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We are now weeks into Coronavirus social distancing. That’s just long enough for everybody to get some extra shuteye and accomplish some things around the house. And it’s long enough for everyone to admit they’re 100 percent ready for this to be over.

Even the couples and families who usually get along just fine are reaching their tolerance limit. Because let’s face it: being around each other 24/7 is hard.

A lot of positives can come from having what feels like someone ripping the rug from underneath us. Yet at the same time, we’re going to have to be on our guard for how social distancing has the potential to negatively impact our relationships in at least five ways:

If youre an introvert who married an extrovert.

You, the introvert, are probably livin’ the dream. You may think you just died and went to heaven, being forced to hole up in your house until further notice. Meanwhile, your extroverted spouse feels like they’ve been sentenced to the ultimate punishment—not being around others (which is what energizes them). That face-to-face human interaction is their lifeline. We all know that opposites attract, but this may be a moment when you aren’t feelin’ the love quite so much.   

The amount of time everybody now has on their hands as a result of social distancing could also negatively impact the relationships in your home.

Some children and adults who usually have a packed schedule are suddenly trying to figure out what to do with themselves. This right here will test the best of families when it comes to patience, adaptability and willingness to take it one day at a time.

Expectations of how things will go in the coming weeks is a thing, for real.

If spouses aren’t on the same page about social distancing, finances, family schedules, help with household chores and such, it can create a lot of angst—not only between the two of you, but in your family relationships as a whole. 

No matter how much space you have in your home, so much togetherness can make it feel claustrophobic.

Differences become magnified, too. What seemed like “not a big deal” before manages to get on your last nerve. 

Spending so much time and energy on the relationships in your home that you don’t have time to connect with relationships outside your home.

Unfortunately, this can make you resent the people in your home. 

So how can you counter these potential toxins in your relationships caused by social distancing?

Ask Some Questions

A great place to start might be to ask some questions such as: What does my spouse need? What do I need? What do my family members need? This could actually be a conversation between you and your spouse and/or your children. The goal would be for everybody to understand that each person probably sees this COVID-19 experience from a different perspective. All your introverted family members may be hyped up about being closed off from the rest of the world. They’re probably struggling to understand their extroverted family members who are feeling the significant loss of being physically around others. Seeking to understand each other’s perspective can go a long way toward creating a calm and peaceful home.

Talk About It and Make Some Decisions

When it comes to time, it may be helpful to talk about how frustrating all of this is. Then make some decisions as a couple or family about how you’ll actively plan to deal with it. I know in my home, we constantly talk about how if we had more time we’d do this or that project. My husband actually started painting a room we’ve said we needed to paint for forever. I’ve been going through photos from two decades ago in preparation for our daughter’s wedding that might not go as planned. 

If your children say they’re bored, it might be good to make a list together of things they can do—both fun and the helpful things—like spring cleaning. Some family members might want to start a new hobby like reading, an exercise plan, baking bread or learning how to play new games like checkers or chess. This could be the perfect time to go through those fall/winter clothes. Or purge the garage in hopes of having a yard sale sometime in the future or donating to charity. 

This break is also an opportunity to realize that it’s really ok to be bored and do absolutely nothing sometimes. If schedules are usually so full that you throw rest out the window, don’t feel pressured to fill all the time with activity. Give yourself and others in your home time to do absolutely nothing. (And be willing to overlook things that get on your nerves from time to time.)

Creatively Connect

Now’s a great time to connect with extended family members and friends by phone call, text, video chat or a letter. It’s also a chance to help others out from a distance by helping them place a grocery order or making sure they’ve got what they need during this time. Older people who live alone would probably really appreciate hearing from you. (The extroverts in your home will probably be all-in on making those connections.)

When it comes to expectations, getting creative about things could save the day. Instead of one person doing all the cooking, you can have a cooking competition with what you have on hand. Each family member could be responsible for creating a menu and either preparing or helping to prepare the meal. Divvy up the chores that need to be done. Have a poetry contest. Put “dress-up” or theme days on the family calendar. Try to make things FUN. Focus on the positives. For example, every time you think a negative thought about your situation, think of something positive related to it.

One last thought. Many of us, including our children, have questions. How long this will last? Are we going to have enough money? What happens if one of us gets sick? And the list goes on. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I can tell you this: You’re not alone and I’m rooting for you—and for all of us—to come out stronger.

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“Am I happy?” Some questions have their answer firmly embedded in them. It’s kinda like, Well, if you even have to ask… This can be super convenient if we don’t stumble over the simplicity of it, but sometimes the most obvious things in life are the ones we miss.

When I’ve been happy, I don’t ask myself if I’m happy- I’m busy just enjoying being happy. If I’ve had to pause and ask myself if I’m happy, if that question has somehow bubbled up to the surface, if it continually pops up in my quieter moments, well, if you even have to ask…

I don’t even know how to define “happy.” You’ve never wondered if you were happy and reached for a dictionary. You’ve got your own lived definition. I think the best I can do is that, for me, it typically is the absence of other negative feelings- it’s when I don’t feel anxious, stressed, sad, angry, lonely, bitter, or jealous.

That’s actually a huge disservice to happiness. (Sorry, but as I said, when I’m happy, I don’t think about being happy.) How do you define it? Like most people, I kinda know it when I feel it. But I really know it when I don’t.

Oddly enough, we’ve formally studied depression, anger, loneliness – basically, the absence of happiness – for centuries. Plot twist! It has been relatively recently, only in the past couple of decades, that we have turned a scientific eye toward studying happiness itself. Turns out that happiness isn’t just the absence of other, negative feelings, but happiness actually is a thing in and of itself! Best of all – happiness is a HABIT!

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, you know the power that habits can have over us. But that power can also be used for GOOD! Below are some research-tested ways to make a habit out of happiness.

Cultivate the habits of…

  • Sleeping Well. Most adults need between 7-8 hours. (I know, I laughed, too.) We are so busy, we believe we can’t afford to get 7-8 hours of sleep. The reality is that sleeping is when our brain does important stuff and we can’t afford to NOT get good sleep.
  • Eating Right. This can be a tough one because eating is one of many people’s Unhappy Coping Mechanisms. Remember, we are a walking chemistry set. Our brains need GOOD food to help it make Happy Chemicals. Junk food makes us feel good for a bit but then we crash. Go with complex carbs like veggies, beans, and whole grains. Foods high in protein boost our dopamine and norepinephrine levels and give us energy, help us concentrate, and help us feel happy. Highly-processed foods, deep-fried foods, and especially skipping meals, make us feel blue.
  • Being Grateful. A two-part study showed that taking time to quiet yourself each day and rehearse just five things you are grateful for will boost the Happy Chemicals in your brain.
  • Helping Others. Another study of happiness showed that helping someone else feels good! More Happy Chemicals! (And it helps us from fixating on our own problems for a bit.)
  • Exercising. Don’t let this one intimidate you! According to research, it can be as simple as a walk around the block during your lunch break or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and many symptoms of depression.
  • Getting Outside. You can combine this with exercise or literally just sit outside a while. Fresh air, sunlight, and getting into nature have all been shown to boost our Happy Chemicals.
  • Acknowledging Unhappiness. Nobody expects you to plaster a big fake stupid grin on your face when you find out that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. There is a big difference between acknowledging an unhappy feeling and choosing to camp out thereChoose to lean into Life’s setbacks and turn them into motivation for something positive.
  • Calling in the Professionals. You’ve just read a lot about Happy Chemicals in your brain. One happiness researcher claims that happiness can be up to 50% genetic. If you are cultivating happy habits but still not feeling it, that might be a signal to call in the pros. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and don’t be afraid to set up a counseling appointment to explore other approaches.

Happiness isn’t just something that happens to some people and it is way more than just the absence of negative feelings. Happiness is a habit, one you can start TODAY! Am I happy? Glad you asked!

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As a mom of two young girls, I struggle with the idea of being present vs. perfect. But I had this idea. A fun, whimsical baking sesh with my uber-helpful daughter, Jackie, baking a beautiful, homemade, delicious, vegan Frozen-themed cake for her 4th birthday party. I was determined to make it happen. I was going for “super mom” status as I prepared for a small family get together that became an elaborate Frozen-themed birthday extravaganza. I’d already sent out the FB event invite. This was Jackie’s “un-FOUR-gettable” birthday. It was too late. I had to make it unforgettable.

So the pressure was on. The ingredients splayed on the counter, complete with sifter and spatula. We went to work. Now, I have to admit, I’ve tried baking before. With okay results. Nothing too horrible. But when you’re a mom and you’re working with a limited time frame, and multiple kids running around, constantly needing something (water, milk, snack, attention!!) an easy recipe to follow suddenly becomes a daunting, time-consuming luxury you just don’t have. Or is that just me? 

Either way, I welcomed Jackie’s help in combining the cake ingredients.

She helped sift the flour, held the measuring cups and poured the contents in the mixing bowl. It was a slow, imperfect process, full of spills and extra time allowing a 3 (almost 4) year-old to “do it all by my own.” There were so many moments where I had to remind myself that the time we spent together baking this cake was more important than the mess we’d have to clean up or the extra time it took with more cooks in the kitchen. Present vs. perfect.

I even had to re-envision my idea of a “fun, whimsical baking sesh.” The truth is, life is MESSY. And kids require A LOT of patience. To think we could bake a cake together in 30 minutes was downright laughable… it took roughly an hour and a half to finally pop that pan into the oven. By then my patience proved tested over and over. I revised my idea of a mother-daughter bonding time multiple times. I modified my expectations of perfection greatly.

Perfection…

It’s this elusive idea that parents know is actually impossible, yet continually strive for and are sorely disappointed when any factor detracts from their path to it (i.e. a crying child who wanted to use the small spatula, NOT the big spatula). We snap photos of a perfect smile, hoping we can mask the reality of tears, emotion, frustration, and impatience with a clever #unfourgettablebakingsesh! But the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it took more time to bake the cake, and it doesn’t matter that the cake didn’t even… ahem… turn out good (more on that later*).

What matters is that I took the time to include my daughter in helping to make her own birthday cake. It was special mother-daughter time, even if it didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to go in my head. Even though it wasn’t perfect. I was present. She was present.

The time we spent together is what made it unforgettable. 

*I’ve come to accept that I’m clearly NOT a baker. I’ll gladly pay $45 for a delicious bakery cake. I’ve learned that I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it. And I don’t have the time, or energy, or desire to improve my baking skills. Although I followed the directions to a T… somehow the cake didn’t bake evenly and the middle ended up being a sunken pile of goo, albeit tasty goo. 

Although I felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed to serve the cake at Jackie’s birthday party, I did it anyway. I warned people that the middle miiiight not have baked fully and that it wouldn’t offend me if they didn’t eat it. And while the adults all took some bites and shook their heads with a sympathetic “Mmmm hmmm” as they reached the goo-filled middle, I’m happy to report that all the kids loved it. 

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I remember when I was in the awkward teen stage of life. It was so difficult to navigate my way through high school. Unfortunately, the internal criticism didn’t stop when I turned 18; it followed me into adulthood.

Turns out, I’m not alone. According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code for Girls:

  • 92% of teens want to change something about the way they look.
  • 9 out of 10 girls feel pressure to be skinny.
  • 53% of girls are unsatisfied with their bodies (that goes up to 78% by age 17).
  • 7 out of 10 girls will not speak out in a classroom or work environment because of the way they look.

Even today, there are times when I’ve talked myself out of something because my confidence told me I was incapable of handling a job or assignment. There have also been times when I’ve felt not good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough.

And, if you’re honest, you can probably relate to those same feelings. It’s totally normal! We all experience negative, confidence-breaking, and harsh moments within ourselves. We tend to be our biggest critics, and most of the time, we’re super rude to ourselves. I mean, would you walk up to someone and say, “Gosh, your hips are big,” or “You’re totally not smart enough to be a part of THAT conversation with THOSE people”?

So, thinking into the future, what are young girls supposed to do if their adult role models do not set good examples of confidence? What does low self-esteem teach the next generation? I wonder how much those percentages would change if we spoke out more in favor of body positivity and took away the negative stigma around failures and the fear of being embarrassed.

I know it would take a while to accomplish a goal that big, but it isn’t impossible.

There are already countless organizations and empowerment groups that promote confidence-building practices for the rising female generation, but even the best of intentions are pointless if we don’t listen to them.

As human beings, we’re more likely to take action if someone we know is also participating, so mothers, big sisters, cousins, aunts, family friends, ministers, youth leaders, community organization workers, etc., I have a challenge for you!

Below are 10 ways you can teach yourself how to love who you are, enjoy your process, and live in your moment while influencing the future generation of women around you.

  1. Perfection is impossible! Perfection does not equal success. Stop worrying about things being perfect. Settle with, “I know it was my best and that’s good enough.”
  2. Be your own cheerleader! Not everyone is going to support you, so sometimes you have to pat yourself on the back and say, “You did that, girlfriend!”
  3. Don’t look for approval from others. In the past (ok, I’m still working on this), everything I did circled around other people. I wondered if they would like it or if it made others uncomfortable. But now, I ask myself, “Would they do the same for me or are other people in charge of my life?”
  4. Appreciate the small and big things. There are studies that actually link happiness to gratitude! We tend to be more positive when we appreciate things in our life.
  5. Focus on the now! (In my opinion, this one is most important.) We are the happiest and most confident when we are living in the present, according to Kay and Shipman. Stop stressing over what happened because it already happened. And, please stop getting anxious over the future! Work hard, do what you need to do, and just do it! If the end result is bad, just remember, “I can’t change it, but at least I can say I did it.”
  6. Treat yourself with respect. Do I need to go any further? Stop the negative self-talk, doubts, and obsessive desire to be perfect.
  7. Make sure your goals are realistic. Can you really do it? Do you have time for it? Is it something that interests you? Do you want to do it? If no is the answer to any of these, please change the goal for the sake of your happiness and sanity
  8. Rewire your Brain. Yes, it’s possible! Did you know that we can reteach our brains to be more confident and positive? Cut out those negative comments and tell yourself how amazing you are every day!
  9. Say NO! Can all the people-pleasers raise their hands at this time? Yeah, start saying no, and be confident in your no! It’s a great feeling and it also teaches you to stand by your word and build—you guessed it—CONFIDENCE.
  10.  You will fail at some point… I know some of you all are like, “Nope, not me.” Let me be the bearer of bad news. You will fail many times, but that is one of the best parts of life. You get told no, you get told you are not good enough, you didn’t do it right, somebody else won instead of you… I mean I could go on with all the potential failures, but that’s not important. Failure creates your story. Failure makes you stronger. And, failure builds character. Just remember: A minor setback can lead to a major comeback!

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The YMCAs and Planet Fitnesses in town and all the other gyms are packed full this week with all those who made New Year’s resolutions to lose some pounds, to better their physiques, and to get healthier. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you set some goals for this year? I hope they weren’t all about diet and exercise! Did you make some Relationship Resolutions?

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When things seem hopeless, it can be really hard to think you’ll ever find hope again.

Dyan and Alik fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012, but they were separated as they tried to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, evidence of their marriage was destroyed.

The camp processed Alik as a single mom. They processed Dyan as a single man, however. This made him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way. She didn’t know if she would ever see her husband again.

Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

When Alik spoke with her caseworker about getting her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anyone else who might be able to help them reunite this family. They also were told repeatedly it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan rejoined his family. You can watch the video here.

Perhaps you’re dealing with a situation that seems hopeless, too. Unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope.

If you’re struggling to find hope, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

  • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably times when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
  • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
  • Do something. Maybe you can’t do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik continued to live her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have doubted she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” So often, people throw in the towel just before things start to turn around.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes talking with someone helps.
  • Volunteer. Use your skills to help others while you wait. It may help you feel better about yourself and your situation, and you never know who you might meet while you volunteer. You might be able to encourage someone else, too. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” If you are still on this earth, you can still find hope.

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You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

A study from researchers at Brown University, UC-San Diego, and Yale University has found that having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75%. Similarly, more recent studies have found that being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147% more likely to get divorced themselves. A person who has a sibling who gets divorced is 22% more likely to also split from his or her spouse. Similar findings related to infidelity have been discovered, too. (Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce, after all.) What’s going on here?

Let’s try to understand why this happens and then think about how to avoid it. (And maybe even how to use this dynamic for good!)

This is known as “behavioral” or “social contagion.” It’s like an idea or lifestyle virus. The general concept is that one person introduces a new social norm into a group (divorce, infidelity) which reduces the social constraints against it or takes away some of the pressure to avoid it. They even make it seem more normal. The other members of the group then begin to look at themselves and their marriages differently.

They hear the benefits of divorce or infidelity from the person that introduced the “virus” and then reevaluate their own happiness. They look at their spouses and partners in a new, perhaps, unflattering light. Then the next person in the group takes the plunge, reducing social constraints even further and making divorce even more normal, which makes it even easier for the next person, and so on.

I’ve seen it spread in a social group with divorce and infidelity in about a year.

The tighter-knit the group is, the easier and quicker the virus can be passed around. It doesn’t take someone saying, “You know, you should really consider divorce, sweetie…” and applying what we would call direct peer pressure. It can all happen on a level that we are not even directly conscious of.

The study, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample” did discover something extremely hopeful.Interestingly, only outside support from friends and family predicted marital success in the time period examined.” Did you catch that?

Even as they proved the validity of the “social virus,” they also discovered the cure. Being tightly connected and supported by friends and family that are FOR your marriage “inoculates” you against the “social virus” and reduces your susceptibility.

To carry the analogy further, having friends and family that believe in and are committed to their marriages and faithfulness helps build up our “immunities” to divorce and infidelity. The same social dynamic can work in a positive way, too!

None of this is to say you should run away shrieking in terror from anyone who gets a divorce. Maybe they were the victim of domestic violence and need your support. On the other hand, it is a great reminder that none of us are above being influenced. Keeping toxic, negative people that don’t share our family values close to us may influence us much more than we care to acknowledge.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Let’s be real, there aren’t too many people in this world that would choose to actually be lonely. We as human beings thrive off our interactions and connections with other people. We are usually our best selves when we have people who care about us in our lives.

Sometimes, we’re afraid of being lonely.

We often don’t do well alone. Some fear it so much they settle and keep people that don’t deserve a spot in their life hanging around. Is being in a toxic relationship better than being lonely? Is being unhappy with an individual emotionally and mentally better than just learning how to be comfortable with just you?

I’m not just referring to romantic relationships either. I can think of a few friends I allowed to stay too long in my circle. Being alone for a little bit isn’t a bad thing. Being alone can be the best time for self-discovery. When you go on a journey to learn more about you, it’s the most beautiful thing. You discover things you never even knew about yourself. You learn to not accept the disrespect and abuse you maybe once did.

It’s not an easy process, but we work hard for the finer things in life, like knowing ourselves better!

Quick story, I was hanging out with this guy, and he was so fine, his smile was perfect, and I loved our conversation. Everything seemed pretty kosher. Soon enough, things started changing. I started to see some of his true colors, and they weren’t the prettiest, but I didn’t care. Why? Well, because I didn’t want to let him go. I didn’t want to be alone.

I couldn’t stand the thought of not being with someone, and though he was a bit controlling and handled his anger in inappropriate ways, I was still intrigued and drawn in by the fact that there was this guy right here, who wanted to be with me, even with my imperfections, so why not put up with him, right? URRR, wrong!

I started to see myself becoming insecure and dependent on this man, and that’s not like me at all. When I told him the things that bothered me about some of his habits, he would find a way to make it my fault. For a while, I believed him and thought everything was my fault. And that, my friends, is manipulation. We can’t stand for that.

There has been plenty of research proving that staying alone is better than being in a toxic relationship. Sometimes we just think too much with our hearts and not enough with our heads. Who said being single isn’t fun? We can look at it like this: at least if we’re single and miserable (which you probably won’t be) we’re just miserable with our problems. Period. We don’t have to worry about being miserable with our own problems, plus their own problems, plus both our problems being together- arguing, insecurity and jealousy and on and on. That’s two-thirds fewer problems just by being single! Check my math!

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn who you are. That often requires you concentrating on just you. Don’t look at being single as a bad thing. Look at it as an opportunity to explore yourself and the things around you more. Take it as an opportunity to learn how to be content and happy with just you. Take advantage of that time to hang out with family and close friends. Don’t let your fear make decisions for you.

When you’re choosing to stay single for YOU, you’re also choosing a few other things.

You’re choosing to say:

  • I’m enough.
  • I’m capable of self-love and self-acceptance.
  • I’m in control of my own life and decisions.

You don’t settle because you know what you want! Give yourself a high-five!

To answer the question at hand: No, it’s not better to be in a toxic relationship than it is to be single. If you can relate to this, I hope you can soon recognize that you’re enough, if you haven’t already. Because you are.

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