that it can temporarily distract you from your pain, but it can’t magically make you all better.

The definition of a distraction is just that…it is a temporary break from reality.  It doesn’t last.  A few distractions during a break up is actually a good thing.  I don’t think it is healthy to sit in your pain for days on end.  Sometimes you have to go out with your friends and pretend you’re fine for a few hours.  You may even decide that hooking up with someone is a good distraction as well.  However, when you go to lay down in bed at night be prepared to have it all come back and hit you again.  Your life kinda sucks right now.  It is hard to really run away from that.  You can try to push it away, but eventually it will come back to bite you.  I also agree that what works as a distraction for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.  So, please be picky about the distractions you use during this time.  Some may make you feel worse, not better even temporarily.

This is why I am more discouraging about rebound relationships.  Some people say if you immediately jump into another relationship, you will never take the rebound seriously.  Why might this happen?  Because you haven’t resolved feelings from your recent ex.  Does this mean ALL rebound relationships fail?  No.  I will explain why in a minute.  However, most of the time it doesn’t work.  You may feel better at the moment because someone is flattering your ego by being into you, but realize the sadness is still inside you somewhere.

It may even start out as just as a hook up or someone to hang out with at first.  However, it becomes easy to just start dating this new person.  Let’s be honest, you have a hole to fill.  For the first month or so, you probably will be totally distracted and actually feel somewhat happy.  You may even believe that you weren’t as into your ex as you thought because it was so easy to get over them.  Then you get a text from your ex or accidentally run into him or her.  All those feelings suddenly rush back and you feel like your heart has dropped into your stomach.  You feel  a rush of emotions which you didn’t realize you were holding back this whole time.  You may even be shocked that you’re actually happy to see or hear from your ex, and are mad at yourself for realizing you would say yes if they asked you to hang out.

What if they do want to hang out?  Do you spend time with them even though you are now in a new relationship?  Do you tell your new partner you ran into your ex and had a conversation?  Do you mention they want to try to work things out?  This makes things complicated to say the least.  Maybe your ex doesn’t even want to get back together, but now you’re thinking about them again anyway.  Your partner may notice something is off with your mood, however you feel bad telling them about it because it concerns your ex.  How do you tell them you now realize you still have feelings for your ex, but not to worry, it doesn’t affect your feelings for them?

There is a proper time to grieve a relationship.  You need to give yourself that time.  If you try to push it away, then those feelings come back later when it is really inconvenient.  Your friends are going to look at you like your crazy for talking about your ex now, when you’ve told them you’ve been fine for the last few months.  They won’t understand why you are now missing your ex and even considering hanging out with them again.  Your new partner is definitely not going to understand unless they are the truly selfless type.

Zachary said it perfect in his blog when he stated, “There isn’t a formula to calculate the success rate of a potential relationship by multiplying the amount of time spent mourning a previous one.  If you truly feel ready to pursue another relationship, you shouldn’t let a few stupid relationship rules stop you.  This advice comes with a caveat: you must be certain you actually feel ready to commit yourself to another person before you start dating. Many rebound relationships fail, but this isn’t a “rule.” They fail because people pretend to be ready for another relationship, when really they just want to procrastinate mourning their last big love”.

Sometimes a person has really grieved the loss of someone before they are officially broken up.  If  you’ve gone through a long drawn out break up, you may be ready to really move on by the time it actually totally over.  A person can also get over someone pretty easily after a break up if they weren’t completely into the other person.  In certain situations you can jump right into a new relationship and have it work out just fine.  You can also jump too quickly into a new relationship,  go through the big mess I listed above, and be able to work through it with the “rebound” person who then actually becomes a real long term boyfriend or girlfriend.  It does happen, but it is smart to wait rather than jump into something and go through potential drama.

“Rebounds in life are just like rebounds in sports. They have potential, but they can be ruined by how we approach them.  If we receive a rebound while our mind is elsewhere, our distractions will lead us to drop the rebound just as quickly as we caught it.  But if we receive it with a clear and focused head: a rebound can be quite the game-changer”.   Zachary Austen

I Can’t Live Without You

Sometimes when you break up with someone it can feel like you are physically going through withdrawal without them in your life.  You can be super intelligent, pretty independent and otherwise emotionally stable and still have trouble with a break up.  Even if that person wasn’t very good for you.  Why does this happen?

Well in the scientific world there is this chemical called, oxytocin, which is released during orgasm.  Even cuddling and affection can release this chemical which supposed to help bond the relationship.  It is the same chemical that causes mothers and their babies to bond.  The more time you spend cuddling and having sex with someone, the more emotionally bonded you will feel.

This is a good thing for long term relationships because it helps the couple want to put in the effort to make the relationship work.  Oxytocin tends to bring out feelings of contentment, lessens anxiety, and can increase trust in a person.  This is why a break up can seem catastrophic.  Even if this person has emotionally hurt you, if you’re still having sex with them, you may still feel very bonded.  It then becomes easy to see why you might freak out if your boyfriend or girlfriend tries to leave you.  Your friends and family are quick to encourage you to move on, but you still feel like you’d do anything to get this person back.

You aren’t crazy, you just feel less anxiety initially when that person texts or Facebook messages you after you break up.  You feel calm and think all is right with the world.  However, tension and conflict can quickly increase again because the chemical oxytocin isn’t a miracle worker.  It won’t fix the problem or conflict, but it makes it hard for people to walk away from each other even when there is a ton of drama and conflict involved.

This is also why friends with benefits doesn’t always fly.  If you start having sex with someone often even though your intention is to keep it casual, your brain and heart could get mixed signals.  You may feel you really miss this person once they stop sleeping with you.  This is because you accidentally bonded with them.  If they were able to find someone else to “bond” with then you can feel like you were abandoned out in the cold.  Your head says you have no right to be upset because you knew the rules about keeping it casual.  However, your emotions didn’t quite get that message because oxytocin got in the way!

It is also true that men and women feel the effects of oxytocin in different degrees.  It is said that men’s levels of oxytocin rise 3-5 times higher during orgasm.  However, women’s rise even more plus continue to rise during subsequent orgasms.  Women also have more oxytocin neural receptors in their brain, so the effect can be more intense.  Women may feel somewhat down after casual sex.  This happens because of increased levels of oxytocin due to orgasm makes them want to stay bonded with the person, but there is no one to cuddle with afterwards.  One study implied women may also have more addictive relationship patterns because they feel love and loss in relationships more intensely due to increased oxytocin.

Does this mean women can’t have casual sex?  No, but it does mean you want to be informed about what can happen.  Be aware that it may be easier for women to become attached during casual sex.  Be firm with your boundaries and be smart about the risks you want to take.  It is also true that not all men and women are alike.  Some men may produce more oxytocin than normal, some women may produce less.  Know yourself and learn from your past relationships.  If you play, sometimes you’ll pay.  Sometimes you may feel a little sad.  Sometimes it’s worth it.  Other times it isn’t.

Also, be aware that break ups take some time to get over for this reason plus other complicating factors I’ve discussed in other posts.  If you hug your partner at least 20 seconds a day you will feel more bonded.  That is about how long it takes for the chemical to be released in your system.  If you’ve had that in your life for awhile and then suddenly it’s gone, it is going to hurt.  You will feel some withdrawal symptoms.  Give yourself some time to adjust and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for a hug instead of advice when you are going through a break up.  A hug may help a whole lot more than them telling you to just get over it.

If you want to read more about oxytocin, this article in Psychology Today may be helpful to you.

Trusting an Apology

How do you know someone is being honest when they say “I’m sorry”?  When someone has hurt or lied to you it can be hard to trust the words that come out of their mouth.  Sometimes those two words just don’t cut it.  A lot of times people say things but never act on their words.  It is hard to believe someone after so many apologies.  How do you know when an apology is genuine?

A real apology has four parts.  Completing all four parts of an apology helps to show that you really mean what you say.

For example, let’s say I broke your window.  This is a genuine apology.

Part I:  Admitting you were wrong.  “Hey, I want to let you know that I accidentally broke your window”.

Part II:  Saying you are sorry.  “I’m sorry that it happened.  I feel really bad that I made such a mess and scared you that way”.

Part III:  Fixing or repairing the damage done.  “I will call someone to come out and replace your window.  I’ll pay for everything”.

Part IV:  Vowing to not do it again.  “I will not be playing ball outside your window anymore so this won’t happen again”.

Some people can’t even make it to the first part.  They won’t even admit they were wrong.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t even admit they were wrong it will either make you feel crazy or your mistrust will skyrocket.  If you have proof that someone did do something and they won’t admit it, there is a huge problem to overcome.  It will make you wonder how well you really even know this person which usually starts the downfall of many relationships.

Other people only get through the second part.  Your boyfriend or girlfriend will admit they were wrong and they do apologize, but they don’t follow through on trying to repair the damage or vow to not do it again.  Or they vow to not do it again, but skip the third step.  If they skip the third step, odds are great that their vow means nothing.   A person has to make a conscious change for you to really know that they don’t want to hurt you again.

So how do you repair damage like cheating?  Say your partner has admitted what they did and apologized and even vows to never do it again.  How do they complete step three?  It can be done in different ways.  Some people need different things to feel more confident again in their relationship.  Do you need them to spend more time with you?  Do you need them to be more affectionate and attentive to you?  Do you need them to tell you how much you mean to them and be more complimentary?  Do you need them to be more open with their phone, email and social media accounts?

An easy way to know if someone is still hiding something from you is if they become very defensive if you ask questions about their phone, email or Facebook.  If they have nothing to hide they should want to show them to you.  They start to feel proud that they aren’t hiding anymore, and you start to feel more confident because they are more open with you.  It is a win win for someone who is trying to prove they aren’t hiding anything from you.  If they rush  you to “get over” what happened and don’t feel they owe you anything to prove they are now being honest, be very very cautious.  This person is probably still hiding something.

A person who has cheated will not want to talk about it all the time.  It is hard to have it brought up because it is very shameful to those who regret their actions.  However, they shouldn’t be defensive about wanting to show you they are now being faithful.   When I worked in private practice I worked with many couples.  I met with people who have changed jobs so they can prove to their partner that they won’t see the person they cheated with anymore.  Some people have given up  promotions so they don’t have to travel as much for work.   Some people have told friends or family so they become more accountable.  If an apology is truly genuine, they will want to make the changes necessary to win back your trust.  It will also help them keep their vow of not hurting you in that way again.  It is not easy, but it may be very worth the effort to make amends and move forward.

Remember these four steps the next time you realize you hurt someone in any kind of relationship.  If you are honest about your apology, follow through with making changes to repair the damage so it will be easier for that person to believe you when you say it will never happen again.

P.S. Just to let you know.  If someone says they won’t ever do something again, and its a habit, like drinking, doing drugs, cheating, lying, being emotional abusive, or using pornography, be aware that they most likely will need professional help to change.

They need to learn new ways of dealing with things and have someone hold them accountable while they break that habit.   It isn’t as easy as depending on you to help them change.  If they are willing to get help, they are more likely being honest with you about stopping.  If they follow through for 3 months or more, you can start to trust that they are truly making a change.  Three or four weeks of staying sober, being nice, or being helpful doesn’t mean they have really changed.  This is from a decade of experience of working with many people with a lot of bad habits.  Give them a chance, but be prepared for disappointment if they can’t follow through with step three.

Facebook Stalking, Status Changing and Other Things That Drive Us Crazy!

You know how internet porn has made more people seem like they have a sex addiction?  Well social media sites make more people seem like they have obsessive compulsive disorder.  It is because it’s too easy.  You could fight the urge to warm up your car in zero degree weather to do a drive by your ex’s house at 2am, but it doesn’t take much to hit the Facebook app on your phone to creep on your ex’s page right?  Then you see a picture, a status change or a comment on someone’s page that makes you freak out.

Now it’s 2:20am and you don’t know what to do with yourself.  So you start texting your ex about the information on their Facebook page.  You may hesitate a few seconds before sending it because you don’t want them to know you were on their page in the middle of the night.  You fear they may delete you from their page which would be the worst torture imaginable, but the fear of not knowing for sure what is going on compels you to send the text to confront them about what you saw.  Then, you either don’t get a text back, which drives you crazy, or they text you back accusing you of stalking their page, which drives you crazy, or they make up some excuse that you don’t believe, which drives you crazy.  Great.  That makes you feel so much better and you can go get a good night’s sleep right?  Wrong, it makes you feel even more hurt and you continue to obsess even more about what they’re doing and who they’re with.

Never mind that you look to see what their FB status is every other minute.  Changing your relationship status can be a big deal.  According to the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Facebook relationship status is something that many people take VERY seriously.  Did the put that we’re in a relationship yet?  Don’t they want everyone to know they’re in a relationship?  Why don’t they want anyone to know?  Did they change their relationship status back to single?  Does everyone know that we broke up?  They did change their status!  How dare they broadcast our business to everyone we know!! 

Is this really something to break up over?  Obviously, it can be and then you turn into the “Facebook Stalker” who continuously checks to see if that person gets into a “relationship” with someone else.

So, which comes first?  The OCD or Facebook?  I guess I believe when it comes to relationships most people have obsessive compulsive tendencies.  Most people’s emotions are heightened beyond their logic when they first get together and usually when they are in the middle of a break up or in the immediate post break up stage.  The logical part of your brain says, “Take things slow.  You don’t need to see or talk to this person all the time.  They don’t need to change their Facebook status to ‘in a relationship’ to prove they want to be with me”.  Your emotions tell you, “Text them now!  I miss them already even though they just left 5 minutes ago.  I want everyone to know we are together”!

It is the same with a break up.  You desperately want to stop thinking about them, but you can’t.  Your logical brain says, “Let it go.  You’ll be fine.  Delete them from your phone contacts and your Facebook page”.  Your emotions just can’t shut up though.  Unfortunately they speak louder and more insistently at the worst times.  They constantly ask questions like, “I wonder if they are over me?  I wonder what they are doing right now?  I wonder if we only talked one more time would we be able to work things out”?  These questions are evil and make people feel obsessive.  Especially if you are used to constant communication.  To go from that to nothing can drive the most rational person insane.

Now you add in the availability of Facebook.  To be able to look up people’s information without them knowing.  The ease of sending a text without really having to face that person.  What person isn’t going to act a little compulsive?  Not too many people are strong enough to resist the temptation to be a voyeur and see what their new crush or most recent ex is up to.  The curiosity gets the best of most of us.  Even so, most people do have boundaries.  Like I said earlier, you may not go to the extremes of warming up your car when it is freezing outside so you can drive across town to see if your ex is home or not.  It takes more effort and is easier to resist.  You then live with the anxiety and force yourself to go to sleep.  You wake up the next day and usually feel better.  With technology you can stalk people way too easily.  You don’t learn to live with the anxiety and you wake up the next day feeling like a creeper.

So, how do you stop the OCD with so much technology available?  I have had some students have a trusted friend change their password and not let them onto their Facebook page for a little while.  This is an extreme decision, but can be very helpful.  You also can deactivate your page.  It is easy to activate it again, however, it’s a step in the right direction.  Plus, it keeps your ex from stalking you for awhile.  Distract yourself with something else.  You can’t stop doing one thing unless you replace it with something else.  Write a blog about your frustrations.  Writing slows down your brain and stops your thoughts from running circles in your brain.  If you don’t want to write a blog, at least write your thoughts down on paper.  You can rip it up or burn it if you don’t want others to find it.

You may want to decide to delete the relationship status off your FB page and make people actually ask you about your life in person.  Some people break up because their new partner refuses to change or put up a relationship status.  Instead you might want to be grateful they don’t post every little thing about your relationship on their page.  Then if you really did break up you can trust they won’t slam you publicly.  If you are having trouble with texting your ex, try not to take your phone with you everywhere.  Turn it off at night and try to keep it in a drawer.  If you can’t seem to relax, look up guided imagery.  You can listen to the person’s voice and it can help you to relax.  They are easy to download and can get you through a very anxious moment.  You won’t have to do this forever, but for a couple weeks it will really help you to not follow through with the compulsion to say “hey, what’s up?” to your ex.

The reasons these things work is that eventually your brain does let go.  It learns it can live without texting this person again.  It can stand it if it doesn’t know what is happening in on their Facebook page.  After a few days or weeks it does become easier to resist these temptations.  The more you give into the obsessions, the harder it is to fight the compulsions.  The more you resist giving in and do other things to get yourself through that really rough time, the easier it will be to continue to resist the compulsions.  It won’t be easy, but it is possible.  The other option is to just creep along until time does it’s thing you eventually move on.  The choice is up to you.

Once you stalk the fun don’t stop

Why Are You Cheating?

There are several reasons why people cheat.  Some people feel like it’s no big deal.  They don’t take their relationship seriously and cheat because they feel entitled to.  Some people cheat because they’ve been hurt or neglected by their partner and someone comes along who starts paying attention to them.  They fall into something without intentionally looking for it.  Other people cheat because they truly feel they are in love with two people.  They don’t know how to give up either one,  so they go as long as they can without having to choose.  Then there are other people who become addicted to the high of doing something sneaky.  They love flirting, sexting and sleeping around because to them it seems forbidden which makes it exciting.

Some people aren’t sure why they are cheating.  Is it because they are unhappy in their current relationship but don’t know how to end it?  Is it because they like the fact they’re getting away with something?  Is it because they don’t believe in being faithful or think they can be faithful?  Is there ever a good reason to cheat?  I’ve been asked this question.  I think there are good reasons to want to end a relationship, but I don’t think there are good reasons to cheat on someone behind their back.  However, I realize a lot of people get themselves caught up in something without intending to fall in love or hurt anyone else.

Before I started counseling people I used to be more judgmental about cheating.  I didn’t understand how people thought it was okay.  Today I can see how complicated some situations are.  How it can be hard to get out of one situation before you find yourself involved in another.  I also see how people truly start interacting with someone with no intentions of starting an affair.  How does this happen?

It happens when someone is going through a rough time in their relationship, which all relationships do at some point.  They may reach out to another guy or girlfriend to talk about it.  That person listens, pays attention and is helpful.  An attraction can start to develop and before either person is fully aware, sexual chemistry is flying every where.  Now this person is in dilemma.  They don’t really want to leave their current relationship.  They still truly love their partner even though they’re in a rough patch.  However, they have started to develop feelings for this person they’ve been confiding in.  It can become a huge mess in a very short time.

The reason it is hard to end something like this is because it hard for both people to be strong enough to walk away at the same time.  One person can decide to cut things off because they know what they are doing is wrong.  But when the other person has a weak moment and texts, things can quickly heat up again.  Then maybe the other person decides to pull away out of guilt.  Yet again, the other person reaches out in another weak moment and the person’s resolve to stay away disappears.  Unless both people are committed to ending the affair at the same time, it can be hard to stop.

What usually happens is that one person breaks down and tells their boyfriend or girlfriend out of guilt or they get caught somehow.  Then things blow up and when the dust settles either the original couple works it out or a break up inevitably happens.  It seems so clear from the outside to just avoid these complications and say no to someone who is encouraging you to cheat.  However, emotions are more intense than people give them credit for.  They don’t always make sense, and it can be hard to say no to those emotions even when people know it may lead to major problems down the road.

One way to avoid getting into a complicated situation is to be very careful who you open up to.  If you aren’t consciously out looking to cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend then be very aware of becoming more intimate with people of the opposite sex, or the same sex if you are gay.  Opening up emotionally to others has the potential to develop feelings and sexual attraction.  It happens a lot to very unsuspecting people.  I suggest opening up to people of the same sex or opposite sex if you are homosexual.  You can also talk to a counselor or someone who has a professional boundary in place to avoid possible complications.

For those of you who are unsure why you are cheating on someone you actually really care about,  stop and think it through.  Is there something missing in your current relationship?   Is it something you really need and can’t live without, so therefore it makes sense to break off your relationship even though it’s hard?  Or is it something you can work though and live with?  Sometimes it is worth the effort to find ways to accept and be happy in your current relationship.  After doing this, it may not be so tempting to cheat in the future.

Life is complicated.  There usually isn’t one crystal clear answer.  Should you stay?  Should you go?  No one knows what the future will bring.  It can be hard to make a choice not knowing what could happen tomorrow.  We all do our best with the information we are given at the time.  Trust me, your life could go in a lot of different directions and still work out just fine.  There is no perfect person and no perfect path to follow.  Just do your best to make informed decisions in your relationships and make adjustments as necessary when new information presents itself.  Also, don’t beat yourself up for past mistakes.  You may find that you cheated when you never thought you’d be the one to do something like that.  It can happen.  Hopefully this post can help you to figure out why it happened so you can avoid it if you want to in the future.

In a Relationship with Alcohol

Drinking in a relationship isn’t always an issue.  Sometimes both people drink responsibly and there aren’t any problems.  When it does become a problem is when one person drinks a lot more than their partner.  It can be very frustrating when the one you love loves to drink and party with their friends every weekend.

I’ve worked with several students who started out in a relationship with both of them drinking a lot at first.  Unfortunately, we all know drinking is very common in college.  You may have even met your boyfriend or girlfriend at a party while drinking.  However, as the relationship progresses and you look towards graduation some students start to feel like their relationship is pulling apart.  I’ve had students tell me they feel like they are moving past the party scene in their lives, but don’t think their boyfriend or girlfriend is.  Every weekend is still devoted to going out to a party and drinking until their partner passes out.  Then they have to take care of them and get them home safe.

This can cause a lot of stress on the relationship.  Most people know that you can’t change someone else.  But what if you change and your partner doesn’t?  What do you do?  You love them.  When you spend time together during the week not drinking you are convinced this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.  But when it comes to them being drunk on Friday and Saturday night again, you aren’t so sure.  It also doesn’t help that arguments start a lot more frequently when one or both people have been drinking.  Then Sunday is spent waiting for them to stop feeling hung over so you can talk about what happened over the weekend.

It is the same old discussion over and over.  They either tell you to get over it and you do, or they realize you are about to walk out on them and they apologize.  They may even agree to drink less or spend one night on the weekend with you alone not drinking.  This may happen a couple of times but as soon as their friends call and persuade them to come to the next party, you are pushed to second place again.  Trust me, it isn’t an easy place to be in a relationship.

The choices aren’t easy.  They never are.  I’m not accusing your boyfriend or girlfriend of being an alcoholic.  But anyone who has grown up with an alcoholic knows the excuses and the repeat pattern of behaviors.  It also happens in relationships well before couples get married.  Often in college it is hard to tell who will be the ones who go on to drink heavily for the rest of their lives and who will stop partying once they graduate and get a full time job.  A lot of young couples in college are hoping their boyfriend or girlfriend is going to be in the latter category.

You may be one of those people hoping your partner may change once college is over so you continue to give them a chance when they put alcohol before you now.  It is hard to know what the future will bring.  For some of you, waiting may pay off.  Your partner may grow up, mature and alcohol won’t be an issue.  For some of you, waiting is going to only make things worse.  You will continue to grow more resentful.  Unless you decide to love them as is and accept the drinking.  Just know they won’t be able to stop because you want them to.  They will need some internal motivation to want to stop on their own.  Some people do grow out of the college party mode and others don’t.

Time will tell.   No one knows what’s going to happen in the future.  However, some patterns become very predictable.  If your partner loves to party and has a huge group of friends who condone that lifestyle, it may be harder for them to settle down.  Unfortunately lots of people continue to drink heavily even when they get into a career and have a family.  Especially if they have someone who is always there to help them clean up their messes.

I know you can love someone so much that you just want to make it work any way you can.  There are truly selfless people out there that handle being second best to alcohol or friends.  Just ask Gene Simmons of the band, KISS.  His wife put up with A LOT for many years.  She finally put her foot down and Gene has changed his ways.  Gene is also in his 60’s and she has been living with him cheating and drinking for almost 30 years.  It can be done, but know that you don’t have to always put someone else first.  There is nothing wrong with admitting that you can’t be with someone who puts alcohol or their friends first.  You do deserve someone who can give you what you need.

It is one of the toughest decisions you will make.  It won’t be easy to know what the best option is.  I know I’ve said this before, but your level of pain tolerance is what is going to ultimately decide for you.  Either your boyfriend or girlfriend does settle down, or they will put you through a lot of pain.  When the pain becomes too much then you’ll know when the relationship has crossed the line of no return.  It really sucks to be put in this position.  You also aren’t stupid for trying to make it work.  The person you love is in there, they just also love alcohol.  Unfortunately things like alcohol and drugs make people blind to priorities.  Only you know whether it is worth it to wait it out or not.  Also know that it isn’t a waste of time to wait.  Whatever happens you will survive it, and this relationship will go on to shape who you become.  Hopefully no matter what, you come out stronger and smarter.  Hang in there!