Is it time to renegotiate the terms of your relationship?
Both your partner(s) and yourself will inevitably change and evolve throughout your relationship. You can expect that some of this growth will occur between you, and you can also expect to grow as individuals. This idea of change may seem intimidating for some, but it is a natural and necessary feature of our human development. Although there may be romantic sentiment attached to the idea that partners should remain the same individuals as they were the day they met, this is certainly not a realistic expectation. With this in mind, we should consider how we can respond to these changes in a way that allows us to embrace these personal evolutions, rather than stubbornly resist. One of the ways we can do this is by renegotiating the terms of our relationships.
Renegotiating the terms of your relationship simply means to discuss your current and expected needs as individuals and as a partnership, and how you can offer the best support to help meet those needs.
Esther Perel, my favourite couples therapist (and probably yours too), is famously quoted as saying, ‘We all will have two or three relationships in our adult lives. Some of us with the same person.’ While the line may be intentionally provocative, it speaks directly to the idea that we must welcome new variations and evolutions of our relationships throughout our lives. When you renegotiate the terms of your relationship, you are opening the door for honest communication by creating the space to express your fears, concerns, hopes, gratitude, and aspirations as they relate to your relationship.
As we grow and change throughout our lives and adapt to the other life changes, such as new job demands and evolving families, your needs and expectations of you and your partner(s) are likely to change. By renegotiating the terms of your relationship, you can help your partner understand what you might need from them to sustain your wellness, as well as gain insight into what your partner will need from you. Perhaps you have already responded and adjusted to these changes without having to engage in this formal process. Still it never hurts to examine and evaluate the current conditions of your life to give you the confidence of knowing that your relationship is still working for you and your partner(s). It is also worth noting that this process is not exclusive to romantic relationships and can be just as valuable when applied to other relationships in your life. By engaging in this process, you help sharpen your communication skills, as well as your ability to be honest with yourself and with others.
Here are some tips for renegotiating the terms of your relationship:
Before you begin this process, it is best to take the time as individuals to reflect on how you think you have changed, how you have perceived your partner to have changed, and how your needs and expectations might be different now. You should also contemplate the things that make you feel sad or anxious and alternatively things that might make you feel excited and hopeful, as they relate to your relationship. This reflection can be made into a formal task of taking the time to journal your thoughts and feelings, or you may wish to just take a few moments, or a walk by yourself to consider these thoughts and feelings. By coming into the conversation prepared with an idea of how you would like your relationship to respond to these demands, you will be in a better position to be able to authentically communicate exactly what you need. With that said, it is also important to remember that you must be open-minded as you come into these conversations. Although this is a conversation about meeting your needs, it is ultimately a conversation of how you can best collaborate together.
The process of renegotiation should be a collaborative effort. For this process to work, there must be mutual interest and reciprocity from both individuals in the relationship. This is an opportunity for you and your partner to work together to address any new challenges, needs, or concerns you have in your relationship. This is also a time where you create goals together and come up with ideas of how you want your relationship to look moving forward. Knowing that you are not alone in this process and that you can work as a team can help provide the security needed to explore some of those more difficult thoughts or feelings.
If you’re seeking to reflect on and identify the changes that have occurred in your life, and to explore how your needs and expectations have changed as a consequence, vulnerability is a requirement. Through this process, you may have to confront thoughts or feelings that you have been otherwise ignoring or suppressing. The level of honesty required in this process might not be easy and it is important to allow yourself the time and space to have these reflections. When you are engaging in this process with your partner, you should provide the same level of honesty and vulnerability with them as you did with yourself. Through this process you could discover that the change in needs of both you and your partner are irreconcilable. This also will require deep vulnerability to confront. If you are finding that through this process, your relationship is at a crossroads, then this might be an appropriate time to seek couples therapy. Although the renegotiation process is intended to help individuals reach the healthiest outcomes for themselves and their partners, this does not mean that it is on you as individuals to navigate this transition alone.
In the case where you and your partner can renegotiate the terms of your relationships to a place where you both feel like you can meet each other’s needs and expectations, you will find that you have a new sense of security within your relationship. Before this process, you may have felt unsure of how you or your partner were functioning within the relationship, or perhaps that you were both blissfully complacent within that current state. The security you feel in your relationship will be strengthened through this process as you reconcile the changes that have occurred for both of you.
Through this experience, you have the opportunity to bring vitality back into your relationship. It is very common for us to become complacent within our relationships. Though this complacency may help us provide stability in our lives when perhaps other areas of our lives remain uncertain, you are likely missing out on feeling a sense of vitality and excitement that you once had during the early stages of your relationship. Many often assume that this feeling of vitality is reserved for the ‘honeymoon stage’ of a relationship, but it can be maintained through open discussions of what gets you excited about a relationship. Perhaps some of the new terms of your relationship can be to surprise each other with a new date night activity a few times a month, or maybe it is making time for you to both have more alone time, as that time apart creates the space for your curiosity for each other to grow.
Lastly, this process can help promote accountability within your relationship, and for yourselves personally. By communicating your needs and expectations of your partner, it leaves little room for miscommunication and eliminates justifications for why one person might not be making you as fulfilled as you could be. It also encourages you to be accountable for your own needs and well-being.
It is no secret that establishing and maintaining on-going communication will help promote the health and longevity of a relationship.
Throughout the last few months, you might have found that you are spending more time with your partner and feeling like you are communicating more than ever before, though you are still feeling disconnected. When it comes to communication, it is important to think about it in terms of quality over quantity. It is common for a couple’s communication to plateau at sharing generally superficial information, and perhaps avoiding conversations that might require more emotional availability. A check-in provides the opportunity to build our emotional intimacy and express ourselves more authentically to ourselves, and our partners. This activity will help promote more meaningful engagement with your partner, as well as provide the space for you to reflect on how you have been doing as an individual.
The following guide will help you establish meaningful conversations with your partner.
Determine a day and time that works best for you
Ideally, this is a time that can be scheduled as a recurring event. To make this easier, you may choose to schedule check-ins on the first day of every month, and if you would like to increase the frequency of these chats, you can pick other easy to remember days of the month as well. It is up to you and your partner to determine how often you need to check-in. If you have been finding that you are feeling emotionally disconnected or out of sync from your partner, then it might be valuable to increase the frequency of these check-ins as often as once a week.
The next step is to collaborate with your partner to come up with a few check-in questions that help you both understand where you are currently at, and how you have been feeling. Here are a few sample questions:
What concerns have you had as an individual over the last few weeks?
Have you had any concerns about us as a couple over the last few weeks?
How have you been feeling about us lately?
Is there anything that has been making you feel stressed or anxious in the last few weeks?
What are a few things you have felt grateful for in your life over the last few weeks?
Is there anything you would change in your life? If so, what is it, and how can we address that?
What is it about me that you have felt grateful for over the last few weeks?
Is there anything coming up that requires more of our attention or preparation?
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Time to reflect
Take some time as individuals to reflect on those questions, so that you can come to the check-in prepared.
During your check-in, it is important to be present and actively listening to your partner. This is an opportunity for you both to offer vulnerability and support to each other and further develop your emotional connection.
Now that you have each gone through your questions, take the time together, to collaborate on a plan for how you can continue supporting each other moving forward.
This guide provides a formal framework to check-in, though this may not be necessary for every couple. It might be just as useful for you to integrate informal check-ins throughout the week.
Did you know that having dinner together as a family can improve your child’s quality of life? Research shows that these benefits continue from childhood well into adulthood.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not only an epidemiological crisis but a psychological one too, provoking anxiety, stress, and sadness. Family dinners will benefit your child’s mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being, but likely your well-being as a parent too. Here are 4 reasons why family meals are so developmentally important:
Creates a positive mindset
Family meals are correlated with significantly lower levels of depression in adolescents. The statistics show us that an increase in frequency of family meals leads to a decrease in depressive symptoms. Instead of sitting alone, holding their feelings inside, children have a forum to air anything troubling them. Consistency provides a sense of security.
Parental Pointers: Keep a set time daily in a range that works for your family. Remember the more family meals together the better! Engage your kids by asking them to set and clear the table. They might even be keen to help pick and prepare what they’d like to eat! In general, kids tend to be more engaged at the table if they’re involved in the process ahead of time.
Sitting down and eating together as a family provides an emotionally safe place for children and teens to learn the art of communication. Here, they can talk about their day and issues that have come up. They can then take the skills they learn at the dinner table and apply them to a number of settings, including conversations with teachers and friends. Better communication creates better relationships.
Parental Pointers: Open ended questions like ‘How was your day?’ tend to get vague responses like, ‘fine’. Try taking turns around the table, letting each person tell what their ‘rose (most positive experience) and thorn (most negative experience)’ was from their day. Here’s another activity that my brother’s family has used, and it often helps get the conversation started by sparking curiosity. Once every family member is seated at the table, each person shares one thing from their day that they’re grateful for. There were lots of giggles when they first started doing this activity, but it has slowly become a nightly tradition.
Healthier food choices
Sitting down with your children for dinner allows you to role model healthy food choices and portion sizes. It also allows you to observe your child’s eating patterns. Children end up eating from a wider variety of food groups and consuming fewer soft drinks. Overall, research tells us that there are lower rates of disordered eating amongst children who sit down to a healthy, family dinner.
Parental Pointers: Healthy doesn’t mean that everything has to be homemade from scratch (Heck no! Who has time for that?) Simply grabbing a meal from the freezer and adding a bagged salad could be a convenient balanced option. As a rule of thumb, talking about food in black and white terms tends to be confusing for kids. Food does not have to be ‘good and bad’, especially when it’s eaten in moderation. Snacks like chips and chocolates can be described as ‘fun food’ rather than ‘junk food’ which tends to be a more balanced message for children.
Improved physical fitness
Children who grow up in homes with regular family dinners have been found to participate in higher levels of physical fitness and activity. This may be partially linked to the higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy that result from eating with the fam.
Parental Pointers: Even going for a short walk together, around the block after dinner can help stretch out those cobwebs from being in quarantine and in online school all day. Let kids choose which route to take, only rule is you can’t choose the same route twice! Play eye spy as you go, or even work a simple scavenger hunt into it e.g First one to find a pinecone is the ‘Star of the Walk’!
Overall, regular family meals make for happier, healthier, and more confident kids!
During the pandemic, setting aside together time with your children is important because it sends the message that they’re a priority. It helps them feel valued, understood, and cared for. Older children and teenagers have different developmental needs than adults and therefore social distancing has a different emotional impact on them than it does us. They’re at a stage where social connections and separation from parents is developmentally healthy. Because of covid-19, many of these social interactions have changed or been taken away from them. For children of all ages, family time provides a healthy opportunity for them to talk about how they’re feeling and for you to observe and listen for changes in their mood, engagement level, clothing, friends, and grades.
Of course, these benefits flow both ways! There are benefits for parents too. Studies suggest that feasting together creates bondedness. These same studies even say that social eating is part of human evolution that came about as a mechanism for enabling the process of social bonding. Eating with other humans more frequently is tied to feeling happier, trusting others, having more friendships, and being more content with life overall. While we can’t wine and dine with our friends during quarantine, we can feast with our household tribe.
Feeling stuck for support? Unsure of what kind of support to ask for or how to ask? We get it. It’s hard to reach out for help and even harder to communicate the type of support you might be looking for at any given time.
There are five major types of support: inspirational, practical, emotional, companionship, and problem-solving. Depending on what’s going on in your life you may need more of one than another but all are going to be needed at some point or another.
The Big 5
Who they are: This is the person who’s able to inspire you whenever you’re feeling discouraged or unmotivated. They can remind you of the reasons behind your goals when you’re feeling down. This person truly believes in you and your abilities to accomplish what you’re working towards.
Traits: Encouraging, motivating, positive, optimistic
Things you won’t hear: “You can’t do that” “Oh come on, be realistic” “What did you expect?” “You always quit on things” “Just give up, it’s not worth it”
Things you want to hear: “That’s awesome, you’re going to do great!” “That’s exciting, please let me know how I can help” “I know you can do it” “Just keep trying, you’ll figure it out”
Why you need this person: Internal motivation isn’t constant, it comes and goes. As a result, we all have those times when we feel discouraged and want to give up. Having someone that believes in us and can remind us of our motivation can help us to accomplish great things.
Useful tip: Often the way in which the inspiring messages are communicated is just as important as what is said. Think about what truly motivates you as an individual. Do you prefer the boot camp drill sergeant or the positive cheerleader? Not all people respond to the same style of inspirational support, it’s important to figure out what works for you.
Who they are: This is the person who can help in those practical everyday ways. This person can help you move, pick you up from the airport, or bring over soup when you’re sick in the middle of a snow storm.
Traits: Reliable, Skillful, Dependable, Resourceful
Things you won’t hear: “Oh no I totally forgot” “Sorry I have to bail last minute” “You’re on your own”
Things you want to hear: “I can help with that” “I’ll be there” “You can count on me” “I’m ready, what do you need?”
Why you need this person: Even the most independent of people need help from others at times. Having someone you can count on to be there makes certain experiences go a lot easier.
Useful tip: It’s important to remember that there can be many different types of practical support often linked to the person’s resources and skills. E.g. Someone who’s able to help fix your computer may not be the same person to watch your kids for the weekend.
Who they are: This is the person who’s able to listen to how you are feeling without immediately trying to change or stop you from feeling that way. They’re good listeners and you know you can talk openly without being silenced, rushed, made to feel guilty, or that your feelings don’t matter.
Traits: Understanding, accepting, non-judgemental, and patient.
Things you won’t hear: “Ugh, don’t be angry/sad/etc.” “Just cheer up” “Get over it”
Things you want to hear: “That sucks” “I’m really sorry that happened to you” “You didn’t deserve that” “I’m not sure what to say right now, I’m just really glad you told me”
Why you need this person: Whenever you are experiencing intense emotions it is helpful to have them validated by someone else. This helps you to feel connected and understood.
Useful tip: Often conflict can occur when we are seeking emotional support but the other person assumes we need “Problem Solving” support. This can be frustrating for both involved and it’s therefore important to clarify that we don’t want someone to solve our problems but rather just offer understanding.
Who they are: This is someone you’re able to have fun with. You have shared interests and enjoy each other’s company.
Traits: Fun, Entertaining, Enjoyable, Relaxing
Things you won’t hear: “No that’s boring, let’s not do that”, “I just really don’t like any of the things you want to do”
Things you want to hear: “Hey let’s go out this weekend!” “Want me to come over? We can hang out and watch a movie”
Why you need this person: It’s important to take time to relax and have fun with others. Finding the people who have shared interests will allow you to make the most of your time and enjoy yourself.
Useful tip: It can be difficult or intimidating to find ways to make new friends. Think of an activity you enjoy doing and find out if there is a club, team, or group where you can meet others who also enjoy that activity. If there isn’t a group yet, consider creating one yourself!
Who they are: This is the person who can help when you’re stuck and not sure what to do. They offer useful advice and feedback on how to make improvements in your life. They often help you to discover solutions you may otherwise not have been able to think of on your own. Often coming from their own experience, they take the time to understand what’s going on and offer ideas that are useful to your specific situation.
Traits: Creative, Knowledgeable, Experienced, Wise
Things you won’t hear: “Oh wow, I have no clue what you should do” “How would I know? Looks like you’re stuck”
Things you want to hear: “I went through something similar, here’s what worked for me” “I wonder if you could try doing this…” “If we break it down to smaller steps, I think you can start by…”
Why you need this person: When experiencing a stressful situation, our own ability to be creative and resourceful can decrease. Talking to someone else can help realize alternative solutions.
Useful tip: The most useful advice is offered after the person has a full understanding of your situation, which includes hearing what you’ve already tried or considered and why previous attempts haven’t worked out. Only then, will they be able to offer suggestions that you haven’t tried yet, leading to a less frustrating experience for you both.
Helpful Things to Remember
In addition to close friends and family, don’t forget about the support from the professionals. A therapist, a financial advisor, an interior designer, or even an uber driver can all offer valuable support!
People can learn new skills all the time. Before you assume that someone can’t offer a particular type of support just because they haven’t in the past, take the time to talk to them about it. It’s possible that they’ve been trying to be supportive but don’t yet know the right way to support you as an individual. For example, some people find it helpful to be reminded of the silver lining in a bad situation while others find it discounts their experience. Learn specifically what you need in each type of support and try to teach others how they can help you best.
Magical Unicorns 🦄
There are some people in our lives who are able to offer all five types of support. If you have such a person in your life, consider yourself lucky! I call these the magical unicorns. While it’s great to have a unicorn or two, it’s even better when we have multiple people in each category. Why is that? Sometimes the unicorn is unavailable. Other times the unicorn may also be going through a rough time (midterms, the birth of a child, or a life transition such as moving is a perfect examples of this) or maybe you’re in an argument with the unicorn and right now he or she is the last person you want to have help you. For these reasons it’s always beneficial to have multiple people in each category.
Simply put it’s best to not have all your eggs in one basket (or depend on only one magical unicorn).
At no point is this strategy more important than when you are going through an especially difficult time. When facing an increase in stress or personal crisis we tend to need even more social support than usual. By having multiple people in each category who can help you, you’ll be able to avoid feeling like you are being a burden to one specific person.
This fear of burdening a friend or family member is often one of the biggest hurdles we have that keeps us from asking for help. By remembering that you have multiple supports you can prevent feeling like you’re overwhelming one person.
How to ask for support
- Figure out what type of support you need
- Refer to your list of people who can offer that type of support
- Consider the specific situation and who might be most useful/helpful from that group
- If you don’t have anyone in that category, consider reaching out to a professional
- When talking to the person, first check if they are able to offer support right now
- Then, communicate clearly what type of support you need (see helpful phrases to use when asking for support)
- Remember to thank the person. We all like to know when we’ve helped!
“I’ve had an awful day, are you feeling up to hearing me vent for a bit?”
“I don’t need any advice right now, just someone to listen to me and tell me they understand, can you do that for me? (Or) I’m really needing some advice right now, what do you think I should do?”
“I have something I really need to talk about (Or) I really don’t feel like talking right now, can we just hang out and talk about something else?”
“I just need a shoulder to cry on right now.”
“I feel like giving up, can you please remind me why I wanted to try this?”
“Something upsetting happened to me earlier today and I need someone to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing. Can you do that for me?”
“I’m needing a break, let’s plan something fun to do tonight!”
“It would mean a lot to me if you could ________ (teach me that new recipe/take my dog out for a walk/watch me rehearse my presentation/drive me to my doctor’s appointment)”
“I feel stuck, I’ve tried these three things but now I’m not sure what else I could try. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.”
If you feel stuck, or need additional support in practicing asking for help, our therapists can be of support in navigating difficult situations.
Returning home for the holidays can be difficult to stomach under normal circumstances. When you add a break up to the recipe, you’ve got something harder to swallow than even the driest of turkeys.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I’m reminded of the phenomenon referred to (so unsympathetically) as the Turkey Dump. If you’re unfamiliar, this is when college and university students who live away from home return for Thanksgiving and promptly break up with their significant others. According to data collected in 2009 from Facebook status updates (by data journalist David McCandless and design technologist Lee Byron), it isn’t just a myth. Indeed, they noticed break-up rates began to increase around Thanksgiving and peaked about 2 weeks before the winter holidays and they saw a spike again during spring break.
Curious about why it happens? Some speculate it’s because the holidays present a whole new set of expectations in a relationship that can feel all too “real” (e.g. meeting the family and friends); others postulate it’s because the holidays turn attention to the opportunities and options up ahead.
Getting Through It
If you’re among the heartbroken you probably don’t much care why it happens, so let’s turn to the important stuff. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in splitsville for the holidays:
- Remember that holidays can be spent with family and/or friends. Take this opportunity to foster the other valuable relationships you have in your life.
- Have a prepared response for those who ask about your relationship status. Know that you don’t owe anyone details about what happened.
- Try to meet new people at a holiday party or out with friends.
- Let yourself be distracted by the holiday festivities and events.
- Take a trip if you can—near or far—and get lost for the holidays.
It can really suck to have a relationship end during the holidays, but having a few days off can be a blessing. Use it to take some time to yourself and, if you’re able, be with those that you love.
Struggling with the process? Here are some other tips that can help you keep it classy through a break-up.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of asking others for what I need is extremely challenging. I pride myself on being independent and self-reliant, but I’ve come to realize that a necessary part of that is being able to ask others for what I need from them.
Try to imagine this scenario:
You’re on a date with someone you really like. You’ve been dating for a while and you’d like the relationship to be exclusive. You’re not sure if the other person shares your feelings. You’ve done some reflecting and it’s very important to you, so you decide it’s time to share your feelings and have a talk about exclusivity.
This talk involves asking for something you need, in this case, exclusivity in the relationship. What’s so scary about that?
In my own case, I fear that I might be rejected.
So, how do I ask for what I need despite my fears? Below is a list of things that help me prepare. Give them a try.
1. Check in with yourself
Ask yourself, “How am I feeling about this conversation? Do I know what I want out of it?”
2. Map it out
Lay the key points you want to address out for yourself.
3. Imagine how the conversation will go
Consider other perspectives– try checking in with a trusted friend or family member and get their feedback.
4. Take a deep breath before going in for this talk
When you’re anxious your brain forgets to think and your body goes into survivor mode. Help your body and brain calm down by taking a few deep breaths. Some mindfulness practice would also be super helpful here.
5. Ask for what you need
Describe the situation and tell the person what you need (you can say something like “we’ve been seeing each other for a while now and I’m really starting to like you. I want to know where this is going. Do you see this becoming a long term relationship?”)
6. Acknowledge yourself
At this point, no matter what happens, remind yourself how brave you were to ask for what you need.
Remember, if we don’t ask for what we need, we won’t ever receive it. However, the other side of that means we also need to accept that it’s the other person’s right to say no. Whatever happens, at least we have the answers we need.
As always, you’ve got this!