The Military Ruse
“You don’t know me, but I stumbled across your picture, and I couldn’t look away. You’re just stunning!”
Not many of us wouldn’t be intrigued if we saw this in our inbox on Instagram. It is the hook that many scammers use to catch the attention of women all around the world. Sometimes the writing is less articulate and full of grammar errors, but the message is the same: I don’t know you, but you’re beautiful!
The military ruse follows a very predictable pattern. They always message a potential victim through Instagram. They pour on the flattery like hot butter over popcorn. Sometimes they may send you poetry. They will call you “babe, sweetie, and love.” They are always in the US military. Almost always they are deployed overseas in Africa. Often they have a dead wife or they have been hurt by their previous girlfriend. They will often send you pictures of them in their uniform. However, an astute observer might notice that the name on their uniform doesn’t match what they say their name is, or they claim they’re in the navy but send you a picture of a man in an air force uniform. They may even send you a picture of their military ID, but if you look closely it is obvious it has been photo shopped. They will try to get you to chat with them on Google Hangouts, their preferred method of communication because they cannot be traced. Sometimes they will call you on the phone, but they will never video call you.
They will then begin to create intimacy with you as they confide that they can’t stop thinking about you. They will reveal that they have never met anyone like you before, and usually within just a few short days they will confess their undying love. Usually within 24 to 48 hours after that declaration of love, they will ask for money or gift cards. Sometimes they will slow down a bit if they sense their potential victim is getting wary, but almost always the “relationship” progresses very fast.
These scammers are individuals in third world countries who have used this ruse, and many others, to successfully take hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting, eager-for-love victims. They use every social media site including creating fake profiles to infiltrate dating apps. It is very important to keep your mind in full gear while you are looking for love. Each scammer has several ruses he/she uses, but the military ruse is quite popular on Instagram. So, if you see any of the telltale signs of the ruse, here is what you can do:
- Remember that Instagram is NOT a dating app. If someone approaches you on this app and tries to start a relationship with you out of thin air, be very wary.
- Do a reverse Google search on their pictures. Most scammers have stolen pictures off of Facebook or other sites. There’s a good chance you will find out who the image belongs to by doing a reverse image search.
- Ask the person to video call you or Face Time you. If they’re a scammer, they will give you an excuse as to why they can’t. With the military ruse, they will usually say it’s because they are deploying soon so they are too busy or they aren’t allowed to because they are on a secret mission.
- Remember, real love and emotion takes time to develop. If they are professing love after knowing very little about you, it’s not love—it’s a lure.
- Learn to be skeptical of everyone! When you are honestly searching for a relationship, it is hard to engage your brain once your heart gets put into gear. Scammers know this. They send you sweet messages. They flatter you. They know if they can get your heart involved, you will likely turn off your brain. That’s when they start asking for things. Don’t get tricked. At the first sign of trouble, block the person.
Some scammers are a little more sophisticated and they start with something that looks legitimate, but they all will ultimately follow the same pattern: get their victim onto Google Hangouts, profess love, and ask for money. Don’t fall prey to these schemes. They continue to use this ruse because it works! It’s time for the singles of the world to shut these pathetic scammers down.
7 Ways To Fight Your Way To Deeper Intimacy
You’re too sensitive.
You’re jumping to conclusions.
You can’t take a joke.
You blow everything out of proportion.
You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
You don’t have a sense of humor.
You see everything in the worst possible light.
You take things too seriously.
You feel too much.
Your imagination is working overtime.
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
You think you know it all.
You always have to have something to complain about.
You’re trying to start something.
You’re not happy unless you’re complaining.
You take everything wrong.
You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
You read things into my words.
You twist everything around.
You’re looking for a fight.
By saying any of these things to you, your partner is telling you that your feelings and perceptions are wrong. In order to have a healthy relationship, you must have intimacy. Intimacy requires empathy. To hear and understand another’s feelings and experiences is empathetic comprehension. The intimacy of a relationship cannot be achieved if one person is unwilling to share himself and is unable to support his partner in an empathetic way. Not only does it create distance in the relationship, it is utterly destructive to the self-esteem and well-being of the victim.
So, what do you do when you have come to the realization that your partner is emotionally and/or verbally abusive? Be prepared that this epiphany will be extremely painful. It will leave you second-guessing everything you thought you knew about yourself, the world, and your SO. Once you have processed the initial shock, here are the steps that you need to take:
- Get professional counseling support. Find a counselor who is experienced with verbal and emotional abuse. It’s important for you to identify in yourself the false beliefs you have that made it easy for you to fall victim to this type of abuse. You may be a people-pleaser. You may have low self-esteem. You may have past childhood trauma. A therapist will help you address these issues.
- Ask your mate to go to this counselor with you. Firmly and clearly tell him you want to create a healthier relationship and invite them to go with you. If he is unwilling, then go yourself. You cannot control what anyone else does. He will have to choose to recognize that there is a problem and be willing to fix it.
- Start setting limits. State clearly what you will and will not tolerate. Bringing his attention to the abuse may help him begin to see when he is being abusive. However, it is possible he will continue to refuse to hear anything you have to say. To help you set limits, use this sentence stem: If you ___________ . I’ll ____________. The important part of setting limits is that you enforce them. If your SO learns that you won’t follow your own rules, then he won’t either.
- Stay in the present. Let the past go. The goal is to call your SO on every abuse moving forward to help them identify and correct the pattern. Enforce your limits.
- You can leave an abusive situation at any time. In some cases, verbal abuse is followed by physical abuse. If you are fearful that you are in danger, leave.
- Ask for changes you want in your relationship. Now is the time to be assertive. Be explicit in your requests for change in your relationship. Your partner cannot read your mind. Invite them to help you build a new pattern that will take you into the future in a healthy, fulfilled way.
If you would like more information about this topic, I highly recommend Patricia Evan’s The Verbally Abusive Relationship. It is easy to read, informative and motivational book that can help you take control of your relationship. In it, she shares this list of Relationship Rights. These are great concepts to judge any relationship by.
Basic Rights in a Relationship:
The right to goodwill from others.
The right to emotional support.
The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
The right to have your own view, even if your SO has a different view.
The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you find offensive.
The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business.
The right to live free from accusation and blame.
The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
The right to have your work and your interests spoken of with respect.
The right to encouragement.
The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
If you are in a healthy, fulfilling relationship then continue to nurture the intimacy between you. Cherish your partner. Nurture them. Love them. Never leave the boyfriend/girlfriend stage. If you have discovered that abuse is an issue, promise yourself to take action. No one deserves to be ignored, belittled, or taken for granted.
If you or someone you know is being verbally or emotionally abused or in a domestic violence suitation please reach out to someone you trust. Violence never is ok under any circumstance! It should not be taken lightly. Please seek help from a trusted trained professional or contact the proper authorities.
15 Types Of Verbal and Emotional Abuse
Have you ever heard any of the following from your SO?
- “You’re trying to start a fight.”
- “You just want to be right.”
- You don’t feel that way.”
- You’re too sensitive.”
- You’re making it a bigger deal than it is.”
Someone who is verbally or emotionally abusive will often use statements like these in a conscious or subconscious attempt to control their partner. They make these statements definitively as if they lived within their partner’s body/mind/soul and actually knew these things to be true!
Verbal and emotional abuse is a kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to physical abuse, and so many do not see it as abuse at all. In fact, many see it as just a difference of opinions or personalities. Nothing could be further from the truth. This subtle abuse can be just as painful and the recovery from it can be longer than for victims of physical abuse. The victim of abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm. In public, she/he is with one person, but in private it’s a different story. Diminishing or angry outbursts, cool indifference or one-upmanship, witty sarcasm or silent withholding, manipulative coercion or unreasonable demands are common occurrences. They all have one thing in common: the “what’s wrong with you?” attitude. Victims of this abuse often start to feel crazy. No one usually sees the abuse, and so the victim is left doubting it is even real.
If you have been verbally abused, you have been told in subtle and explicit ways that your perception of reality is wrong and that your feelings are wrong. As a result, you may doubt your own experiences and very gradually start to lose your voice and yourself. The most shocking part about verbal and emotional abuse is so few people realize it when it’s happening to them. Most people just have a feeling that something is wrong in their relationship. They figure it is something they are doing or not doing, but they truly don’t know how to fix it. They may read books, blogs, or seek out counseling, but until they recognize the signs for what they are, nothing constructive can happen.
The following evaluation comes from the book
Take a few moments to reflect on your relationship and see if any of these ring true for you.
He seems to be irritated or angry with you several times a week or more although you hadn’t meant to upset him. You are surprised each time. (He says he’s not mad when you ask him what he’s mad about, or he tells you in some way that it’s your fault.)
When you feel hurt and try to discuss your upset feelings with her, you don’t feel as if the issue has been fully resolved, so you don’t feel happy and relieved, nor do you have a feeling that you’ve “kissed and made up.”
You frequently feel perplexed and frustrated by his responses because you can’t get him to understand your intentions.
You are upset not so much about concrete issues—how much time to spend with each other, where to go on vacation, etc.—as about the communication in the relationship: what she thinks you said and what you heard her say.
You sometimes wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t feel so bad.”
He rarely, if ever, seems to want to share his thoughts or plans with you.
She seems to take the opposite view from you on almost everything you mention, and her view is not qualified by “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel”—as if your view were wrong and hers was right.
You sometimes wonder if he perceives you as a separate person.
You can’t recall saying to her, “Cut it out!” or, “Stop it!”
He is either angry or “has no idea what you’re talking about” when you try to discuss an issue with him.
She often denies certain conversations even happened. When you attempt to summarize the conversation in an attempt to remind her, she becomes even more enraged.
He often threatens you when he’s angry. (“Pack your crap and leave.” Or, “I’ll file divorce papers tomorrow.”)
She gives you the silent treatment when she is angry and refuses to work through an issue. While it is often healthy to take a break and let emotions settle during an argument, a prolonged silent treatment is an emotional abuse.
He withholds affection from you as a form of punishment (intentionally or unintentionally.)
You feel like if you could only find the “right” way to speak, act, or be then things would get better.
If you have agreed with two or more of these statements, there is a very good chance that your SO is verbally and emotionally abusive. It’s important to remember, that the vast majority of individuals who abuse their loved one verbally or emotionally are completely unaware they are doing it. They may have learned these destructive patterns in their childhood. The good news is that a person can learn to recognize these destructive behaviors within themselves and change them.
Victims of verbal and emotional abuse live in different realities than their partners. In healthy relationships, when a person expresses their feelings, their partner listens carefully and then validates them. In an abusive relationship, the person dismisses or diminishes their partner’s feelings. The general guideline is if the words or attitude displayed by your partner disempower, disrespect, or devalue you, then they are abusive.
So, what should you do if you identify yourself in any of this? First, if you have discovered that you are the abuser—congratulations! Now you can seek out professional help and learn healthy ways to foster a relationship. You CAN overcome this. Second, if you are the victim you need to be proactive about stopping the abuse. Seeking out a trained professional would be helpful for you as well. In part two of this article, I will share with you some ideas of what you can begin to do today to start taking control of your life back. But know this—you must do something to change the pattern! Hoping that if you are nice enough and given enough they will change is not the right strategy. They won’t! You need to use this information to empower yourself to demand the respect you deserve from your relationship.
The D Word
Twenty-five years is a long time. In my life, it encapsulated three college degrees, three houses, two beautiful daughters, dozens of camping trips, 20 years of teaching, and 20 years of living the Thin Blue Line life, which meant carrying the responsibilities of a single mom most of the time. There were years of happiness but also many years of loneliness. When my marriage of almost 25 years ended, my world ended. I was out in the ocean of anger and sadness hit by wave after wave of loss. At night, my mind would dwell on the list of things I was losing:
My sense of stability.
My belief in love’s power to conquer.
Half my friends.
My dreams and visions for the future.
My belief in happily-ever-after.
My time with my daughters.
My belief in miracles.
My faith in forgiveness.
As the depths of depression crept into the nethermost regions of my heart and soul, my mind wandered to death. At times, I would pray that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. That God would take me in my sleep. I had always been a happy and optimistic person, but when divorce came knocking at my door wielding its sword of destruction, I was completely and unequivocally unprepared to duel with it.
I had no other choice but to surrender. I had to swallow my pride and reach out for help. I could barely force myself out of my bed, and that wasn’t sufficient. I had daughters who needed me. I had a job that expected me to show up and teach energetic teenagers. I had bills to pay and a new future to wrap my head around. And, although I knew some of what I had to do, I felt powerless to do it.
So, where do you start? What can help you when you find yourself face-to-face with divorce? I can only share what has begun to help me. I am still very early on in the process, but here are a few suggestions:
- Get counseling. Specifically, find someone trained in EMDR. It is a psychotherapy treatment designed to treat PTSD and anyone who has experienced trauma. Divorce is traumatic. At one of my darkest moments, when suicide felt like the best option, my therapist helped me regain control and peace through EMDR. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps you get on top of the waves of emotion that hit you relentlessly.
- Be kind to yourself. If you need to, take sick days off from work. It’s ok if the laundry isn’t folded. Have your kids cook dinner. Allow your family or friends to clean your home. Accept any and all help offered. You may feel like you should still be able to handle it all, but trust me—you can’t! The more you try to push yourself, the more damage you will do. Your body will physically begin to revolt. You may have already noticed your hair falling out, zits popping up on your face, weight gain/loss, insomnia, anxiety, constipation or diarrhea. Your body is under extreme stress, and you need to allow people to help you.
- Do one thing every day that makes you happy. For me this took many forms. Some days I painted my nails. Sometimes it was grabbing my favorite donut. Occasionally, it was a drive up the canyon or a walk in the park. Binge watching your favorite show on Netflix or buying that shirt you’ve been wanting is perfectly fine. Even on the days when the tears flow heavy down your cheeks, find one thing that can make you smile. Snuggle your kids. Plant some flowers. Nurture yourself.
- Make a plan. There are many things that have to happen during a divorce, so write things down in your planner. Make a check list of what needs to be done legally. There are many online sources that can help. Here is just one: https://divorceandyourmoney.com/blogs/divorce-checklist/. Also, as key days become apparent such as the day your divorce will be final, plan activities that will help you emotionally on those days or immediately after. The grief from your divorce will come in waves. It can last for months or years to come depending on how tumultuous the process was for you. Some people feel tremendous relief while others grieve deeply. Look at the calendar and be proactive about those dates in the future that will be triggering for you.
- Assemble your tribe carefully. Surround yourself with good family, friends, and support groups. Let them carry you when you’re too weak to stand. There are FB groups or local groups that you can join to find others who are struggling with the same issues you are.
- Make a plan to heal. It doesn’t just take time; it also takes work. You do not need to endlessly dissect the relationship, but you should examine it so that you can learn from it. Everyone makes mistakes. Do not beat yourself up over all of yours. When a relationship ends, its demise belongs to two people, not just one. Own your part and then move on.
- Live in the present. There is a surge of anxiety that comes with divorce. The future you thought you were going to have is now gone. In its place are a lot of unknowns. You will literally drive yourself crazy agonizing over those. Take one day at a time. One decision at a time.
- It will get better . . . or at least that’s what they tell me. I have chosen a few key people who have walked this same path to be my mentors. They are several years down the road and many of them have new relationships. They assure me that the pain will not last forever. That the nights will stop being so dark, the days will become brighter, and eventually, I will stop praying for death to find me. Even more so, they promise me that there is life after divorce. And for now, their word is all I can go on.
In the weeks and months to come, I hope to continue to process this tremendous loss. I will grieve it like a death because it is. But, I refuse to let it rob me of life. I may be down, but I am not out. I will re-emerge like the mythical phoenix. I will reinvent myself, find my joy, and live again. If you are confronting divorce, I invite you to join me.
Open the Communication
Joey slammed the door behind him. Bang! This was the third argument in two weeks. What was happening? He and Julie had been dating for six months and things were glorious. They had clicked almost immediately. They had a lot in common and the chemistry they shared was off the charts. So, why couldn’t they work through these little arguments that begun to creep into their fairy tale relationship?
We all have them. Tough conversations with someone we love. The conversations where we have an internal battle between wanting to say the right things and wanting to be right, to win. Most of us know that to preserve a relationship, being right is the wrong paradigm; the kiss of death. So, what can you say when you find yourself retreating to your corner and pulling out your favorite words or phrases that signal to your loved one your superiority?
Dr. Brene Brown, professor and author, suggests the following questions or sentence starters:
- I’m curious about . . . If your SO has made a statement, accusation, or criticism instead of shutting down the conversation by responding with one of your favorite conversation-ending quips, try using this instead. Staying curious about your SO is the best way to learn more about them and deepen the relationship. It invites them to continue to be vulnerable with you.
- Tell me more . . . This sentence starter can help you get more of the story, understand their thinking, and even uncover underlying childhood baggage your SO may still be carrying around. The key to this is to listen without judgment. Resist the urge to correct what they may share with you. Look at it as an opportunity to learn more about how your SO views the world.
- Walk me through that . . . This phrase can help you gently investigate the thought process of your SO, especially if you truly do not understand how they arrived at their conclusion. Listen patiently and attentively as they explain to you how they reached their conclusions. Remember, their logic may not be the same as yours, so this may be an opportunity to build understanding and empathy.
- What’s your passion around this? This is an excellent question to use when your SO has proposed something to you that they’re excited about but you just don’t get it. Do they want to become a pickle ball champion? Are they determined to run 100 marathons? Do they want to change careers? Any of these revelations could be shocking to you, but give them the opportunity to share their passion with you. At this point, don’t try to discourage them by looking at logistics. Just watch their eyes light up as they share their enthusiasm with you.
- Tell me why this doesn’t fit/work for you. This can help you in a conversation when you are negotiating or compromising on anything. Often when couples disagree, they shut down the conversation by not investigating the underlying objections their partner has. They key to having this work is to listen to what they say and be compassionate.
Using these words and phrases can help you avoid those awful stalemates that end with you driving off in your car angry and cursing your SO. These sentence starters signal to your loved one that you value them as a partner and that you sincerely want to understand where they are coming from. You may not completely embrace their perspective, but if you truly care about that person, you owe it to them to empathize with their reality. Successful couples know that if approached correctly, disagreements are an opportunity to increase your intimacy and strengthen your bond. It helps you avoid building contempt which, according to Gottman, is the grim reaper of relationships. There is nothing more beautiful than to have someone look you in the eye, pull you close, and tell you that even though they disagree with you, they value and love you more than they love their ego. That, my friends, is how true love is built.
Disease to Please?
If you’re like me, you often feel pressured to say yes to every request. Can you make cupcakes for Wednesday’s bake sale? Sure! After school, will you run carpool for soccer practice? You bet! Can you make dinner for Mrs. Jones who just had surgery? Absolutely! Did I truly want to say yes to any of those requests? No. The reality is that I say yes to every request because I am motivated by that dreaded disease: the disease to please. And, as a result, I end up overscheduling myself into an exhausted lump of quivering flesh by the end of the week. Not only do I end up giving my second best to my children, I leave little to no time for myself.
A while ago, after several sessions with my therapist, I had an epiphany about my disease. I discovered I was trying to become this ideal superwoman who could work full time, take care of her children, teach piano lessons, take classes for personal improvement, and serve others whenever asked. If someone asked me to do something, I always answered yes because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. If I couldn’t think of a really good reason for saying no, like a conflict in schedules, I would always feel guilty if I didn’t say yes. What my therapist helped me realize is that saying no to a request is actually saying yes to yourself. He emphasized that I should say yes to myself as frequently as possible especially to meet emotional needs, desires, and dreams. Further, he emphasized, that saying no is an essential skill in life and that there are many ways to do it in a positive, relationship-affirming way.
- Saying no can save relationships. If you find yourself always saying yes to your SO, you may be slowly building resentment between the two of you. If your SO wants to go fishing every Saturday and you say yes but inside you feel like you would like him to fish only once or twice a month, then you need to articulate this to him. If you say yes and then resent him for it, that resentment is like a poison that builds up and destroys relationships.
- Saying no is a form of self-care. It is vital for your own health to know where your limits need to be. You only have 24 hours in each day. Eight of those need to be for sleep. What are your other obligations? What is essential? What is optional? Make sure that each day you have put yourself on your schedule. Do not give away “me time.” Guard it as carefully as you would a work meeting. Creating boundaries is not a rejection of another person. It is a compassionate way of advocating for yourself.
- When you say no, offer an alternative IF you feel like it. No doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation if you don’t want it to be. You can offer an alternative that you feel more comfortable with. If your friend wants to go out dancing for a girl’s night, but you are not comfortable with the bar scene, tell her, “I would love to spend time with you. Could we consider a different activity instead?” Don’t ignore the request or lie and say you’re busy. Be gracious and be honest. This will help you build your relationship by avoiding the trap of resentment.
- Consider the situation in reverse. Have you ever hosted a party and had a friend arrive extremely late and then only stay a few minutes? It probably really hurt your feelings. What if that friend had been honest and said that they just couldn’t make it? You may have been sad at first, but then you would’ve appreciated the honesty and not wasted the emotional energy on worrying about if/when your friend would make her appearance at your shindig. If you’re tempted to say yes when you really need to say no, remember that people will understand when you need to turn them down. They would rather you know your limitations and honor your boundaries then agree to something you simply cannot do.
- When saying no, use “I” statements. If someone wants a little more explanation when you’re turning them down, try to focus on your feelings and needs. If you don’t want to go dancing at a bar, tell your friend, “I do not enjoy the smell of alcohol. It gives me a headache, and then I feel sick the whole day after we go dancing.” This allows you to honor self and communicate your needs at the same time.
For some people, saying no is not difficult. For me, it’s extremely difficult. It feels mean. Even if I have a really great reason for saying no, I still feel like a jerk when I need to say it. What I have to remind myself is that saying no to someone is saying yes to myself. Saying yes to myself will lead to a healthier, more balanced version of me. Offering my family and friends the happiest version of me is the best gift I can give them. Steve Jobs said, “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Regardless of where you are in this journey of life, saying no will help you take time for what matters most!
After trial and error, you have finally found the one . . . the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. You are blissfully in love and enjoying every second of your courtship. You begin to plan every aspect of your lives together and possibly even a wedding. What else should you be doing at this time to give your relationship the best possible chances for a long life of successful companionship?
The Gottman Institute has presented us with some excellent suggestions for creating habits that will serve any long-term relationship well. Wise couples will be purposeful and thoughtful as they craft these habits and they will pay off big dividends.
- Communicate often. Check in with your SO daily. Life will get busy and often you may only have 10 minutes to sit down and talk, but do not skip this vital habit. In order to get the most out of this habit, you should be sitting down with your SO in a quiet place so they have your complete attention. Do not have your phone or other device in your hand. Look each other in the eye and check in with each other. Share parts of your day. Confide in each other.
- Listen to your partner. Often when we are talking with our SO, we are listening to respond. Instead, we should listen to understand. What is it that they are trying to share? How are they feeling? If your partner is telling you that they had a bad or upsetting day, offer to help them in a way that would lighten their load. Perhaps offer to cook dinner or usher them into the bathroom for a hot bubble bath while you do the dishes. These tender acts of kindness will be cherished and help to build intimacy.
- Practice proper hygiene and cleanliness. When you decide to share your life with someone that also means sharing your space with them. If you tend to be on the messy side, you need to make the conscious decision to improve. Practice putting your dirty clothes into a laundry basket. Rinse out the sink after you brush your teeth. Put your dishes into the dishwasher instead of placing them in the sink after you eat. Your SO will appreciate your thoughtfulness as you begin to share space together. These may seem like little things, but over time these can become real aggravations and cause tension.
- Laugh a lot. Find ways to cheer each other up by having a good laugh together. If your SO is having a rough day, make a joke or start a pillow fight. Find a fun comedy to watch or go out for some fun that will bring smiles to your faces. Laughter increases intimacy which will strengthen your relationship.
- Kiss and hug EVERY time you say hello and goodbye. Physical touch builds emotional connections. Do not fall into the destructive pattern of coming and going without spending a few moments with your SO expressing your affection through touch. Investing these minutes into your SO will help them feel connected to you in a significant way during the day.
- Know who you are. Do not stop improving yourself. Continue to grow and learn and set goals. Make sure you have clearly defined beliefs and values and that you have communicated these with your SO. You can do this by reading books, signing up for classes, learning a new hobby, or joining a community group. Don’t allow yourself to become stagnant or this will negatively affect your relationship with your SO.
- Have a life outside your relationship. While your SO should be your whole world, the world does exist outside of them as well. Take time for yourself. Go out with your friends. Stay committed to your work schedule. If you find yourself frequently calling in sick to work, even when you’re not, just to hang out with your SO this is a red flag—you may be developing a codependent relationship. Maintain your identity that is separate from your SO and your relationship will be healthier and happier.
- Have fun! Fun comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to take those vacations and weekend trips. However, it’s just as important to turn work into fun. When it’s time to do chores, find fun ways to do them. Create a playlist with your SO for cleaning the house. Host a monthly game night at your home and invite your friends. Don’t ever forget date night! These should happen on a weekly basis.
Relationships take work. If you proactively begin to cultivate these healthy habits at the beginning of your relationship, then you will be on the right track to get the most happiness and satisfaction out of your relationship. You will also weather the inevitable storms that come more effectively because you will have maintained the intimacy and trust necessary to navigate the trials that you will face.
Crash! My head jerked around at the sound of breaking glass. In horror, I saw my son pull the table cloth off the table, and with it my cherished heirloom candy dish from my great-grandmother. A gasp escaped my lips and my son looked, wide-eyed into my face. A look of terror twisted his beautiful features and tears sprang to his eyes. “Mommy, oh no! Mommy! I’m so sorry. You can fix it, right?” he stammered as I knelt beside him, gently picking the broken fragments off the floor and piling them into the garbage can. I did my best to keep my anger at bay as he climbed into my lap and smothered my face with kisses. He knew what he had just done was wrong, but there was no way his four-year-old brain could possibly fathom the depth of sadness and loss I felt at that moment as I scooped the pieces of this treasure off the floor. After I was done, I held him in my arms as he continued to frantically apologize. I must admit, it was hard for me to forgive my son for what he had done. What he did was something that could not be fixed or replaced. But, he was quick to identify that he had done something wrong and offer a heart-felt apology. For the sake of our relationship, I knew I needed to work through my feelings of loss and learn to forgive him.
Whether it is a child, a best friend, or your sweetheart, there will come a time when you will do something that will hurt them. It might be something small like eating the last piece of chocolate cake that they had been eyeing all day in the fridge or something really big that cut them to their core. We will all have cause to apologize. However, not all apologies are the same. The only thing worse than no apology at all is an apology that is a non-apology; one that places the blame for the action back on the person who was hurt. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’m sorry that I yelled, but you make me so crazy!” That is a non-apology. It excuses your poor behavior and puts the blame on the person you hurt. It takes courage to admit you were wrong and that you hurt someone you care about. It takes even more courage to stand in front of them and express your apology to their face and wait patiently for their reaction. If you find yourself expressing too many non-apologies, trying using the Why-Because formula. Explain what went wrong and then acknowledge your fault. Then follow it up with AND . . . This is the part where you propose a solution. That is the real sweet spot of an apology. This is where you show the other person you how you plan to stop that same mistake from ever happening again.
This is what it looks like. Jessica got so busy talking with her best friend Mary at lunch that she missed her boyfriend’s backyard party he threw for his new boss. Jessica knew this hurt him deeply. Instead of excusing her poor choice, she owned it outright. After the party, she sat next to Mark and said, “Mark, I am so very sorry that I missed your party. I know that you were very anxious about putting on a fun get together for your boss and coworkers and you needed me here to help you. It was selfish of me not to pay closer attention to the time. In the future, I will set alarms on my phone to make sure I’m home one time. In fact, I will make sure to schedule my lunches with Mary at a different time so there is no conflict with your important plans.” After Jessica apologizes, she needs to give Mark time to process the apology. She cannot expect him to forgive her immediately. He may need some time to let the sting of disappointment and hurt die down. What matters most is that Jessica takes full responsibility for her mistake and that she pays close attention to her words and tone while she expresses that to Mark. If she had said, “Mark, I’m sorry I missed your party, but you know how I am around Mary. Besides, I really wasn’t that interested in meeting your boss anyway. Just get over it.” That would hurt the relationship more than if she hadn’t apologized at all.
The last rule of an effective apology is to stop repeating the behavior. If you apologize to someone and then continue the behavior that hurt them, you cannot expect them to keep forgiving you. One of the best apologies is changed behavior.
Apologizing will never be easy. It requires humility, vulnerability, integrity. But it is absolutely vital for the health of all relationships. If you find that you are not apologizing on a somewhat routine basis, you may want to check and see how in-tune you are with your relationships. We are all human and as such we will be routinely stepping on someone’s toes. Apologizing isn’t something you do only when you feel you did something wrong. It is also something you do when someone feels wounded by your words or actions. Apologies are excellent tools for showing someone that you value them and the relationship more than you value your ego or being right.
The Power of Paradigm Shifts
Jaunice spent all of her 20s and most of her 30s dating the wrong men, trying fad diets, spending hundreds of dollars on therapy, and failing to keep her New Year’s Resolutions. One Friday evening, alone again, she wept bitter tears as she snuggled in her bed and finished off a pint of chocolate ice cream. She knew the secret to success was out there, but why couldn’t she find it? Then one day, she found it in the least likely place—a sticky note on her coworker’s cubicle.
“Hey, Jared, what is this sticky note all about?” Jaunice queried. “Oh, that’s just to remind me not to get stuck in a toxic loop when I get frustrated with myself,” Jared responded. “I know it seems stupid, but it really works. Everyone tends to get down on themselves when they feel like they fail over and over again. They say mean things to themselves in their head. That creates toxicity and literally stops you from improving. Having alternative phrases to say can help break that toxic loop and open the door for success and happiness. I used to have to look at this sticky note 50 times a day, but now a glance once or twice will help me throughout the day. I’m reprogramming my brain!” he said with a big grin.
Jaunice couldn’t help but smile back at Jared’s enthusiasm. He was right, it did seem really dumb. However, she definitely could relate to having a toxic loop tape in her head. In fact, it was so toxic that it kept her from trying things because the fear of failure was too intense. After a few days of pondering the idea of changing her mindset, she asked Jared if she could copy his sticky note. She put hers up on her mirror so she could review the principles as she got ready. She also took a picture of it on her cell phone so she could review it throughout the day. When she caught herself playing the toxic loop tape in her head, she would pull out her cell phone and look at the picture. She would change the phrasing in her head to match the growth mindset.
Within just a few days, Jaunice noticed that she felt less hopeless. Her anxiety levels dropped and she began to sleep better at night. She was pleasantly surprised at how much happier she felt and this translated into all areas of her life. She couldn’t deny how powerful this simple concept was—understanding that growth takes time but that it was possible for EVERYONE!