Jennifer Downs

10 Hot Tips for Surviving (and Enjoying) Being Single on Valentine’s Day

Pink rose in the shape of a heart to represent Keeping Love Alive relationship workshop

If you are recently divorced, not in a significant love relationship, or have been single for a while, Valentine’s Day may bring up feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and feelings of self-doubt.

If this is your experience, you are certainly not alone. Honoring these feelings and avoiding activities that trigger them is important. The good news is there is another way to look at this day dedicated to love that can give you a whole new perspective.

Here are some tips for enjoying Valentine’s Day as a single person:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others who are coupled up. Just because a couple is out celebrating doesn’t mean they are experiencing the “bliss” of romance on Valentine’s Day. They may be experiencing as much disappointment as you for different reasons.
  1. Catch up on past friendships. Go out with a friend of your choice, commiserate, eat, drink, and do whatever you want.
  1. This year, you get to dress for yourself. Wear your most outrageous or most casual outfit.
  1. Have a party with other singles or look for community gatherings. There are many activities listed in the newspaper and online.
  1. Take a dance lesson or go dancing. It’s a great way to meet others, revive your mind and body, get in touch with your sensuality, and just have fun.
  1. Honor your own feelings in ways others may not have. Let yourself feel however you do and not have to justify them to anyone.
  1. Stay home and watch a great DVD of your choice without having to check to see if someone else likes or has seen it.
  1. Get out of your head and into your heart by volunteering. There is a huge drop off in volunteers, but not of those in need, after the holidays. Soup kitchens and other organizations still need your help.
  1. Devote the time, caring, and money you might otherwise spend on someone else on yourself. Buy yourself gourmet chocolates of your choice, get a massage, take a bubble bath, go for a walk in nature, or go to the coast alone or with a friend, whichever makes you feel good.
  1. Rediscover and spend the day with the hottest, smartest, and most interesting person you know—you!

See Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends for details on my support group.

Attachment Theory

Attachment TheoryI wanted to share this article on Attachment Theory and its significance to adult relationships. It’s important to understand how the relationship you have with your parents as a child affects your ability to be in a healthy relationship later.

“A secure attachment changes the way a baby sees the world because they learn that they’re not alone,” author Sue Johnson says. “Adults are the same. A sense of connection changes one of the most basic elements of the brain, which is how you perceive threat. It changes the world into a safer world.”

Clinical Psychologist Sue Johnson is the author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.

Check out Relationships First for more articles on building healthy relationships.

The Physiology of Belly Breathing

Physiology of Belly Breathing

How Diaphragmatic Breathing Activates Our Relaxation System

Why “belly” breathing calms us down and keeps our brain from being emotionally reactive:

Research has shown that just 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing is all that’s needed to activate and oxygenate the mindful and thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex).

  1. A belly breath causes the lungs to press on the diaphragmatic wall.
  1. The diaphragmatic wall pushes down on the abdominal cavity (like a balloon being squeezed).
  1. The squeezed abdomen spreads outward in the front of the abdomen and the back where it presses on the spine.
  1. This causes the abdominal cavity to put pressure on the longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, which runs all the way downs from the brain stem and the spine.
  1. When pressed on, the vagus nerve quiets down and turns on the body’s relaxation system and regulates the parasympathetic nervous system (in contrast to the instant gratification nerve).

What happens when the vagus nerve gets quieted down:

  1. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration become lower.
  1. Lactate (which increases feelings of anxiety) gets cleansed from the blood.
  1. Alpha brain waves (calm and alert) are increased.
  1. The neurotransmitter serotonin is released, gets into the bloodstream and up to the brain in about 20–30 seconds. About 95 percent of this feel-good neurotransmitter is stored in the stomach lining and intestines (our gut).

No wonder breathing blocks reactivity and unhealthy emotions, helps you feel better, and think more clearly!

Thanks to Donald Altman, author of The Mindfulness Toolbook for these tools.

Everyday Mindfulness and Brain Integration

I think it’s important that my clients understand the physiology of relationships and the significance of an integrated brain in building healthy relationships. Dr. Dan Siegel is at the forefront of the latest neurobiology research on how brain integration shapes relationships and relationships shape the brain. One of the ways you can cultivate a more integrated brain is through mindfulness techniques.

Here are some tools to help foster this symbiotic process:

Dr. Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain

Breath Awareness

See Dr. Siegel’s website for a guided experience through this reflective process.

Breath Discussion

Dr. Siegel also shares an audio clip on the Wheel of Awareness Practice.

Self-Esteem Inventory: How I Feel About Myself

Self-Esteem InventoryHow you feel about yourself impacts your ability to have healthy, happy relationships with your children, partners, family, coworkers, and practically every person in your life. Strong negative self-talk can create internal stress. Take an honest inventory of yourself. People who feel good about themselves can say “yes” to many, not necessarily all, of these. Notice what is already working for you and areas you would like to improve. Making a commitment to yourself to improve can begin the process of your becoming more empowered and more internally relaxed.

  1. I am willing to work hard to improve my self-concept.
  1. I want to improve my self-concept even though I know it will change many aspects of my life.
  1. I like being the person I am.
  1. I feel I am an attractive person.
  1. I like my body.
  1. I feel attractive and sexually desirable.
  1. I feel confident most of the time.
  1. I know and understand myself.
  1. I feel good being a man/woman.
  1. I no longer feel like a failure because my love relationship ended.
  1. I feel capable of building deep and meaningful relationships.
  1. I am the type of person I would like to have as a friend.
  1. I feel what I have to say is important to others.
  1. I feel I have an identity of my own.
  1. I have hope and faith that I can improve my self-concept.
  1. I am confident I can solve the problems facing me.
  1. I am confident I can adjust to this crisis.
  1. I can listen to criticism without becoming angry and defensive.

Negative Patterns That Predict Divorce

I just wanted to share this video by John Gottman on defensiveness and stonewalling in relationships:

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Differently from Couples Who Don’t

Open and Honest Communication

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Differently

  • Talk and connect every day
  • Practice listening with the intent to understand
  • Work at understanding their partner’s world
  • Show respect rather than contempt
  • Assume their partner has a legitimate point of view
  • Ask themselves, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to happy?”

Everyday Demonstration of Caring Behaviors

Find out their partner’s “love language” and which of the following he/she needs to feel loved, then practice doing them.

  • Words of affirmation
  • Spending quality time
  • Doing acts of service
  • Giving physical touch
  • Giving gifts

Ask their partner:

“What is one thing I could do differently that would make the biggest difference to you?”

Tell their partner:

“Something that would make me happy is…”

Moving on After the Loss of a Relationship

Moving on After the Loss of a Relationship“I had no idea how powerful the grief and loss of going through a divorce can be and how debilitating it is to try to put your life back together again after such a profound loss,” says Richard after his recent divorce.

Who am I now? What went wrong? What will my life be like now without my partner? These are commonly felt questions that arise as a result of the confusion and uncertainty of a relationship loss.

Almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and whether you are married or not, the ending of a love relationship can be one of the most stressful and difficult experiences you’ll ever have. Many people enter into marriage or a relationship with the idea that their life will be better as a result. The disappointment of it not turning out this way can feel devastating. It launches us into uncharted territory and deep emotional feelings of despair, loneliness, grief, revenge, hopelessness, and helplessness—to name a few.

Recovering from the end of a relationship is always difficult and takes time. You will, however, move on and can even use this stressful time to gain in compassion, wisdom, and strength.

Suggestions to help you adjust to and cope with your changed circumstances:

Allow Yourself to Grieve. The loss is more than just of the relationship but of shared dreams, companionship, and support: financial, social, and emotional. Grief is a natural human reaction to loss, and it won’t last forever. Allowing yourself to feel grief will help you begin to move on. You should also realize it can take time—from several months to several years.

If You Can Feel It, You Can Heal It. Identify and acknowledge all your feelings and know that they all are okay. It’s normal to have many conflicting emotions and lots of ups and downs. Even though your emotions may be painful, trying to suppress them may actually prolong the grieving process. Give yourself some breaks—you don’t always have to be on task the way you were before and should allow yourself some downtime.

Share Your Feelings with Others. Do not try to go through this experience alone. Let others know how you feel. Surround yourself with people who support and value you. Join a support group such as Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends to get the support and friendship from others in the same situation who really understand.

Learn to Take Care of Yourself. Make time everyday to nurture yourself. Schedule time for healing or soothing activities. Honor your own needs.

Develop a Routine. Divorce can disrupt almost every area of your life. Creating structure can be comforting and provide a sense of normalcy.

Deal with Your Feelings of Being Overwhelmed. This is a time of enhanced stress. There is often an extraordinarily long list of tasks that you need to do during this transition. Make a list, prioritize, and break down what needs to be done, then check things off. Only do what is reasonable and be gentle with yourself.

Chose to Begin to Move Forward

Even though grief can be immobilizing, after a while, you will feel like beginning to move on with your life. This can happen even while continuing to grieve. Know that you can use this painful situation to learn and grow.

Some suggestions for moving forward after the end of a relationship:

Learn from Your Mistakes. Separate what was and wasn’t your responsibility in the problems of the relationship. Be honest with yourself without beating yourself up. Begin to look at the part the choices you made played and then how you can avoid repeating the same mistakes and make better choices in the future. This is a helpful time to consider therapy or finding someone who can be an objective support for you.

Connect with Others. When you’re ready, begin to explore new interests and activities. Most importantly, cultivate new friendships of supportive people with whom you can talk and spend time and try new things. Keep your relationships on a friendship, not romantic, basis.

Clean out Reminders of Your Former Life. Put old pictures away and begin to handle the tasks your spouse used to do. Limit your contact with your spouse. As you do, you will find yourself becoming more independent and self-sufficient.

As you allow yourself day by day to have the freedom to grieve, learn from your mistakes, and begin to explore new parts of yourself, you will discover that you can move on. You’ll see that you are stronger than you previously thought and new hopes and dreams begin to take the place of those you lost.

Support Program: Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends

Jennifer Downs, a licensed professional counselor, facilitates a transformational program that can help you adjust to the end of a love relationship.

Call 541-488-4872 or contact me for more information.

Normal Grief Symptoms

When you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you may experience:

Normal Grief Symptoms

  • Tightness in throat or heaviness in chest.
  • Loss of appetite and empty feeling in stomach.
  • Restlessness or difficulty concentrating.
  • Wandering aimlessly.
  • Forgetfulness, inability to finish things.
  • A need to take care of others’ discomfort by not talking about feelings of loss.
  • Mood changes over slightest things.
  • Crying at unexpected times.
  • Feelings like loss didn’t really happen, that it is surreal.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Dreams of loved one.
  • Assuming mannerisms of loved one.
  • The need to tell and retell your experience of loved one’s death and things about that person.
  • Feelings of anger at loved one for leaving or at others.

Helpful Ways to Support Those Who Are Grieving

Statements that show you care:

Helpful Ways to Support Those Who Are Grieving

  • I’m sorry for your loss.
  • Is there any specific way I can help right now?
  • I can’t even imagine how much you are hurting.
  • Can I call you and check in with you every so often?
  • I promise you I won’t go away.
  • Would you like to talk about it? I want to hear your story.
  • It’s OK with me if you cry.

It is normal to feel awkward around pain or suffering. Here are some ways to show support:

  • Be there in silence and let them have their feelings. Sometimes just sitting with someone without having to say anything is the greatest gift you can give them.
  • Don’t stop making contact over the months (unless asked to). They will appreciate your care even if they can’t take you up on it yet. Sometimes it takes weeks or months before a grieving person is able to reach out for help. They may need your calls more after the first couple of months.
  • Realize that although they may seem to be doing well, they have a lot of grief to work though.
  • Remember them during their “down times,” especially evenings and weekends. Suggest a specific date to get together.
  • Feel free to use the name of the loved one who died. Encourage them to talk about it when they are ready.
  • Bring food or invite them to dinner. Remember it may be hard for them to cook.
  • Go for walks together. Walking is good for depression, and it helps to “walk off” feelings.
  • A hug or a hand squeeze can mean more than a few well-meaning words.
  • Let them know you value them by spending time together just being.

Positive Parenting Messages

Father and Child

As a child, we learn what others think of us by the things they say and do. We interpret these messages to mean something and apply these meanings to ourselves. They then become a part of our self-concept.

Positive Mother Messages

  • I want you.
  • I love you.
  • I’ll take care of you.
  • You can trust me.
  • It’s not what you do but who you are that I love.
  • You are special to me.
  • I love you, and I give you permission to be different from me.
  • Sometimes I tell you “no,” and that’s because I love you.
  • You can trust your inner voice.
  • You don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Positive Father Messages

  • I love you.
  • I have confidence in you.
  • I will set limits and enforce them.
  • If you fall down, I will pick you up.
  • You are special to me. I am proud of you.
  • (For girls) You are beautiful, and I give you permission to be a sexual being.
  • (For boys) I give you permission to be the same as I am, to be more than I am, and to be less than I am.

Relationship Inventory

Take Time to Talk Intimately with Your Partner

Relationship Satisfaction Inventory

Happy CoupleFill out this inventory and give it to your partner to do the same. Then set aside some time to compare and talk about how each of you has rated each category. Look for the strengths in your relationship as well as identify the areas that could be enhanced, to make this the kind of relationship you would like it to be. Set a goal together to make this happen.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very unsatisfied and 10 being very satisfied, rate each of the following:

  • Communication skills
  • Creative use of conflict/crisis
  • Common goals and values … what are they?
  • Agreement on gender roles
  • Cooperation and teamwork
  • Sexual fulfillment
  • Money management
  • Commitment to growth, yours and the relationship
  • Giving and receiving appreciation and affection
  • Time together
  • Family matters … parents, in-laws, children
  • Decision making skills