What To Do When You Want to End Your Relationship

You’ve been struggling with disillusion in your relationship for some time. The thrill is long-gone. So is the joy. The stress is high, the pain is deep. You’re worn out, and you feel like things will never change. You’ve reached the point where you think, Things just can’t go on like this.

So you ask yourself,
Should I leave? Is that the answer? Is this the end of a love that once seemed so right?

My answer? Don’t decide, at least not yet.

Ironically, the times when you feel the most intense uncertainty and pain, when you’re at low ebb and in misery, are not the times to make a major decision.

Instead of reacting to the pain, respond with these three essential actions (or non-actions) from a longtime marital therapist:

1. Slow down, and don't let the knee-jerk reaction rule you.
When you feel the intense urge to react in a moment of pain, it’s important to just be still and rest for a while. If you take it easy and go slow, your needs and desires will have time to register within you, and you will be in a better place to recognize and understand them.

For example, sometimes we think we want to leave a person when what we really want is to escape from the pain in a stuck dynamic in the relationship. If we can comfort and soothe ourselves long enough to regain some sense of calm on our own terms, we can begin to assess if there’s something to salvage from the wreckage of what we’ve built together.

Sometimes we know that, above all, we want out of
the feeling of being stuck or uninspired. And from there, of course it's easy to attribute our misery to the relationship when it may be much more about ourselves. But taking the time to gain clarity and space from volatile emotions will help understand what is really making you unhappy.

2. Educate yourself.
Don’t seek advice (and definitely don’t take advice) from friends and family. Often, the people who love you the most will see only your side of things, which may make you feel good and righteous but won’t shed new light on where you are now in life and what you need to do next.

Find a trustworthy mentor figure — whether it be a therapist, or a coach, minister, priest, or rabbi, instead. Talk to them about the dilemma and decision you’re struggling with. If your partner is willing to join you in a counseling session, you must find a counselor that you BOTH trust. Sometimes
the most impossible relationships can transform into something wonderful, given support and insight from the right source.

Particularly if you are married, or you and your partner have made a serious commitment, seek out a financial adviser, a couples’ counselor, or another trusted third party that can inform you of the legal and financial ramifications of your options: separation, divorce, or even a sabbatical from marriage.

Sometimes we learn more from a knowledgeable person that offers no advice but reflects our words back to us. What we hear may surprise us, as if the words and thoughts were brand-new. For the first time in a long time, we may feel our more vulnerable selves emerge from beneath the defensive scar tissue. That’s when we will begin to see who we are, where we are, and what we need to do next.

3. Move your focus away from avoiding discomfort or being "nice.”
If you do decide that ending the relationship is the right decision acknowledge that you will need to confront discomfort directly. You will ultimately need to go through the breakup in the most courageous way, which is face-to-face, and it won't be comfortable.

Don’t use text or email (or worse, social media!) to give your lover the news, and stay away from Breakup Butler, who gives the message to your partner “nice” and “not so nice.”

Even though the conversation may be awkward and uncomfortable, you will feel a surge in self-respect once you finish what you came to say, because you had the courage and the consideration to meet in person. When you talk, acknowledge what you valued in your relationship, even as you say the connection between you doesn’t work anymore. Take time to be absolutely clear. Don’t give your partner false hope with expressions like, “for the moment I feel,” or “maybe in time it will change.”

give yourself time to grieve but don’t look back. Don’t torment each other with prolonged goodbyes and false, mixed messages. Don’t call, don’t write, and don’t toy with them on social media. Definitely don’t drive by your ex’s house to try and figure out if they’re with someone else. That kind of behavior feeds the drama but will only end in more misery, whatever you discover. If they’re with someone else, you feel bad. If they’re all alone, you feel guilty.

Put the past away and begin to rebuild your life around new people, places, and things. Give yourself a chance to feel like “you again,” as a single person. What you choose should make this breakup easier on you, not more difficult.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

4 Beliefs To Keep In Mind For A Happier, Healthier & More Authentic Life

The great anthropologist and spiritual teacher Angeles Arrien (1940—2014) was known for teaching people to “walk the mystical path with practical feet,” to lead “regular” daily lives while also navigating a spiritual journey.

love cycles linda carroll
As a foundation for this teaching, Arrien designed “The Four-Fold Way,” an educational program made up of four principles that integrate “ancient cultural wisdom into contemporary life.”

I find Arrien's simple formula a code
to live a happier, healthier and more authentic life in many ways. To me, the principles reflect most wisdom traditions in the world. Here is my own take on the four principles, and some tips on how we can integrate them into our lives.

1. Show up with presence.
Deep down, most of us understand what exactly we need to do in our lives to be the best humans we can be. Of course, this knowledge is useful only when we take theory into practice, and follow through with commitment and with action. To show up in our lives, in other words, is every person's spiritual practice.

Showing up is about action, whether we are inspired to or not. It can be about doing your best at getting your kids off to school happily, taking your morning walk, making a healthy meal, writing in your journal each morning, or performing any daily ritual even when you’re feeling bored, uninspired, even defeated.

Many religions set aside specific times for people to focus on a specific spiritual practice. Muslims bow in prayer five times a day. The Balinese Hindus offer baskets filled with flowers and rice to their deities every morning, afternoon and evening, and the Benedictine nuns sing daily Gregorian chants. So establish a schedule for your own practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to make you happy. But it must be one that you will meet, one that’s both realistic and compelling enough to get you to show up and stay grounded.

2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
To become spiritually literate, pay attention to what’s in front of your eyes at each moment. If you dwell on your past (yearning, regretting, and fantasizing about what could’ve been), you automatically diminish the potency of the right now.

love cycles
Here's an example to illustrate this belief, conveniently related to spiritual practice: When Lily's sons were four and seven years old, she went on a spiritual retreat in order to recommit to her meditation practice. When she returned home, she set up an altar in the corner of her bedroom and announced to the boys that she would be spending thirty minutes each day in her room meditating. During that time, they would need to be very quiet.

The day she began, they stood quietly outside her room. But soon after, she could hear the boys: pounding one another, yelling and then bursting into tears. In exasperation she jumped up, opened the door, and screamed at them, “You two better stop it right now. I mean stop it, damn it.”

Her sons’ faces fell at the sight of their enraged mother, and Lily was struck by the absurdity of this scene. Her practice was hurting all three of them. What her true practice should be, she realized, was
to use every event in the day as an opportunity for kindness and patience to emerge. Nowhere was this more important than with her children.

3. Tell the truth, but do so without blame or judgment.
Certainly there is truth in the cliché that “honesty is the best policy.” But truthfulness can also be a weapon. We must learn to tell the truth kindly and carefully, to give everyone involved the best chance of being heard.

The ninth step of the well-known 12-step Program advises us to “make direct amends to people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” If we view honesty in the same way, we can learn to speak without blame, and others will be more inclined to hear the truth in what we say.

To refrain from blame doesn’t mean that we deny the pain or difficulty caused by someone else’s actions. Here’s an example of nonjudgmental honesty: “I asked you not to share what I told you about my health condition with others. The fact that you did has upset me.” Now here’s a similar statement that judges and blames: “You’re a terrible friend with a big mouth who can’t be trusted with anything.”

4. Open yourself up to the outcome.
In other words,
don't attach yourself to particular expectations, especially in high-stakes experiences or situations. Take Jake, for example. Jake is dating a woman that he really likes and wants to impress. He’d like to have a relationship with her. Once he becomes attached to this outcome, however, he will do whatever he can to make it happen: he may monitor what he tells this woman about himself, and try to influence her view of him by not being authentic. His desire for her to like him is fine. His trying to force it into being by misrepresenting himself, however, could lead to disappointment, even disaster.

Sure, most of us do have preferences about what we’d like to see happen in our lives. And that's not only normal, but healthy. So when isn't it healthy? Well, if we let these desires determine how we act, we can become inauthentic and try to manipulate people and situations (even unconsciously) to get what we want.

Arrien reminds us that the outcome of practicing “the Four-Fold Way” is the same outcome of most forms of spiritual seeking. She says, “The heart and the essence of all spiritual seeking is the reclamation of the authentic self.” Who knew that cultivating the simple (but difficult) practice of being your true self is the most spiritual practice there is?

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

What Most People Get Wrong About Happiness

We all want to be happy, right? But most of us probably don't even have a concrete idea in mind about what we really mean when we think about “happiness.”

Linda on Happiness
That's because happiness is largely a concept, and a complicated one at that. It can be especially difficult for most of us to think about happiness in today's age, as we're constantly checking our social media accounts only to find more and more updates about how we're living on a planet full of pain. These instant reality checks have caused me to redefine the term “happiness” itself. I no longer think of happiness as fuzzy-wuzzy. I can no longer associate it with a smiley face and the everyday greeting, “Have a nice day.”

We need to redefine happiness. We need to conceive of happiness more like well-being, a sense of stability that is not contingent on the external, and can exist regardless of whatever turbulent events happen in the world.

Happiness, like all emotions, comes and goes. Still, there are behaviors and attitudes we can adopt to help us remain calm and content, even in difficult times. Our success may even allow us to radiate enough well-being to spread the joy, so we all receive fewer updates on how much reality bites.

Here are five reminders that I like to think of as five facets of happiness. These reminders show us sensibilities we can foster to enhance our quality of life in a sustainable way.

1. Connection is a prerequisite to happiness.
The values of connection are exalted in health articles everywhere: they are emotional, physical, sexual, mental, social and spiritual. Connection strengthens our immune system, lowers our blood pressure and enables us to live longer. The introduction of pets as companions into nursing homes enriches the lives of residents and reduces their calls on doctors and their visits to the emergency room. Couples that make love boost their self-esteem and sleep better, while our friendships expand our sense of pleasure in ways too numerous to capture.

One of these benefits is chemical: our bodies produce more oxytocin, the happy little hormone produced in the brain, which is often called the “love drug.”
Oxytocin reduces stress and improves circulation. In one recent study, people with heart disease or cancer reportedly had a higher survival rate if they were social than if they were isolated. The social people recognized their connection to everything on the planet, whereas isolation was identified as a symptom of distress.

Many things connect people to life besides other humans: animals, dance, nature, music, art and literature. Our senses connect us: the smell of jasmine, the sound of waves, the touch of warm sand. People with well-being feel that connection on a regular basis. They know they are a part of a world that is much greater than they are.

2. Solitude actually feeds our connections.
Paradoxically, solitude enhances connection. We must be happy in our own company to bring our best to others. Being with ourselves (and not just “by ourselves”) restores energy, enhances creativity and reminds us who we are from the inside out. If we take the time and space to silence our inner noise, we can listen to our truest perceptions, deepest dreams and wisdom.

Meditation, contemplation and walks in natural settings are just three ways to hear the sound of our deepest voices.
When we remember we're already complete, we're not as vulnerable to the desire to look to other people to make us whole.

3. Appreciation of the here-and-now is what we are all looking for.
When I hear the expression “It's all good,” something in me rebels and wants to say it's NOT all good. And it's precisely this realization that helps me develop an “attitude of gratitude.” The benefits from an acknowledgment of what's right in our lives (without denying what's difficult), of noticing the simple pleasures, and experiencing consequent joy have been studied for decades, and the results are astonishing.
Happiness and Communication

Research by Robert Emmons, Lisa Aspinwall and others shows that people that practice an attitude of gratitude reap benefits that include better immune systems, healthier diets, and mental alertness, to name a few. The more we appreciate what we have, the more we can actually retrain our brain and thinking process to notice what's right in our world. This appreciation makes us more hopeful, positive and caring to the world around us. Our performance at work increases, our sense of self-worth expands and so do our relationships with others.

4. Generosity is a power.
I was a newly divorced woman who was going to be without her kids at Thanksgiving. I couldn't imagine how to get through the holiday alone. A friend suggested I volunteer at a soup kitchen, which seemed like a perfect solution. I contacted one nearby in Portland, OR and anticipated that I'd be greeted with great appreciation for my service. Instead, I was stunned to find a two-year waiting list to be allowed the privilege of helping to serve the meal: there were
that many other people that wanted to do it.

Generosity includes the first four qualities discussed here: it connects us to others, it stems from some deep recognition of what life means, and it's a thank you to the universe for the richness in our lives. A generous spirit can be used in many ways: to help someone combat depression, to show kindness to a stranger, to clean up the environment, to teach a child to read. By demonstrating generosity, we put ourselves in touch with a world bigger than we are and continue to open our eyes to life's deeper meanings.

The journal BMC Public Health reviewed 40 studies on the effect of volunteering and found that volunteers experienced a decrease in depression, a lower risk of dying early and an increase in their satisfaction with life. Generosity has been found to be the most important factor in a thriving marriage. Yet to be generous is not just a matter of giving time or giving things. To be generous is also a matter of giving of yourself: to give yourself a break when you make mistakes, or to listen to others with an open-heart and mind.

5. Acceptance is the only way to respond to uncertainty.
Each time a journey has ended, another one begins. Life surprises us with a delight and then a challenge. Something we expected doesn't happen. Something unexpected does. The path to well-being, so essential for real, sustainable happiness, is a trek that takes dedication, patience and resilience.

Like a caterpillar's metamorphosis into butterfly, cultivating our personal growth takes time — and lots of work. In our culture of instant gratification, marketing experts sprinkle their advertising campaigns with words like “quick,” “instant,” and “easy.” There is no instant
shortcut to learning the art of acceptance. We're forever standing on new ground. Change is, ironically, the only certain thing there is.

We receive messages from our culture, which point to wealth, material possessions, and eternal youth as the keys to sustain happiness. Yet the research clearly points in a different direction. We have a better chance of sustaining real pleasure by engaging fully in all aspects of our lives, finding our purpose and staying connected to those experiences that feed our deepest needs.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.