Look Out For These “Red Flag” Phrases

I’d never do anything to hurt you.

This is naive at best and a manipulative distraction at worst. In any meaningful relationship, the occasional hurt is unavoidable.  Toes are carelessly stepped on, harsh words erupt before they’re caught and actions are misconstrued to have an alternate meaning. Hurt happens. And it’s what happens after that matters. Instead of a promise to “never hurt,” look for somebody who will be willing to learn from the unintentional injury and try to do better going forward.

In the more malevolent case, this phrase is used as a numbing balm that conceals the sharpness of the knife pressed into your back. It claims that your best interest is at heart, when the reality is that your heart is being shredded without your knowledge.


You deserve better.

When somebody makes this claim, listen. It may be that they have been far-from-honest with you and they are admitting that you don’t deserve that betrayal of trust. Alternately, they may possess a low sense of self and they feel that they are not worthy of you. Although not malicious, this is also a warning sign because an insecure person will bring unhealthy needs and patterns into a relationship.

Ideally, a relationship inspires both people to be at their best because they want their partner to have the best.


You’re my everything.

Talk about a whole lot of pressure. If you’re someone’s everything, they are looking to you to meet ALL of their needs. And not only is this stressful, it’s also impossible.

It’s healthy and natural to be the most important thing in each other’s lives.  But those lives should also be filled with other friends, interests and supports.


Your happiness is more important than my own.

Sounds good, right? But think it through. First off, this would require a perfect reciprocity to pull it off, both partners neglecting their own well-being in exchange for cultivating their partner’s happiness. Furthermore, nobody else has the power to make you happy or unhappy. That has always been – and will always be – an inside job.

Ideally, each person takes full responsibility for their own happiness and understands that by attending to your own well-being, you’re in turn nurturing the other person as you present your best self and refrain from making impossible demands that they make you okay. You want your partner to be happy and you strive to support that, but you also recognize the limitations of you can provide.


You made me…

Just no. You cannot make somebody do/feel/think anything. You are responsible for your words and actions. The other person is responsible for their reactions. It is up to them to communicate clearly and instate boundaries if needed. Then, the ball is back in your court to respond to that information.

This phrase is a favorite one of abusers, as they manipulate their partners into believing that it is all their fault. Even in milder cases, these words are an indication that the person shirks responsibility for themselves and is more likely to point fingers than make changes.


I can’t survive without you.

Again with the pressure. This is commonly used to tether a person to a toxic relationship. It’s hard to leave when you’re told that your leaving could have dire consequences for the person that you (presumably) care about.

But that burden is not your to carry. If you need to leave, you need to leave. Your responsibility is do so in the kindest, clearest and cleanest way possible. What happens from there is not on you.


You’re my soulmate.

This one sure sounds romantic. But there’s a dark side to it. If you’re placed on the pedestal stamped with the title “soulmate,” you do not have permission to be anything less than perfect. A successful relationship of any duration requires a growth mindset that accepts that perfection is an illusion and sees mistakes as opportunities to learn.



Five Signs That You May Be in Denial

If I had been able to be honest with myself during my first marriage, I would have known that something was wrong.

But I wasn’t honest with myself. Instead, I was doing the adult equivalent of the child hiding under the covers when a strange noise reverberates throughout the house. Part of my brain was acting in an attempt to protect me; keeping me blinded from the truth and providing me with the illusion of security.

At the time (and even in the months following the brutal discovery of what was happening beyond my closed eyes), I wasn’t able to tell that I was in denial. When asked, I would describe in detail the extreme efforts that my ex undertook to keep the truth hidden from me. But I would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the efforts I went to in order to keep the truth from myself.

Looking back, these are the five signs that suggested that I was in denial:


1 – I Made Excuses

I attributed my stress to work. I brushed off my then-husband’s strange comment to his health-related tension. I excused the rejected debit card as a miscommunication with the bank. There was always a reason for everything, and that reason never had anything to do with my husband embezzling marital funds or seeking another wife.

When excuses, for yourself or others, become the knee-jerk reaction, it’s a sign that you may be ignoring something important. Pay attention to your pardons. If they are frequent, especially with regards to a certain person or situation, it would be wise to consider looking deeper.


2 – My Reactions Were Over-the-Top

When my husband would call and announce that he would be home late from work, I would have to fight back my initial strong response. When he made a minor – and admitted or visible – mistake, I would find myself becoming irrationally upset. And that’s because I wasn’t responding to the situation at hand; I was reacting to what I was not allowing myself to see.

Pay attention to your reactions. If they are consistently rating a 10 in response to a level 2 or 3 offense, your emotions may be due to something else entirely. Take a moment and explore what is really upsetting you.


3 – Certain Thoughts or Topics Were Off Limits

We never talked about what would happen if our relationship didn’t go the distance. We never discussed infidelity or the temptations that all people can encounter. I never allowed my thoughts to wander in the direction of my husband being anything but loving towards me.

When certain topics are in the no-go zone (either between you or even within your own mind), it is an indication that you may be intentionally refusing to explore what is hidden there. Those darkened spaces become the closet where the monstrous secrets can hide until they grow too big to contain.


4 – I Had an Underlying Current of Anxiety

It was electric, a strange buzz that radiated through my entire body. It came on slowly, so it was difficult to say for certain that it hadn’t always been there. It reminded me of the spidey sense I get as a teacher before a fight breaks out – it’s a physical awareness of emotional energy.

Even when our brains are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge something, our bodies are often clued-in. Pay attention to your physical symptoms – elevated heart rate or blood pressure, stomach issues or frequent illness. Your body may be trying to tell you something.


5 – There Was a Disconnect Between Observations and Conclusions

I believed that my husband was a good man. Kind. Caring. And hard-working. Yet there were times that his actions didn’t support those presumptions. So I simply brushed those times aside.

This is confirmation bias at its worst – we make conclusions and then proceed to seek out evidence that supports it and reject any information to the contrary. This is a cognitive distortion that we are all subject to, yet awareness of it goes a long way in limiting its reach. Don’t allow your conclusions to be so entrenched that you ignore any further observations.


Denial seems like it’s a comfortable place. After all, the child hiding beneath the covers convinces himself that there is safety to be found on the bed. At the same time, he is held prisoner beneath the sheets, convincing himself that to step out from the covers would be dangerous even as he constantly worries about what lurks outside.

Instead, if the child throws back the sheets and summons the courage to investigate the strange noise, the worry dissipates as he either discovers that the threat is imagined or he learns the true nature of the danger.

Denial comes a great cost. It provides you with some temporary security and asks for your constant fear in return. Trust that you can face whatever scares you and you will find that your fear fades away.


Slowly Turning Up the Heat: The Dark Side of the “New Normal”

A “new normal” can simply be a period of adjustment, of accepting what has changed and adapting to a new environment. This type of acclimatization may be uncomfortable, but it is ultimately relatively harmless and potentially even provides opportunity for growth.

Learn more about the “new normal” after divorce.

But that’s not always the case.

Like many people, I used to question the decision-making abilities of those who chose to stay in toxic or abusive environments. Don’t they see how poorly they’re being treated? Don’t they expect better for themselves? I just couldn’t understand.

Until I was in a toxic environment myself.

My first known experience with a poisonous atmosphere was when a new administration took over my school. The changes started almost immediately. The email newsletter, where exemplary teachers were highlighted on a weekly basis, was suspended. Meetings began to take on an accusatory tone and trust levels began to decline. By winter break, we all began to feel as though we were walking on eggshells and trying not to wake the sleeping dragon. The image that always comes to mind when I reflect upon that era is a meeting my team had with the principal. A meeting where he sat high behind his desk, yelling at us while we were seated on the floor.

We adapted. We learned when to keep our mouths shut (which was always, as long as we were within the bounds of the school). We learned not to question, because the answers were always in the form of punishment, meted out with what seemed to be a vicious delight. We even joked about the circumstances, trauma funneled into hilarity in an attempt to survive.

And the scary part? It began to feel acceptable. After all, we were ensconced in that environment for 10+ hours a day.

The toxic and abusive environment had become our new normal.

And it was only once we were out that we could see it for what it was. Once we were all back in functional work environments, we could see how crazy of a world we had occupied.


It may have become our normal.

But it was far from okay.

It is rare for abuse to go from “off” to “high heat” within the first meeting (because then nobody would ever stay, would they?). Rather, the heat is slowly increased so that the intensification hardly registers and the very-much-not-okay no longer seems unusual or to be of any consequence. That’s definitely how the covert abuse developed in my marriage.


There are a few strategies to identify this dark side of the “new normal” and to recognize abuse as it begins to escalate:

  • Be careful if you’re in a fragile state. You may find that you’re attracting people that see you as easy to manipulate or dominate.
  • Listen to your gut. You may not “know” what is wrong, but you’ll have a sense that something is off.
  • Be aware of if you’re creating justifications for situations or behavior. If you’re always making excuses, it’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.
  • Be cognizant of “boundary sliding.” If you always said, “I never put up with…” and now you are, that’s telling you something.
  • Ask for feedback. Describe the situation to a trusted friend or volunteer on a helpline and get their feedback. It’s easier to see clearly when you’re not on the inside.
  • If you have suspicions, begin to document the behaviors. Once you have it in writing, it’s easier to see any patterns and it’s harder to make excuses.


Abusive relationships rarely improve. Promises of “This will be the last time” and “I’m going to be better” seldom come to fruition. And while you’re waiting for it to get better, the heat may just reach the boiling point.

Jump out while you can.


How NOT to Be a Victim (No Matter What Life Throws at You!)

“Let me introduce you to the victim advocate,” offered the policeman who had arrested my husband the day before.


I stopped short. That was the first time that word – victim – had ever been applied to me. I certainly felt victimized. My partner of sixteen years had just abandoned me with a text message, stolen all of my money and then committed bigamy. Yet even though I was still in the acute phase of suffering, I startled at the application of the word “victim.”


Because even though I had been hurt, I did not want to see myself as a victim. Although it felt good for the pain and unfairness to be recognized, the term also made me feel minimized. That word embodied weakness in my mind and I wanted to feel powerful. It spoke of a lack of control and I wanted to be the one to drive my life.


I did not want to be a victim.


But for a time, I was.


In the beginning, I spoke about what was done to me. I looked for resolution and justice from outside sources, hoping for an apology from him and a conviction from the courts. I embraced my pain, feeling justified in holding on to it. Meanwhile, I demonized my ex, removing all semblance of humanity in my view of him.


There was a certain comfort in accepting a role as a victim. I garnered sympathy and commiseration from those around me. I had limited control and limited responsibility. But those same conditions that sheltered me also confined me.


As long as I saw myself as a victim, I would remain one. As long as I was limited by my past, I would remain a prisoner of what happened.


When the desired justice from the courts failed to appear and the hoped-for apology never came, I was left with a decision to make: I could either bemoan the circumstances or I could change my response.


I chose the latter.


I used the following ideas to help shed the guise of victim and make myself the hero of my own life:


Rewrite Your Story


When we are harmed, we often feel powerless, as though we are simply being led through someone else’s story. One of the first steps to renouncing victimhood is to take control of your story. Rewrite it. Reframe it. Narrate it. Change the perspective. Take yourself out of the role of victim (done to me) and put yourself in the role of hero (I did…). Write it or tell it until you believe it.


Pick up a pen and write your happy ending.


Create Purpose


Whatever happened, happened. There is no changing the past. But you can use the past to create something better in the future. Find some anger about what occurred and use that as fuel to drive you to create something better. Look around and see others suffering and use your experience to render aide. Use your rock bottom as a foundation for your life’s purpose.


You have the power to create something wonderful out of something terrible.


Make Changes


When unwanted change is thrust upon our lives, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Learn to recognize the potential hidden within and use the opportunity of uncertainty to create change of your choosing. There is no better time to release what no longer serves you and to embrace new beginnings.


When you’re rebuilding your life from the ground up, you have the power of choice and the wisdom of experience. That’s a powerful pair.


Find Gratitude


One of the powerful and difficult exercises that can empower the victimized is practicing radical gratitude. Face what has caused you the greatest pain, the most suffering, and write down why you are grateful for it. It is an amazing reminder of how much our thoughts rather than our circumstances are responsible for our happiness.


When gratitude is your wrapping paper, everything is a gift.



You are only a victim if you imprison yourself. Release yourself from the shackles of your past and let your spirit soar.




Your Rights and Responsibilities in Marriage

Your Rights In a Marriage


1 – You have the right to be safe.

You are entitled to be physically unharmed in your marriage. This right extends to the protection of all dimensions of abuse, from emotional to financial. You have the right to an expectation that your spouse does not seek to harm you and that if they inadvertently do, that they do not blame you for the transgression.

You have the right to feel safe in your marriage. However, and this is an important clarification, it is not your spouses responsibility to ensure that you are never uncomfortable with a situation. There will be times where you feel threatened because you are triggered. There will be times when you are scared of the content and importance of a conversation.


2 – You have the right to be informed.

You have the right to have access to any and all information that impacts the marriage, the family or you, personally. You can expect to have this information within a reasonable time frame and without having to beg or search for it.

The content and/or method of delivery of the information is outside of your ability to enforce. Additionally, keep in mind that your partner can only communicate that of which they are aware. At times, there may be issues beneath the surface that they have not yet brought to consciousness.


3- You have the right to be heard.

You have the right to ask for change. You have the right to speak your needs. You have the right to your voice and your truth.


4 – You have the right to freedom of choice.

You are entitled to respond as you see fit to any information that you receive. This right extends to communicating requests, issuing boundaries and even terminating the relationship.

At any point, you have the right to have sovereignty over your realm. This right does not extend to making decisions for other adults.




Your Responsibilities In a Marriage


1 – You have the responsibility to speak the truth.

You have the duty to communicate any information to your partner that may impact them as soon as you have achieved an understanding of the particulars. The decision to withhold information, even with the intent to spare your partner the pain, is contrary to your responsibility. Not everything needs to shared, but if you’re afraid to speak, it’s a sign that the information needs to come out.


2 – You have the responsibility to refrain from assumptions.

It is your obligation to approach your partner with an open mind and to refrain from assigning guilt and intent before you have all of the information. It is not fair to put a spouse on perpetual trial, where they are always tasked with defending themselves. Ultimately,  you have the responsibility to listen.


3 – You have the responsibility to keep your expectations in check.

It is not fair to place the burden of your happiness or life satisfaction at the feet of your partner. If your expectations are too high, you are setting your spouse up for failure. You have the responsibility for managing your own anticipation and supposition.


4 – You have the responsibility to address yourself first.

Before you assign blame, you have the obligation to first look inward and to address any issues you find first. Not only is it not fair or realistic to place all of the burden of change on your partner, it is also outside of your control.


5 – You have the responsibility of supporting the team.

When you enter a marriage, you are establishing a team. And you have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the team. Furthermore, you are obligated to ask for input and clarification about the goals and interests of the team, as needed.


6 – You have the responsibility of acting with kindness. 

Because there’s no excuse not to.


Additional reading on the rights and responsibilities within a marriage: 

What Do You Owe Your Spouse?

16 Widespread Misconceptions About Marriage

What Makes Relationships So Hard?