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Best-selling Author, Chris Yates, On Violence, Redemption & Empathy.

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Asked his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie replied, "Reading." I couldn't agree more.

When best-selling novelist, Christopher Yates, invited me to breakfast at hipper-than-hip Atla in NYC to discuss his newest book, Grist Mill Road, I jumped at the chance. 

Grist Mill Road tells the story of 3 friends--torn apart by a violent act. A 14-year-old boy (Matthew) shoots his 13-year-old crush (Hannah) 49 times with a BB gun, leaving her for dead. Nearby, their 12-year old friend (Patrick) watches, but fails to intervene. The book effortlessly weaves between present and past--detailing the events that lead up to that fateful day and how their lives as adults remain connected.

Over mao feng tea and chia seed pudding (so creamy and decadent I wanted to lick the bowl), Chris and I talked love & relationships, higher consciousness and gender roles in modern society. 

1. You call Grist Mill Road a "love story." Many consider it a suspense thriller that ends tragically. Could you explain?

Grist Mill Road does end in tragedy (death), it’s true, but it also ends very strongly with love--the moment two people gave themselves to each other. For me, these are the two goalposts of life—love and death. One of them is immutable because, spoiler alert, we’re all going to die.

But my feeling at the end of Grist Mill Road (and this is just my own opinion, readers shouldn’t ever feel bound by the writer’s thoughts) is that there’s an expression of the idea that life, no matter when it ends, has been worth living if one has loved—properly loved. At the end of the novel, this is portrayed as romantic love, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be love for family, or love for a cause, a passion, a hobby, even. The quality of a life trumps its length.

2. You said that you originally based this book in the United Kingdom, but moved the setting to the USA. Why?

Three words: guns, guns and guns. I knew that this novel would begin with a BB gun and end with a real one. In the UK, we have seriously strict gun control laws that we tightened even further after a lone shooter killed numerous schoolchildren (Dunblane, 1996). In the United States, someone can snap and be the lawful owner of a lethal weapon thirty minutes later. This is very helpful for a novelist. Arguably, it is a less good thing for humanity.

3. I believe true love calls us to be better humans--for the sake of our relationships. How did each of your 3 main characters  evolve in consciousness because of love for others?

Patrick is a lost soul—at the age of 12 he stood by while a terrible crime took place and he feels guilty in adulthood. He finds solace in devotion to his wife, caring for her, cooking for her most nights. As he states it in the novel “food does not have to be only sustenance, food can be love.”

Hannah is a harder case—she loves her husband, but when he sinks into depression, she finds herself all at sea and, not knowing how to help him, she withdraws into her work as a crime reporter, a job that she loves. (Oh, the sinuous nature of love.)

Matthew is an interesting case. Without spoiling anything, he has a complicated view of human sexuality, something summed up by his frequent invocation of the phrase “labels are for soup cans”. His love is the most tragic of all—for someone who might have but can’t love him back. Yet he devotes himself to this person. It’s his own personal form of redemption. Whether the reader accepts such redemption is entirely up to them. Matthew did something truly terrible when he was a teenager. Is that something we can ever forgive?

4.  What traits in Hannah inspire such admiration (and bravery) from the men in her life?

There are many ways in which women are attractive to men, some of them more obvious than others. Hannah taps into one of the lesser known powers that a woman can have over a man—she relates to men as if she were one of them. And this is a superpower she can very much turn on and off because she’s not pseudo-masculine, quite the opposite, it’s just that she can play their games, joke their jokes and laugh their laughs. It’s not dissimilar to the allure to young men of a tomboy. What this says about the ludicrous nature of straight male posturing, I’ll leave alone for now. 

5. Healthy love (grounded in higher consciousness) calls us to examine our childhood. We break unhealthy cycles passed down generationally, while retaining those traits that are positive. Your main character, Matthew, is the anti-hero who commits a heinous crime in the beginning of the novel. He grew up with a co-dependent mother and an abusive father. How did his childhood impact his ability to love? How did he reinvent himself and grow for love's sake?

Wow, I could write a completely new novel about this topic. Matthew is abused as a child and becomes a carer for someone he loves as an adult. I think Matthew would tell you that this is coincidental—but Matthew is furiously independent and would refuse any analysis of his choices as an adult. As he says in the novel “I won’t ever let another human being label me. I love who I love, that’s all there is to it.” Is he right? This is one of the things I love about literature—we all get to play amateur psychologist.

6. Your main character, Patrick, loses his job and suffers a crisis of identity. He becomes the "homemaker," cooking elaborate dinners for his wife. How does occupation (or being a provider) influence a man's identity? Do men (and women)  benefit from an expanded conception of traditional gender roles? How can women positively influence men to step into their greatness, especially if they suffer after downsizing or job loss? How can women help men assume more domestic work, especially as if forces them to go against traditional gender norms?

So this is true of me—I am a homemaker who cooks elaborate dinners for his wife. She works full-time at a very demanding job. (OK, I also write a little.)

However, I wasn’t helped to this position by my wife—it’s just what I like to do and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about me in this regard. (I’ve been trolled about this—honestly, it made me laugh like a drain.)

This is certainly not to say that my wife hasn’t helped me. Quite the opposite—I wouldn’t have two novels under my belt were it not for my wife’s support. I don’t know, this is a really tough question—I think neither me nor my wife care one little bit about expected gender roles.

How do you convince a very traditional guy that non-traditional guy things might be worthwhile? I don’t know—you could find those non-traditional guy things attractive, alluring, or even sexy. Even traditional guys don’t live entirely in a testosterone vacuum. When it comes to cause and effect, women have to take responsibility for being part of the cause.

7. In today's world, it's important that we develop empathy for those who are suffering--including those who commit crime. Your book does an amazing job of expanding a reader's consciousness, as each character's childhood had profound influence on their behavior. Can you expound on this in relation to the characters? How can we expand our empathy for the complicated plight of many children who commit crime today?

I studied law for four years and qualified to be a barrister (those are the lawyers who wear those wigs in UK courtrooms), so hopefully I understand what a complicated area this is.

I believe in empathy for criminals, but I also believe incredibly strongly in empathy for victims and completely understand a desire for punishment.

Grist Mill Road begins with a terrible crime and the most common thing I hear from readers is that, at the beginning of the story, they can never imagine feeling sympathy for the person who commits this crime. And yet, the last third of the novel is devoted to explaining what led to this terrible, violent, seemingly senseless act of violence. How each individual reader responds to this is very much up to them—but I have been moved and grateful to learn that many readers have found their opinions changed by the last third of the book.

Criminal acts are rarely entirely black and white.

8. What are your thoughts (as a British expat) about dating and relationships in the United States?

Point number one: I know a lot of wonderful American men.

Point number two: I live in New York City and therefore see many, many dates-in-action when I’m out at restaurants. So I’m not sure why I don’t see more people like the wonderful American men I know on these dates. What I see are a lot of self-satisfied dude-like guys making absolutely no effort, sitting opposite tremendously attractive, tremendously strong women. These men are schlubby, effortless, charmless and seem somehow utterly entitled.

I know a number of whip-smart, hilarious, powerful American women who are single—I am constantly marveling at these women and wondering how they are still single. (I happen to know they don’t choose to be). I lived in London until I was in my mid-thirties and I swear if these women were in London they would be swarmed over by English men. Perhaps I should set up a trans-Atlantic dating agency.

Or, perhaps I’m just blinded by the fact that my wife is American, whip-smart, hilarious and powerful. After twenty years, I’m still besotted by her.

*. *. *  *

Over the next coming months, I'll be interviewing thought-leaders on higher consciousness, boundaries, gender roles, and relationships. As School of Love NYC grows, I hope you'll come along for the ride.

 

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10 Non-Negotiable Rules for No Contact (Part VII)

Deidre called me bawling. Three months had passed since her former fiancé, Mac, had sent her a text message ending their engagement. She still hadn’t heard from him. In our previous session together, I counseled Deidre to stop all contact with her ex. Deidre was in detox and starting to regain her power. But, she still strugggled.

“He popped up in my Facebook feed this morning. There’s a picture of him, raising a mug of beer and laughing with his friends,” Deidre wailed. “He is having the time of his life; meanwhile I’m picking up the pieces after he threw a bomb in my life and walked away.”

Who hasn’t experienced Deidre’s anger and despair after an inexplicable and heart-wrenching breakup? Social media (especially Facebook and Instagram) can pour salt on fresh wounds—intensifying the pain.

In my upcoming book, “Take Back the Power: The Art of Breakup,” I teach the importance of strong and non-negotiable boundaries. “Commando-Style” No-Contact Rules are the foundation of regaining your equilibrium:

1.   Stop trying to maintain a “friendship.”

You were lovers. Now, you’re not. Stop pretending to be friends, especially if you’re secretly hoping to re-establish a romantic relationship. Not only does this rarely work, it’s also completely disingenuous.

If you share children in common, be polite, but short and to-the-point in your communication.

2.   Drop your ex (and all his friends on social media).

I know, I know. This feels harsh. You like his friends (and hate to hurt their feelings).

But, it’s time for you to prioritize your own feelings. Your mental and emotional sanity come first. Re-injuring yourself—with a stream of pictures of your ex and his friends—will ruin your day unnecessarily. Although social media rarely paints an accurate picture of another person’s inner reality, grief makes it hard to stay rational.  

 For now, you don’t need to know anything about him. And, he doesn’t need to know anything about you.

 3.   Don’t do anything!

Do not call. Do not text. Do not drive by. Do not invent emergencies (e.g., “my dog is sick”) or fake holidays (“e.g., our 3.5 month anniversary”). Do not do anything. DO NOT—and I mean DO NOT—initiate contact.

 4.   Do not do anything.

Go re-read #3. Re-read it 10 times. Then, read it some more.

Yes, asking friends, “How’s he doing?” is contact. If you’re wondering whether you’re breaking the rules, you probably are. In the early stages of detox, call a good friend and ask her advice. She’ll tell you, “Don’t do it!”

5.    Circle the troops.

Speaking of good friends, you’d be wise to tell your inner circle. Let them know that you’re hurting. You may need to spend the night. Ask for a shoulder to cry on. They will fill you up with love. And, laughter. Your heart will ache a lot less. In the place of the hurt, you’ll feel grateful that God loves you so much as to bless you with a tribe of friends as good as these people.

6.    Exclude the frenemy.

Frenemies will act sad when they hear your bad news. But, as soon as you turn away, their fingers will shake-- from a desire to text the world. Spare yourself this pain. Keep these frenemies so far away from you that they are literally sitting in Antarctica. (Sorry, Antarctica, but they had to sit somewhere.)

7.   Do not ask to meet.

Let him reach out to you. In advance. Like a week in advance. Two weeks if you’re still mad. Because you’ve got a life! Busy people never accept last-minute invites.

 8.   Do not compete with other people.

At some point, you will hear that he’s been seeing someone new. Be cool. Relax. By that time, you’ll be seeing other people too. Hotter. Cooler. More spiritually-evolved people. (Win!) Or, by that time, you will have knocked 9 things off your “bucket” list, including learning to surf in Hawaii. (Win!) Or, you’ll have done one thing that was off-the-charts cool, like penning an album about heartbreak. (Win!)

 9.   Know your worth.

Have you ever pined for an item at the Dollar Store?

No, I didn’t think so.

People long for that which is precious and rare. Remember how you had to mow 4,322 lawns is buy your first MacBook? I bet you still consider that the best computer you ever owned.

Never lower your value or act as if you could be on a shelf at the Dollar Store.

Hold your head high. And, always know that you’re a rose in a sea of thorns.

10.   Find a creative act that you love.

Transform your pain into something beautiful. Paint. Sing. Write. Magic happens when pain and artistry converge. You transcend to the next level of consciousness because you’re doing something valuable and positive. (And, you’ll skirt around the typical vices like drinking to oblivion or falling in “love” a week later.)

Instead, vulnerability and sadness are your muse. Your heart breaks open. You feel everything. From death, life springs forth again.

P.S., If all else fails, play Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on repeat. Heed the words:

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side

But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong

And I grew strong

And I learned how to get along

 

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When Silence Speaks Louder Than Words (No Contact) (Part VI)

When Deidre’s fiancé, Mac, suddenly ended their relationship by text message, she went into shock. The quintessential Southern gentleman, Mac had always been chivalrous, respectful and loyal. Now, Mac was acting as heartless as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

Who was Mac? Did she ever really know him?

Deidre desperately wanted to call Mac, plead for him to change his mind, and save their crumbling partnership.  Failing that, she wanted answers.  Was he having an affair with someone else?  Did her success and stability make him feel small and unworthy?  Was he a complete phony from Day 1? 

The sad truth is that relationships can end without providing a sound reason as to why.  Any man who would end a relationship by text likely does not have the empathy or emotional insight to explain his behavior to Deidre’s satisfaction.  Chasing Mac with a bunch of questions would not provide the answers Deidre desperately needs.

In this moment of breakdown, I dropped the bomb:  

Stop all contact.

Going “no contact” is a bold move. But, Mac was a drug in Deidre’s system. It was time for her to detox--and reclaim her power.

While many dating coaches espouse “no-contact” as a form of manipulation (i.e., a bid to get your ex to miss you with the hopes that he’ll come back), I believe it’s an integral tool of empowerment. Strength is where your real power lies. You want to get to the place where you’re able to say, “With or without you, my life is going to be amazing.”

If you’ve been bawling your eyes out or hanging in limbo, it’s time for radical change. During the first 60 days of no-contact (the minimum recommended time frame), you can expect the following:

1.   It will suck.

The vast majority of people use love as a drug. They get “high” from an external source--another person’s presence and approval. The withdrawal from that feeling (and the fear that they may not know how to be happy on their own) can be terrifying.

Have faith. You will feel sad. You will grieve. But, you will also regain strength, self-esteem, confidence, and empowerment.

2.   Your silence speaks so much louder than words.

Ending a long-term relationship by text is the worst. Well, maybe just as bad as finding out that your ex was cheating with one of your friends. Or, that he had a mistress for a decade.

You get my drift.        

Your ex knows he has behaved badly. He is waiting for you to scream, so he can label you “dramatic.” If you do so, you’ll confirm that his decision was the right choice.

But, no-contact changes the game. It’s unpredictable. Without you telling him that he’s wrong, he actually has to sit in his own discomfort…and think…and then lament. Because you’ve demonstrated that you’re a class act, he will soon realize that he’s lost the best thing he’s ever had.

You’ll redirect the pain where it belongs—on your perpetrator.

3.   You will have time to develop important emotional skills.

The loss of a relationship often causes an abundance of free time. Use this time wisely to develop emotional intelligence, so you have a greater chance of success (with or without your ex) down the road.

In my work coaching women and men, 99% of the problems I see result from a lack of boundaries. “No” is a short word that doesn’t get uttered often enough. If your choice is between being liked or respected, always choose the latter.

No contact is a good time to develop better boundaries and increase your self-esteem. Abandon dysfunctional behaviors learned in childhood. When you assess where you mis-stepped—and correct those behaviors—you have a much better probability of success the next time around.

4.   You will rediscover all the things that make you happy.

Single women often have amazingly vibrant lives- they dance salsa, write poetry, and meet girlfriends for martinis. In a relationship, many women dive into a black hole head-first. They get comfortable. They stop flirting and start nagging. They abandon their old friends—and an essential part of themselves.

No contact gives you the time and energy to pursue your goals – big and small. Get the MBA. Plan a trip to Morocco. Flirt with the cute guy in Muay Thai class. You’ll soon realize that although your life without a partner, it’s just as sweet.

As you start smiling and laughing again, you radiate positive vibrations. In no time, you’ll have a host of new suitors because the world is abundant, after all.

5.   You define your non-negotiable values.

The vast majority of people look for a relationship the wrong way. They chase after attractiveness, money, or physique. But, if you want lasting love—the kind that gets better with time—you have to think differently.

What are your values? What are your must-have’s? Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • “I date partners who say ‘I’m sorry’ and own up to their mistakes.”
  • “I date partners who believe in mutuality—where there is equal give and take.”
  • “I date partners who believe in commitment and communication.”

If a recent breakup has left you reeling, what values was your partner missing? Make those values non-negotiable in your next relationship.

6.   No contact brings you back to reality.

In a relationship, sex loads your body with oxytocin and dopamine—the body’s “feel good” chemicals. Euphoria often has you mired in fantasy.

Detox brings you back to reality. You see your ex for not what you wish him to be, but for who he is. Is he selfish? Cowardly? A liar? An emotionally-immature narcissist?

As your eyes open to reality, you can make a better decision about whether he’s a good bet for the long-haul. Marriage or long-term commitment is no joke, so you want a healthy and stable partner for the ride.

7.   No contact grows you up. It grows your partner up, too.

When you stop pinning your happiness on your partner, you realize it’s just you in the world. No one will save you from your demons. It’s your job to figure out why you were born and how to make your life rich with meaning.  

This work is hard. It’s often painful. But, it’s the place were life begins and starts getting really rich, rewarding and fun. You feel younger and wake up excited for the tasks that lay ahead.

You also differentiate between “wanting” a partner and “needing” one. Share the journey with someone who “gets” it. A strong teammate will fortify your flagging spirits when the struggle is real. A bad teammate will add to your headaches and problems.

 

 

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Analysis of a Breakup (Part V) (Dating & The Law of Attraction)

In a series of articles, I’ve been examining the breakup of Deidre and Mac—a couple whose relationship ended on the cusp of their wedding. Deidre is understandably devastated. It’s been two months since Mac moved out and Deidre has heard nothing from Mac. 

One day, she called me in a panic. Deidre had bumped into an old colleague who innocently asked, “When are you and Mac getting married? He’s such a great guy!” Deidre felt like she had been punched in the face. Not wanting to cause a scene, she quickly excused herself. In the safety of her apartment, she broke down in tears.

“Breathe deep,” I told her. Then, I gave her the advice I give all my clients:

“It’s time to raise your vibrational frequency.” 

The Law of Attraction states the higher your vibrational frequency, the more abundance, happiness and prosperity flow into your life. By raising her vibrational frequency, Deidre increases her chances for a positive outcome—with or without her ex.  

Regardless of whether you’ve just suffered a breakup or have been single for a while, it’s important to become an inspiring person who draws other healthy people to you. I suggest the following:

1.    Love yourself full-out.

Relationships come and go. The one person you can count on through thick and thin is…you. So, do you. Treat yourself like gold. Get a massage. Cook a healthy meal and light some candles. Buy yourself a stunning new outfit. 

Most importantly, be gentle with self-talk. Muzzle the negative voice in your head. Would you berate a person who is grieving? If you wouldn’t do it to someone else, don’t do it to yourself. 

2.    Believe in the highest and best outcome.

Life can kick you in the teeth. But, believe everything happens for a reason—and for your benefit.

In this case, I counseled Deidre to be open to possibilities. She needs to stop clinging to any particular outcome—and instead have faith that the Universe is conspiring in her favor. 

Perhaps this time apart is necessary for Deidre and Mac to work through their issues individually and then come back together as stronger and healthier people. Or, perhaps Mac is not a suitable partner. In which case, Deidre has dodged a bullet, as Mac would have certainly disappeared post-marriage and/or children. What if the Universe is creating space for someone better to enter Deidre’s life? Someone who shares her goals, values and dreams and is in a healthier mental state?

It often takes space and time to see the ultimate lesson. Be patient. 

3.    Choose light.

In the throes of heartbreak, you’ll want to tell the world that your ex is a dog.  Ranting feels good in the moment, but it is dishonest. It doesn’t speak to your whole relationship. If he was that bad, why did you stay? And, why does part of you want him back?

Anger, bitterness, hatred, and resentment are low-vibrational states. They are ugly--and keep you stuck and alone.

Being happy is the best revenge. And, it’s extremely attractive. Gratitude, forgiveness, kindness, and joy are high vibrational states.

High vibrational people understand that happiness does not depend upon perfect circumstances. Instead, it’s a choice consciously made every single day. 

4.    Express gratitude.

Imagine that you cooked an elaborate meal for me. You spent all day shopping, chopping, cleaning and cooking. When I sat at your table, I scarfed down my food. Then, I got up and left, offering nary a word of thanks. Would you be motivated to keep on making elaborate feasts?

I didn’t think so.

Yet, every day, people forget to be grateful for the blessings of their life. But, then demand greater and greater abundance to flow, despite their ingratitude. 

It’s hard to be grateful when life has you up against the ropes, gasping for air. But, this is when the practice is most important. Be thankful for your health. Be thankful for food. Be thankful for clean running water. Be thankful for your body. Find every last crumb of joy and praise the Universe before you ask for more.

5.    Be a diligent watchman on your words and thoughts.

Make no mistake, your words and thoughts create your reality. 

I once had two clients in their late 50s. They were equally attractive. Both suffered through heartbreak. 

The first one, Ms. Glass Half Full, was always smiling and ebullient. She anticipated good fortune. She would say, “I am going to meet an amazing man. I can’t wait!” 

The second one, Ms. Glass Half Empty, was always frowning and complaining. She thought the Universe was never fair to her. She would say, “Men love younger women. I’m too old to find love.”

Which of these two do you think had no shortage of dates? 

That’s right—the one whose words and thoughts were trained towards success.
Don’t dwell on negative words or thoughts—unless you’re hoping to make them a reality. 

6.    Meditate.

Throughout the day, you have millions of repetitive, anxious and negative thoughts (we all do). But, you must quiet this chatter, so you can tap into your intuition and raise your vibrational frequency. 

A daily meditation practice is integral to achieving this. Start small. Sit in a quiet space. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply in and out. As your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment.

Ten minutes a day is all you need to reap enormous benefit.  

If you’re intimidated, consider signing up for a class or doing a guided meditation. I personally love “The Honest Guys” on YouTube—and they’re free. 

7.    Exercise.

The greatest leaders understand that spiritual, emotional, and physical health are inextricably linked. Exercise is non-negotiable. In fact, there may be no faster way—except through prayer and meditation—to raise your vibrational state quickly.

You don’t have to run a marathon. Instead, take a walk outside. Garden. Ride your bike. Make it a priority to do something physical every single day.

8.    Surround yourself with positive people.

Misery loves company. Avoid it at all costs. If you’re grieving the loss of love, you have no time to hang out with Debbie Downers—the kind of friends who whine, moan, complain and are otherwise stuck in negativity.  You need to “batten down the hatches”—to keep your head above water in rough seas.

Think about it, if you are dieting, would you go eat dinner with your junk-food loving friends? Especially the ones who resent the fact that you are trying to eat healthy because you make them feel bad about themselves? The ones who wave pizza and donuts in your face, hoping you fall off the wagon? No, you wouldn’t. Same with people mired in negativity.

The company you keep will either raise your vibrational frequency or deplete it. So, double-down on time with friends and family who empower, celebrate and motivate you. Reduce time with anyone who exhausts or depletes you. 

9.    Engage in positive and uplifting growth.

While you’ll want to play Adele on loop, resist the temptation. Lamenting the loss of love day after day is wasting precious time—and keeping you stuck in the darkness.

Instead, find ways to grow yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. Find a good therapist or coach to understand your behavior and how you can change for the better. Join a gym to rid yourself of anger and get fit. Learn to paint or speak Spanish. Plan a trip.

 As you keep busy—and find outlets to channel your energy productively—you’ll be happier. And, you’ll realize that life does go on. 

10.    Laugh.

Laugh every single day. Call an old friend to revisit hilarious memories. Read David Sedaris. Watch Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor or Chris Rock on YouTube. Go see stand-up.

I personally love watching Eddie Murphy’s old standup routines. They chase away the blues and remind me that we’re all in this together—slogging through life in the best way we can.

As best said by Victor Hugo, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” So, light your face up with a smile.

 

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Analysis of a Breakup (Part IV) (A Prescription for Healing & Growth in Relationships)

Eric Berne once said, “Love is nature’s psychotherapy.” There is no greater catalyst for healing and growth than love. When your back is up against the wall--when you’re at risk of losing something irreplaceable—you “wake up” from complacency. This is when the real magic happens. 

In a series of articles, I’ve been analyzing the breakup of Deidre and Mac—a couple who hit a major crisis on the brink of their wedding. Their crisis—while unique to them—represents the turning point of all relationships.

 While they had hoped for a wedding (a 1-day party), Deidre and Mac now have a chance at marriage (an everlasting spiritual union). Far too many couples throw in the towel prematurely…only to repeat the same dysfunctional patterns in their next relationship. Should both individuals choose to work, they have an amazing opportunity to heal childhood wounds and learn healthier ways of relating. 

Regardless of whether you’re in a 50-day or a 50-year relationship, here are some tips to create healthy and realistic love:

 1.    Accept conflict as normal.

Perfection only exists in Hollywood. Disagreements happen. Unless you’re embroiled in severe problems (i.e., unfaithfulness, abuse, addictions, legal problems, or violence), don’t throw away a relationship because you’ve hit a rough patch. Trust and commitment deepen as you travel through storms together.  

2.    Grow yourself up emotionally.

Many people behave in a dysfunctional manner. What you consider “normal” behavior may actually be destructive to yourself or others. If you’re confused as to whether your behavior is “emotionally mature,” ask yourself: Am I enjoying fulfilling, intimate relationships? Am I feeling vibrant and healthy? Am I living my life with purpose and meaning? If the answer is “no,” be brave and face your issues. Talk with a skilled therapist, pastor or counselor. 

3.    Take (or give) space.

Partners may choose to separate (either physically or emotionally) while they work on their own individual issues. Healing childhood wounds is difficult enough without having to be accountable to a partner. If your partner asks for space, give him the world. Stop all stalking—peering at Facebook, driving by his work, or asking friends for information. Stop obsessing about anyone else’s life, except your own.  

4.    Learn to fly solo.

Your happiness resides within you—not a relationship, a job, or a perfect set of circumstances. My most successful clients have an abundance of joie de vivre. They literally wake up happy—no matter the circumstances, including a devastating breakup. Forgo being in a relationship until you can learn to be happy with yourself…right now…today…with or without a partner.  

5.    Develop an “I’m awesome” attitude.

You (and only you) determine your self-worth. I’ve seen far too many women curl up into the fetal position—and lose their power—upon the whims and moods of a man. It doesn’t matter whether he stays or goes or compliments or criticizes. Your self-esteem needs to be like non-stick cookware—a 3rd party opinion (regardless of whether it’s good or bad) slides right off.

 6.    Take care of your own needs.

You’re an adult, not a child. As a result, you call the shots. Need a nap? Take it. Want ice cream? Have some. Want to go to the movies? Enjoy. In partnership, you can ask the other person to help you meet your needs. But, like you, they have their own needs and problems. They may say “no.” This is not a rejection. Instead, it’s an invitation--to be self-reliant or reach out to your community (i.e., friends or family) for help. If you make one person your end-all-be-all, they will resent it. And, so will you.  

 7.    Communicate boundaries.

More relationships die from silence than violence. Did you bite your tongue until it bled? Did you turn away from bad behavior? Did you nag, instead of enforcing consequences? If you acted “compliant” in an effort to keep the peace, you contributed to the in-authenticity of the relationship. Decide to forge a different path: Speak up. Say no. Don’t allow anyone to treat you like a doormat.       

8.    Never reward bad behavior.

Psychology may explain bad behavior, but it doesn’t excuse it. Have you been doling out positive reinforcement (i.e., sex, food, housing, favors) in hopes your beloved will change for the better? Is it working? If not, it’s time for a new ground rules. If your love doesn’t change him, your independence might.  

9.    Heed the wisdom of your internal voice.

When your relationship is in crisis, it’s natural to beg your friends for advice. But, the symphony of opinions is likely drowning out the only voice that matters—your own. Get quiet. Meditate. Pray. Clear mental space, so you can hear your intuition. Can this relationship be saved? Is it in your best interest? Are you being pushed to grow? Your heart will never fail you, so learn to listen.

10.    Be patient, but also realistic.

So, when is it time to give up? Look to your partner’s actions—not words—for a clue. Has he committed to counseling? Is he making a commitment to change? Or simply paying lip service? You only have one life to live. Don’t waste it on a promise and a dream, especially absent a real commitment. Relationships can be like old shoes – we stay in them even when they are no longer functional because they are comfortable. But, comfort is rarely an indication of a life well-lived.

 

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