What story do they tell?
In my early days of talking about domestic abuse, people would always cite bruises as an indicator that abuse had taken place. But what if there are no visual clues?
I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship until a policeman pointed it out to me. This was 5-years after I had left the relationship and was still getting hassle from the perpetrator. Even then, I didn’t believe it was abuse, I just thought it was a ‘normal’ acrimonious separation involving a child. Because to me it was normal, so I accepted it.
Many of my clients tell me about what is going on their relationship and I occasionally have cause to suggest to them that theirs is an abusive relationship. Usually their first response is ‘but he doesn’t hit me’.
We talk about it further and I explain that words and actions can be equally as damaging as physical violence.
Over time, I help them work out what they want to do in the future; some choose to leave the relationship, others choose to stay and develop coping strategies. It is always my clients’ decision and I support her appropriately. If however, I truly believe she is in danger, then I will intervene.
Over time we work together to fix those unseen bruises, the aches and pains that no-one else knows you carry around day after day, hiding them Behind the Mask.
Stepping Behind the Mask is scary, you never know quite what you’ll uncover. But when you know the underlying cause of any symptoms, you can start to fix them.
The bruise in the photo is of my hip. I was recently knocked off my bicycle by a car. That bruise and a bent and twisted bike are the only visible signs of the accident. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have damage and pain in other areas of my body.
Next time you ponder about your relationship, think about more than what you and everyone else can see. Download my e-book that tells my story about what it’s like living Behind the Mask: “Whatever it takes: Living with Leaving and Surviving Psychological Abuse”
I recently celebrated my 50th birthday but I don’t have a single photo of my party to share with anyone.
Why is this?
Upon reflection I realise that it’s because all of us at the party were actually present in the moment rather than worrying about capturing it to share with the rest of the World.
Being present is something many of us forget about in our relationships.
How often are you truly present in your relationship?
Your partner arrives home from work and tells you about their day, but rather than listening properly you’re thinking about what to cook for dinner, what to tell them about your day, what time you have to pick the kids up.
You sit down to watch TV together but one of you is watching whilst the other is scrolling through social media on your phone.
You go out for dinner and rather than talk, you take selfies, photographs of your food, your surroundings and share them on social media.
When was the last time you and your partner really connected and were fully present with each other?
Try it today. Take just 20 minutes, put your phones on silent and out of sight. Spend 10 minutes each talking. Person 1 talks about their day or whatever they want for just 10 minutes without interruption, then person 2 does the same. Truly listen to what is being said. Watch your partner’s physiology. Do you notice when they become excited, angry, reflective, motivated?
Taking time out to be truly present with your partner is the best present you can give each other.
Presence is much better for your relationship, and more valuable than presents.
It’s a bit of a milestone in anyone’s life and I was asked how I ‘really’ feel about turning 50. Well the truth is I’m really happy about it.
The first 3 decades of my adult life weren’t great; 2 abusive marriages, a failed business, personal bankruptcy, a stint working in the sex industry, a ‘Pretty Woman’ moment then led to a third abusive relationship before I hit rock bottom just after my 40th birthday. I was depressed, suffering panic attacks, on anti-depressants and beta blockers and was too scared to leave my home. I was terrified people would discover that I’d been a sex worker and I desperately wanted my life to end. I certainly didn’t want to reach 50.
I wanted my life to be over, the sooner the better. I didn’t love myself and I believed I knew, and had absolute proof, that I was unlovable – I believed I’d discovered the evidence for why people didn’t love me!
So what changed?
I lay on my kitchen floor in the foetus position, feeling sorry for myself and and something inside me snapped. I recognised that the only way my life would change is if I took responsibility for it. No-one else was going to change my life for me.
Within 2 years I had gained my Equity card and Spotlight membership, I was fitter and healthier than I had been for a very long time and I had reconnected with the love of my life whom I’d first met 15 years before.
8 years further on from that at the ripe old age of 50 I’ve used my experiences to create a business that is built around my SIM© Methodology, embracing the lessons I learned from the sex industry, and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a result of studying for a psychology degree with the Open University, and latterly training to become a certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Coach, certified Hypnosis practitioner and certified Time LineTM Therapy practitioner. All of which are tools I employ with my clients where appropriate.
At 50 I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been before, in the past couple of years I’ve run a half marathon and I’m seriously considering running another one next year. I have a healthy relationship with alcohol which used to be my drug of choice and I have a healthy relationship with food.
My relationship and sex life is fulfilling, full of unconditional love, trust, respect and fun and I have an amazing relationship with my 16-year old son.
I have a growing business which is something I’d only previously dreamed of and I’m helping women Internationally to change their relationships for the better.
For the first time in my life I have a healthy bank balance and perhaps more importantly, now I’m 50, I have a healthy pension pot. In the past year I’ve taken more responsibility for my finances than ever before. I’ve worked out what I need to do to clear the last vestiges of debt from the 10-year legal battle to become my son’s primary carer.
We have the ability to change our life and our relationships. As soon a we start taking responsibility for ourselves and then taking tiny consistent action, things change.
My social media has been full of memes celebrating Star Wars Day today – May the 4th be with you! It’s a clever play on words from one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
However, for many years, I did all I could to avoid seeing or hearing any media on May 4th simple because it is known as Star Wars Day.
You see, Star Wars was for a very long time one of the triggers that took me back to my psychologically abusive marriage. I write about it in depth in my book ‘Whatever it takes: Living with, Leaving and Surviving Psychological Abuse’.
Much is written about people’s triggers, we learn about triggers for PTSD and so many people today say they are ‘triggered’ by something or another. It is used in so many settings to excuse poor behaviour or a misguided response to something someone has either said or done, that when someone says they are ‘triggered’ it is very often not met with the attention or support it requires.
We don’t always know if someone has been subject to domestic abuse, we’re not always aware if someone has PTSD, such scars and conditions are not always visible. Very often, the first we know of them is when someone has what to many people can only be described as an ‘abnormal reaction’ to something fairly innocuous such as in my case, May the 4th or Star Wars. In fact, there was another occasion when my newly decorated office in an administrative role I had triggered a memory that had lain dormant from my first marriage which was physically and sexually abusive.
It has taken many years of work from me to be able to even tolerate Star Wars on TV, there was a time where I wouldn’t even work with someone who said they were a Star Wars fan because the association to Star Wars created far too strong a response from my nervous system, taking me back to a place where I was forced to watch Star Wars movies, quizzed and tested on my Star Wars knowledge and ridiculed for not knowing various plot twists, intricacies of character relationships or which film came in which order.
Even now, I will choose not to watch Star Wars if I can although I no longer have a problem if someone is a Star Wars fan.
We hear so often about hidden disabilities; hidden abuse needs just as much consideration. We never truly know what is going on behind closed doors or Behind the Mask that people wear in public. Next time someone you know has an extreme response to something fairly innocuous, rather than making a harsh judgement, gently ask them what’s wrong. You might give them the lifeline they need.
Today is Moments of Laughter Day which leads me to ask, how many moments of laughter do you have with your partner?
My partner, Floss, and I are gigglers. We can find humour in the daftest of things and when one of us starts laughing it usually sets the other off. I’m particularly bad, I start laughing but not a loud ‘ha, ha’, I laugh and shake but without any sound at all. Most people laugh at me laughing!
Some of our best moments of laughter have been in bed.
No, not when you’re thinking, although we have been known to stop mid coitus due to laughing too much. Our usual bed-time laughter happens when we mis-hear each other just as we’re falling asleep. I’ll start giggling, he’ll ask why I’m shaking, I’ll try to tell him through my laughter, then he’ll start to laugh too, and we’ll lie there, in the dark giggling away whilst trying to fall asleep.
There is actually something rather nice about falling asleep having giggled in the moments before.
This article shares the health benefits of laughter which include releasing stress and tension, and taking the focus away from anger and guilt.
What moments of laughter can you recall with your partner?
How long ago were those moments of laughter?
This might be a bit controversial but bear with me.
Throughout life we are told we need to take responsibility for ourselves, our choices, our actions, our behaviour and so on.
So why is it, when there are problems in our relationships we are quick to apportion blame to our partner and stop taking responsibility?
No matter what is going wrong in your relationship, some of the reason for the issues will lie with you – there are after all 2 people in a relationship.
“How can you say that Deb, if someone is in an abusive relationship?”
Well, whilst I’m in no way saying anyone is responsible for being the victim of abuse, and we cannot be held responsible for the behaviour or actions of another, we are responsible for our choices.
Having had 3 abusive relationships I know I did not deserve to be abused however, I take responsibility by acknowledging I CHOSE to enter into those relationships, I CHOSE to stay in those relationships, I CHOSE to ignore the warning signs before and during those relationships, I CHOSE to allow the behaviour to continue without being challenged.
Likewise, when I had a partner who cheated on me, I acknowledged responsibility too – at the time I was more preoccupied with other things going in my life and not giving him the attention he wanted. We often take our partners for-granted and when I looked back I could see where things had gone off track.
This in no way condones any of the behaviour of my ex partners but it recognises that there were two of us in the relationship, each reacting to the other in one way or another, each believing that their reaction/behaviour is correct and acceptable so continuing to behave in the same way. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
Most of our behaviour is learned from family and those around us, we have rules we live by on a day to day basis but in our own homes there is no-one, other than our partner, to challenge our behaviour. If poor behaviour goes unchallenged it becomes normalised and accepted, regardless whether the behaviour is actually acceptable.
What behaviour are you allowing to go unchallenged in your relationship at the moment?
What behaviour are you exhibiting that you could change to make an improvement to how you perceive your relationship?
On World Theatre Day (Saturday 27th March) I reflected upon why I named my coaching practice Not A Rehearsal. Whilst I truly believe life’s Not A Rehearsal, my coaching practice is alsonamed to acknowledge my love of the theatre.
As a teenager my dream was to become a professional actor. I was offered a deferred place at RADA but turned it down when my then boyfriend proposed. I was 19-years old and we’d been together for 6 years. The prospect of being apart for 3 years whilst I studied was just too long.
I settled in my relationship and I settled in life.
I settled for getting cast in leading roles in amazing productions in the local Amateur Dramatics community; from Irene Molloy in Hello Dolly! and Katie Brown in Calamity Jane, to Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, Lady Windermere in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Alice in a semi-pro production of Vinegar Tom, and the World Premiere of an opera, The Barber of Saville Row.
I learned to sing properly and to dance, I even learned to tap dance for Stepping Out and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone time and time again to deliver performances I could only otherwise have dreamed of.
My second husband wasn’t at all supportive of my acting passion and did everything he could to belittle me, mock me and destroy my confidence. But when I left him, I returned to the only thing I knew that made me feel truly alive – the stage.
Gradually my confidence increased and one-day I dared to apply for an audition in a professional touring production of a play.
I got the part and I knew my life would change from that point onwards.
It did. It led me to my partner, to the only unconditionally loving relationship I’ve ever had.
Following my dream, pursuing my passion, achieving professional status in my early 40’s enabled me to change my life.
It’s only right that my business name should reflect my belief, my passion and my desire to help other female professionals to create the relationships they truly want rather than simply settling; after all, life’s really Not A Rehearsal.
I’m often told that the way my partner and I got together is like something out of a Fairy Tale or Hollywood movie, and as today is Tell a Fairy Tale Day I thought I’d share some of our story with you.
We first met 23 years ago in 1998, it wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, my first thoughts were; he was rude, arrogant and I wouldn’t want to bump into him alone on a dark night! I was out with some girlfriends for my birthday, we’d bumped into some mutual acquaintances, one of whom was the person I really fancied, and we’d all started enjoying the evening together, drinking, chatting, laughing, this rude, arrogant man seemed to tag along and we just couldn’t shake him off.
At the end of the evening we were all jumping into taxis and I discovered to my horror that he lived at the other end of the village I was in. So we had to share a taxi. I got out at his street so that we split the taxi bill and he invited me in for coffee. Bizarrely, I agreed. We sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and talking. We talked all night. I recall sitting at the table seeing the sun come up and realising I still wasn’t home.
This was a revelation to me, a man who invites you in for coffee and a chat and genuinely wants coffee and a chat. My interest was piqued.
He called me a couple of weeks later and we went on our first date – to the local Rugby 7’s tournament! We actually dated for a year before going our separate ways; I went to live and work in London (I was living in South Wales at the time) and he went to Nottingham University as a mature student. These were the days long before mobile phones were common-place and we just couldn’t maintain a long-distance relationship.
Not a day passed without me thinking about him. In the years that followed I got married, had a baby, got divorced, went through business failure, bankruptcy and more before I started to put myself first and started following my dream to become an actor.
I recall receiving the call that told me me I was cast in a play that was due to tour the South West of England. I said to the partner I was with at the time “I have no idea how, but I know that this play is going to change my life”.
It did change my life.
Whilst I was in rehearsal and chosen as the ‘poster girl’ for the play, that man I’d met all those years ago had headed into his local theatre to book tickets for a production. Looking at the posters advertising forthcoming productions, he thought he recognised the woman in the poster for ‘Ward 7’, the play I was in. Asking the box office manager if he knew who I was, and mentioning me by my maiden name, the box office manager also recognised me as I had been in a children’s theatre group with his daughters when I was a child.
A few telephone calls later and they had ascertained that ‘Yes’ I was the woman they thought I was. At that point all I knew is that someone who thought they knew me had booked tickets for opening night. I had no name, it could have been anyone.
A week before opening night I received a Facebook message request. It’s fair to say my heart skipped a beat when I saw who it was from. But I was sceptical. I hadn’t heard from him for 15 years at that point and the last I’d heard he was living and working in Canada with his girlfriend. I agreed to meet him for a coffee.
Within minutes of meeting I knew I was in trouble. All of those old feelings came rushing back and the conversation we had that day over coffee just reinforced the message that he really was the love of my life.
He turned up on Opening Night and within 3 weeks I had left my partner and moved in with him to his bachelor pad in a seaside town in the South West of England. That was 8 years ago and I’ve never been happier.
I’ve often said ‘when you ‘know’, you ‘know”. I always knew he was the love of my life, it took him a while to realise I was the love of his life. That day we met for coffee we talked openly and honestly to each other for hours. We had both felt the same way, he just hadn’t felt he deserved to be loved.
The past 8 years haven’t been easy. We’ve dealt with stuff that would have broken a less strong, healthy or robust relationship. But we have continually felt more and more in love with each other.
Can we look back and say we would have done things differently? Of course we can. But there is nothing in either of our pasts that we’re ashamed of, nothing that either of us doesn’t know about the other, and nothing that we know we can’t overcome in the future.
What we have, is what our relationship was based on from that very first night we met when I didn’t like him at all – we have communication, honesty and trust. We have shared values.
Yes, the way we reconnected is something of a Fairy Tale but there’s truth in the adage that ‘life is stranger than art’.
I’d love to know your Fairy Tale moments.
Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day?
Many of the women over 40 who I work with tell me they feel trapped, doing what they think they SHOULD be doing rather than what they WANT to be doing, keeping everyone else happy rather than themselves, stuck on a treadmill of monotony. Their relationship is stuck in a rut and it’s impacting all other areas of their lives.
How and why does that happen?
Well, it’s all down to our subconscious. Ultimately, it’s designed to keep us safe and alive and let’s face it, if you’re reading this, it’s done a pretty good job so far hasn’t it?
But, whilst keeping you safe and alive, it’s also stopping you from having a truly fantastic relationship and living the life you want to live.
You know all those times you’ve said to yourself “what if?”? That will be your subconscious reminding you that by taking a risk you could potentially cause yourself an injury or lose your life.
Now of course, taking the initiative in your relationship is highly unlikely to cause you to lose your life (and if it is, you need to seek immediate help by calling 999) but the human brain hasn’t evolved quite as fast as the environment around us and that reptilian brain is kicking into survival mode and trying to protect you from the perceived danger of a stampeding woolly mammoth!
So in trying to protect you, your brain reminds you of all of the reasons why doing something you WANT to do rather than what you’ve always done before ( i.e. what you SHOULD do to protect you from said woolly mammoth – or in a more up to date scenario, to protect you from shame or embarrassment) is safer and better for you! Yes, there might well be occasions where it will actually save your life, and in those instances I implore you to listen to it but the reality is, in this day and age, we are so surrounded by health and safety, and a million and one other ways to keep ourselves safe as we live our lives, that we don’t need quite the same amount of protection and reminders that our ancestors needed.
The trouble is, too many of us don’t question our subconscious or the well-meaning but equally fearful guidance of family and friends; all of whom are going through similar scenarios in their own minds and coming up with very similar results.
And so, we carry on doing what we’ve always done and our subconscious keeps quiet, knowing that until the next time we consider doing something different, stepping outside of our comfort zone, we’re safe and free from harm.
But what our subconscious doesn’t know is that this is part of what causes our relationships to fall into a rut; to become safe, dull, boring, routine. Whilst it may be keeping us safe from physical danger, it’s actually damaging our long-term emotional health.
Being in a relationship that doesn’t fulfil your needs on either a physical or emotional level is equally as damaging as that stampeding woolly mammoth was to our ancestors.
You have a choice; either carry on living as if you’re in Groundhog Day, allowing your subconscious to keep you safe from woolly mammoths, or you can break out and create your blockbuster life that includes a strong, healthy and robust relationship and all of the benefits of the sexy little extras of the ripple effect!
If you choose the latter then book a free 15-minute call with me here to banish those woolly mammoths and free you from Groundhog Day.
It’s no surprise that over the past year there have been some questions I’ve been asked time and time again “How can I rejuvenate my relationship?” “How can I bring back the spark?” “How can I make sure we survive?” “How can we keep the spark alive during lockdown?” and many, many more questions.
The simple answer is, there is no secret weapon, like everything else it takes work. But I’ve narrowed it down to 5 simple ‘rules’ to rejuvenate your relationships, ALL of your relationships, during lockdown.
These will work with your partner, your children, your family and whomever is sharing your home and life with you at the moment;
- Know your Boundaries: Make a list of what is and isn’t acceptable to both parties. One of you wants to watch news 24/7 the other doesn’t. Then create a compromise that works for both parties Maybe ‘News at Noon’ and the 5pm update is all you need. Perhaps one of you wants to maintain normal working hours whereas the other wants to stay up late and have a lie-in before starting work and/or home-schooling. Again, set the boundaries, maybe agree that you both get ready for bed at the same time so the one staying up doesn’t disturb the one already asleep by switching the light on and getting changed. Put your clothes for the following day ready in the bathroom or spare room so that you can get dressed without disturbing your late-night partner.
- Create Space: Where possible set up separate work areas and maintain a timetable to ensure you get done what needs to be done without too much interruption. It also helps if you replicate your usual daily routine so you’re not in each others’ pockets 24/7. When it needs to change for any reason, plan the disruption in advance so it doesn’t create stress and friction.
- Submit: Know that you can’t control the current situation, you can only control your response to it. Trying to be in total control will only cause tension and anxiety. Submit to the situation, do what you can and then accept that this will pass. It is only a temporary situation and a new normal is just around the corner, even if it does seem that the corner is getting further and further away. You can only do what you an do, in compliance with the rules and restrictions in your location. Fighting against them will raise your stress levels.
- Step into Selfish: Put your needs first. If your needs are properly met, you’re better able to look after everyone else. Think of the oxygen mask on a flight – you’re advised to put your own on first so you’re better able to help others. Take time to do your own exercise, have a bubble bath, volunteer to do the shopping alone!, read a book, watch your favourite Netflix series.
- Be Kind: Everyone reacts to stress differently. But remember your manners. Be kind, polite and respectful to each other. It will go a long way and stop the tension rising. If you can assist a neighbour or relative as well, it will create harmony and good energy, and you will be repaid in kind. People respond and react to the way they are treated.
These simple ‘rules’ really will help your relationship. And when you can get it on an even keel, maintaining harmony in the home, you can look at revitalising your relationship using the tips in my free e-book; ‘Top10 Tips to Redefine your Relationship’ offers more tips to revitalise your relationship and kick-start your sex life whether you’re in a couple or single.