Relationships are hard!

We have all heard that before, but what does that mean? Why are they so hard? Should they be? Must they be?  You know the old saying “the best things in life are free”, but ‘free’ doesn’t always mean easy! Some of the hardest things in life take the most care and effort, and consequently, bear the sweetest fruit.

So, the story goes: once upon at time, we grew up, built relationships, fell in and out of love, made mistakes, made them again (and sometimes again), picked ourselves up, and kept going. That is a far cry from fairy tales we grew up with about some enchanted forest, magic spells, and white horses that bring us to our ‘happily ever after’. The truth is, real relationships don’t work like that, and we tend to learn that the hard way because nobody writes stories about never-ending compromise, flexibility, and more patience and understanding than sometimes feels humanly possible. Doesn’t exactly make for a great bedtime story, right?! But the reality of love is that those are often the very qualities it takes to make things work – not glass slippers and fairy godmothers! The fact is, there are many great and wonderful things about love and relationships, and there also challenging and difficult aspects too. Commitment, trust, understanding, partnership, communication, sacrifice, and intimacy come with both concerted effort and great rewards.

As we build a relationship with another person, we contribute to the dynamic with parts of ourselves. In the beginning of a new relationship, we tend to choose the best parts to put forth. Perhaps as we become more comfortable with another person and build trust and security, we begin to share the less desirable parts and dissonance can arise within the relationship. We may ask ourselves, “Who is this person?”, “Why didn’t I see this before?”, “What happened to us?”, or “How did we get here?”.

It is important to remember that each person in a relationship is a WHOLE person, not their partner’s ‘other half’, and that we contribute what we have to offer (or not) to the relationship between us.

So many times, we make the cardinal mistake of believing we can change another person. The truth is, we can’t force a person to change, and ultimately, we have no right! We are only in control of ourselves, and the contribution we make to our relationship with that other person – not the other person themselves! Perhaps better questions to be asking if we can to make changes are: “What am I bringing to this dynamic?”, “How have I changed over time?”, or “What could I do to make things better?”.  It is a basic human need to be heard and understood. There are many therapeutic approaches to couple and family counselling that aim to deal with the hurt, anger, resentment, defensiveness, and boundary and communication issues, that come along with managing relationships. The Gottman Method and Emotion-focused therapy are two of the most well-known and aim to get to the core of the emotions involved in loving relationships. Many of the issues that lay deep in the heart of problem relationships are hidden and masked by symptoms like arguments, nagging, lies, betrayal, blame, manipulation, lack of intimacy, hurtful words, and accusations.  

Healing the relationship between couples and families in therapy takes effort and commitment from all parties, and starts with getting to know each person, both as an individual and as a member of a partnership. Therapy offers no magic spells or potions, but tools for understanding and helping a person putting forth the best they can to make things work. The journey through therapy isn’t always easy but, like relationships, it takes hard work and has the potential for great rewards. It all starts with aiming for everyone to simply be heard and, more importantly, understood.

If you feel your relationship may benefit from counselling, you can contact me here.

By Chelsea Avram, MACP Candidate

Having a strong support network is crucial for our mental health.

As humans we are social creatures and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get through life without some other humans by our side cheering us on. But what happens when the humans that are supposed be by our side aren’t?

We can sometimes feel like our friends aren’t being supportive, and if we’ve been friends with them for a long time, recognizing this can be even more difficult.

‘Toxic’ relationships are named as such because they are negative and can permeate every part of our lives. When we have someone who is constantly negative or putting us down, those negative feelings don’t stop once the person is no longer in our presence; we take those thoughts and feelings with us, and sometimes we start to feel like they’re true.

Don’t get me wrong; friends shouldn’t just constantly be praising you either (that would be sort of weird); we also need an element of honesty and, frankly, someone to call us out on our BS sometimes. These close friendships, which we will likely have only a few of, consist of a level of respect that allows you to have a conversation about something you’re doing wrong, while also lifting you up and supporting you.

So how can you make sure you have a great support network, and that you can be a great support for others? Here are some true signs of a great friendship:

1.You feel good about yourself when you’re around them

We often meet our first friends in school, and a lot of time spent with them is engaging in leisure activities, so it makes sense that you’d feel good when you’re with your friends. But even more than that, your friends should make you feel good about yourself as a person. If you have a friend who is constantly putting you down, pointing out your faults, or telling you that you’re not good enough, they may not be acting as supportive as they could be. No one is perfect, but if you have someone around you who constantly talks about your downfalls and never praises you or brings up how great you are, they may need to go. Another red flag here is when someone is constantly gossiping about others and seems to have nothing positive to say about anyone else.

2. They support you in your goals and aspirations

Picture this: you’ve never been athletic in your life, always been a book worm and don’t have a lot of experience with exercise. But you go to a soccer match one day and decide that you’d love to try it, so you excitedly message your best friend about how you’ve signed up for house league soccer. She replies with “LOL, good luck with that”, and says nothing more. How do you feel?

I’m guessing not great. You’ve decided to do something for yourself and get healthy and be active, and you’re excited about it, and you feel like your friend just deflated you like a balloon. You try to talk to them more about it and they just shrug it off, insisting you’ll never stick to it so why bother. You start to think about that, and wonder if it’s true. You’ve tried things in the past that have failed, so maybe she’s right.

This type of friend can quickly become a ‘toxic’ friend, because the act of them putting you down can easily permeate your own mind and lead to lowered self-esteem. Likely, the next time you see them, you’re not going to be excited to see them, and you may even believe that they think less of you, upsetting the balance in the friendship. A good friend should support you, even if it’s something difficult. A response such as “Wow that’s exciting! Good for you! If you need extra motivation, I’m here to help”, would have been much more supportive and uplifting.

3. You can be yourself around them

Personally, for me, this one is extremely important. If you feel like you have to put a mask on every time you’re with your friends, then you may have to ask yourself if they’re friends with you, or someone you’re pretending to be. This is especially true if, when you try to be yourself, your friends make fun of you, put you down, or seem uninterested. We want to have authentic and true friends that we can relax with and be ourselves around, not people that we have to hide from who make us feel ashamed of who we are.

4. They’re honest with you

No one is perfect, and relationships aren’t perfect. They take effort and compromise and sometimes we get hurt by the people we love and care about. We can’t know what everyone wants all the time, so it’s important in relationships that we express what it is that we need and want, and when we’re not getting it.

A good friend will let you know when you’re being a jerk to them – or someone else, and help you correct it without being rude or mean. Being able to call you out when you’re being unreasonable is an important trait to have, and it takes both sides to make this happen. We have to be approachable and open to criticism (not taking it personally), and our friends have to be willing and able to be in a bit of an uncomfortable situation. At the end of the day, it leaves everyone in a better spot if we can be honest about how we feel. Which brings me to my next point…

5. They argue with you – nicely

Similar to number four is arguing. If you think about your closest relationships and think to yourself “oh my friend and I never argue or disagree”, you may want to look a little deeper there. As I mentioned, relationships can be difficult and no two people are going to agree on everything – that’s okay! A true sign of friendship is being able to argue or disagree about something, and to work it out together without the friendship dissolving. So when you’ve accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings and they bring it up to you, you may not agree with what they have to say. The important thing is to be honest and talk it out, because it’s likely going to boil down to a misunderstanding.

If you’re reading these and thinking that maybe your friends really aren’t great friends after all, don’t worry. If someone doesn’t fit this list, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.

Sometimes you just need to have a discussion about your expectations and theirs, and work to improve things over time. If not, it may be time to move on and look for new, more fulfilling relationships. It can seem scary but over time our needs can change and that’s okay. You deserve to have a good support network.

I would also encourage you to do some self-reflection when you read this list and see if you’re doing everything you can do to be a good friend. We can all benefit from making some changes and improving how we interact with people, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Having a great group of friends and surrounding yourself with support and positivity can make a world of difference in your life.

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT

P.S. Happy birthday to my best friend, Ali!

2019 is finally here, and if you’re anything like me, you have a long list of New Year’s resolutions!

Every year I start off by writing down what I want to achieve. Once I fine-tune them, I put the list somewhere where I will frequently see it, usually in a journal or day planner. Having the list somewhere visible allows me to keep them in mind throughout the year. Where will you put your list so that it is easy to see, everyday?

 

Setting Smart Goals

I start off the process by jotting down my intentions. This year I am planning to prioritize self-care while I finish my Bachelor of Social Work degree. Last semester, my self-care (regular exercise and healthy eating) took a back seat to my schoolwork. This approach didn’t work for me. and I became tired and run down – I definitely wasn’t performing at my best. I have realized that prioritizing self-care will be very important moving forward, as I won’t have a break leading into my final semester in the spring. Keeping a healthy focus by setting some clear goals around fitness and diet will help me cope with the heavy workload and high expectations.

After I write down my intentions, my next step is to turn them into SMART goals. By using a Specific, Meaningful, Adaptive, Realistic and Time-framed approach, I ensure my goals are clear and achievable. For more information on creating SMART goals, check out this SMART goals worksheet. After I have created my specific goals, I will prioritize which are the most important to start with. In the past, I have found that trying to work on too many goals at once can be pretty overwhelming and can end up making me feel less motivated in the long term. My more recent approach has been to start small. Focusing on just one of my goals at the start has allowed me to be more successful.

This year I will be starting off by focusing on scheduling more time for self-care. For me, this means going to the gym regularly, cooking healthy meals, meditating, and getting enough sleep. If I were to start working on all my goals today, I would easily become overwhelmed and would probably end up giving up on all my New Years resolutions! I find that an all-or-nothing mindset doesn’t work well for me. It’s much easier for me to start small and add more when I know I can handle it. So, my first SMART goal is that I will book myself into a minimum of three one-hour classes each week at my local gym so I can run, ride the exercise bike, row, and connect with my friends, which will help keep my stress under control.

 

Strengths

In addition to developing SMART goals, I believe one of the best tools you can use to accomplish your New Year’s resolutions is yourself. When you think about it, you know yourself the best! You know what has worked for you in the past, and you can probably even name things that haven’t worked. This can actually be a great starting point. If you already know what doesn’t work, you can start to come up with new creative solutions that will work.

 

Uncover Your Strengths

I ask myself these questions when I am trying to figure out how I can use my own strengths to achieve my goals. How would you respond to these same questions?

  1. Reflect on your past accomplishments. How did you achieve these goals?
  2. What was easy? What was harder to do?
  3. How did overcoming past challenges make you stronger?
  4. What skills and resources did you use to overcome the challenges and help accomplish your goals?
  5. What would your friends and/or family members say are your best qualities?

Reflecting on your strengths and your past successes can be really helpful when working towards your future goals.

 

Motivation

Maintaining motivation has always been tricky for me when it comes to my New Year’s resolutions. One year can be a long time to stay motivated. Understanding that motivation can be difficult is helpful! Here is what I have learned along the way:

The most important thing is that everyone is motivated in different ways. For example, one of my past resolutions had been to go to the gym at least 4 times a week. I am a person who is typically more externally motivated. In other words, I realize that I need external pressures to hold myself accountable. So, in order to achieve this goal, I ended up joining a group fitness class. That way I couldn’t just show up to the gym, run on the treadmill for 10 minutes and then pack it in without doing much to really enhance my overall fitness. I have made connections in the group class, can participate in group activities and challenges, and we can cheer each other on. I must also book my classes ahead of time to ensure I get a spot. And I am unable to cancel my classes (within eight hours) without an additional charge. All of these steps encourage me to plan ahead, show up, and work towards my fitness goals.

 

Visualization 

Visualization is also a good technique that can help you to picture your path to success. Take time to think about how you will approach a goal, the steps you will need to complete, and then imagine yourself achieving the goal. Imagine how it will feel, what success looks like, and how good that success will be!

 

Be Kind to Yourself

After listing my goals, I try to be mindful of two things: “Be kind to yourself” and “Take care of yourself”. Above all else, these are the two most important intentions for me and they take priority over everything else. Realistically I know I am going to make mistakes. I am going to get off track, and I am probably going to struggle. I have learned to accept that this is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay! Being kind and forgiving to myself throughout the process will only set me up to be even more successful.

 

By Chris Henderson

Chris is currently studying Social Work and will graduate with his Bachelor of Social Work in June 2019.   He previously earned a BA in Criminology and a Diploma in Police Foundations, where he developed a keen interest in social welfare and human behaviour.   Chris is passionate about exploring ways to enhance physical and emotional health, and empowering people to be the best that they can be! 

The holidays are a wonderful time of year for reflection, giving, and love. They are also a time that usually involves a great deal of planning, attending events, and navigating busy parking lots and stores. This side of the holidays is stressful for everyone, and may lead to some feelings that are less-than-jolly.

We’ve put together some tips to help you make the most of this holiday season, and help you keep your name on the “nice” list!

 

1) Prioritize based on what’s important to you.

This tip may sound like common sense, but it’s amazing how lost we can get in “should’s” that aren’t necessarily important to us. “I should attend this event”, “I should send this person a card”, “I should decorate” – sound familiar? When we get lost in “should’s”, we can start to lose sight of whether this activity is truly important to us or if it’s just an obligation we feel we have to fulfill. If we feel it’s an obligation that isn’t necessarily important to us, it may be time to question why we feel it’s an obligation and what purpose it’s fulfilling. If we find that it’s purpose is to make a good impression on others or to cater to others’ opinions, we may want to question why that’s important to us.

2) Plan ahead.

Planning ahead helps to alleviate stress, especially during the holiday season when stress is usually at a peak! If you are planning a shopping trip, make a list of the things you need ahead of time and stick to your list while you are out. If you are hosting a dinner, make a menu and a list of the groceries you need to purchase. Lists help make things more predictable, which minimizes our fear of the unknown.

3) JOMO – Give yourself a break!

JOMO

Similarly to Tip #1, it is sometimes meaningful to forgo events that aren’t as important to you if it means spending more time with those who are important (including yourself!). Making time for a movie night (or day) in can be helpful to reconnect, recharge, and be present with those you love.

4) Stay present.

clark

Have you ever felt like you were on the verge of a Christmas Vacation’s Clark Griswold freak-out? With all of the planning that goes into holidays, it’s important to pause, ground, and reconnect with the present moment from time to time. This can take the form of simply taking three slow, deep breaths. It may also be helpful to try a more formal mindfulness practice, using an app such as Stop, Breathe, Think or Insight Timer. Being present may also mean doing an activity mindfully, such as going for a walk to look at holiday lights or mindfully wrapping gifts.

5) Show gratitude.

With all the hustle and bustle of the season, it is helpful to pause and remember what you are doing this all for. Take time to show gratitude for the things that are important to you, even if it isn’t perfect. It may mean taking mental note of three things you are grateful for, sharing words of appreciation before a meal, or telling someone you love how much they mean to you. Gratitude can be a beautiful way to reconnect with the meaning behind the season, and joy that can be found in the little things.

 

We hope you enjoyed these tips to help you bring a little more presence and peace to your holidays.

We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and healthy New Year!