How Break-Ups Can Destroy & Wake-Up your Life

How Break-Ups Destroy & Wake-Up Your Life

Break-ups hurt whether you decided to leave or you’re the one left in the dust. No one gets out unscathed. The truth is that attachments run deep no matter which role was played, and eventually everyone has to do the work to clean things up and move forward.

The 5 most common thoughts after break-ups are:

  • ‘I feel like I have lost a part of myself, like a limb is missing.’
  • ‘I will never feel the same love again for another.’
  • ‘Do I have to forgive?’
  • ‘Will they realize what they lost and come back to me?’
  • ‘What’s wrong with me?’

So why does it hurt so much and how can we move through it? Dr. Helen Fisher and her colleagues used MRIs to study the brains of people post break-up and discovered parts of the brain associated with drug addiction and romantic love lighting up. So when you wonder why it hurts so much to be without your partner, recognize you are in withdrawal. Like treating addiction, it’s important to give yourself the same support.

Addiction & Withdrawal

As with treating addiction to substances or behaviors, it is important to remove the stimulus. In the early phases, it is important to remove the items from your home that create nostalgia and reminders. Facebook and Instagram stalking are no nos. Every time a stimulation of your Ex happens, chemical withdrawal symptoms will re-emerge.

“Take a puppy, for example,” offers Dr. Fisher. “Put it in the kitchen away from its mother and shut the door. The first stage the puppy experiences is a full-on protest: yelping, barking, and hurling itself at the door. After awhile, it ceases all protest, falls into a corner and gives up in despair. This is very similar to the phases people go through with breakups. At first, the rejected individual is working every angle to win the other person back and fighting off accepting the truth of the breakup, but eventually — if the rejected party receives no encouragement — he or she will be resigned to despair.” –Theo Pauline Nestor 

Honor the 5 Stages of Grief

With any loss comes grief. It is those who consciously grieve who are most able to move through and move on. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified 5 stages of grief that are not always sequential. These stages are: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. At the beginning of a break-up, denial and bargaining are top of the list, which sound like, ‘We are so in love and he will remember this,’ or ‘If I wouldn’t have pressured her for marriage we would still be together.’

Other grievers jump right to anger, having a tidal wave of resentments flood the psyche. Grievers can also feel pressure to jump to acceptance. Acceptance needs to come naturally after an appropriate amount of time. For some it takes months and others years.

Losing a Friend & Companion

Often the biggest break-up hurt is in losing a friend and companion. It is important to honor the significance of no longer having that person to share about your day with, or ask for advice on how to handle situations. This loss of companionship takes time to heal.

Break-Up Opportunities to Wake-Up

  • Find a Passion: No matter how small, throw yourself into it. It is especially powerful to re-engage with an activity you did prior to meeting your Ex like a sport or hobby. This is a healthy sublimation of grief, resourcing to build up your strength and joy.
  • Learn to Receive:  Let yourself get absorbed and taken in by your community, whether that’s friends or family. Allow them to cook for you and surround you with warmth. It is crucial to move your love receptors from your Ex to your community.
  • Building Self-Esteem:  Surround yourself with people who believe in you and reflect the parts of you that you love. Start a self-love journal and collage it with images you enjoy, and write poetry and feelings across the pages.
  • Cleanse & Clear:  Let go of clothing and items that do not bring you joy. Buy yourself small luxurious items like candles, some new shoes or a massage!
  • Energy Work Cord Cutting:  Find an energy work practitioner who can teach you about cutting energetic cords. This will help you return to your own energy state un-merged from your Ex.
  • Write an I Hate You Letter:  Write down all of the feelings and thoughts you have towards your Ex, said and unsaid, and wrap it in a bundle. Bury it or burn it safely to release. 
  • Join a Support Group:  There are many online and in-person support groups where you will find comrades to move through the process with.
  • Find a Therapist:  Break-ups are prime time to look at your own relational patterns and how you contributed to the breakdown of your relationship.

Break-ups can feel like a demolition of the heart and soul, yet with consciousness and support you can make incredible transformations that will last a lifetime.

Valerie Tate has been a San Francisco based Psychotherapist for 17+ years specializing in Relationships, Parenting, Grief & Loss, Trauma and Anxiety.

The Bright Side of Responsibility

The Bright Side of Responsibility

Why is it as adults, that when we talk about being responsible, the mood drops? And why over 50% of the population avoids things like home ownership or having children for the mere fact of being concerned over the ‘responsibility’ of it? How has responsibility has become such a dirty word?

We tend to polarize between being care-free or being stressed-out responsible as if it has to be one way or the other. I think there is another way.

In my psychotherapy practice, I observe and surmise that it is one’s relationship to responsibility that causes the stress rather than the commitment itself. This applies to owning property, raising children and everything in between. We need to change our attitude to change the experience.

“I think of responsibility as response-ability, the ability to respond.” SARK

How we talk to ourselves makes a big difference between burden and joy. The words ‘I have to’ or ‘I should’ most often come before common responsibilities such as…clean the house, make the kids’ lunch, or plan the summer vacation. This language brings out our inner teenager, who doesn’t like being told what to do. The result is to feel oppressed by our own strict inner parenting.

Instead, try inviting yourself to the task in a way that suits your needs in the moment. Mowing the lawn can be fun if you design it that way.

We spend time orchestrating the perfect date, adventurous vacation or a dinner party with just the right food and people. Why don’t we place that same pleasure focused attention onto taking care of responsibilities?

A few years back, my taxes were causing me a lot of stress. I recognized that I was the one in charge of how I felt about them. I decided to take my taxes and computer out for a glass of wine, to infuse the examination of numbers with a pleasurable environment and less pressure.

The cool thing about being an adult is that we get to do it our way. Despite this, many of us keep doing the things that need doing in a heavy handed and oppressive manner.

Also, we often approach being responsible with being only linear. When things don’t go exactly as the linear plan is laid out, we feel constriction and stress. Adding flow and play to our approach, can lead to a more fulfilling relationship to being responsible.

For example, I don’t like to clean my house in a linear manner, as my preferences frequently change. I first ask myself what would feel good to help me with this task. Recently, I put on my wireless headphones, clicked on my favorite pandora station, and started with organizing my cupboards. How we do it one day, doesn’t mean it will feel just as right the next. Just like taking a walk, having sex or hanging out with friends. This way, we can meet ourselves in the now rather than a script of the ‘right’ thing to do.

We could all use a little brightening and lightening up in our relationship to responsibility. It’s simply more fun that way.

Revolutionize Your Relationship

Revolutionize Your Relationship


“Everything can be taken from a man (person) but the last of the great human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Victor Frankel


After nearly 20 years as a Psychotherapist, I have seen and helped hundreds of couples. There are some universal themes and issues that aggravate everyone. You are not alone! I have outlined 4 simple tactical tips that can revolutionize your romantic relationship. Whether you are wanting preventative therapeutic methods or to take your relationship out of the gutter, these should help.


The Momentum of Positivity

Science describes momentum as the mass of an object multiplied by its velocity. In psychological relational terms, the object is our communication content and the velocity is the emotional tone and force at which it is delivered. Communication multiplied by emotional tone and force creates a momentum.

In relationship, momentum can be generated to create an atmosphere of connection and positivity or conversely, disconnection and negativity.

When we announce what our partners are doing wrong, it drops the mood, brings out the inner critic and creates defensiveness. Positive feedback on the other hand, can create openness and a desire in our partners to do more. In Behavior therapy this is called Positive Reinforcement.

Culturally it is known that children thrive on positive reinforcement. If we encourage positive behavior, eventually the positive behavior will take over the not so desired behavior. Adults too, thrive on positive feedback. Performance reviews and bonuses in the workplace are a good example. When adults get positive feedback they feel up and want to do more of the behavior. Believe it or not, couples actually want to make their partners feel good, they sometimes just don’t know how to do it.

Try this: Catch your partner doing something that you appreciate and name it aloud. Be as specific as possible. For example: ‘I noticed that you put the dishes in the dishwasher when you were tired at the end of the day.’

In my couples work, a husband might request more affection from his wife. When they come back to session, he talks about how he is still not getting enough affection. I ask him if he actually received more affection from his wife this week, and he says yes but…I want more. The feedback loop is negative and disconnecting here. It focuses on what is missing versus the growth that has happened. More positive change would happen if he said, ‘I really noticed and appreciated when you hugged me as I came home last night.’ Positive feedback generates momentum in the direction of the feedback. In the short term, shifting to positive reinforcement will change the dynamic and help each other win. Long-term, you are creating new neural pathways for relating. With practice, this will feel more natural and become the default way of relating. Couples in my practice often describe feeling more supported by their partner and feel that they have each other’s best interest at heart.


Name it and Claim it

A major complaint I hear in my couples work, is one or both partners feeling unseen or unnoticed for what the other does to contribute to the partnership. In the book ‘The 5 love languages’, it speaks of verbal feedback as a way some people feel loved. It is also commonly held, that we cannot receive love easily in areas we are not fully loving or appreciating ourselves. Unfortunately, couples tend to wait endlessly for their partner to appreciate them verbally. I hear them say, ‘Why doesn’t she notice that I made the bed or that I created a weekend getaway for us?’ ‘I feel so unseen!’

Try this: Instead of waiting to be seen and validated, announce your desired verbal appreciation and ask that it be mirrored back. For example I might say: ‘Thank you Val for cleaning the house and getting groceries.’ Say it with a smile and the exact tone you want to hear this back. Ask your partner to reflect this back to you. The instant reflection works quickly and creates the same endorphin rush as if your partner thought of it himself or herself. The benefits of announcing it when you need to hear it, are inviting the moods of humor and warmth, as well as decreasing resentment.


If You Build it, They Will Come

A common grievance in relationship, is that something is ‘missing’ that was once there. He used to be romantic or she used to be more sexual are frequent shares. There are many reasons why romantic and sexual energies get subdued in longer-term relationships. The energy of stress, shared responsibilities and expectations can weigh heavy and the lens towards ones partner starts to take on the fog.

When couples first meet they are not expecting any certain behaviors or duties from the other. It feels fresh and light because each person is coming from their own self-experience and is not projecting those aspects on one another…yet. So what is the way back to this state?

Each person needs to take responsibility for his or her own energy state completely. If you are feeling frustrated because your partner is not romantic enough and you want more romance, the desire is coming from you! You can own the romantic desire and ask yourself what it would take to bring you into a romantic state of being (light some candles, cook a sensual dinner, put on some music, take a bath). When you embody that state of being completely, it will most likely invite or seduce your partner to match your energy and add their romantic flavor to the scene.

On the contrary, when you stay in the complaint of your partner not being romantic, they are equally compelled to match you in the energy of your disappointment, and you will both be living in a reality far from romantic. The same goes for the man who wants more sex. Embody turn on rather than complaint. It’s a lot sexier. Create an environment or a scene that you know would turn your partner on and let her step into it. Seduction requires attuning to you first, owning it and inviting another. Blame and complaint are universal turn offs and will not bring you to the place you want to go.

In essence, role modeling what you want invites a mirrored response. If you want something, start doing it yourself. It will create the energy and mood you want and your partner might join in, reflect and amplify that.


Learn How to Fight Fair

Culturally, we are not trained in constructive ways to fight. In unfair fighting, acting out is the biggest culprit. Acting out in relationship includes: name calling, hurtful tone of voice, kitchen sinking (bringing up every topic you are upset about at once), throwing things, physical violence, threats to end or sabotage the relationship. I often hear couples say, that they acted out because their partner did xyz, and they feel justified.

Let me ask you this? When you are at work and your co-worker does something you do not like, do you scream at them or call them names? Mostly likely not.

Many people support the idea that we are allowed to act out against the people closest to us. It is my desire to change this. If we can control ourselves at work and in social arrangements, we have the capability to communicate mindfully with the ones closest to us. Building up the capacity to do so is vital here. So what is good and fair fighting? The first step, is to stop the acting out. Instead, learn to utilize self-care when you are activated by your partner and make a self-calming and loving choice. This could including going on a short walk, listening to music, doing a drawing, or calling a friend. Wait to share your feelings with your partner until your nervous system is back to center and you can have a healthy dialogue.

When acting out does happen (we are not perfect), there are a few strategies I would suggest for repair: a) Learn Active Listening or Non-Violent Communication skills. These techniques are simple and straightforward and you can learn them with a therapist or NVC Course. b) Ask for a do-over. Calling for a ‘do over’ in communication is often just as effective as processing the poor communication. If your partner is open to the do-over, restate yourself using kind, calm and reflective communication skills.

Relationships are like a house that needs cleaning and TLC. If you put attention on cleaning out the little things, setting the tone and nature of communicating, you can create the atmosphere you are desiring. And as always, celebrate your successes!
find joy beyond circumstance


How to Co-Parent Peacefully After a Divorce

Published for Psyched SF

How to Co-Parent Peacefully After a Divorce










We have heard it too many times. The decision for couples with kids to break up happens, and the shit hits the fan. Wars over money, time with the kids, new partners, and parenting styles go from 0 to 60, and the ones who suffer most are the kids. Our culture wasn’t given a road map for this life transition and most people feel lost and alone with their once best friend having become a lost ally and sometimes even an enemy.

There are two main problems I see as a clinician having worked with hundreds of couples in transition and having experienced it myself. First, people who get divorced are often grieving their relationship while at the same time sorting out assets and rules. As a clinician I find this combination combustible and often unmanageable. And second, there is often a winning or losing dynamic that gets set up in a divorce that can negatively affect the children.

Here are some tips for being able to peacefully co-parent after a divorce.

5 Key Phases for Maintaining a Balanced Co-Parent Partnership while Protecting Your Kids.

1) Realization

If you’re lucky it’s mutual, however most often it is one part of the couple who decides to call it quits while the other one is still fighting for it. Whether you decided individually, with your couples therapist or as a couple, coming to the realization and naming it is crucial no matter how painful. Often times the one who ‘realizes’, holds back on sharing, thinking that the problem will go away or that if they wait long enough the other person will become too miserable to stay. This causes more long-term damage to the whole family unit and each other than it gains.

2) Truth Telling

Truth telling in the separation and divorce process is respectful. The truths I’m talking about here are discussing parenting styles, fears, wants and needs. There are so many moving parts and new agreements that both of you will feel overwhelmed. Keep in mind here that the more you help one another by sharing and listening to the overwhelm and individual needs, the more you personally benefit. If you’re ex is happy and at peace step by step, you’re kids will be too and you will benefit. Also in the same way that you collaborated on keeping the kids lives in tact and well functioning while you were together, this grounding and stability is needed even more in the transition. Work as a team on this and everyone benefits. Again, if you ex is happy you are happy, I see it work every time.

3) Experimentation

When you are under the stress of shifting your life, you and your ex will be making decisions around custody, money, and parenting. Don’t hold yourself or your ex to anything. Try out an arrangement, see what works and doesn’t work, and come back together to re-up the agreement or change it. When your ex is happy, your kids are happy and thus you are happy.

4) Negotiation

Be willing to negotiate. The more you are willing to be flexible and try new things so your ex is more comfortable in their new life, the more they will be flexible and understanding with you. Positive treatment and empathy go a long way, further than you might expect.

5) Grief (anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, denial)

Grieving the relationship that was, no matter how messed up it got, how unhappy you were or why you are leaving is vital. Grief has five stages: anger; depression; bargaining; acceptance and denial. These stages can come in any order and often repeat themselves until acceptance is truly felt. Many divorced couples remain bitter for years because they never allowed themselves to fully grieve the relationship, the good parts especially.

Specific Tips for The Co-Parenting Process

Positive Communication: a therapist can be helpful to form Positive Communication Strategies for Co-parents.

Clear Agreements: Make clear agreements on how to divide up time between kids, family time and self-time (for activities, dates, etc).

Acknowledgement: Acknowledge the desires, dreams and needs of one another via positive communication.

Communication with Kids: Once new ways are in practice and running smoothly, discuss changes with your kids in age-appropriate ways.

Family and Friends: Share about the changes with family and friends. This will bring up others judgments, fears, projections and opinions. Be a support to one another here.

Jealousy: Work with jealously flare-ups from dating and more foundational jealousy of longer term dating others.

Ultimately you may end up being a support to one another in dating, life, dreams and family. Celebrate your successes!

Finally, a focus on compassion, empathy, respect and care qualities will set you up for more peace and positive exchange. The more you have for your Ex the more you will receive.

Keep in mind that break ups are hard on everyone involved. If you once cared about your ex, practice this care in a new way, which is the shared love and concern for your kids. It’s worth it and you may be able to maintain a new form of family that celebrates what is there rather than what has been taken away.