Tag Archives: marriage

repair toxic relationship

How To Repair A Toxic Relationship

You are in a toxic relationship and you don’t want to get out of it, you would rather work on trying to fix it. You want to repair it. Is it possible? 

A few things need to be present to turn a toxic relationship around, both partners need to want to make it work. Both of you need to recognize your faults and be willing to own up to them. Both of you need to be willing to put in the effort to make it work. If those three things are there, then you have the necessary foundation to move forward. 

To turn an unhealthy relationship into a healthy one, you must establish ground rules. Change is difficult and old habits die hard but steps need to be taken to make your relationship a positive environment. For example, if every time your partner brings up a past argument you feel bad, then kindly and calmly let he/she/they know that the past in the past and you would prefer to not relive arguments over again. If you need time to practice self-care, let your partner know that Wednesday nights are for you to go out. Setting ground rules helps you both to be on the same page. 

Boundaries are important. I write about them all the time. You must establish them in any healthy relationship. Maybe it makes you upset when your partner reads the text messages on your phone or calls you repeatedly at work. Let he/she/they know that is unacceptable to you. Boundaries are healthy. 

Take care of other relationships in your life. You need a support group. You need more people in your life than just your partner. Friends are healthy. Don’t let your partner be the everything in your life, let others in as well. 

Practice. Practice. Practice. Self-Care. I can’t stress this enough. It is so important to make time for yourself. Take a yoga class, go for a run, walk the dog, go to bed early, have a night out with friends, do stuff that makes you feel good. You can’t be the best version of yourself if you are not taking care of YOU.

And, finally, don’t hesitate to seek help from a licensed counselor. A professional can offer guidance and assist in the steps you need to take to turn your relationship into a healthy one. Changing the nature of your relationship is not easy. It takes work. But, it can be possible if you put in the effort. 

toxic relationship

Are You In A Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships happen. You fall in love with someone and things take a turn. It can be hard to recognize that you are in a toxic relationship simply because you don’t want to be. Your vision is clouded. You think “my relationship if just fine.” But, toxic relationships need your attention. They can harm you emotionally and physically. They can deeply impact you on every level. 

What makes a relationship toxic? How do you know if you are in a toxic relationship? Here are some signs to look out for:

1.) Your partner is stripping away your self-esteem: They are always finding something wrong with you—the way you dress, your haircut, your teeth, your weight, the things you do, your personal preferences, etc. Whatever it is, it feels like nothing is good enough. 

2.) There is a power imbalance: Relationships are supposed to be unions. There is give and take from both partners. While not always equal, they ebb and flow. Sometimes you might give more and sometimes your partner might. But, if it always seems like you are not in control of your life and you are always the one giving, then there is a clear power imbalance and that is not healthy. 

3.)Your partner is jealous and controlling: All healthy relationships need trust. Without trust, your relationship needs some work. If your partner is always jealous or wants to control who you spend your time with, where you go, etc. that is a warning sign. 

4.) You aren’t taking care of yourself: This is not necessarily related to your partner but you can’t possibly take care of your relationship without first taking care of yourself. If you can’t find time to get away from your partner to do things for yourself, then make time. If he/she/they won’t let you get away for self-care or engage in self-care at home, then see number 3.

5.) You don’t feel like you can be yourself: When you are in a relationship you should be free to be you. A partner is someone that you can feel comfortable with. They know you, all of you, and they love you for it. If you can’t be yourself then you might want to consider finding someone you can be yourself with. 

6.) They don’t bring out the best in you: Constant put-downs or arguing, negativity is a drain on your emotional health. Laughing, feeling loved and safe, those things are part of a relationship. If you don’t feel like your relationship is bringing out the best in you, then it might be toxic. 

7.) You are always making excuses for their behavior: Yes, we all have bad weeks. We all have bad months. But, your partner should at least be making an effort. If you come to he/she/they with a concern they should listen and try to make it right. If you find yourself constantly saying to yourself “well he had a bad day at work,” or “she has a lot going on right now” then it might be time to reevaluate. 

These are just a few of the many signs of an unhealthy relationship pattern. Toxic relationships and abusive relationships borderline on each other, so if for any reason you fear for your safety get out. A licensed therapist can help you evaluate your relationship, regain confidence, and break free. You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you, who appreciates you for all you are.

family of two

Two people can be a family, too.

There is this traditional idea of what family looks like that is just not realistic. I often hear clients tell me how they don’t want to have children but they fear that doesn’t make them a “real family.” That is just not true. 

Your family can be complete at two.

You don’t have to be married with children to be a family. You just have to be a more than one-person unit. Two people can be a family. All too often I hear of the family struggle because other people in their lives expect them to have children, to “complete” their family. Mom or grandma keep pressuring you to “take that next step.” But, that might not be your path and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your family CAN be complete at two. If that is what feels right to you and your partner, then that is the path you should be on. Kids are not a necessary part of a family unit. 

Many couples these days are becoming “pet parents” rather than child parents. But, even so, you don’t need a pet to be a family. Your family is what YOU make it. It isn’t about anyone but you and your partner. 

Family doesn’t have to be blood.

The Census Bureau definition of family is two or more people related by blood, marriage, or adoption living in the same residence but that in and of itself is still a traditional take. More and more research is showing that a family doesn’t have to be the result of blood, marriage, or adoption. It can simply mean two or more people who are a unit. 

This is the modern family. The ever-evolving modern family comes in many different combinations, and that is truly a wonderful thing. As human beings, we are not one-size-fits-all. We all have different things that make us unique, so why should there only be one definition of family. 

All that really matters is you are happy.

half siblings

Why we need to stop saying “half-siblings”

The world of relationships and family dynamics that we live in now looks quite a bit different than it did 30, 50, or 100 years ago, but for some reason, we still feel compelled to point out these differences. There are blended, adoptive, same-sex, single-parent, non-married parent households and more. Many of these families contain siblings who have different parents which makes them by scientific standards “half” siblings. But, who cares?

Yes, we know that technically these children are “half” related by blood but so much more of their relationship is “whole.” Frankly, I think this is one of the most beautiful things about family and about being human. We can choose to love one another wholly despite science.  

I have a friend who is 15 years older than her “half” sibling but that has never mattered. They may have different biological fathers but they still treat each other like whole siblings. They still love each other with whole hearts. When someone refers to them as “half” related, it hits them hard. It can especially hit a young child who doesn’t understand why someone would say something like this almost like a punch in the gut. It might feel harmless if you aren’t the one on the receiving end, but it is not. Why do we have to keep reminding these people of their differences? Why does it matter? It doesn’t. 

That is the wonderful thing about family. It is often composed of so much more than a blood relationship. It is a bond. A love. It can be so strong sometimes even for the people who have no blood relations at all. Your family is what you make it. 

Leave the genetic results for the doctor’s office. Leave it in the places where it is necessary for health reasons. Let us stop voicing it in ways that it can be hurtful, harmful to others. It is unnecessary and does no one any good at all.

healthy relationships after chaos

Having healthy relationships after growing up in chaos

When you are a child raised in an emotionally chaotic environment you learn how to survive in that situation. I am talking about children who are raised in untrustworthy situations where they have become accustomed to the fact that even when things don’t feel right nothing they say or do is going to make things better. 

In many cases, these children have learned that expressing discourse of any kind is a bad thing. They learn to shut their feelings down and ignore the bad they might be feeling inside. This is because as children we know that we need our parents or other caregivers to survive. They give us what we need, so we have to keep things as livable as possible. 

Stuck in Old Patterns

Now, this sort of behavior might work for a child but as an adult keeping your feelings buried and not listening to them, leaves us stuck. As an adult you can’t keep silent, it doesn’t allow us to grow or develop any real intimacy with others. It also doesn’t keep us safe as it did as children. 

By not acting on our own self-protective instincts we end up in harm’s way, consumed by fear, obsessively thinking about what we dislike about our world, and carrying overwhelming feelings of resentment. We become mad at ourselves for not being able to change our situation. 

Rediscover Healthy Relationships

When you have spent your whole life ignoring your nervous system, how do you then recover and allow yourself to develop healthy relationships? 

The first step to any change is to recognize what is happening inside of you. How are you feeling when? What causes you to react in a certain way? Then confront those feelings. Instead of pushing them down, react. Stand up for yourself. Speak your thoughts. Remind yourself that this behavior no longer takes care of you, and allow yourself compassion and gratitude for the fact that you once did exactly what you needed to survive. 

Let Go of Toxic People

Then, ask yourself what you need to know and hear from others in your life. If those people can’t provide what you need, then understand it is ok to let them go. You don’t need to hold on to another out of fear. Find the courage inside of you to speak your truth and to acknowledge what you need. You may not have gotten what you needed as a child, but you don’t have to live like that anymore. The time is NOW to take care of you. 

You can make changes for the better. The power is within you. Seeking help from a licensed professional can help you to identify these feelings within and confront them head-on. A mental health professional can guide you and help to give you the tools to make positive changes. 

support partner with depression

How to support a partner with depression

Being in a relationship with someone who struggles with depression can be difficult. It is hard to know what you can do to help and you may be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. It can also be difficult to know if what you are doing is helping, causing you to get discouraged and feel helpless.

Depression is a tricky thing. It is an internal struggle, a mental illness that ebbs and flows. People who are depressed have good days and bad days just like everyone else. Those who struggle with depression need love and support from those around them. They need people with knowledge and understanding who can give them grace during bad times.

That being said, as in any relationship, you must take care of yourself too. Make sure you take time to breathe, relax, decompress, and practice self-care. Supporting someone who is depressed can take a toll on you, as a partner, as well. Take the time to recognize your needs.

Here are some ways you can help a partner with depression:

1.) Learn about depression— It is hard to help someone who is struggling with their mental health if you don’t have some knowledge. People who are depressed often have angry outbursts, moments of withdrawal, days when they want to stay in bed all day, bouts of crying, and unexplained sadness. If you aren’t aware of the symptoms then you, as a partner, might get angry, take things personally, or feel hurt. Understanding and making sure you also have a support system is important.

2.) Just be there — Sometimes caring for another is as simple as sitting with them, giving them a hug, rubbing their back, checking on them, etc. You don’t have to do any huge acts of kindness. It is more about showing your support by being present. Letting them know you care about them. Say things like “we will get through this together.”

3.) Encourage treatment — Often those struggling with depression get so down on themselves that they don’t have the energy or the motivation to get help. They might not even know why they are feeling this way, or notice changes in their behavior. As a partner, you can be a voice of reason. You can encourage them to get help, maybe even schedule and take them to the first visit. Tell them what you have noticed and explain to them you want them to feel better. You can assist in the research of mental health options. Let them know you are on their team.

4.) Create a supportive home environment — It is important to recognize that depression is no one’s fault. It is not yours and it is not your partner’s fault for being depressed. Create a healing environment in your household. Make plans to exercise together. Choose a healthy diet plan to help you both feel your best. Limit access to things like alcohol or drugs. Make time for counseling appointments. Create routines and work together to limit overall stress around the home.

5.) Positive reinforcement —People who are depressed often feel the worst about themselves. Everything they do is wrong, everything is bad, they feel worthless. Noticing small improvements and mentioning them to your partner can go along way, “I think it is great you got up to workout this morning,” “I am proud of you for making that appointment,” etc.

6.) Set small goals — Depression is overwhelming and overcoming symptoms can feel like a mountain to climb. Instead of looking at the big picture, focus on the day-to-day. Set small, manageable goals. Maybe it is taking a walk a few nights a week after work, going to bed by a certain time each day, making and keeping an appointment, or even getting out of bed and doing one thing — like making a meal, taking a shower, something attainable.

7.) Know suicide warning signs —It is hard to think about but suicide is a very real result of depression for some people. You must acknowledge the risk and keep your eyes peeled for signs. Talk to your partner about how they feel, is this something they think about? Keep notice of them making plans, talking about death, giving things away, or finding a sudden calm, see other warning signs here.

Supporting someone with depression can be hard on the partner. Make sure, as mentioned above, to take care of yourself as well. You can’t be expected to carry all the burden but you can show those you love that you are there for them. Seeking help from a licensed professional counselor can be helpful for both yourself and your partner. Don’t hesitate to get help. You don’t have to do this alone.

after baby

How To Keep Your Marriage Healthy After Baby

Adjusting to parenthood is hard work and it can put a lot of strain on a marriage. We all have ideas of what it will be like to have a child, to add an infant to our lives, but nobody truly knows what they are in for until they experience being new parents themselves. Not to mention every baby is different and every relationship has its strong and weak points. 

In the first few months after having a child, it is important to let go of any expectations. Right now is about survival. It is about keeping your child (and yourself) healthy and adjusting to your new life as parents. Give each other some grace. You are both going through a lot of changes right now, and you are likely dealing with them in different ways. 

Time To Connect

Allow yourself, and your spouse, time for yourself to connect with your new title as a parent and to rest. Breaks are important for both of you. Take turns. 

It is also important that you make time to be together, just the two of you. That is difficult after having a child because that child relies on you for everything but it is also important that you recognize it is important to keep your marriage healthy. And, alone time is key to keeping your relationship strong. Leave baby with a grandparent or a trusted friend, even if only for an hour, and take a walk with your spouse or grab a coffee or a meal. Whatever your heart desires. 

So often I hear new moms making the excuse that they just can’t leave their baby. Not even for an hour but the truth is even a short time alone with your spouse can do wonders for rekindling the spark. 

Talk It Out

Communicate with your family, your friends. Lean on others. This adjustment is going to be hard for everyone in your household. You will have to figure out a new normal. Talk to each other. Figure out what struggles others are having and brainstorm what might work best.

Share the load. You likely have heard the phrase before “it takes a village.” There is a reason that is so popular. It is true. We all have babies and think we can do it all alone. And yes, I am sure you could do it all alone but would you be happy and healthy? Let others step in and help you out. Let your mother clean your house or hold your baby while you take a much-needed shower. Let your husband do the grocery shopping so you can take a nap. Let a friend fold your laundry if he/she/they desire.

The more you and your spouse can work together during this time of adjustment, the stronger you will be in the end. It can be so easy to get angry and frustrated with each other during this time of change. Understandably so, you are both exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Allow each of you to make mistakes, to learn, grow, and to adjust as a team. 

It Is All About Perspective

Parenting is one of the hardest things a person can do in a lifetime, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. All will come with time. For now, snuggle that baby (or babies) and do your best to keep things in perspective. 

If you find you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or adjusting, in general, it can help to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. They can help to provide you with healthy coping mechanisms and support during this transition.

undermining

Ask Mabel: How do I communicate with my husband in front of our kids without undermining him?

Dear Mabel, 

I am reaching out to you again for your guidance and support. I have an issue with my husband and the way he addresses our children when he is angry. He can get to the point where he looks and speaks very terrifyingly at them, and my heart just breaks. They are fearful and he drowns himself in shame afterward. This morning he was yelling at my six-year-old daughter and she was dysregulating in all kinds of ways as a result, which was pushing him even further into his anger. I felt compelled to jump in and protect her, which often results in him feeling betrayed by me and upset that I am making him a “monster” in front of the kids. 

Today we were able to talk afterward and I told him that I feel like I need to protect them and his feelings when I intervene because I am in flight-or-fight mode myself. It is usually very hard. I am stuck. What language can I use in these moments to communicate that he needs to stop without undermining him in front of the kids? This is a heavy day for our family. 

Sincerely, Amy from Florida

Mabel: Hi Amy, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. There are a few ways you can approach this situation. You can have a family meeting when calm, where you all make an agreement that when things escalate you each are empowered to call a time out and take a break. Make a plan that you can all follow. If you are all following the same plan together that would take the shame out of it. I also suggest you look at the Zones of Regulation curriculum for some help on the language for self-regulation and emotional control. 

Together, you two can come up with a plan, or code word, for timing out and determine how long the timeout should last. Come up with something you can both agree on. Determine what you can do when he is in that state to deescalate the situation. 

This is a quick bandaid. Long term, you need to have a discussion about what he wants to do about this and go from there. Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a team in these situations.

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy After Baby

Let’s be realistic. Having a baby can be a wonderful thing for a relationship but it does not leave any relationship unchanged. Babies are a huge life transition for anyone, which comes with a lot of challenges (and joys). 

In order to keep your relationship healthy post-baby:

1.) Change your expectations — Don’t try to go back to the way your relationship was before you had a child. It is not going to be the same because now you have another to care for, another to share your time with, and another to support. Your relationship will change and in many cases grow even deeper than it was before. 

2.) Communicate — As with any relationship, communication is key. But even more so during times of big transitions, you need to be honest and open. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your struggles, etc. You can’t help each other through these times if you don’t know what each other is dealing with. 

3.) Schedule alone time — Yes, you have this new life to care for but don’t forget about your need to bond with your spouse. Even more so now date nights (even if they are at home on your couch while your child sleeps in the next room) are of crucial importance. You need time together.

4.) Give each other a break — Support each other during this transition time. There will be ups and downs and you both will need breaks. For mom, that might mean a good nights sleep, some girl time, or a massage. For dad, that might mean time for hobbies that they love and no longer have as many hours to give to them. 

5.) Have Patience — This time is going to be hard for you both, in different ways. There will be days when you feel angry or frustrated with each other. There will be days when you are so exhausted you can’t even think straight. Cut each other some slack. It won’t be like this forever. Recognize this is a rough patch and you will figure it out. 

Having a baby is a beautiful thing but few couples realize the complete life-altering impact of creating a family until they are in it. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to struggle a bit with this transition. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not lose sight of what really matters. You love each other and this new addition to your family, and your child needs parents who care for each other and support each other. Talk it out and remember you are on the same team. 

love practice

Love Is A Practice

Love is part of being human but it is not something that just comes naturally, at least that is what one analyst believes. Loving another takes work. It requires effort, discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. Love is not a feeling, rather it is a practice.

Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm outlined this perspective in his 1956 book, The Art of Loving. Fromm thinks of love not as something that is mysterious or magical but rather something that can be analyzed and explained. His theory revolves around the idea that a person cannot fully experience real love until they have developed their total personality. Part of this involves self-love. It means learning how to care for yourself before you can fully care for another. It means taking responsibility for your choices, your decisions, your actions. It means respecting yourself, knowing and being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and your strengths. Truly knowing and understanding yourself means being realistic. A person must learn to love their neighbor with “true humility, courage, faith, and discipline,” he writes. 

Work To Be Loved

He believes that a person cannot fall in love but rather they have to work to be in love. It is not something that happens to a person, but instead is something that is worked at achieving. Fromm argues there are four basic elements to true love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. 

His perspective, while agreed to by some and criticized by others, contains a foundation that is undeniably true across all relationships—you can’t maintain a relationship without putting in the effort. That is the bottom line. It is not smooth sailing all the time. You can’t throw in the towel every time things get difficult. You really have to work at it. It does take discipline, it does take a level-headed mindset and the ability to consider both sides of the spectrum. 

Regardless of beliefs or theories, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that love is beautiful and as Fromm would say “is one of life’s greatest achievements.”