December Reading List

These are all articles I’ve collected over the last few months that I wanted to share with you. Some are about healing relationships while others are about ending relationships or how to survive once it’s over. Each one holds some nugget of wisdom that is worth passing on.

So pour the coffee, pull up a chair and get your read on:)


Are You In a Relationship With An Unavailable Person? 

This article discusses how we often mistake intensity for intimacy and gives twelve signs to look for in your partner (or yourself!) that indicate that somebody has trouble with vulnerability and connection. Read more here.


8 Scientific Facts About Successful Marriages

Some of these are obvious. Others, less so. It’s always good to reminded about what makes relationships – not just marriages – work. Read more here.


15 Reasons to Date a Martial Artist

Okay, so I married one. So I may be a bit biased:) Many of these are excellent traits in any partner, not just one who trains. Number 6 was especially key to me after the way my ex handled things. Read more here.


5 Surefire Ways to Kill a Relationship

I would wager that if you’re being honest, you would recognize at lease one of these patterns in your own relationship repertoire to some extent. If you name it, you can change it. Read more here.


35 Ways to Tell If It’s Over, And to Tell Your Partner

Do you want step-by-step instructions on what to do once you start thinking that the relationship has reached its end? You’ve come to the right place. Read more here.


3 Keys to Ending a Relationship With Dignity

If you know you want to end it, this post lists three important ideas to keep in mind to ensure a “good” breakup for you and your partner. Surprising, they don’t suggest ending a marriage via text. Read more here.


Your Brain is Nagging You. Here Are 5 Ways to Make it Stop.

Many of these I use with my coaching clients to help them limit intrusive thoughts about an ex. If you find that your brain fixates on thoughts you would rather not have, this is for you. Read more here.


Marital Debt Should Not Convey

I entered my current relationship with plenty of debt – both literal and figurative. When Brock and I first started dating, I was seriously limited by the financial repercussions of the divorce and was still hamstrung by the emotional fallout. It was impossible for those encumbrances to have no effect on my new relationship: I wasn’t able to contribute as much money towards dates and activities as I would have liked and I was still working through the impact of betrayal and abandonment.

Even though it impacted him, at no point did either one of us assign him the liability for the outstanding tab.

Because marital debt should not convey.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

On the money front, it has been difficult at times when Brock and I have different financial standpoints. Until just two months ago, almost a fifth of every one of my paychecks went to my ex’s debt. And that was on top of everything I had already paid (literally a third of my pre-tax income in the last five years). I would get frustrated sometimes, not that Brock had more leeway with money, but that I was still so limited.

There were times those frustrations would come out, my anger towards my ex mixing with my irritation at not being able to afford something I needed with a dash of fear about my financial future. And he’s always been awesome – giving me money to buy clothes last winter, never making me feel guilty about not paying my full share on trips or dinners (or being able to cosign on the house) and always letting me know that he has my back.

But the reality is that the martial debt was mine to pay. My burden. My responsibility. And now, it’s my job to work to build up my savings and my credit.

Because marital debt should not convey.

In some ways, the financial debt is easier to work with. It’s clear what it is and where it comes from. Whereas the emotional encumbrance? Yeah, not so easy to catch.

I was really careful with one area of emotional debt. I knew I was sensitive to infidelity and lies. It would have been very easy for me to enter in to a new relationship and punish my new partner for the sins of the old – questioning every phone call, peeking at every text, growing suspicious at every night away for business. But all that is going to do is drive away the new partner. My sensitivities and insecurities were my problem to address. Not his.

Other debts were not so clear. I can easily (over)respond because some past situation is triggered. Don’t believe me? Read this. It’s embarrassing to me now after this has been the outcome. At times like those, I have a more difficult time not shifting the debt; I’m flooded and scared and the line between past and present sometimes becomes blurry.

And in those moments, Brock can definitely help. He helps me feel safe while also letting me know that I’m not being fair to him. He can help me heal but ultimately, the work is mine to do.

Because marital debt should not convey.

If you start a new relationship burdened by the debris of the old, you are weighing it down before it ever has a chance to grow. Instead of placing the weight of your former marriage on the shoulders of your new partner, do the work yourself of breaking through the burden until it no longer has to be shouldered by anyone.

Because marital debt should not convey.

Unless of course, you want a repeat of the end of the first marriage.



Starting Over

“I can’t do this.”

“Why should I try again? I’m just going to fail.”

“Maybe I’m just no good at this.”

“I’m tired of trying.”

I hear those refrains from my coaching clients about lifestyle changes. I hear them from my blog followers about relationships. And, most of all, I hear them from my students about algebra.

My days are filled with students groaning  in frustration, papers wadded up and thrown away in disgust. Every day, I reach into my supply of pencil-topping erasers and provide students with a way to obliterate their mistakes. Sometimes, they become too defeated by even the faintest echoes of work gone wrong, and I have to provide them with a fresh copy, unsullied by their past choices. Some students thrive when they can write on the Activeboard or even with dry erase markers on the desk, where the marks of any error erase without a trace. I model starting over, capitalizing upon rather than hiding my own mistakes at the board.

So much of my day is spent coaching people in starting over – motivating past the initial resistance and guiding new attempts. And even though I coach students on algebra and adults on life, much of the lessons are the same.

We would rather fail because we didn’t try than fail because we couldn’t do.

This was a powerful realization in my early teaching days. I would get so frustrated with students who would just give up and refuse to attempt anything. I saw it as lazy. Or obstinacy. But usually it was a form of self protection. You see, if we try and fail, it reflects upon on abilities. Whereas if we do not try, it only discloses our choices. I learned that in order to reach these students, I had to first convince them that they were worthy in spite of their failures. I found ways to build them up. To let them know that it was safe to try and fail; I would not ridicule mistakes and I would not allow other to either. And then I would find ways to create successes so that they could feel the joy of finally getting something right.

Failure means you’re learning. Starting over means you’re applying the lessons.

We may me more mature than those kids in some ways, but we also shy away from trying because of a fear of how it reflects upon us. We internalize failure rather than see it as a sign of growth. We want to play it safe, stay in known zone where the risks are not too great and the effort not too imposing. We look at the past effort as wasted and we fear starting over because it may lead to another dead end. But the reality is that nothing is ever wasted if you learn from it.

Starting over is overwhelming.

Whether it’s one of students having to re-do a page long problem or a person facing dating again after the end of a long marriage, starting over is hard. Very hard. It’s like taking your first step of thousands in a marathon – your leg is moving forward even as your brain is screaming, “Don’t! It’s impossible!” As with any feat of endurance, the trick is to focus on one step at a time. Starting over requires energy and if you’re mentally biting off more than you can chew, you’re exhausting your resources before you even begin.

When we focus only on the results, we grow frustrated. Celebrate the steps along the way.

I get a strange look from students when I praise their reasoning or skill on one step of a problem but still advise them that their answer is incorrect. “But, Mrs. Arends, I got it wrong. Why are you telling me I did something good?” Learning is a process. Starting over is a process. When we attach too much meaning to the outcome, whether it be a date or an algebra problem, we may miss the signs that we are getting better. So even when the results aren’t what you wanted, celebrate any signs of improvement.

Defeat only occurs when you give up. It’s better to change your goal than to throw in the towel.

In spite of the message put forth by the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality, not everybody can do everything. There are times that you may be trying to accomplish something that is beyond your reach and requires an endless amount of starting over. Rather than just give up completely, shift your goal to something you can do.

When we begin again, the possibilities are endless.

There is something about a blank slate that cultivates enthusiasm. It’s an empty canvas ready to accept whatever you put down. It’s easier to start from the actions of the past, rewriting what we have already tried. But this is your chance to do something new. Different. If one way didn’t work, toss it out and play around with another. If you allow it, starting over can have a sense of playfulness. Curiosity. Wonder and excitement.

Starting over is not doing the same thing again. Starting over is a gift of being able to apply the wisdom of your past to create the image of your future. 

Try. You just might amaze yourself with what you can do.


Dating After Divorce: Common Pitfalls

I received a message the other day from a woman who was recently divorced after fifteen years of marriage. But that’s not why she was reaching out. She was instead asking for help dealing with the utter devastation she was feeling at the end of a six month relationship.

She seemed surprised at the depth of her response.

I wasn’t.

Dating after divorce is often a journey through murky waters. Every encounter and action can have multiple layers, as we work through the end of one marriage, heal ourselves and learn to be in a new relationship. Those events take time and often result in certain stumbling blocks in dating after divorce.

Beginning Deja-Vu

If you were in a long marriage and you were faithful, it has probably been a long time since you have experienced the particular thrill that can electrify the early stages of infatuation. In fact, the last time you felt that intense passion and excitement may well have been with your ex, back when you thought they were the best thing ever. Anyone can get swept up in the romance of new love, but if you’re associating it with the beginning of long marriage, you’re even more at risk for reading more into it than there is. The beginning is always intense. But it’s what happens after that matters.

The Gift of Hope

When a marriage ends, it’s easy to feel unlovable. Broken, even. This belief is even more prevalent when infidelity or abandonment occurred and a partner is left wondering why he/she is not good enough. It’s common to fear that you will be alone. That no one will want you. When that first glimpse of love again occurs, it is though the clouds parted and let the sun through for the first time after a long, dark winter. It’s a sign that maybe you’re not broken beyond repair and that you can be loved as you are. Be careful, though. Because if you’re projecting damage, you will attract those who want to fix – white knights and enablers. It may feel good for a time, but they need you to remain broken. Is that what you want?

Warp Speed

When one has been married, one knows how to be married. And one often forgets how to date. Recent divorcees are known for rushing in to a relationship and then rushing in to commitment. It’s usually not intentional. It’s just the comfort zone. But getting to know someone takes time. If you’re talking home buying before you have discussed deepest fears and witnessed their most important values, you’re falling in love with an idea rather than a person. Slow down. 

Loss Amplified

Loss often triggers memories of other loss. Especially when a new relationship is entered soon after divorce, healing may be delayed. After all, it’s more fun to focus on the new romance than the demise of the old. But the thing about feelings is that they refuse to stay buried for long. As a result, the end of even a superficial connection can feel immense as it triggers the emotions buried from the earlier loss. What you feel may not always be a result of what just happened; cause and effect of emotion is more nuanced than that.

By all means, go out and date when you’re ready.

But please, keep your eyes open.

Feedback in Relationships

I had to deliver some staff development today on the concept of feedback in the classroom (please try to restrain your disappointment at not being invited:) ). As I was moving through the material, my monkey mind was making connections to how we give and receive feedback with students and how it relates to feedback in relationships. So even though you missed my presentation this morning, I’ll still share my thoughts with you and feedback and its role in our relationships. Only now the professional dress has been replaced with yoga pants:)

Feedback is Meant to Improve, Not Shame

There’s a TED talks video by Rita Pierson we always watch at meetings where she talks about putting +2 on a child’s paper rather than -18. That’s because the purpose of feedback is to improve, not to punish or shame. Feedback should never be delivered in anger or in frustration. It’s deliberate. Conscious. Careful.

In a relationship, any criticisms or advice delivered in a heated moment will not be received. If feedback is shared in public in a shaming way, no positive change will occur.If your purpose is to make your partner feel badly, you’re bitching, not providing feedback.

Your first responsibility in a partnership is to change yourself – your perceptions, your actions, your responses. Yet there will be times where you need to work to shape your partner’s actions for the betterment of the pair and feedback is a critical component of this. Before you speak, make sure your intentions are to improve, not to shame or blame.

Climate Comes First

The first goal of any effective teacher is establishing a classroom culture where students feel safe and secure and feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. If this climate is not present, any negative feedback tends to lead to defensiveness and shutting down. But once this climate is built, students know that you care about them and they are much more receptive to feedback, even if it is negative.

Relationships are no different. We need to feel safe in our partnerships. We need to trust that it’s okay to not be perfect and that a single mistake won’t mean that we’re kicked out. It’s important to establish a relationship climate where both partners feel comfortable voicing their concerns and receiving feedback from the other.

In the classroom and in relationships, building a positive and safe climate takes time. Trust doesn’t occur overnight; it comes from a pattern of action and response. Energy put into developing this environment goes a long way. Brock and I put quite a bit of effort into this early on (using candles as a signal) and that preliminary work has since paid dividends (and the candles have been in retirement for the last year and a half or so).

Goals Must be Clear and Shared

In the classroom, it’s not fair to give students feedback on their progress when they do not know or understand the goal they are trying to reach. Teachers use a variety of methods to communicate learning expectations to the students so that not only do they have an idea of where they are relative to where they need to be, but they have a clear picture of the ideal destination.

We know how important communication is in relationships and how easily misunderstandings can spiral out of control. Just as it’s not fair to berate a student for failing to achieve some mysterious goal, it is unfair to a partner to expect him/her to read your mind and then react with negative feedback when he/she doesn’t make strides to the goal you had in mind.

The learning goals for my classroom are constantly changing (thanks Common Core and meddling politicians!) and goals in relationships are often as malleable as curriculum. It’s important to continually touch base and ensure that the relationship-related goals are clear and shared.

Feedback Should be Formative, Not Only Summative

Teachers divide learning activities into two categories: formative and summative. The former describes the activities that occur during the learning process, such as practice and quizzes. The latter applies to the culminating event, such as an exam or project, where a student is expected to demonstrate mastery of a concept. Effective feedback occurs during the learning process so that the student can shape his or her actions towards the stated goal. It’s not fair or effective for the first feedback to be received when it really counts.

So, as that relates to relationships, don’t do what my ex did. The first time I knew there was a problem in the marriage was when he left with a text message. If there had been formative feedback along the way, there may have been an opportunity to change. There’s often a balance in relationships – sometimes you need to bite your tongue and avoiding bringing something that is minor or fleeting. And you also need to address any issues before they build to a level that destroys the partnership.

If the point of feedback is to improve, make sure that it’s given along with a chance to make the improvements. Otherwise it’s not feedback, it’s just a bunch of red x’s and a big, fat “F.”

Address the Actions, Not the Person

The fastest way to alienate a kid is to attack their person, to imply or state that they are “stupid” or “no good.” They will quickly live up (or actually, down) to the claim. Teachers have to be careful to address issues the kids can control – study habits, practice, etc. rather than things they cannot – learning disabilities, sub par schooling, etc.

We all have innate tendencies and backgrounds that we cannot control. When those are attacked, we shut down as we internalize the message. When you are giving feedback to a partner, be careful not to condemn areas they cannot change or that are an inherent part of who they are. Focus on the actions and behaviors that are transient and reworkable.

Feedback Should be Specific and Actionable

Students don’t grow when they receive a failing grade on an assignment with the implied message “you suck at this.” It’s overwhelming and they give up. Instead, they improve when they are given specific and actionable feedback that addresses one or two areas at a time with recognition given for progress along the way.

Baby steps work for relationships too. Don’t flood your partner with a laundry list of feedback. Start small, focus on one behavior. Acknowledge improvement, no matter how small. Be clear and specific. When the intent is clearly stated, it’s more likely to happen.


Just like with teaching, feedback does not only flow one direction. Be open and receptive to your partner’s feedback. Assume that their intent is to make you better.

And remember, we are all still learning. Always.