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How to spot burnout in your relationship

How to spot burnout in your relationship
Delaney: ‘It’s a scenario that often plays out against the backdrop of an exhausting, modern lifestyle’
© Provided by The Telegraph
“Looking back, there were a few years of unhappiness in our marriage before we hit rock bottom,” says Clio Wood, the author of Get Your Mojo Back: Sex, Pleasure and Intimacy After Birth.

“We had been drifting apart and disengaging from each other but neither of us ever addressed it. It got to the stage where I think we forgot about why we ever got together in the first place.”

While some relationships implode amidst high conflict and drama, many more follow the pattern of Wood’s: a slow, almost imperceptible distancing between two people who don’t quite hate each other, might still love each other but have just stopped… liking each other very much.

It’s a scenario that often plays out against the backdrop of an exhausting, modern lifestyle that sees both partners trying to juggle work, parenting, social commitments and money worries alongside what passes for a love life. All too often, it’s their relationship that falls to the bottom of the priority list without them even noticing. Couples counsellors call it “relationship burnout”.

Living together, growing apart
“With very little free time on our hands, we often end up neglecting our relationship because we think it’s the easiest thing to ignore,” says the Relate counsellor Simone Bose. “We worry about our job, our kids, even getting the laundry done. You assume that your partner understands you’re not around to meet their needs. The truth is, you need to take regular time out to nurture your relationship or it can really start to falter. You become like colleagues who are existing in the same space but living separate lives.”

“I speak to couples who have found that they increasingly live separate lives while still together,” she says. “It is easier than talking things through or splitting up. And so they might live together but just do their own thing, rarely engaging in any meaningful way. It can be extremely lonely for both parties.” The situation worsens when we start to simply accept the distance between us, she says. “Often people tell me that they don’t want to come across as needy or vulnerable and so they decide to cope by becoming ultra-independent. But these things have to be worked through together.”

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Counsellor Simon Bose says that couples ‘need to take regular time out to nurture [their] relationship or it can really start to falter’ – Moment RF
Counsellor Simon Bose says that couples ‘need to take regular time out to nurture [their] relationship or it can really start to falter’ – Moment RF
© Provided by The Telegraph
Jimmy, a 34-year-old producer from Manchester, describes the decline of his four-year relationship, which ended in 2023, as wholly undramatic. “We bickered but there were no massive rows,” he says. “We just started being more and more irritable with each other. We were rarely having sex. Holidays and weekends started to seem less like fun and more like a chore or obligation. We cared about each other but it had become like a loving friendship. We both had busy lives and had let them overtake the importance of the relationship.”

The psychotherapist Noel McDermott says that external factors are the most common factors in relationship burnout. “Couples become distracted and unhappy because their lives are so busy and intense,” he explains. “But rather than make changes to their lifestyles they start to think that the relationship must have fundamental problems or that they’re simply not compatible. It doesn’t help that social media has created unrealistically perfect ideas of what it’s like to be in a relationship. If you’re not living up to the romantic ideal you might be quick to think the relationship is not worth fighting for.”

Wood was in her mid-30s and had been married to her husband Bryn (with whom she has a three-year-old daughter) for six years when she noticed their relationship was suffering. “It was little things at first – like we would barely greet each other when we came home,” she says. “I started to find myself more irritated than excited by his presence. But my main feeling was numbness. There were no big arguments. It was just all quite unenjoyable.”

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater
Many couples in middle age make light of how dull their relationships have become, says Wood. “I noticed that we and our friends would make gags like ‘Of course we don’t have sex any more, we have kids!’ That normalises it. But, as I found out, that situation can become quite serious and threaten the future of the marriage.”

The key, says Bose, is identifying these little problems and talking about them honestly with each other. “It’s easy to laugh about how much your partner annoys you,” she says. “But you should be talking to your partner honestly about what your emotional needs are and asking them what they require from you. Little problems become big ones unless you find the time to communicate about them regularly.”

There is a tendency among many couples to simply “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when they start to experience burnout. “It’s natural to get annoyed with your partner or for your passion towards them to have ups and downs,” notes McDermott.

“But rather than decide that the relationship is doomed, it’s helpful to try and be accepting of their flaws and of your own feelings. Realise that these are the natural bumps in the roads and do practical things to address them.” He suggests working on the ‘emotional tone’ of your relationship. “Don’t finger point or blame each other – just explain your feelings and ask your partner to do the same” and work on healthy ways of dealing with conflict. “Accept your partner’s imperfections,” he says. “Suggest small changes to their behaviour, not wholesale changes to their personality.”

When to take action
Jimmy’s relationship ended when both he and his partner both admitted that they had not been happy for over six months. “I wish we had been brave enough to admit the way we felt sooner,” he says. “The spark had gone but rather than confront that and try to find solutions we avoided the conversation because we just didn’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. We still cared about each other. I don’t regret the break-up but I do wish we had at least tried to communicate our feelings sooner. At least we wouldn’t have wasted all those months feeling unhappy.”

Burnout leaves us in a state of exhaustion where the last thing most of us want to do is enter into complex and challenging conversations. And so many of us keep our heads down, ignoring the problem and hoping it might just get better in time. It rarely does.

So how do couples take the plunge and actually address burnout? “The first step is awareness of the problem,” says Bose. “Accept that the relationship needs more attention and that you deserve to have your needs met. Then vocalise these feelings to your partner in a soft way, without blame. Own your feelings and use positive phrases such as: ‘I feel lonely, I want to feel closer to you and feel like we did at the start of our relationship. How do you feel? Is there anything you need from me?’”

Sometimes, the things that need changing are outside the relationship itself. “I think couples need to be willing to change the fundamentals of their lives a little bit,” says Bose. “If the relationship has slipped to the bottom of your priority list, it’s no wonder you’re having problems. So you need to find a way of making more space – whether that be dedicated time away from work or digital devices, arranging childcare so you can have time alone or even skipping the laundry or other chores once in a while. I advise clients to try and carve out 15 minutes in a week just to spend time together. If that’s not possible, try five minutes at least. If you don’t feel five minutes is possible then maybe you’re not serious enough about fixing things.”

For Wood, it took hitting a rock-bottom moment to realise her marriage was worth saving. “In 2019, we were starting to think of divorce after a few years of unhappiness,” she says. “But then I had an ectopic pregnancy, which was extremely traumatic, I had to lean on my husband for emotional support. He was really there for me and I started to realise how important our relationship was. We went to couples therapy which helped because it’s a space in which everyone is equal: none of the problems are framed as anyone’s “fault”, and we can just talk things through constructively.”

They rebuilt their relationship and, two years ago, had a second daughter. “I’m so glad we realised it was worth fighting for,” says Wood. “We still go to couples therapy from time to time now. The most important thing we have learned is that ups and downs are natural in a relationship but it’s best to tackle them as soon as they arise rather than let them build up to burnout level.”

Four signs that you could be experiencing relationship burnout
You’re irritable
“I reached a stage where I found everything my husband said really annoying,” says Wood. But exhaustion can drastically lower our annoyance threshold, Bose adds. “When we’re overwhelmed by life, we can snap quickly at those we’re closest to. Ask yourself if you can still see the good in your partner? If you can, perhaps you need to change your lifestyle so you can be more patient with them.”

You’re avoidant
“Ask yourself if you are behaving in a way that helps you avoid asking for your needs to be met,” says Bose. “You might just be throwing yourself into distractions like work or digital devices or your social life, instead of telling your partner that you feel lonely and unloved.”

You’re not physical
“Can you still share the little romantic moments that you did at the start of your relationship?” says Bose. “If you can’t just hug and look into each other’s eyes without it feeling awkward or uncomfortable, then you might have let the flame burn out. It can be revived but it starts with talking about it.”

You compare your relationship to perfect ideals
“There is a strong tendency to expect too much of our relationships these days,” says McDermott. “Social media and the wellness industry has taught us to expect perfection that, in reality, is impossible. Relationships are messy but when you are burnt-out you might not feel up to coping with those difficult times. Usually, the problem is nothing to do with you, your partner or the relationship itself. It’s to do with the exhausting nature of the lifestyles you’re living.”

Story by Sam Delaney: The Telegraph:

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Marriage is an inherently misogynistic institution – so why do women agree to it?

Photograph: Mode Images Limited/Alamy:© Provided by The Guardian
Marriage is an inherently misogynistic institution – so why do women agree to it?

“And still I wonder how much harder it would be to get straight women to accept the reality of marriage if they were not first presented with the fantasy of a wedding,” Jia Tolentino wrote in her superb essay, I Thee Dread. Just shy of 30 at the time of Trick Mirror’s release, Tolentino describes the endless parade of weddings that have begun to fill her weekends as, one after the other, her friends line up to get married.

This being the US, where college students are more likely to attend institutions out of state before shifting to other cities to work, the wedding circus stops in towns all over the country. That’s a lot of flying, and a lot of hotels. The price of witnessing your friends pledge their young lives to an institution that until only recently gave men the legal right to rape their wives (and still does in some US states, thanks to legal loopholes) does not come cheap.

But this is par for the course for the wedding industrial complex, where the average cost of throwing a knees-up to celebrate asking the government to legitimise your relationship is roughly A$36,000 (and that’s before interest). According to a 2022 survey conducted by the Australian government’s Money Smart website, while 82% of couples use all or part of their savings to pay for their wedding, 60% of couples take out a loan. Almost one-fifth of couples pay for their wedding using their credit card – and given that the median length of time between marriage and separation in Australia is roughly eight years, there’s a fair likelihood a lot of these people will still be paying off their weddings long after they’ve finalised their divorce.

Marriage is not now and never has been designed with women’s happiness in mind – and yet we’re told that without it, we will be miserable. As any sociologist can tell you, it’s men who benefit from marriage: they live longer, they are generally healthier and happier, and their economic prospects improve. On the other hand, studies have shown that married women die earlier. And marriage alone isn’t a guarantee of happiness for women – they are happy if they have a happy marriage.

When it comes to divorce, the financial risk to women is more perilous: ASX research based on numerous studies has shown that women’s incomes drop by around 21-30% after divorce, an economic hit that it takes an average of six years to recover from. The same is not true for men, their income briefly dipping by about 5% before recovering. We can assume one of the reasons for this is the cost of raising children, both in terms of economic outlay and deprivation of economic opportunity.

Criticising marriage, the so-called “bedrock” of western civilisation, is perceived to be a criticism of those who do it. That can feel bad for the person on the receiving end, and anything that makes someone feel bad must be wrong. But we should be willing to engage with critiques of our institutions, particularly those that have the kind of lengthy history of oppression that marriage boasts.

While I know it doesn’t feel great to have your life choices questioned, it arguably feels nowhere near as terrible as being bride-napped (a common practice among the Visigoths, which led to the tradition of the best man, who was chosen for the role because he was the best fighter, and relied on to ward off any family members who attempted to reclaim their stolen daughter). Or being put in a halter and sold at market to the highest bidder (an option for men in the middle ages wanting to rid themselves of wives they no longer wanted).

Or being committed to an asylum (an option made available later on, when all men had to do was appeal to the authority of two male doctors to condemn their wives and daughters to die in Victorian-era sanatoriums). Or being denied the right to own property, even that which you inherited (because the law of coverture stated women had no identity and thus existed under the banner of male ownership). Or being unable to leave for fear of losing access to your children (because coverture also dictated they were the property of the father). Or a lifetime of being ridiculed, mocked and even criminalised for being unmarried (as was the case for a good portion of women executed as witches during the height of the European witch trials).

With all these facts about the history of marriage freely available, why are women still buying into the myth that it is romantic, or that it will supposedly bring us lifelong bliss? This is the question at the heart of my new book, I Don’t, an excoriating critique of marriage and the lies that are told to keep women enlisting into its service. From the days of empire building and daughter trading, to the advent of engagement rings and the growth of the wedding industry, to the mid-century myth of the “happy housewife”, everything we’ve been told about marriage, from start to finish, is a diabolical deception.

When you peel back the layers of history and propaganda, it’s impossible not to want to completely destroy this inherently misogynistic institution. I think of marriage as being like the colourfully decorated wagon the children in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are lured into by the royally appointed Child Catcher: once women are safely ensconced in it, the bells and whistles adorning the exterior fall away to reveal nothing but a cage.

Despite this, there are scores of articles and books being released pondering the question of how to fix marriage. How can it be improved, how can we reimagine it and so on and so forth. The establishment of same-sex marriage rights is considered to be a win for progressive politics, but there’s nothing radical about joining a club that worked so hard to deny you entry. Queer people getting married doesn’t radicalise marriage. On the contrary, it normifies queer people, giving us conservative status within a regressive framework.

Marriage is an unsalvageable lie, designed to keep women in service to patriarchy and away from realising our full potential. We should reject it entirely, and refuse on principle to willingly add our names to a list built primarily on the backs of women who had no choice, no rights and no freedom. The fact that many women still can’t make this choice freely – even Tolentino wound up married, because it was the only way she and her partner could access each other’s healthcare benefits – says everything. Simply put: if the government is bribing you to do something, it’s rarely in your best interest.

To paraphrase Mae West, they keep telling me marriage is a great institution – but I ain’t ready for an institution. What I’m ready for is a revolution.

Story by Clementine Ford:The Guardian:

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My partner concealed he had more than one ex-wife. Should I be nervous about our future?

Photograph: IanDagnall Computing/Alamy:© Photograph: IanDagnall Computing/Alamy

My partner concealed he had more than one ex-wife. Should I be nervous about our future?
n the early throes of a new relationship, most of us conceal how much we want to be liked,’ writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith. Painting: Anthony van Dyck Wooing his Model (1827) by Gustaaf Wappers.
After several months of dating, my partner revealed he had another ex-wife and three teenage children.

He’d only ever mentioned one ex-wife and two small children. He explained his rationale and I decided to continue with the relationship. I had been single for 15 years and I feel I’ve really connected with him.

We have the best time together, and although he’s away a lot with work, he’s communicative, considerate and has given me the sort of relationship I never thought I’d find. I feel he genuinely loves me and wants the best for me. He’s always saying how much he appreciates me. But I am nervous about the future as he has so many commitments (I don’t have children but hope to one day, and he’s on board).

My family feel he’s deceived me and they fear for my future. I don’t know how to navigate my way through this. All I’ve ever wanted is to meet someone to build a life with and I feel I can’t enjoy it. I’m scared I’m making a mistake. I’m scared I’ll never meet someone like him if I walk away. I’m scared my family won’t ever accept him. What do I do?
Eleanor says: Nobody likes to feel that something big has been elided. Transparency is, in a lot of ways, the ideal in close relationships. But I suspect there are ways we all fall short of that ideal, quite deliberately, all the time – especially in the early stages of dating.

Hoping someone will fall in love with you is a bit like hoping they’ll believe what you’re telling them, in that you actively set back your chances of succeeding by announcing that’s what you want. “Like me!” akin to “believe me!” makes you seem less deserving of the thing you want. So in the early throes of a new relationship, most of us conceal how much we want to be liked and we conceal other “warts and all” things too. Finances, health problems, neuroses, the worst lie you ever told – everybody has aspects of themselves they don’t bring to the first date.

But a whole extra family is a lot to not mention. We tend to conceal the things we think will see us unfairly written off, and I can see why he’d fear that two previous families look worse than one. Maybe he gambled that once you knew him, you’d understand, but that in those early stages you’d think that while one divorce looks an accident, two looks like carelessness.

This omission demonstrates a facility with concealment that might be troubling. And it makes me quite sad for the teens that they were the “extra” reveal: that the fact he’s their dad was a temporarily excisable part of his identity.

But I think a great deal lives in the details. It speaks well that he told you, that you didn’t have to find it out. Has he reassured you there are no more big surprises? Are there other indications that he takes his role as part of their family seriously? What do the kids and exes think of him?

If you’re satisfied with the answers, I’m not sure that your family’s impression needs to matter more than your own.

You mentioned being fearful of your future together. It’s true that he has a lot of commitments. To my mind, the possibility that his attention would be divided is actually a good thing – it would be no great recommendation if he was wonderful to you and your hypothetical children, but gave no time to his other families. That would just make you fear that if you did break up you’d be relegated to their category. So the more you have to share him now, the more reassurance you have that he’ll be supportive no matter what comes.

There’s a lot of fear at the end of your letter – of other people’s judgment, of missing out, of him. Unfortunately that means there’s fear associated with every option. It’s natural during big life shifts to fear we’re making a mistake. But one way to guarantee things go badly is to be consumed more by what might happen, than by what is happening.

Story by Eleanor Gordon-Smith: The Guardian:

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My husband wants to separate but I don’t. Can I save this marriage?

Photograph: Alamy: © Provided by The Guardian

My husband wants to separate but I don’t. Can I save this marriage?

My husband wants to separate but I don’t; what can I do? We have two small children, one with additional needs. I’m scared about how this will affect them. I feel my husband is deeply depressed and I worry that he is making a decision he will come to regret.

Since he has explained his need to separate from me, he has stopped drinking heavily and has started to meet with friends again, which I am really pleased about. He explains that he needs to find himself again outside the role of father and provider. I would like to support him in this within our partnership. I regret how I allowed him to drift from me and how little I challenged his drinking and self-isolation. He refuses therapy of all kinds. Is there anything I can do to help the children and him? Can I save this?

Eleanor says: First off, I’m so sorry to hear your husband has dropped this on you. The whole point of a marriage is that, when you join together, you no longer look at the world and your decisions through the lens of an individual out for themselves. You take on a shared perspective. One of the scariest betrayals that can happen to you, once you’ve pivoted to that perspective, is having your partner switch back. You’re left holding the upshot of decisions you made when you were still thinking like half of a team.

I think it could be worth separating out two questions. One is whether the collective can be saved. The other is how you can protect the individual you are, whatever happens to that collective.

Can the collective be saved? Perhaps, but not without his help. It sounds like your husband has been going through a lot. Depression (if you’re right about that), drinking, feeling pigeonholed into familial roles. It sounds as if he may be struggling with something that ambushes many of us, namely how to give enough of ourselves to others so we’re good spouses or parents, without giving so much that there’s none of us as individuals left. I think it can be especially hard for men to process these feelings under the yoke of ideas about masculinity and emotion – you said he refuses therapy of any kind, which (I know you know) makes about as much sense as refusing to see a mechanic.

Unfortunately, if attachment to others is starting to feel like a cage, processing that feeling with others is likely to create more claustrophobia. A whole lot of people sever connections because that’s the only path they see out of feeling consumed by responsibility.

But listen, you can’t make him want to change that. This is an absolutely hard and fast rule: you cannot induce people to feel things that they do not currently feel.

You may be right that he will come to regret this, but you cannot make him know that either. Some knowledge you just have to acquire first-hand – the affair partner won’t reinvent you, the sports car won’t make you younger, the bachelor pad will feel lonely and empty – sometimes the only way to learn these things is to have the scales fall from your own eyes.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for the collective. But it might affect your approach. You might prioritise strategies that retain your dignity and clarity, rather than chasing his approval. You could say what you’ve said to me here. You could insist on therapy together, for your children’s sake. Sometimes in the candour of a relationship’s postmortem we find ourselves able to fully show up in a way that we didn’t during the relationship; you might be able to do that before it’s a postmortem.

But one of the worst experiences you can subject yourself to is contorting yourself to try to keep someone who is telling you they no longer cherish you. It doesn’t guarantee anything about how they’ll react. But it does guarantee how you’ll feel: small, powerless, debased.

If you cannot salvage the relationship, you can at least save your relationship with yourself. It will be a terrible grief if your husband goes ahead with this separation, but far better to lose his esteem than your own.

Story by Eleanor Gordon-Smith: The Guardian:

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What is emotional intimacy and how do we maintain it in relationships?

Building intimacy in a relationship is a complex process and believe it or not, there are many different types of intimacy. Intimacy with another person requires self awareness, compassion and vulnerability and once you’ve achieved that all-important closeness with that person, you have to work at maintaining it too.

According to Psychosexual therapist, BBC One’s Sex on the Couch presenter and author of audiobook 12 Steps to Sexual Connection, Lohani Noor, there are two fundamental types of intimacy in a romantic relationship: sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy. They’re connected, because without emotional intimacy it can be hard to connect with your partner physically, but they’re not the same thing.

Emotional intimacy is all about getting to know your partner on a deeper level, making sure that you each feel safe and secure, being able to communicate clearly and building trust so that you can be your most vulnerable selves with each other.

What is emotional intimacy?

“We need emotional intimacy. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection.” explains clinical social worker, Debbie Radzinsky. “Emotional intimacy brightens our mood by activating feel-good neurotransmitters: oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Intimacy can even extend our life expectancy.”

When we feel connected to others it makes us feel good, promoting feelings of calm and contentment. But often, we can find it difficult to tap into this connectedness. “But,” says Radzinsky. “emotional intimacy in a relationship doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Building and maintaining emotional intimacy takes time.”

Talking about your feelings, especially in a new relationship can be challenging. It’s not easy to just open up, particularly if you don’t fully trust the person you’re dating. And this trust might not be possible for you, if you struggle with attachment for any reason.

Intimacy can be difficult for those who find it difficult to communicate their feelings or be vulnerable with others and Noor explains that these issues usually begin in childhood. The good news is that we can unlearn what we know and reset our brains and behaviours to build more healthy intimate relationships, it just takes time.

Issues with emotional intimacy
“When you’re little you might think you’ve got a really good strategy for getting your needs met. And you’ll scream until you’re sick.” says Noor. “And someone comes and picks you up and it works. It works because it’s acceptable when you’re four. Unfortunately, our parents don’t teach us how to ask for what we want in a more meaningful way. We understand that on a primal level, [screaming is] the strategy for getting what we want. So then when we’re an adult, and in a difficult relationship, and we’re really struggling, we’ve got no reference point and no internal narrative around these difficult emotions, so we might decide to act out in a very similar way to how we did before.”

It’s no wonder that as adults we can find it so difficult to ask for what we really want. Instead, in relationships we may act out in some irrational way involving shouting, sulking or breaking things. “It [feels] easier to do that in the hopes that the other person will say, ‘Oh, I get it, you want me to love you right now.’ But it doesn’t work, does it? Because you’re an adult, and it’s not acceptable,” she says.

Shutting down emotionally, going silent or acting out and shouting are all mechanisms we use in adulthood to convey emotions when we’re not sure how to connect with others and ask for what we actually need. Similarly, we might be defensive if our partner asks us for something because we might not feel worthy or capable of giving it to them. Our communication has to work both ways to build healthy, regulated emotional intimacy and it starts with being unafraid to say how we really feel and feeling able to listen to our partners and confident to try to give them what they need from us.

How to maintain emotional intimacy
Set your intention
You both have to want to work on your intimacy, and setting a goal or intention can help you to do this. For instance, you may want to feel like you can trust your partner more, you may want them to feel like they can confide in you or you may wish to feel more supported by them when you are struggling with something. Setting this intention before you have conversations about your relationship can help with getting you to where you want to be.

Listen to each other
Listening is a great skill and it isn’t simply waiting for your turn to talk. Instead of focusing on everything you disagree with or taking everything your partner says personally, try to actively listen to everything they have to say and consider it all before you reply. Mentally process what they are saying and try to define what they are asking for from you. This can be challenging, especially in the beginning, but listening to one another calmly and actively is the first step to being truly emotionally intimate. Your partner will feel much more able to trust you if you can listen to them without interrupting, getting defensive or losing your temper and the same applies when they are listening to you.

Use ‘I’ statements
When communicating with a partner, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Such as: “I feel like X when X happens” as opposed to “You made me feel like X”. Noor explains this is about “being accountable for your own feelings and not making them about the other person.” She adds, “Simply recognising that somebody doesn’t make you mad. They might invite you to feel mad, but it’s an invitation that you can refuse. It’s really taking ownership of what’s going on for you and [communicating that] rather than acting it out. So rather than escalating the situation, say, ‘I feel really crazy angry right now’. Just that difference massively changes whether or not your partner can hear you.”

Use empathy as a superpower
Being able to relate to one another’s feelings is a core pillar of emotional intimacy. Understanding how your partner may be feeling and inviting them to relate to how you are feeling builds deeper intimacy and ultimately makes it easier to care for one another, even during challenging times where you might not be acting like yourselves.

Empathy is an incredible tool and a strength in every relationship, whether that’s your romantic partnerships, your family dynamics, friendships or even at work. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to experience the world from their perspective can help you understand them better, feel closer to them and earn their trust. It can also help to de-escalate stressful situations and potential conflicts.

When words fail you, use tools
If talking about your feelings is too much at any point, you can turn to helpful relationship tools that will help you to organise your thoughts and structure your approach to intimacy. Couple’s counselling and therapy can be a great way to connect with your partner because a trained professional will be able to guide your conversations and help you uncover the issues that are making communication difficult.

You can also try relationship apps that give you daily prompts and games to play, which takes the serious edge off having these conversations and can help you to be vulnerable in a way that feels more fun for you both. There are also physical games you can play, like couple’s card games and question games. Activities like these will help you to connect, laugh together and get to know each other better, without the feeling that you’re both “doing work”.

Story by Emilie Lavinia:Cosmopolitan

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Voices: Sorry, women – you’re probably going to have to teach your man how to be a ‘good boyfriend’

I remember the moment so clearly, it’s practically burnt into my brain. It’s seven years ago, and I’m having dinner with a group of friends. All of us are sharing stories about the men we’re dating. One is frustrated because her boyfriend keeps leaving the toilet seat up. Another is angry because her partner spends too much time playing video games. And one is concerned that her boyfriend might be a fascist. Then, the only one among us in a long-term relationship leans forward and whispers: “Don’t worry, girls. You just need to train them.”

All of us turned to her in an instant as she began to explain. It transpired that the therapised, emotionally intelligent, tidy, considerate partner she’d had for three years had not been like that at all when she met him. No, no. He was but a mere boy – an untrained puppy in desperate need of some direction. And he got it in droves.

To some readers – especially male ones – this might sound offensive. Condescending. Patronising. Misandrist, even. But almost every straight woman I know has had at least one experience with a man where they felt like they left him better off than when they arrived. Maybe they encouraged him to go to therapy. Maybe they taught him to be more emotionally available, or to finally learn how to cook. Whatever it is, the point is that they passed on myriad essential tools, out of the goodness of their own hearts, to help build and better the men they were with.

I was reminded of that dinner while reading a recent viral article in The Cut, “The Case for Marrying an Older Man”, in which writer Grazie Sophia Christie presents her decision to marry a man 10 years her senior as an intentional calculation that has liberated her from the shackles of femininity. But that’s a whole other article. The point is that, in the depths of her piece, Christie highlights just how skilled men are at “taking”, as she puts it, from their female partners.

“There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath,” she writes. “A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colours, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach [them].”

The injustice of all this is, as Christie says, that these men absorb this education and then bring it into their next relationship, passing it off as their own for their next girlfriend. What do we get in return?

It might not sound romantic, but in every relationship there is some sort of transaction at play. One person is always taking something from the other – and ideally, this dynamic is reciprocated. But it isn’t always. It certainly hasn’t been in most of the heterosexual relationships my friends and I have entered into.

Don’t get me wrong: the men I’ve been with have taught me plenty of things. Like how to spend an entire day surviving without really ever having to lift a finger. Or how to string someone along for months on end while secretly sleeping with someone else. And self-sabotage is a skill, too, you know.

In all seriousness, beyond a cool new song or genre of cinema, I’m not entirely sure that there has necessarily been any learning that has benefited me in any tangible way. You learn something from every relationship, sure – but not necessarily from every partner.

Christie’s tactic for overcoming this social injustice is to marry up (in terms of both age and finances). But I’m not sure that’s the best solution. Firstly, age is no guarantee of emotional or domestic maturity. And neither is wealth – the richest people I know tend also to be the least self-sufficient. Maybe the best practice is to take an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach and choose partners who’ve already been “trained” by the women who came before you. Just be sure to take a moment to thank them; they worked hard for that.

Opinion by Olivia Petter : The Independent:

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Psychologist reveals the five signs you’re a people pleaser

Psychologist reveals the five signs you’re a people pleaser

People pleasing means never saying no & going out of your way to help others
Fixing other people’s problems & apologizing too much are two signs
Most people enjoy being helpful and pleasing others.

Yet for a small but significant proportion, selfless behavior is taken to the extreme – risking serious mental health problems.
Psychologists have coined the phenomenon people pleasing, which is said to descibe those who never say no and always go out of their way for others at the expense of their own mental wellbeing.

According to studies, the roughly 14 per cent of people who engage in this behavior are more likely to develop serious mental health issues like anxiety, stress and depression.

One high-profile people pleaser is Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence who, in 2021, admitted she’d been ‘people-pleasing’ for the majority of her life.
‘Working made me feel like nobody could be mad at me,’ she told Vanity Fair.

‘And then I felt like I reached a point where people were not pleased just by my existence. So that kind of shook me out of thinking that work or your career can bring any kind of peace to your soul.’

But how do you know if you’re a perpetual people pleaser, or just a kind person?

Dr Juli Fraga, a San Francisco-based psychologist, has revealed the five signs of chronic people-pleasing that you should watch out for.

The first clue is often an underlying feeling of being out of control, she says.

When people perceive us in a way we don’t like and can’t control – for instance after a relationship break-up – there is a temptation to over-compensate in other areas of life, to ensure people like us.

Dr Juli Fraga said, behavior-wise, the first red-flag is over-apologizing, especially for things that aren’t your fault.

‘For instance, one of my former patients said he apologized every time he asked his boss a question,’ she told the Washington Post.

‘Because he “didn’t want to make them mad.”’

Another is taking responsibility for another person’s sadness, anger, or disappointment.

The people pleaser will assume they did something to cause the negative emotion, and attempt to fix it – even if it comes at their own expense.

The next sign is agreeing when you don’t, in order to avoid tension.

Dr Fraga said: ‘Years ago, I worked with a patient who championed her father’s political views, even though she couldn’t stand them.’

Then there’s being a ‘yes’ person when you want to say no.

Perhaps you take on a larger workload you can’t handle, or agree to pay for things you can’t afford.

I’m a reformed people pleaser – here’s how I changed my ways

London-based comedian Ania Magliano, 22, put too much effort into pleasing others and has now changed her ways including by changing the way she writes emails to saying no to things she doesn’t want to do.

The final sign is lulling yourself into the false belief that your feelings and needs don’t matter as much as other people’s.

Dr Fraga said: ‘Often, you hold a false belief that expressing [feelings] will be a burden, or cause someone to abandon you.’

A people pleaser often sets their own needs to the side for the benefit of others. For instance, running hours of errands for someone else or covering for a co-worker during the work day, leaving little time for moments of calm or a nutritious lunch.

Psychologists have long debated the root cause of people pleasing, but it is thought to be associated with a personality trait known as sociotropy – an unusually strong desire for social approval and acceptance.

People with this trait rely heavily on the quality of their relationships with other people to inform their own sense of self-worth and wellbeing.

Those with sociotropic traits are more likely to hold harmful self-beliefs like ‘I am unlovable’ and ‘I am helpless’, according to a 2018 study.

The behavior can also result from aggressive parenting, said Dr Fraga.

‘I once worked with a patient whose father shamed him whenever he expressed sadness. “If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about,” he was told.

‘On other occasions, his dad said, “I’m not in the mood to hear any of your stupid whining.” As a result, my patient worked hard to be “good” by doing what he was told. “If people like you, they leave you alone,” he told me.’

This is a trauma response known as ‘fawning’, or pleasing others to avoid conflict and establish a sense of security.

Dr Fraga advises patients to work on self-compassion and being as forgiving of themselves as they are of other people.

She said: ‘Start by asking yourself: “What is one thing that will help me feel soothed?” It could be taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea. Or it might be calling a friend or spending time with your beloved pet.’

She also encourages people to practice saying no and setting a boundary.


San Francisco-based psychologist has revealed how to tell if you’re a people pleaser – and at risk of stress, depression and anxiety
An underlying feeling of a loss of control
Saying sorry for things that aren’t your fault
Assuming you’re the cause of another person’s bad mood
Agreeing with opinions, despite holding the opposite view
Acting as if other people’s needs matter more than your own

Story by Cassidy Morrison Senior Health Reporter For Dailymail.Com

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Are you parenting your partner? 5 signs to look out for from a relationship psychologist

There are lots of signs you’re parenting your partner – we’ve asked a relationship expert to break down five of them.

It’s hard enough parenting the kids, without having to take responsibility for your partner as well. But, if you’re constantly having to organise their life and ask them to do basic tasks, or if you constantly correct them or pick up after them, you might be in this position. It can put a huge strain on romantic relationships and might leave you wondering how to fix your marriage or why you’ve gone off sex – even if you feel you’ve done everything you can to spice up your relationship.

We’ve spoken to relationship psychologist and founder of Love Evolved Dr Limor Gottlieb, to find out about some of the key signs that you’re parenting your partner. If her five red flags ring true for your relationship, then it might be time to sit down and have a talk about how you both feel about the current relationship dynamic.

5 signs that you’re parenting your partner

You make decisions for them. You find yourself often making decisions on behalf of your partner without consulting them or considering their input – this can range from small daily choices to significant life decisions.

You take on responsibilities. You find yourself often managing tasks and responsibilities that your partner should be handling themselves – this can include handling their finances, managing household chores, or organising their schedule.

You give unsolicited advice. You have a habit of giving your partner advice or instructions about how they should live their life without them asking for it. This can come across as patronising and can ultimately result in your partner feeling undervalued and incompetent.

You micromanage their behaviour. You often monitor and critique your partner’s behaviour in a way that feels controlling or overly critical. This could involve commenting on their habits, appearance or interactions with others. This may stem from your need to control and mould them into your ideal image.

You feel responsible for their well-being to the point where you prioritise their needs above your own. This can lead you to feel burned out and resenting your partner when they don’t show appreciation for your effort.

If you notice these five things about yourself, it doesn’t spell the end of your relationship – have an honest, non-judgmental conversation with your partner about it. Make sure you both give each other the space to say how you feel openly while the other one listens, and try to set a goal or come to an agreement about how you plan to move forward.

If you’re aware that you’re parenting your partner but still feel unable to change this, your relationship might benefit from seeking professional help. You could visit Counselling Directory to find a relationship therapist who might work for you and your partner’s needs.

Story by Ellie Hutchings: Goodto

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Why have we fallen out of love with marriage?

Why have we fallen out of love with marriage?

Going to the chapel and we’re… not gonna get married, as it turns out. That’s because, for the first time on record, the percentage of over-16s in England and Wales who are wed or in a civil partnership has fallen below 50 per cent, according to just-released Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates for 2022. The figure had dropped to 49.4 per cent from 51.2 per cent a decade previously.

It’s the latest stat proving the immutable fact that marriage is on the decline. And not just in the UK – it’s a trend that’s happening in countries all over the world. Almost 90 per cent of the world’s population now live in countries with falling marriage rates; in the US, marriage has decreased by 60 per cent since the 1970s.

Right-wing think tank Civitas has gone so far as to predict that marriage will all but disappear by 2062 after analysing marriage trends over a 50-year period. “One couple will get married for every 400 adults in the UK (0.52 per cent of the population over 16) compared to one couple for every 100 adults today – a drop of more than 70 per cent in two generations,” said the research.

So why is it that we’ve fallen so dramatically out of love with marriage? It’s not that the desire to get hitched has disappeared. Based on a 2023 survey of 906 Generation Z and millennials who are currently in relationships but not married, the Thriving Center of Psychology found that 83 per cent anticipated tying the knot at some point.

“It’s still the case that people want to get married, that hasn’t changed greatly, unlike lots of other societal attitudes over the last 30 years,” agrees Paul Dolan, author of Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life and professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics (LSE). “But there is a general trend for people doing things later.”

That’s certainly true of marriage; the age at which people get married for the first time has consistently been on the rise. In Britain, the median first marriage age for opposite-sex couples in 2020 was 35.3 years for men and 33.2 for women, about five years older than they would have been in 1995, and nine years older than in 1964.

One factor, particularly amid the cost of living crisis, could be cold, hard cash. An annual national wedding survey of 1,800 British newlyweds conducted by found that the average cost of a wedding had increased to £20,700 last year, up from £18,400 in 2022 and £17,300 in 2021. Couples didn’t set out to spend this much – more than half of those surveyed (59 per cent) revealed they had gone over their original budget.

“It’s very difficult to separate out the rising cost of living with the decline in married couples,” says the editor of, Zoe Burke. “As the cost of living rises, couples look to cut spending and a wedding can often feel unjustifiable when you are working to a budget. With the average cost of a wedding rising by 12.5 per cent in the past year to £20,700, it makes sense that for many couples it won’t be a priority to get married. However, with that being said, it is possible to get married on a budget. Registry office weddings have risen in popularity in recent years, as well as the popularity of civil ceremonies, as couples look to pare back their celebrations.”

According to the Thriving Center of Psychology survey, 73 per cent of respondents felt it was too expensive to get married in the current economic climate. However, a higher proportion of those surveyed (85 per cent) “did not feel marriage is necessary to have a fulfilled and committed relationship”. It could simply be that marriage is seen as less necessary for modern couples. “Been together 32 years, not married – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Chris Coleman from North Yorkshire. “I definitely don’t see the point, it’s just not for me. Plus, I’m not religious.”

Writer Debbie Rolls has similarly lived with her partner since 1988 with “no intention of ever marrying”. “When we were young we felt our relationship had nothing to do with church or state,” she tells me. “Now it seems a waste of money and time. There was a point where we might have done it for financial reasons but now our teacher pensions are transferable without marriage. Why would we get married?”

Many women have more choice when it comes to marriage than ever before: whether to marry, who, and then whether to stay married

Rachael Lennon, author
The decline in marriage rates is often cast in a negative light, particularly among conservatives with a small “c”. “Societies throughout history have encouraged marriage because they know it’s the most effective method for bonding men with the mothers of their future children,” said Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation, a charity “championing marriage for the good of society”, in response to the latest ONS stats. “The continued trend away from marriage is bad news for couples and bad news for children. Nearly half of all teenagers do not live with both natural parents, most of which due to the separation of parents who never married. Marriage may not be a panacea but it stacks the odds in favour of stable families.”

However, marriage equalling a more stable upbringing for children isn’t something we should accept as fact, argues Dolan. “People will often talk about how divorce is awful for children,” he says. “But you need to know what the counterfactual would be – how would those children fare if the parents had stayed together? Quite often in high-conflict marriages, it’s arguably better for the kids that they do divorce.”

One positive contributing factor is the fact that women have more independence and agency in 2024 than they’ve ever had historically. “Generations of women in the past found that their only means of accessing sex and parenthood, a household and opportunities to contribute to society was as a married woman,” says Rachael Lennon, author of Wedded Wife: A Feminist History of Marriage. “Jane Austen’s Charlotte Lucas [in Pride and Prejudice] preferred the idea of marriage to Mr Collins than the alternative of unmarried life – [being] dependent on her parents at home. A woman’s entire identity and status were routinely transformed at her wedding.

“It’s great that so many women feel freer from the pressures to marry that their predecessors experienced. Many women have more choice when it comes to marriage than ever before; whether to marry, who, and then whether to stay married.”

This sentiment is echoed in a piece of global research documenting the lives and marriages of women, conducted by Dinah Hannaford, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston and co-editor of the book Opting Out: Women Messing with Marriage around the World. It identified various reasons why more and more women are choosing not to get married: increasing career opportunities and independence, finding more security living with their parents and siblings, and partners’ infidelity.
“Marriage has mostly not been a great situation for women historically and across the world, and they’re trying to find alternative solutions,” Hannaford wrote. “As new opportunities open up for women to be full people without it, they’re opting for that.”

Hannaford and her team found that, in many of the societies they studied, when women had the option of staying with their own family rather than moving in with a husband, they preferred the former. They also highlighted the value of friendship: “Anthropologists are so focused on lineage and marriage, we don’t think about how friendship plays a really important role in everyone’s lives,” Hannaford wrote.

This is something that Dolan agrees is paramount to our overall wellbeing. “If there was one question I could ask that wasn’t directly related to happiness, but was a good guide to how your life was going, it would be: ‘Have you got someone you can talk to?’ Close relationships are fundamental to the human condition and help us flourish. But they don’t need to be monogamous or intimate. Friendships are critical; marriage is an add-on.”

Perhaps for this reason, men benefit more from being married than women do, according to Dolan’s research. “Lots of men are not very equipped to deal with the absence of a partner, while women are generally better at cultivating networks of friendships and relationships,” he says. “He’s the one losing out by not getting married more than she is – so why do we judge unmarried women more?”

Maybe women are finally waking up to the fact it’s not always in their interests to get married

Paul Dolan, author
In fact, while married men are generally healthier and happier than their unmarried counterparts, data analysis in Dolan’s book found that women who are single with no children live longer and often claim to be happier than those who are hitched. “Maybe women are finally waking up to the fact it’s not always in their interests to get married,” he tells me. “Maybe the power of the narrative that they need to do it is getting less potent.”

Rather than tying ourselves in knots worrying about why people aren’t tying the knot, maybe we should all be prioritising friendships and social networks that will stand us in good stead, no matter our marital status. “We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to marriage,” says Dolan. “But marriage can sometimes be a proxy for close relationships. If you want to be happy, focus on working out what good, healthy relationships look like, and how to cultivate them.”

While it doesn’t look like the institution of marriage is going anywhere anytime soon – it’s existed in some form or another in almost every society in recorded history – we “need to keep questioning the assumptions and expectations that have come down to us – and to continue to let go of bad habits”, argues Lennon. “Nearly 90 per cent of women in the UK continue to give up their name following their wedding. Why should women be disproportionately pressured to change their names? Why shouldn’t we expect women’s voices to be heard in wedding speeches as much as men’s? In different-sex weddings, do women really need to be ‘given away’ while their husbands-to-be remain qualified to give themselves?”

And, the million-dollar question: “Can we let go of outdated ideas of what it means to be a woman and a wife and see a fairer distribution of social and domestic labour in our society?” Lennon asks. “We still have some way to go. Marriage needs to keep evolving to survive.”

Story by Helen Coffey: The Independent

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This is how experts advise you overcome feelings of rejection

One adjective that’s haunted me my entire life is sensitive. While it’s sometimes a compliment, more often than not it’s a comment on how I handle rejection, exclusion, and any perceived failure.

Growing up, I was that kid who ruminated over not getting invited to birthday parties. I turned into that teen who cried in the girls’ bathroom after not being cast in the school musical. And, naturally, I turned into the kind of adult who had a difficult time moving on from an ‘I’m not ready to be in a relationship’ text or a ‘We went with another candidate for this role’ email.

If any of these examples give you visceral flashbacks to your own humiliating moments of rejection, there’s a reason these memories sting. Turns out, even thinking about instances of social rejection (seeing a photo of someone who broke your heart, for example) can activate the same part of your brain that responds to physical pain, according to one study. Feeling rejected literally hurts.

From an evolutionary perspective, rejection’s harsh impact makes sense: the desire to be accepted is a survival instinct. The individuals with the highest survival rates ‘were the ones who were most attuned to behaving in ways that prevented other people from rejecting them,’ says Mark Leary, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Unfortunately, rejection – in all its shapes and forms – is an unavoidable part of modern life too. ‘People personalise it and think it’s about them, when rejection really is just part of everybody’s experience,’ says Gary Lewandowski, Jr., PhD, a professor of psychology at Monmouth University.

Meet the experts: Mark Leary, PhD, is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Gary Lewandowski, Jr., PhD, is a professor of psychology at Monmouth University. Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, is a psychologist and the author of Bouncing Back From Rejection.

And there’s no good way to make it hurt less when someone ghosts you after a promising second date or when you’re passed over for a promotion. Your response to rejection ‘is sort of like stepping on a sharp object with your bare feet,’ says Leary. It’s painful, but the pain is actually a sign that you’re an evolved human being who doesn’t want to get hurt.

That said, there are ways you can shift your mindset to not let yourself ruminate over rejection (after that one joke that didn’t land, or that one photo of your friends grabbing drinks without you).

Having coping tools in your arsenal can help your overall mood and mental health, too, says psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, author of Bouncing Back From Rejection: ‘You’ll feel more positively about yourself, and you’ll be more persevering and resilient.’ Ready to rethink rejection?

1. Spot the difference between being rejected and *feeling* rejected
Experiencing a familiar sense of shame and sadness after a new mom friend said she wasn’t free for a playdate with the kids this week? First, try to look at what happened—really look at it—and ask yourself if it’s possible that you’re just feeling sensitive.

‘Neutral reactions from other people are often perceived as rejection because the neutrality indicates this person doesn’t particularly value the relationship,’ says Leary. ‘Many of the times we feel rejected, technically we weren’t.’ In other words, anything other than enthusiasm can be perceived as a dismissal.

Play detective and ask yourself a few questions to get to the bottom of it: am I interpreting this situation properly? Is it possible this person was simply distracted or dealing with other things in their life? Maybe we communicate in different ways? Am I really getting turned down, or am I just not receiving the response I’d like?

2. Train your brain to see the positive side of every encounter
Rejection can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Lewandowski – if you’re looking for it, you’ll see small rejections everywhere, whether it’s your office pal offering unsolicited outfit advice or your partner taking several hours to respond to a text. On the flip side, if you look for signs that you’re valued and appreciated, you’ll likely start noticing those too. One example: ‘That same person who didn’t text you back quickly enough did text you back,’ Lewandowski points out.

Practice taking note of when you’re accepted and included, and eventually you’ll “train yourself” to be better at noticing the positives and giving them the same weight as those negative observations.

3. Spend time with people who make you feel loved and accepted
Sometimes, a situation might leave you feeling rejected—and you won’t even recognise it in the moment, says Becker-Phelps. Maybe you always have a great time with your workout buddies, but afterward, you notice you feel down on yourself. ‘Take a moment, step back, and ask, “Do I feel good about myself when I’m with these individuals?”‘ says Becker-Phelps.

If a person makes you feel less than, try talking it out—it’s possible they don’t realise how they’re impacting you. Beyond that, focus your energy on people who appreciate you. ‘Those who handle rejection well tend to have a stronger relationship network,’ Leary says. This is also part of the reason people can become less sensitive with age – friendships and community feel more stable as you grow older, which causes ‘outside’ rejections to hurt less.

4. Expand your world—and your identity
Three scenarios for you: You just received constructive criticism at work. You got dumped by someone you were dating. You devoted years to writing and editing a novel or memoir, but it took an agent or editor just minutes to say they didn’t love it. (Not to rejection-brag or anything, but I’ve experienced all three.) It feels as if the world just ended—maybe because that job, relationship, or creative project was your whole world.

Another example is ‘someone who’s all-in on being a med student,’ says Lewandowski. ‘Their identity is so wrapped up in [their career] that when they get a bad test grade, they’re devastated.’ For someone else who has a ton of relationships and other interests, though, that same grade might still sting… but not feel like a threat to their identity.

If any of this sounds relatable, make an effort to place more emphasis on other factors that matter to you—or even just recognise the different ways you define yourself, says Lewandowski. Then, when you experience a rejection, ‘you have plenty of other things going on’ and feel a little more balanced.

5. Think about, write down, and repeat what you love about yourself
You might’ve heard that positive affirmations can elevate your self-worth. But instead of just repeating that you’re a good, worthy person in the hope you’ll believe it someday, dig deeper and find words specific to you: What unique traits make you you?

‘You might notice that you perk up a little when you think about them,’ Becker-Phelps says. Repeat these affirmations daily; you’ll start to feel more resilient and confident.

In that spirit of self-love, I’ve come to realise my sensitivity isn’t a bad thing – it’s human, and it makes me a more empathetic and thoughtful person. And while I’m okay with being attuned to the pain of rejection, what I’m ready to change is how I react to it. Because, cheesy as it sounds, I now know that every rejection has led me somewhere better.

Story by Lydia Wang:Womens Health UK.