Looking Back and Looking Forward: Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

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It’s been less than two weeks since we rang in the New Year and already the beginning of the New Year hubbub has died down.  Resolutions have likely been broken and many are back to their old ways. This is one of the many reasons I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I like to reflect on the previous year, warts and all, and see how it can guide me as I move forward into a new year full of possibilities.

Looking back on 2012 I am able to glean some important insights that will undoubtedly help me in 2013. 2012  was by far my hardest year since 2008 (the year my mom passed away). Although I had some exciting highs, such as completing my PhD, I also faced some devastating lows such losing our baby in August and another pregnancy loss which resulted in having surgery to remove one of my fallopian tubes right before Christmas. Also, my husband and I moved to a new state and started new jobs, which has been both exciting and frustrating.

Despite these less than ideal situations, I still have a rather optimistic and positive outlook. The main reason for this is that when I take stock of my life and reflect back on 2012, I realize that the shadows and the brightness of 2012 have taught me a lot and will be an invaluable resource as I move forward into 2013.

In 2013, I will continue to be optimistic about the future and appreciate of what I do have rather than what I don’t.

What I’ve Learned in 2012…

Shit happens | Or as Forest Gump would say “It happens.” Sometimes bad stuff happens, sometimes really bad stuff happens, and regardless of where it is on the “bad stuff” continuum a lot of the time it happens for no reason. In my opinion, it’s not “god’s plan” or “for the better.” No, sometimes crappy stuff just happens and is completely out of our control (unless you’re doing bad stuff that is likely to have negative consequences! In that case, stop (if you can)!)

We can’t always control the lemons life hands us, but we can control how we react to them. In fact, our perception of events and the resources we employ to cope with them determine whether or not we experience stress or plummet into full-blown crisis mode.

Yes, when bad stuff happens it’s easy to throw yourself a pity party and have a fatalistic view of events and feel that nothing ever goes right for you. However, this mind set will get you nowhere fast. I’m not saying to sugarcoat reality, but after giving yourself time to grieve it’s important to glean lessons from your loss and develop a positive plan and outlook as you move forward.

Sure, my heart still breaks when I think about how badly I miss my mom or that I should be holding a baby in my arms in the next few weeks, but I don’t let that stop me from moving forward or appreciating the other wonderful things in my life.

It may be hard at times, but trust me, positive thinking is worth its weight in gold when it comes to your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Friendship matters| As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how critical good friendships are. The importance of quality friendships was highlighted during 2012.

Throughout the year, I experienced the wonderful generosity, love, and selflessness of good friends; the disinterest, self-centeredness, and disappointment of fair-weather friends; and the joy of connecting with new friends over both highs and lows.

These experiences have taught me that strong friendships are essential. True friends are there for you in the good times and, especially, in the bad times. Good friends sit with you when you cry, ask the tough questions, and are there when life is anything but fun.

Sometimes friends disappoint us and sometimes friends surprise us. I’ve learned to take the disappointing friendships at face value. I no longer try to force a superficial friendship to morph into a meaningful one or to even continue. But more importantly, I’ve learned to cherish the beautiful, strong, and surprising friendships that I have. These friends have made life wonderful, even when I’ve been in the depths of despair. These friends have given me strength, courage, and endless amounts of joy.

In 2013, I will take the wonderful lessons I’ve learned from my treasured friends and let them guide me to being a better friend myself. Thank you, friends.

A good partner makes all the difference | When I started dating my husband I knew I got a good one, and over the years he’s continued to show me just what a great catch he is.

For a couple our age, we’ve been through a lot. However, we always seem to come through the storms as a stronger unit. If we can make it through all we’ve been through, I don’t have a shred of doubt that we’re in this to win it.

In fact, all we’ve been through in 2012 continued to affirm my beliefs about the importance of nurturing both your romance and your friendship. It’s important to make sure the romance doesn’t fade and that you never have to bring sexy back because it’s always been there. As important as maintaining a romantic and affectionate connection with your partner is, it’s also essential to nurture your friendship, because let’s face it, life gets in the way and you better have something more than great bedroom tricks to bring you two together. Although great tricks don’t hurt 😉

In 2012, I learned that true love is the partner you want to make-out with 24/7, the partner who makes you frustrated beyond belief, and the partner who puts his money where his mouth by taking excellent care of you after surgery, including sitting on the toilet talking to you when you take your first post-op shower. Oh, and bonus, this person still wants to make out with you even when they’ve seen you at your worst!

In 2013, I will continue to nurture and maintain my relationships and friendship with my amazing husband.

Enjoy every minute| Although people may say to do it, and although it’s hard to do when we’re in the midst of turmoil,  it is important to appreciate the delicate treasure that is life.

You wake up, you breathe, and you are, hopefully, surrounded by people who love and support you. That is what matters in life. Not the car you drive, the purse you carry, or how many facebook friends you have.

Life is about the everyday moments—the laughter you share with a friend, the kiss from your loved one, the “I love you” from your parent, the little lick from your dog, or the snuggle of from your child—which go by in the blink of an eye.

Relish your days, relish your relationship, relish your life. You only have one, so make it count.

In 2013, you bet your booty I’m making life count!

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We all have probably experienced our share of both joy and heartbreak in 2012. Although sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable, it’s not. You may not climb it in a day or a week, but you can get over those humps (cue Miley Cyrus).

2012 taught me to make sure I take time to appreciate my husband, my friends, and my life.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2012 and how it will help you as you move forward in 2013. Leave a comment above or send me an email.

Until next time,

Sylvia

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The (Not So) Brady Bunch?: Negotiating Blended Families During the Holidays

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With the holiday season in full swing, a lot of us our probably pulling out our hair trying to coordinate holiday visits with family. Balancing your family and your partner’s family is difficult enough; now factor in the fact that these days many of us have to unexpectedly juggle multiple families. Suddenly, the most wonderful time of the year becomes anything but!

Although we may expect our family-of-origin to incur small changes in adulthood, we often believe it’s going to be us who changes the family system through cohabitation, marriage, and/or adding children. We don’t expect our parents to be the ones throwing a wrench into the family system. But, due to parents passing away and the new trend of gray divorce, many adults are confronted with a familial shift they were not expecting.

Parents passing away or separating often lead to remarriage. Although remarriage and its consequences have been studied extensively in families with adolescents, less attention has been paid to how adults cope with their parents’ remarriage.

Just like children who have to assimilate into a stepfamily, adults have to grapple with numerous changes, including creating boundaries with the new “family” member, managing their other parent’s reactions to the new family form (if the parents divorced), and figuring out how to retain some of the essence of their “original” family in the face of change.

Additionally, adults with children have the added struggle of figuring out what role their parent’s new spouse or significant other will play in their children’s lives and what their children will call this new person.

These changes are overwhelming on a normal day, but the holidays tend to exacerbate these issues. Adult children are upset that rituals are changed or altogether abandoned, parents may feel jealous that their children are spending time with the other parent and his/her new spouse, and adult children may “feel caught” in the middle of this. Adult children have to manage all of this while simultaneously trying to manage their own lives, nuclear families, and in-law relationships.

Holidays are a time for coming together; unfortunately transitioning to a new family form can make having a holly jolly holiday a bit of a challenge. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Although it takes some work and a lot of coordination, you can get back to decking the halls instead of each other!

Talk It Out: The first step is to have an open conversation with your parent(s). I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy conversation, but it’s important to put your issues or concerns on the table. Your parents may not know that you’re hurting or upset, so it’s important to let them know how you are feeling. Too often, families brush these issues under the rug because they don’t want to cause conflict or tension. However, this can backfire and lead to lingering resentment and hurt.

In a calm and respectful manner, let your parent or parents know how you are feeling and what your wishes are for the holiday season. You may even want to try our handy X-Y-Z statements to focus on a specific behavior and situation and diffuse any potential defensiveness.

Additionally, let them talk too and listen to their perspective on the situation.

Even if you don’t entirely see eye-to-eye, disclosing your feeling and thoughts can be an extremely cathartic experience.

Do Onto Others: Integrating a new member into your nuclear family as an adult is no small task. There’s the uncomfortable question of what to call this person; questions regarding boundaries; and concerns regarding how to be close without feeling as if you’re “betraying” your other parent.

My biggest advice is two-fold. First, follow the golden rule, even if it’s difficult. How did your parents treat your spouse or significant other when he/she entered the family (or how do you wish they did)? Second, do what’s comfortable for you.

I’m not saying you have to start calling your parent’s new spouse “mom” or “dad” or tell him/her you love him, but you should be warm, kind, and accepting to the extent you are comfortable with.

If your parent is happy and this person is going to be around for the long haul, there is no sense in fighting it. Not only will being kind and attempting to incorporate this newbie into the family system help you establish a strong relationship with this new family member, it will also strengthen your relationship with your parent.

Create and Adapt Rituals: Rituals reflect our family identity. As a result, families feel very protective of their rituals and any attempt to change one often is viewed as an attack on the family. However, it’s important to be flexible and learn to adapt existing rituals and create new rituals as well.

You cannot pretend that your previous family didn’t exist. In fact, it’s that experience that made you and your parents who you are today. So don’t feel shy talking about or even engaging in existing family rituals with the new spouse. However, it is important to include this person in the rituals so you don’t create and “insiders” versus “outsiders” divide. If your family wears matching pajamas on Christmas, then the newbie needs a set too.

Additionally, create new rituals with the new family member. Perhaps there is a ritual from his/her family that he/she wants to share with you, or maybe there is a new tradition you can create that is unique to your new blended family. Although this may seem strange at first, it will go a long way in establishing goodwill and a strong relational foundation.

Again, these behaviors will also strengthen your relationship with your parents. Even if they don’t explicitly acknowledge your attempts at integrating their new honey bunny, don’t think it goes unnoticed or unrecognized.

Be Flexible: Finally, it’s important to be flexible both structurally and cognitively. In other words, you have to be flexible with how you celebrate the holidays and how you think about these changes.

If your parent’s new spouse has children or a family, chances are they’ll want to spend time with them too. As a result, your celebrations will have to be modified (as well as theirs). Although it’s very easy to be hurt and upset over these changes, try to go with the flow. I’m not saying be a doormat and be pushed aside come holiday time, but it is important to show that you are willing to make adjustments.

Maybe you alternate dates or years for celebrations. For instance, you get Christmas Day this year, but next year your parent spends that day with his/her spouse’s family. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe you get the whole gang together! Whatever you decide, just know that although it’s hard, the payoff will be worth it and this will soon become the new norm.

Also, it’s important to change how you think about your new family form. It’s completely normal to grieve your former family and to feel hurt and resentful about the changes that are occurring. However, it’s important to eventually let go of those negative feelings and thoughts, not only for your own personal wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of your family.

If you only think of your new family negatively and complain about it, then you’re never going to be happy with your new family form. However, if you start to view this change as an opportunity then you may have a more positive outlook on things. Perhaps you can learn something from your new family member, or maybe this change will make you focus on your relationship with parent(s) in ways you never have before, resulting in a closer parent-child bond.

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Changes to your family in adulthood are difficult. You may feel a great sense of loss for your former family and resentment toward the new family. However, by changing your thoughts and behaviors you can slowly work toward accepting and even enjoying your new family form, which is a great gift that lasts long beyond the holiday season!

Until next time,

Sylvia

Are the holidays giving you a headache? Submit your relationship question to Sylvia Says! 

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q&A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: I’m in my early 40’s and finally met the man of my dreams. Unlike my ex-husband, my fiancé and I see eye-to-eye on just about every issue and for the first time in my life, I truly know what love is. However, there is one huge obstacle in our relationship: his son. His son is adopted and has significant emotional and behavioral issues (both his adoptive and birth mother are no longer in the picture).

It is getting harder and harder to cope with his son’s erratic and outrageous behavior. I find myself making excuses to not hang out with my fiancé and his son, and, unfortunately, losing my patience with both of them. I truly love my fiancé, but am unsure if I’m ready to handle another difficult child (my ex had three children, one of which was bi-polar) who isn’t mine. Should I stick it out or cut my losses now before it becomes even harder to get out?

Hesitant Stepmom

 Dear Hesitant: People often say you don’t just marry the man you marry his family, and this is particularly true when it comes to children. If you don’t feel ready to handle your fiancé’s son, then it’s best to cut your losses now. Don’t continue to string your fiancé and his son along.

However, before you break things off consider the fact that no relationship or child is perfect. Your fiancé and his son are a package deal; to love one is to love them both (as best you can). Although having a child with behavioral and emotional issues is a challenge to your relationship, it can also be a great asset as you and your partner learn to work together as parents and your love and devotion can also be a great support not only to your fiancé, but his son as well.

If your fiancé is truly the love of your life then you owe it to yourself to work on this relationship. I strongly recommend going to couples and family counseling. A trained therapist will provide you all with tools to manage your relationships and tackle your issues together, as a team—as a family.

Dear Sylvia:  I am going to my fiancé’s house for Christmas. This is the first time I’m seeing his mom since we got engaged and I only her twice before. I don’t know what to call my future mother-in-law when I see her. Should I call her “Mrs. Blank,” by her first name, or go out on a limb and call her Mom (although I’m not entirely comfortable with that!). My fiancé is no help on this issue and I’m terrified to screw up at my first “family” holiday!

Flustered Daughter-in-law

 Dear Flustered: In-law relationships are filled with uncertainty and figuring out to call one another is at the top of the list of questions. You could do what I did for months and just start talking to your mother-in-law and hope she knows that you’re talking to her. However, this becomes more complicated when more people start arriving for the family dinner!

There are a couple of ways you can handle this quandary. First, if your fiancé has siblings that are engaged or married, see what the other in-laws do and follow their lead. Second, you can let your mother-in-law set the tone. When you arrive, start formally by saying “Hi, Mrs. So-and-So” and see how she responds. If she says, “Oh, just call me Judy” then first-name basis it is! Or, if she says, “Oh, you can call me mom now” then mom it is, if you’re comfortable with it.

However, if you’re not comfortable with a familial address term, then have a quick chat with her when your alone and come up with an acceptable variation. Although this conversation may feel awkward at first, you’ll both benefit from reducing your uncertainty and being on the same page, which is crucial for starting your relationship off on the right foot!

 ~

Have a relationship questions? Submit it to Sylvia Says!

 

In-Law Relationships: A Holiday Survival Guide

When Irving Berlin wrote Happy Holiday(s) he must not have had a job, financial stress, or in-laws! As we’re all aware, the holidays provide us with a time to reflect on and celebrate our relationships, but they also can be extremely stressful. We stress over finances, hectic work and social schedules, holiday weight gain, and our family relationships.

One of the most contentious relationships come holiday time tends to be ties with our in-laws (and our own parents). We struggle over adapting rituals, being included in traditions, and splitting time between our family-in-law, our family-of-origin, and our nuclear family.

Holidays with in-laws (and parents) are stressful for several reasons. First, loyalties are often implicitly tested during the holiday season. Spending a holiday with the “in-laws” may be seen as a betrayal to the family-of-origin. Second, holidays with extended family members require change. Rituals and traditions, which reflect a family’s identity, often have to be modified to accommodate new family members. Third, deviations to holiday norms may elicit uncertainty, which can be detrimental to in-law and marital relationships.

It’s important to manage in-law issues effectively because research consistently shows a direct link between the climate of in-law relationships and marital satisfaction. In fact, a recent project my colleagues and I worked on demonstrated that children-in-law’s uncertainty and dissatisfaction within the in-law relationship is linked to dissatisfaction within their marital relationship.

Additionally, a recent study which followed married couples for 26 years found that couples were less likely to divorce if husbands had close bonds with their in-laws. Conversely, wives that were close to their in-laws had a 20% greater chance of divorce. This doesn’t mean that wives can get away with keeping their distance, but does suggest that we need to be mindful of how we negotiate our in-law ties.

Collectively, these results demonstrate the importance of managing our in-law relationships. The holidays are a great place to start establishing boundaries, creating new rituals, and fostering the development and maintenance of strong in-law bonds. The tips below may help you ensure that your holiday season is merry and bright!

Stop: When we feel uncertain or that someone, such as our in-laws, is interfering with our goals, rituals, and routines we tend to be more reactive. As a result, we may say and/or do things that we later regret.

If you feel overwhelmed or upset over a holiday issue with your in-laws (or your own parents), stop and take a personal time out. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and gain control of your emotions. Pressing pause will also allow you to reflect on what is really bothering you, rather than lashing out at your spouse, in-laws, or parents.

Once you’ve had a moment to cool down you have some perspective on the issue and will be able to more calmly communicate what upset you and why.

Collaborate: Traditions are one of the best things about the holiday season. However, the moment we say “I do” we are merging our families and our traditions. It’s important to be open-minded and have a collaborative rather than self-centered attitude when it comes to holiday traditions.

Be open-minded to trying new rituals that mean something to your sweetie pie and his/her family. Additionally, you may want to introduce your in-laws to traditions that are important to you and your family. They’ll get to know you better and feel included, which in turn may make them more eager to have you join the family fold.

It’s also important to make sure that your parents are open to including your honey bunch in family traditions (and in-laws, if you so desire). If they’re hesitant, stay firm and let them know that you’re a package deal now. You can’t include one without the other. This may end certain family traditions or force them to modify existing ones, but your loyalty lies with your spouse now and you have to present a united front.

Listen: You may have heard the phrase “read between the lines,” but it’s equally important to “listen between the lines.” If your sweetheart or in-law brings up an issue he/she is having, try to listen to what he/she is really getting at.

What is the real reason your mother-in-law is upset that you’re not coming for Christmas? Is it that she may feel like she’s losing her child or that she just doesn’t want to change? Is your wife’s dismissal of your family’s traditions really just a reflection of her hurt feelings at not being included in them?

When you engage in perspective checking and paraphrasing (e.g., “What I hear you saying is…” or “You seem upset that my family…”) you not only make sure that you’re on the same page as your relational partner, but also show that you genuinely care.

Build: Although it’s nice to be inclusive and try to accommodate all family members, sometimes you have to establish boundaries. If driving to four holiday dinners or spending two-weeks with your in-laws is not your idea of a good time, don’t let your family guilt you in to doing that.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings, explain your perspective, and then offer alternative options. Perhaps you celebrate the holiday a few days early or a few days late, or make a one-week rather than two-week trip. But provide multiple options and try to reach a compromise.

If you don’t establish boundaries, you’ll never be rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Celebrate: With all the holiday hub-bub it’s important to not lose sight of your own nuclear family. Whether you’re a two-some or a family with children, it’s important to create your own traditions and rituals and take time to celebrate with one another.

Wine: Not whine, but wine, vino, the good stuff! If all else fails pour yourself a glass, or two, or heck just take the whole bottle. Everything is better when you’re sitting by a fire, sipping some wine, and thinking of your happy place!

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The holidays can be stressful, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Following the tips above will help you want to deck the halls and not each other!

I’d love to hear how you handle your in-laws at the holidays! Tell me your thoughts in the comments!!

Until next time,

Sylvia

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months and this is our first holiday together. He wants to spend Thanksgiving with his family, while I want to spend it with mine. This has caused numerous fights and we’re still at an impasse. Should we divide and conquer and reconvene the next day, or present a united front and tackle the holiday together?

First Time Holiday-Sharer

Dear Sharer: Although holidays are supposed to unite us, they, unfortunately, often divide us. I think your plan depends on how you view your relationship with your boyfriend. If you aren’t that committed to one another and don’t have a couple or family identity established, then I’d say split up, enjoy your own families, and hang out on black Friday exchanging war stories.

However, if you feel like you are already a family unit and you see him as “the one” then you need to establish a precedent now. Present a united front and your families will see you as team members rather than individuals on opposing teams. Split time between your families so you each get introduced to one another’s traditions, and demonstrate that you are in this together. Establishing boundaries and rituals now will make future holidays a joy rather than a kill joy!

Dear Sylvia: My wife and I got married in August and decided on a holiday “rotation” schedule. This Thanksgiving is with her family. This is the first time in 32 years I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my parents and siblings. Although I’m excited to spend Thanksgiving with my wife, I’m upset that I won’t be with my family. How do I make the most of the holiday?

Homesick Husband

Dear Homesick: Transitioning to extended family relationships is exciting and terrifying at the same time. By biggest suggestion is “do unto others…” How would you want your wife to behave at a family holiday with your side? Let that be your guide.

Although you may be anxious or unhappy about missing out on your family holiday, think of it as a way to get to know more about your spouse and her family. Ask about traditions, join in on the rituals, and bask in the glory that is her in her wheelhouse. Once you figure out where you fit in the holiday hoopla, you’ll be mourning the times when it’s your “off year.” But until then, follow the sage advice I was once given: “keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.”

Dear Sylvia: I’m heading to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving and dread seeing my uncle. He is racist and homophobic. Everything that comes out of his mouth goes against my moral and ethical fiber. I try not to say anything because I don’t want to make a scene, but I feel like not saying anything condones his behavior. How do I stand up for my beliefs without causing a family feud?

Had it up to Here

Dear Had It: Leave it to a wonderful Aunt or Uncle to ruin the holiday with their “insert here”-phobic comments. Although some people may say to let it go because they come from a “different time,” I disagree. I’m not saying be a stick in the mud and ruin everyone’s holiday, but you can tactfully stand up for what you believe in.

When Uncle Ignorant says his racist/sexist/homophobic joke let him know how much you love him, but not the hurtful things he says. You can simply tell him “Uncle Ignorant, although I’m so grateful for you as a person, I’m not grateful for your comments. Although I know you would never mean to hurt my feelings intentionally, I find your comments extremely insensitive and offensive and would appreciate it if you didn’t say things like that in front of me.”

For years, he’s probably gotten away with this behavior. Directly addressing his ignorance should be enough to shame him in to submission. If all else fails, tune in to the football game or become friends with a nice bottle of wine; both should distract you from his off-base commentary!

Problematic Relationships?: Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

Whether we like it or not, we all have at least one person in our lives that we kind of can’t stand, yet can’t get rid of. I’ll call this person our PO (problematic other). Maybe it’s a friend we’ve known since childhood, a co-worker we’re on a team with, or a family member that just rubs us the wrong way. Regardless of how we’re connected, this person often makes us question our relationship with him/her time and time again due to their self-centered, stubborn, demanding, outrageous, or ________ (insert your irritation here) antics.

Although it’s easy to say ditch the zero and get with a hero, this isn’t always possible. We often find ourselves glued to certain relationships and people. Family relationships, for instance, are involuntary. In other words, we don’t pick our family and it’s a lot harder to completely cut of ties with kin. Yes, we can become estranged from family members but we will still likely be connected in some way (even if it’s just through shared genes).

Conversely, friendships are what we consider to be voluntary relationships. We pick who we want to be friends with and these relationships are, in theory, easier to leave. However, we sometimes become “stuck” in a friendship for a variety of reasons, such as an interwoven social circle or a long history together.

Other times, our PO has a few redeeming qualities (e.g., fun, spontaneous) or when he or she is on “good” behavior things with the relationship are great. Thus, it’s not always easy or even desirable to cut ties with our PO.

Because we more than likely will have to deal with difficult people (by choice or default) at some point in our lives, and because it’s nearly impossible to change someone, it’s important to know how to change how you respond to your PO.

So, what can you do when enough is enough?! Below are a few strategies from the most indirect to direct. Use one, use none, or use them all as you see fit!

It’s a Matter of Perception: The most indirect thing you can do to deal with your PO is to change how you think about him/her and/or the relationship.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when what we believe and how we behave are at odds. For example, you may value loyalty and compassion in a friend, but find yourself being BFFs with a narcissist. As a result, you feel uncomfortable and are unhappy with the situation.

Since you may not be able to change the behavior of your PO, it’s best to change your perception. A good way to do this is to reframe how you think about the problematic relationship.

If you were expecting a self-centered, disco queen to be a concerned and self-less best-friend, you’re in for a letdown. But, if you reframe the relationship from “close friendship” to “casual/party friendship” then you will reduce your cognitive dissonance and potentially become more satisfied with your relationship because your beliefs and behaviors align.

Additionally, reframing the relationship will let you see and except your friend/partner “as is” rather than holding out hope for something more.

Put Your Foot Down (in the nicest way possible, of course):  One common theme I see when people are dealing with POs is that they often feel they’re being taken advantage of or acting as a doormat. The easiest way to remedy this is to “Just Say No” (to your PO and drugs, too!).

Now for some people this is going to be the most difficult thing to do. Saying “no” implies that you’re not being cooperative, that you are instigating a conflict, or that you may anger the beast that dwells deep within your PO. Yes, it’s scary. But, it’s the only way your will establish boundaries, which will help set the tone for your relationship.

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting you to shout, “No means no!” Instead, you want to casually assert yourself. You may also suggest an alternative to help soften the blow.

For example, if your friend asks to borrow your favorite sweater that your beloved grandmother gave you, tell her “You know what, that was a gift from my grandmother and it’s just too sentimental to loan out. But, I’d be happy to go shopping with you to find a similar one.”

See you got your point across and still come across as delightful! Your PO may only take advantage of you because you make it easy for them. Your “no” will be a speed bump that will make him or her slow down and think twice about steamrolling you.

Speak Up: It’s important to let your PO know what you’re feeling. There is a chance that he/she may be unaware of his or her behavior. Bringing your concerns to your POs attention will allow you to start a dialogue about your relationship. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind when speaking your mind.

First, nobody likes hearing negative things about themselves (Lords know I don’t, just ask my husband!). Giving criticism threatens people’s identity and, as a result, people tend to get very reactive and defensive.

To help counter this, you may wish to start by highlighting something you like about the person, before the inevitable BUT: “I really have a lot of fun with you, but…”

Second, focus on your PO’s behavior not them as a person. When you do introduce that but, makes sure you address a specific behavior, don’t make a general character attack.

Instead of “You’re so self-centered, you always just talk about yourself!”

Try “I’ve noticed that a lot of our conversations seem to focus on what’s going on in your life and I never really get to talk about what’s happening with me.”

Also, don’t forget those handy X-Y-Z statements, which can reduce your PO’s defensiveness.

Third, highlight the costs of the negative behavior and the benefits of changing it. Let your PO know that his/her behavior makes you unhappy or is making you question your relationship. Then emphasize the benefits of changing, such as a stronger relationship.

Finally, make this a dialogue not a monologue. Ask your PO how she/he feels about what you’re saying. Encourage him/her to share his/her thoughts and feelings about the topic and together, brainstorm strategies to remedy the problem.

Reevaluate Your Relationship: If the above strategies don’t work then it really is time to reevaluate your relationship. Research suggests that people prefer to have equitable relationships. In other words, you and your partner are receiving equal outputs. If you’re constantly doing favors for your friend, asking her about her life, and she barely returns the favor, then you’re being under-benefited, which can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, and even resentment. Not a good recipe for a successful relationship.

If you feel that you are under-benefited and you’ve tried the strategies outlined above, then it may be time to cut your losses and end the friendship. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but getting out of a bad and inequitable relationship, be it a platonic, romantic, or familial tie, is far better for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing than staying in a dysfunctional relationship.

~

POs are just like BO, they stink! And can really ruin an otherwise pleasurable experience (I’m talking to you guy I stood behind while voting! I digress…). But, with a little work and a lot of communication your PO can go from zero to hero.

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q&A

Dear Sylvia: My daughter- and son-in-law are a financial mess. They are in their mid-twenties, college educated, and gainfully employed; yet they live paycheck to paycheck, have immense credit card debt, and when they do come into some money they spend it on frivolous purchases rather than paying their bills. They recently asked me and my husband to co-sign on a car loan. Given their history of poor fiscal responsibility, my husband and I don’t feel comfortable with this request. How do we let them know we won’t be co-signing without damaging our relationship?

Perplexed Parents

Dear Perplexed: I applaud you and your husband for sticking to your guns and refusing to support your daughter- and son-in-law’s reckless financial behavior. Co-signing a car loan not only condones their hot mess of a financial situation, but could also negatively impact your credit score.

I think it’s important that you are upfront with them about your decision and the reasons why. Don’t hem and haw or pussyfoot around the topic. Explicitly outline what concerns you have about their financial situation. Also, explain to them how co-signing has consequences for your own financial standing, especially if they fall behind or fail to make payments (given their history, it’s a highly likely possibility).

Although you may be unwilling (rightfully so) to co-sign, you should be willing to help them get on track financially. Do not pay their bills or give them hand-outs, instead work with them either on your own or with a financial planner to set realistic financial goals and make a plan to achieve them.  They may be ticked now, but they’ll be grateful when they’re financially secure and don’t even need to ask for a co-signer!

Dear Sylvia: I am at my wit’s end with my close friend. Since we’ve been friends, it’s been a very one-sided friendship. She always has to be the center of attention and get her way.  This past year, for instance, everyone in our social circle turned 30. My friend threw herself an over-the- top, destination party, insisted that we all attend (although it cost an arm and a leg), and she made us wear themed- attire throughout the vacation. However, as the remainder of us celebrated our birthdays she made excuses for not attending parties, and when she did show up it was all about her. I know I can’t change her behavior, but I’d like to change how I respond to her. How can I stop being a doormat and start standing up for myself?

Backbone Needed

Dear Backbone: I admire that you recognize that you can’t change your friend, only the way you react to her. However, I question why you even want to remain friends with her? From the sound of it, she doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. In this case, it may be better to cut your losses and move on. Life is far too short and your time is too precious to waste it on a toxic relationship.

However, since you do seem to want to remain friends with your pal, there are several things you can do to attempt to right the ship. But, because there are too many tips to suggest here, I’ll dedicate next week’s column to having difficult discussions with friends and loved ones. Check back next Wednesday to learn how to stop being a doormat and start standing your ground!

Dear Sylvia: My good friend and I have opposing politic views. Usually, it’s not a problem, but he has been very vocal about his opinions this campaign season. I fundamentally cannot support his candidate and am shocked and disappointed that he supports his candidate’s beliefs and policies. I’m finding it difficult to remain friends with someone whose views are in such opposition to mine. Should I give our friendship four more years or vote him out now?

Undecided Friend

Dear Undecided: Although having different viewpoints can spur friendly debates and open our eyes to different viewpoints, it can be difficult when beliefs clash on a moral and/or ethical level. However, since you seem to have been friends with this person for some time and this never has been an issue before, I’d have an open discussion before you decide to impeach him. You may find that your beliefs aren’t really too different, or you may learn why your friend holds a particular opinion. However, if you find that you and your friend’s beliefs clash too deeply for your liking, you may need to renegotiate your friendship. But, if James Carville and Mary Matalin can make a marriage last for almost 20 years, I think you and your friend can reach across the aisle and make your friendship work.

 ~

 Have a relationship quandary? Submit it to Sylvia Says!

Center of the Universe Syndrome: Treating the Narcissist in Your Life

After my parent’s divorce at the age of seven, I went on a bit of a lying spree. I made up lies about any and everything and told them to anyone who would listen. At day camp that summer, I told one counselor that I was the “star” of my Catholic school’s basketball team (Mind you, I can barely dribble a basketball!). During the drive back from a field trip, I rambled on for over an hour about how: “I was the best player,” “everyone wanted to be like me,” “there was no one who compared to me,” and…well, you get the picture. When I finally shut my mouth for more than 10 seconds my camp counselor said, matter of fact, “You know, compliments mean more when they come from someone other than yourself.” Ohhhh, SNAP!

I’ve always remembered that piece of advice/chiding and almost twenty-five years later I typically keep my accomplishments to myself (aside from telling a few close friends and family) and don’t feel the need to toot my own horn. Unfortunately, a lot of other people did not receive this sage advice and are suffering from a serve case of narcissism; or as I like to call it center of the universe syndrome. Unfortunately, social media (e.g., Facebook  twitter) seems to reinforce these tendencies and gives the narcissist’s of the world their own center stage.

After having to hide yet another person on my Facebook news feed due to their nauseating self-promotion, I began to wonder about narcissism, social media, and relationships. Was I just green with envy and that’s why I loathed self-aggrandizing posts and status updates? Was I too reserved and doing myself a disservice by not touting my accolades? Or, was there something fundamentally different about me and my self-promoting counterparts? (And don’t worry, the irony of talking about narcissism on my blog, which I promote through social media, is not lost on me; but, as you’ll see, it’s a vastly different enterprise!)

A few hours of research later, I uncovered information that demystifies these seemingly out of touch with reality individuals and suggestions for helping the non-narcissists and narcissists of the world co-exist, peacefully and humbly.

“I Want to Talk About Me, I Want Talk to About I…”: A Narcissist’s Reality

We commonly think of narcissistic individuals as self-centered. Not only are narcissists self-absorbed, they also demonstrate “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and an exaggerated sense of self,” along with “a pervasive sense of uniqueness and entitlement.” In other words, they think they’re great and expect everyone to not only think the same way, but fawn all over their greatness as well.

Although outsiders tend to think of narcissists as extremely confident individuals brimming with self-esteem, the exact opposite tends to be true. Research suggests that narcissists tend to have lower self-esteem and their self-aggrandizing behavior is one way to get their self-esteem “fix,” albeit temporarily. Social media outlets now allow narcissists to readily stroke their own ego by promoting themselves in a very public way to receive the positive affirmation they so need. Several studies have shown that individuals who are categorized as being narcissistic as well as having low self-esteem tend to check Facebook more frequent throughout the day, post more frequently to Facebook, as well as post more self-promotional content (e.g., status update and photos) than individuals not categorized as narcissistic and with higher self-esteem.

Now, I’m not talking about people who share good news with family and friends, or occasionally boast about their own accomplishments, like completing their first marathon or getting a new job, either in person or on Facebook. Sharing is good. It’s important to share good news within close relationship. In addition, Facebook can be a great way to share good news with people near and far.  Instead, I’m talking about people who have an over-inflated self-concept (e.g., “I’m the best at FILL IN THE BLANK”), think everything they do is the most wonderful thing on the planet, and expect others to be in awe on their awesomeness.

Your Relationship’s Worst Enemy: Your Narcissistic Partner

Unfortunately, narcissism has more detrimental consequences than mere annoyance. As you may know from experience, narcissists make lousy friends and lovers. Although narcissists make new friends easily and have numerous superficial relationships, they’re less successful at maintaining meaningful relationships. In fact, narcissists tend to have minimal interest in developing emotionally close and committed interpersonal relationships. Instead, narcissists often see relationships as a new audience for self-promotion and, not surprisingly, aren’t too interested in what is going on with their partner. Narcissistic partners prefer relationships with people who make them feel superior or will help them climb the social ladder. Additionally, if a relational partner doesn’t stroke the narcissist’s ego, the narcissist has no problem dropping that person like a hot-potato.

In other words, self-centeredness does not a good relationship make.

Tips for Dealing with Someone with Center of the Universe Syndrome

Despite comedic portrayals of narcissists in the media, dealing with a self-absorbed monster in real-life is no laughing matter. Although a lot of people simply cut the big-headed beast loose, others stick it out either voluntarily (despite their faults, there is still something they love about him/her), or involuntarily (the person is a family member or a co-worker).

So, here are a few tips (from the most indirect to direct strategy) you can employ to make your relationship with your narcissist more manageable and, hopefully, more satisfying:

Grin and Bear It: The easiest way to deal with a narcissist (and by easiest, I mean least likely to set the narcissist off) is to grin and bear it. This strategy obviously doesn’t cure center of the universe syndrome, but it may allow you to interact with the person without making the problem worse or yourself crazy.

Unfortunately, there isn’t “hide” button for face-to-face interactions, so when you’re in person, listen to the narcissist’s egotistical rant and smile and nod, while engaging in some meditative breathing. (Seriously, they probably won’t notice you tuned out and you’ll be thankful you’re in your happy place!)

Online, it’s a lot easier. You can hide the narcissist’s status updates or twitter posts. This way you can be blissfully ignorant to their daily musings about how wonderful he/she is. Saving yourself frustration and your relationship even more damage.

Although this strategy is least likely to threaten your relationship, it is the most likely to increase your frustration and resentment. So, you may want to try a more direct, but still subtle approach.

Tone Down, and Ramp Up: Yes, this sounds like a new exercise craze (“Tone Down, Ramp Up” TM), and no, it won’t help you shed any excess weight (although, I think you’re beautiful as is!). But, it may help you save your relationship with your little narcissistic friend.

Tone Down refers to trying to subtly put out your narcissist’s over exuberant fire. Instead of even smiling or nodding in agreement when your narcissist goes on a self-enhancing bender, simply say and do nothing. No verbal reactions, no nonverbal reactions. Now, some narcissists won’t even notice your reaction, but others may.

Now, when you combine this with Ramp Up, you start moving the spotlight off your narcissist and let it shine on you a little bit too. When your narcissist talks about how amazing he/she is at FILL IN THE BLANK, don’t be shy to mention something about yourself. It doesn’t have to be as boastful (don’t get caught up in the passive-aggressive, one-upper trap!), but just enough to let your narcissist know that you’re a competent and admired human as well.

As research suggests, your narcissist may react poorly to this shift and decide he or she would prefer a new, more amenable audience. Or, it could help your problem a bit.  I’m not saying it will eradicate your narcissist’s behavior entirely (this trait is deeply rooted), but it may shift your relational culture, or at the very least, make interactions a bit more tolerable.

Bite the Bullet and Speak Up: In healthy relationships, when partners give one another criticism (in a constructive and positive manner, of course!) it rarely derails the relationship. However, the narcissist is a fragile creature that likes to be adored and admired, not critiqued. So, you should seriously consider the potential aftermath before you decide to explicitly say something. But, if you think that the rewards outweigh the costs then by all means speak up!

No one likes being criticized by their partner, even if your partner has your best interest at heart, and a narcissist will like it even less. Focusing on these strategies might help soften the blow and get real results:

Start with a positive: Don’t dig in right away, start with something you like about the person, and then address your issue. For example, instead of “All you do is talk about yourself! It’s annoying,” try “I love how excited you are to share your accomplishments with me, however, I sometimes feel that we only talk about you…”

Focus on behavior: Although being a narcissist is a trait and not simply a behavior, when you focus on the person he/she will become defensive. However, if you can separate the behavior from the person, he/she may be more open to listening to what you have to say.

Instead of “You’re so narcissistic!” try “Sometimes I notice that you tend to talk about yourself a lot and never really ask about me.”

Also, try to combine this with John Gottman’s famed X-Y-Z statement—“When you do X, in situation Y, it makes me feel Z”—for the most impact. For example, “When you only talk about yourself (X), when we hang out/talk (Y), it makes me feel like you don’t care about me or our relationship (Z).” This statement will help minimize defensiveness and anger, by having you accept responsibility for your feelings (rather than placing blame on your partner) and focuses on specific behaviors in specific situations.

Outline the costs and benefits: Let your narcissist know that there are costs to his/her behavior and benefits to changing it. Perhaps let him/her know that his/her behavior makes you hesitant to pursue/maintain the relationship, or that you avoid talking to him/her because of this behavior. Then let him/her know that changing the behavior will help you have a stronger, more intimate relationship.

Offer help: It’s not enough to say “You suck, now fix it.” Instead, come up with solutions to help your narcissist. Maybe you come up with a signal to use when he/she is getting too self-centered. Or, perhaps you help your narcissist find a therapist who can help him/her work through the issues that have led to this behavior, and provide him/her with concrete skills to change his/her behavior.

~

Treating center of the universe syndrome is a difficult and intimidating. However, I fully believe that if the thought of addressing this issue makes your palms sweaty, then it’s probably the right conversation to have. Doing the right thing is usually the hardest thing; but the hardest endeavors have the sweetest rewards.

Until next time,

Sylvia

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: A few weeks ago my wife’s best-friend passed away. They had been friends since high school and were like sisters. Since her passing, my wife has fallen into a deep depression. Nothing I do or say seems to help. How can I help her cope with this loss?

Clueless Spouse

Dear Clueless: First, let me commend you for recognizing the profound loss your wife is experiencing. Too often, people overlook the loss of a friend, but for many losing a friend is the equivalent to losing a family member.

It has only been a few weeks since her passing and your wife may just be beginning to feel the reality and permanence of her loss. The best thing you can do is be there for her. Do not try to “fix” the problem, simply help her cope however she needs to. For many women, feeling heard and perceiving that their partner is there to support them is very meaningful. Additionally, given that losing a friend isn’t often recognized as the profound event it is in larger society, your wife will be grateful that you understand the gravity of her loss.

To show her she has your full support, explicitly ask her how she is feeling about losing her friend and then listen to her response. When she talks, validate and legitimize her feelings by saying things like “I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you,” or “You were friends for a long time and it must hurt not having her here.” Also, don’t underestimate the power of a hug. If she just needs to cry, be a shoulder to lean on. Although it seems almost second nature, don’t say things like “It’s going to be okay” or “You have other friends.” Simply be there. Finally, encourage your wife to share stories about her best-friend and their friendship, this will allow her to celebrate her memory and stay connected to her friend.

However, if your wife does not show any signs of improvement in a few months, I would suggest speaking with a grief counselor who can provide her with the tools to navigate this difficult transition.

Dear Sylvia: Recently, I attended by sister-in-law’s baby shower. I traveled a few hundred miles to be there and I put a lot of thought, effort, and money into the gift I selected. A few weeks later a thank-you card arrived in the mail. When I opened it, it was a maternity picture of her with a generic, pre-printed thank you message. No personal message or mention of my travels or gift.  I was stunned and hurt. Should I say something to my sister-in-law or just chalk it up to “baby brain”?

Disgruntled Gift Giver

Dear Disgruntled: You’re preaching to the choir. I also hate these types of thank you cards, but I guess you can be grateful that you even received a thank you card and in a timely fashion, I might add. However, when people take time out of their schedule to attend an event or give a gift, I think the guest of honor can be bothered to write a few sentences of gratitude, “baby brain” or not.

Although you may be hurt, I wouldn’t rain on your sister-in-law’s parade. Instead, set an example by sending thoughtful notes when you’re on the receiving end. If that doesn’t get the message across, then follow her lead on the next gift giving occasion. A card with just a signature and a generic gift card would probably do the trick.

Dear Sylvia: I recently moved across the country for a job. My significant other stayed behind, for now, because she couldn’t find a job out here. Although we’ve only been apart for a few months, our relationship is starting to feel strained. What can we do to make sure that distance makes the heart grow fonder?

Long-distance Lover

Dear Lover: Ah, the long distance relationship—a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a physical separation affords you autonomy and the ability to pursue individual interests, which can enhance your relationship. On the other hand, the distance makes maintaining closeness and intimacy more difficult.  Thanks to new media technologies, such as Skype and text messaging, it’s easier to stay connected even when you are miles apart.

When you’re apart you miss out on the mundane things in one another’s lives, so it’s important to keep each other updated about those things. Send a quick text when something funny happens in a meeting, or send her a picture of the new lunch spot you think she’d love. Also, don’t forget to let her know you’re thinking of her throughout the day. A quick, email letting her know you’re thinking of her is sure to put a smile on her face.

Staying in contact during the day also puts less pressure on you to have a long, in-depth conversation every night. However, when you do chat, even if it’s just for a few minutes, try to use Skype or FaceTime. Seeing each other will not only help you feel connected, but will eliminate miscommunication by allowing you to see one another’s nonverbals.

Maintaining your long-distance relationship by paying attention to the little things will help you stay connected and allow you to pick up right where you left off once you’re reunited.

Have a relationship question? Submit it to “Sylvia Says.” All submissions are anonymous and any potentially identifying information is altered. 

The Mis(sed) Carriage

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I was never aware of this day until my husband and I, unfortunately, became members of this club. I write about this today not to gain sympathy, but to bring awareness to this very real and painful experience that many people overlook and even ignore. In our culture, grief and negative emotions are avoided. Since my own loss I’ve learned that miscarriage tends to be a four-letter word; people do not like to hear or talk about others’ miscarriages.

Although I recognize that people may avoid this topic because it’s uncomfortable, imagine losing your child, your hopes and dreams, and having no one to turn to or talk to—that’s uncomfortable. Today, I write for all the mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, and siblings who have suffered this unimaginable heartbreak. This is not only to honor them and their angel babies, but help their social networks learn how they can help them cope with this unbearable heartache.

My Story…

On June 3, 2012 two lines appeared on my home pregnancy test: I was pregnant, again. Given our previous ectopic pregnancy, we were tentative in our excitement even when blood tests indicated things were moving in the right direction. Two weeks later an ultrasound showed a little ball firmly implanted in my uterus, heartbeat and all. At that point, the doctor said my chance of miscarriage was reduced to around 10%. We started to feel some joy.

Even during week 10, when a spotting scare sent us to the emergency room, two ultrasounds showed our little monkey moving and shaking, complete with limbs, nose, and jaw bone. When we heard the heartbeat via Doppler at 12 weeks, we felt reassured—this was going to work, we were going to have our baby.

According to statistics, once you hear the heartbeat through a Doppler your chance of miscarrying is down to 1%. One-percent! Only one person out of 100 goes on to miscarry at that point; surely, we were in the clear. Sadly, one week later, on August 6, 2012, we discovered we were 1 in 100. The odds were never in our favor and we lost our baby. We lost our child, our dreams for the future, our ticket to join the parent club. We were, once again, outsiders looking in.

Because my body didn’t show any signs of miscarrying on its own and I was 12 ½ weeks along, the doctor recommended a D&C. The next afternoon with heavy hearts we made our way to the hospital. Of course, on our way in we saw a family exiting with Baby Girl balloons; oh, irony. During all the hubbub of pre-op, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists fluttered about cheerfully, asking us what brought us to the area, and making polite small talk. I tried my best to play along. Finally, right before I was wheeled off to the operating room, the nurse who was assisting with the procedure kindly whispered to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and that is when I lost it. My thin eyelids, swollen from crying through the night before, couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.

I was only supposed to be under twilight, but eventually they had to put me fully under because I was moving too much. They never said why, but given the doctors tenderness afterwards, I’m guessing my sobs, even while unconscious, got in the way of the procedure. Grief that profound cannot be contained.

In the days and weeks that followed, I learned a lot about not only myself, but others as well. The day we found out about our loss, my first phone call was to my best-friend. I texted her first to prepare her and when I called I tried to ask her how she was doing, but she didn’t let me get away that easily. Instead, she did exactly what I needed her to do, she cried with me and let me sit silently, choking on my own tears. I have never been more grateful for that kind of love and friendship.

Friends sent flowers, cookies, and books that helped them with their losses. Others who came to visit brought us delicious goodies, made us laugh with their goofiness, and distracted us with crazy shenanigans. These friends also let us steer any conversation to our loss, if needed, and when we did, which was often, they simply listened.

Others, however, seemed too uncomfortable with the situation to make a real effort. Although that hurt, we also understood that most people simply do not know what to do or say, so instead of doing the wrong thing they do nothing at all. And instead of telling people what we needed, we waited for people to reach out and silently suffered.

Today, I share my story to shed more light on this taboo topic.  Unlike the loss of a parent or spouse, the loss of a pregnancy does not come with scripts for how to cope. Thus, many of us (the bereaved would-be parents) and family and friends don’t know what to do or say. Below, I offer a few tips to help all of those who suffered a loss and those whose loved ones have suffered a loss, traverse this incredibly uncertain time as best as possible.

Healing After a Loss…

Grieve: You didn’t lose a shoe or your watch, you lost a child, you lost a life. Give yourself time to grieve, time to be sad, time to be angry, time to be numb, time to just be. Even though you may never have met your baby or only knew him or her for a few short hours doesn’t mean you are not entitled to fully grieve the loss of your child.

Be kind to yourself in the days and weeks that follow and do what feels good to you. If lounging around the house feeling blue is what you need, do it. If getting out of town and going on a trip will help, book it.

Also, don’t push yourself to do things that may be emotionally painful. If going to a baby shower or hanging out with a group of friends with children will just hurt too much, pass on the invitation. Your friends will understand that you need to heal.

Talk (if and when you want): Unfortunately, miscarriage is a taboo topic and many people never talk about it. One reason is that some people may feel that a loss is private and may only share their experience with their spouse and a few select friends/family. If other people ask you about your loss and you don’t want to discuss it, feel free to change the subject or give an indirect response.

Other individuals who experience loss want to talk about it but don’t because they want to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable. If you want to talk about your loss, do it. The more you keep silent on this issue, the more taboo it becomes. Plus, once you open up you may find that others have experienced losses too and they can be a great source of comfort.

Bottom line: Share based on your comfort level, not others.

Celebrate your baby:Just because you don’t have a baby in your arms doesn’t mean you have to forget about the life you lost. Celebrating your baby through stories, rituals, or mementos will you help you cope with your loss and celebrate the memory of your little angel.

Whether you plan something special for your due date, or hold a memorial on the day of your loss, do what feels right for you. A necklace with your baby’s birthstone, a framed picture of your ultrasound, or a tree planted in your yard are all wonderful ways to  honor, celebrate, and remember your child.

Helping Loved Ones Heal After a Loss

Ask:Nobody likes to talk about dead babies, I get it. But, you have to. You have to ask your friend how they’re doing. Even if your friend doesn’t want to talk, they’ll always remember whether or not you were there for them when they needed you most.

Also, don’t forget about Dads or the non-pregnant partner. Their grief often gets eclipsed by the mothers’ needs. Ask them how they are coping with the loss.

But, don’t ask “why” or “how”: Do not ask them for details about how they found out, what exactly the doctor said, or if they know why this happened. Someone dealing with a loss probably has many of the same questions you do and none of the answers. Asking questions may, unintentionally, imply some sort of blame or may make your friend feel inadequate for not knowing the answer. If your friend wants to share these details they will, so let them share in their own time.

Also, although you mean well, don’t say things like, “it’s God’s plan” (even if you believe that), that it “will happen if they just relax and stop trying”, “at least you know you can get pregnant,” or “hey, you already have a baby.”

None of this helps or takes away the pain of losing a child. If you don’t know what to say then follow the next tip.

Listen: Often, we feel that we must come up with the perfect thing to say to help our friend feel better or to take away their pain. Although that is a wonderful sentiment, nothing you can say or do can fully relieve their heartache.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, don’t say anything. Just be there to listen to your friend talk. Additionally, if you don’t know what to say let them know that you don’t know what to say, but that you’re thinking of them.

Follow-up: Coping with a loss takes some time. Expected milestones, holidays, and due dates will undoubtedly reignite or intensify your friend’s grief. Check-in during the following weeks and months, especially when your friend would have been reaching certain milestones.

~

Experiencing pregnancy loss is never easy. However, taking care of yourself and receiving support from loved ones can make you feel comforted as your heart slowly begins to heal.

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