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”
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.
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.
There can be nothing nicer than slipping into a hot bubble bath at the end of a hectic day, feeling the silky warmth of the water lapping against your skin as your cares and worries start to drift away as you submerge yourself under the water.
Maybe you’ve lit some candles and poured yourself a glass of wine to enjoy whilst reading a book, listening to a podcast or music.
And as today is Bubble Bath Day, you have the perfect excuse to run yourself a bath and take some time out.
One of the modules in my Behind the Mask programme is called ‘Step Into Selfish’ and it’s the module that all of my clients, without exception struggle with the most.
As the name might suggest it’s about taking time out for themselves and doing things completely for them, no-one else. When they struggle with that I often recommend scheduling in a long, relaxing bubble-bath once a week, just so they get used to having that time to themselves.
It’s always interesting to get their responses. So many of them haven’t allowed themselves the luxury of having a long bath for a very long time and they often comment on how much they enjoyed it, how it allowed them to switch off for a while and have that breathing space to themselves.
I know how difficult it is to allow yourself that time.
In my previous relationships I was told I was selfish if I wanted a long, hot bubble bath. When I met my partner 8-years ago, he was very happy for me to have a long bath, although he couldn’t understand how I could happily spend 2 hours (sometimes longer) in the bath. There was a time when he realised that the bath is where I would go to process stuff; things that had come up during divorce proceedings, child residency proceedings, bankruptcy, a bad day at work. When all that was done and dusted, I stopped having baths as life was good but before long I realised I missed that time solely to myself.
These days, I run a hot bubble bath just because. Maybe I want to completely unwind and relax, I want to ease sore muscles after a run, I want to feel decadent with a glass of wine and a book or I just want some time where I’m not disturbed to think, plan and drift away for a short while.
Whatever the reason for choosing to run a bubble-bath, I always make sure I have a selection of fragrances to choose from too.
Bubble baths are not a luxury, they’re a central feature of my self-care and the best (and easiest) way I know to ‘Step into Selfish’.
Besides, the more relaxed you feel, the more likely you are to be open to advances from your partner, which can only be a good thing for creating a strong, healthy and robust relationship!
Enjoy your bubble bath and whatever may follow!
How often do you and your partner cuddle? Or, if like me, and you’re Welsh, how often do you and your partner cwtch?
There’s nothing quite like a good cwtch or cuddle. It releases the feel-good hormones, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, and instantly makes you feel better.
How often, after having a bad day, do you say to your partner ‘just put your arms around me’?
I recall on one of the worst days of my life, New Year’s Eve 2008, when I discovered my business was insolvent and I was about to call my team to make them redundant with immediate effect and no pay; I asked my then husband to “just put your arms around me and tell me everything’s going to be OK”. His response was “I can’t, because I don’t know that it will.” In that moment my day got worse, as I realised my second marriage was over and I was well and truly on my own. All I wanted was to feel a little better before facing the enormity of what was before me.
Thankfully, I’ve moved on significantly since then and I have a partner who understands that sometimes all you want is a huge hug to make things better.
We even set our alarm 10 minutes earlier every morning so we can just cuddle, snuggle up, cwtch, before starting our day. And we fall asleep cuddling – until the moment that almost every couple experiences; when one pulls away from the other, kicks their leg out of the bed and almost gasps for cool air because the heat generated by two bodies cuddling under a duvet is just too much!
Sometimes, we’ll have an impromptu cwtch in the kitchen when recounting something that’s happened during our day that may have caused us to feel a bit down, sad or upset, we’ll just stand and cuddle.
I can always tell when my son needs a cuddle – although at 15, it’s not cool to admit to wanting one so we have to refer to it as a hug. He’s 6’ tall and towers over me but there are days when all he needs is a cuddle from his mum. As I like to remind him, ‘you’re never too old, and you’re never too big for a healing cuddle’.
As human beings we crave physical touch, we need that dose from the feel-good triumvirate and research has shown that we only need to cuddle up for 6 seconds to reap the benefits.
So what are you waiting for, grab your partner, children or friends and cuddle up to instantly improve your mood and reduce sadness, anxiety and stress. It’s good for your health.
And don’t just reserve your hugs, cuddles or cwtches for National Cuddle-up Day (6th January) or National Hug Day (21st January). Make every day a Hug, Cuddle or Cwtch Day. Your relationship will benefit from it too.
Who are you going to cuddle up with today?
Happy New Year!
In the words of Nina Simone “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life…..and I’m feeling good”.
However you’re feeling today after last night’s festivities it’s likely that your thoughts are turning to self-care and looking after yourself in the New Year. You might even be planning on getting involved in Dry January or Veganuary.
Maybe you indulged in a little too much prosecco at midnight or the New Year’s Eve buffet totally ruined all of your plans to ‘be good’. I know that I’m a sucker for a table groaning with party food and nibbles even though I know they’re no good for me.
Last night my partner and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of prosecco, a take away curry and we’re going hiking today. Something that we both enjoy for both our physical and mental health all year around but it’s become a bit of a New Year’s Day tradition as well.
I start every New Year with a plan to sort out my diet and exercise once and for all. This year is a little different, I started early. I decided to get a grip on my diet and exercise way back in September, using the new school year as my New Year to give me a head start. It meant that by the time New Year really did arrive, I’d lost the weight and was fit enough to have a little bit of a break over the festive season. What it doesn’t mean though is that I went completely mad.
Long gone are the years of waking up with a fuzzy head and full feeling from over-indulging the night before. These days I much prefer the feeling of waking up with a clear head and looking forward to my breakfast before embracing the day ahead. But it’s taken a while to make that change.
What I’ve done, and what I do every time I want to change some facet of my life, is break it all down into small daily steps rather than trying to tackle it all at once when I am bound to give up because all seems a little bit too overwhelming.
So today, rather than focusing on what you’re going to give up, why not think about what you’re going to start doing? Think about the foods you’re going to eat rather than those you’re not going to eat. Think about the drinks you’ll enjoy rather than those you’ll miss.
My focus for January is on my own health and wellbeing which includes my mental health which is equally as important as physical health and I’ll be using my own downloads to help me do that. You can get the free downloads from my private Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/realwomenrealliferealrelationships
I wish you a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2021 and success in Creating your Blockbuster Life and here’s a link to Nina Simone for a little inspiration.