Wednesday, 13 February 2013

To Be a Healthy Valentine

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Valentine's Day is upon us once again, and experts are taking the opportunity to tell us it's the loved-up ones among us who enjoy the real benefits that come with true love.

The cynical among us will believe that all Valentine's Day is good for is to pick our pockets, but February the 14th isn't just about bouquets of flowers, love letters and other clich├ęd tokens of affection; it's also a chance to give thanks for that special someone in your life, without whom, research shows, you could find yourself in a bit of a state. For experts say a loving, reciprocal relationship can have a dramatic, and overwhelmingly positive, impact on our health.

One study carried out at Ohio State University, for example, found that feeling lonely means you are more likely to get ill. The researchers claim that the loneliest participants in their study had the highest amount of antibodies for cold viruses in their body after they had recovered from illness - a sign that their immune systems were in a weakened condition. But the benefits aren't just physical - being with a person you love will safeguard your mental well-being too. Counsellors tell us that the evidence shows we all do better, physically and emotionally, from being in a healthy relationship. Thus finding our twin flame, rather than tying us down, actually sets us free.

Can loneliness hurt the heart?

Of course, being in a relationship can only be good for you if that relationship is healthy. Stress, both physical and mental, loss of confidence, depression and other illness can be the consequence of an unhealthy relationship. This will usually affect our work, undermining our ability to concentrate and interact with other people, and also our friendships. Get it right, on the other hand, and you're in for a rich bounty of benefits. The United States department of health and human services issued a report a couple of years ago found that married people tend to live longer and even had fewer doctor's appointments than people who were unmarried.

Finding our twin flame therefore has a myriad of benefits. Psychological research suggests both genders prosper better with a good relationship, which reduces worry, loneliness, increases security, and people in relationships tend to have longer lives than people not in relationships. A separate Ohio State study also found that a happy relationship can speed up the rate at which wounds heal. The researchers claim that the positive support couples lend each other increases recovery rates from injury by at least one day.

And let's not forget that, while no substitute for hitting the gym, sex is also a decent calorie burner; making love to your partner for 30 minutes will shed around 100 calories - which should provide you with every incentive you need to work on your longevity. Sex also triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Researchers say the amount of this "cuddle" hormone you have in your brain could be the secret to a long and happy marriage, as it's believed to play a crucial role in strengthening feelings for each other. Oxytocin also helps helps us to sleep better. And if you're getting plenty of shut eye every night, then you're far less likely to suffer from obesity or high blood pressure.

Frequent ejaculations could even lower the risk of developing prostate cancer in later life for men, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (your target should be 21 or more a month, apparently). But even simple pleasures like holding hands and embracing can be good for you. By promoting the release of the hormone oxytocin, tactile behaviour lowers our stress levels, reduces blood pressure and can even increase pain tolerance, claim researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Studies have even found the hormone could promote monogamy in lovers, renewing attraction for your partner instead of strangers.

Click here for more on oxytocin.

And then there are the benefits to your mental health. For starters, numerous studies carried out at Stony Brook University in New York, primarily by psychologist Arthur Aron, found that feeling "in love" triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is known to increase our feelings of pleasure and motivation. Aron's MRI scans of couples also saw increased dopamine activity in parts of the brain associated with anxiety and tension.

We are social animals, designed to live in company, not solitary. The intimacy that comes from a romantic relationship can be deeper than a platonic friendship, especially for men, who will rarely be as open with friends as they are with romantic partners. Moreover, being in a healthy relationship allows us to act on our most basic human instincts. Sexual and intimacy needs are important emotional needs - which are fulfilled best in a meaningful relationship. In addition, not only are there needs to receive love but to also express love, and relationships provide that even more so than friendships.

Having someone else around to share the burden of everyday tasks also takes a huge weight off our shoulders. Practically speaking, the workload is shared so there are fewer demands on a day-to-day level due to division of labour. You don't have to do all the shopping, all the cleaning, and all the cooking. Obviously this is even more important if you are raising kids. This kind of support is just not something you can get from your peers. It's one thing having friends and another having someone in the house to watch television with, laugh with, and talk on a day-to-day level.

Read how heart connections can affect our health.

But how can you ensure you are making the most of these benefits? The experts say it is easy to concentrate on the failings in one's relationships - and in one's partner - but this is corrosive and destructive. On the other hand, appreciating what you do have, and focusing on one's partner's good qualities, strengthens the positive bonds of love. In short, we are advised to make every day Valentine's Day in our world - rather than just see February as the month of love (which some would say seems a dubious honour as its the shortest month of the year anyway).

And for many singles, February the 14th as Valentine's Day can in fact be a huge hurdle to get over. Last year in my "The Valentine's Day Tiger" post I wrote about not seeking solace from the day itself, whether single or not, and to make it a day to highlight the blessings in your life, and to show yourself some love. But what if you become single just before? How do you cope if your relationship has lost its lustre, or is lost all together and you're currently considering going single?

How to survive break up with someone before Valentine's Day

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Valentine's Day at Mickie Kent
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If you think Valentine's Day is just a marketing tool for card shops, the experts say you're wrong. If you think it's a wonderful way to strong-arm your partner into being romantic, you're also wrong. What Valentine's Day is - and the best thing it is - is a temperature-check for your relationship, letting you know if it's cooling off, or if it has the necessary heat to survive the rest of the year.

Naturally, we are not all going to find our twin flame as childhood sweethearts and be set for life - some of our journeys to our ideal relationship don't work that way. But each relationship is important to our overall growth, whether they are our twin flames or not, and so we must honour them for the time and emotion invested.

We are all people with feelings, and as such deserve the respect and tenderness that affords. Treat others as you wish to be treated, and so breaking up with someone before Valentine's Day should not be a case of, "Roses are red, violets are blue. We're splitting up. It's not me, it's you." That being said, what are the best ways to finish a relationship before February the 14th?

When you're happily in love, February the 14th is easy. It's a time when you appreciate your relationship and reflect on how you and your partner have grown together, how nervous conversations have turned into comfortable, quiet nights in together. Everywhere you look, appropriate mushy presents beg to be bought, and you can't wait to celebrate alone with your partner. But when you're unsure, Valentine's Day gives you a timely wake-up call. If no romantic cards strike a chord in you, or you feel a sinking sense of obligation at the thought of a candlelit meal, or you're searching shops in vain for a teddy-bear embroidered with, "You'll Do", then experts tell us you need to act. Now.

Is it cruel to break up with a partner on the eve of the year's most romantic holiday? Or does what seems cruel at first glance really an opportunity to be kind? The experts say the most cruel thing you can ever do in a relationship is give a partner false hope for the future. Wasting someone's time when you know they're not "The One" is unforgivable. Every day you ignore the issue is another day they could be spending with someone else, someone who adores them. So if you have nagging doubts that won't be silenced, it's time to make the break. You both need to take lessons and free yourselves up to find your twin flames, or if your think you are with your twin flame, then to trust in its love that binds you together.

Twin flame love will endure, even if the relationship does not, and not every relationship will last. There are so many factors that complicate our lives today, that sometimes it is hard to cut through all the clutter and get to the heart of the matter.

The first thing to do is be sure. If you discover you have broken up with your twin flame, you will get what I call the "forever fever" for the rest of your life. So, set some time aside to think about your relationship, in its good and bad areas. Don't dwell on how upset your partner will be if you split up - people are never as heartbroken as our egos expect them to be; they bounce back, usually with insulting speed. Do, however, ask yourself if you can seriously imagine being happy with your partner in 2, 5 or 10 years' time. If you can, ask yourself why you're not happy now - are there practical problems that need fixing? Yes? Then think of ways to fix them, or a way to talk to your partner about them, and don't break up.

If you can't imagine a future together, move swiftly. That way, both of you get the chance to meet new people as fast as possible. Make a date to meet your partner and talk, as soon as possible. If you live together, make arrangements to stay elsewhere for a few nights after the split. Then simply be honest - admit that your feelings aren't the same and the thought of your being together in the future doesn't make you happy.

If it's a shock, your partner might take a few days to accept your desire to end it. They'll keep contacting you; keep expecting you to change your mind. Don't feel it’s easier on them if you give them vague promises to "think about it", or "have a short break and see how we feel". Again, this is more cruel than a definite ending. Be brief in your dealings with them, but consistent. Stick to your story.

Don't contact them. Let them grieve in peace. Later on, they'll feel grateful that you never saw them at their heartbroken worst. Don't take late-night calls for this reason, and do delete them from your Facebook friends list straight away. If you share a home, start dealing with the intricacies of ending that arrangement immediately.

Be kind, but firm. Even if it is really over, expect to feel lonely in the following weeks, after the euphoria of being free again has worn off. Expect, too, that your ex-partner will seem 100 times more desirable as soon as you no longer know what they're doing every day. But don't mistakenly feel that means you were wrong to separate, experts say on that basis alone. It's just how people are - desire runs on mystery.

Instead of contacting them, or finding out what they're up to, via Google or mutual friends, take up a compelling new hobby (exercise works), throw yourself into your job, or redecorate your house. Don't date straight away, even if you hear your ex rebounds into a new relationship. Definitely do not use a fake relationship on Facebook to make an ex-partner jealous. Wait until you're happy in your life on your own before you find a new person to share it with. By next February, chances are high that you'll be buying a romantic card for someone new, with only feelings of excitement.

Splitting up is never easy, whether you're the one doing the breaking-up or the one being broken up with. But the main thing to remember is that no relationship is worthless. Even when you're hurting, you are learning. If you can see it as a chance to learn and grow, you can both walk away with your dignity intact. And if the separation only turns out to be a trial one, where you discover you really were meant to be together, then keeping your dignity will make the comeback easier.

This is why keeping busy is important, so do the practical stuff that will help to keep your mind off the split, but at the same time slowly expunge your ex's presence from your life, too. De-ex your flat or room. Get rid of his or her stuff and, if the whole place reminds you of them, move furniture around or give it a lick of paint. If you were dumped, it will make you feel better, and if you were the one doing the dumping then it will help you see if you are really unable to forget them.

Experts say our minds can't hold more than seven thoughts at a time, so fill your brain up and slowly squeeze out thoughts of your ex. Hit the gym to get happy hormones rushing through your system and ask for new tasks at work. Ask for new challenges at work, tougher assignments, overtime - anything you can get. Not only will it break up your daily routine, but it will be a positive distraction. This is the fire-fighting stuff, the things you need to do in the first days, weeks and months of a relationship ending to make yourself feel better, if only a bit. After that, you can start thinking about lessons you've learned and how they may help in future relationships. Then you can start taking positive messages from a painful time.

Not all relationships will end the same way. It may have been coming for a while, with both you and your partner fully aware that the end was nigh. On the other hand, it may come as a complete surprise to one of you. Whichever it is, the sad fact is that relationships do end - and their death throes are seldom pretty. But there are ways to make sure you both walk away with dignity and self-respect intact. No relationship ends "well", but if it is well and truly over, you can make sure you both walk away with your heads held high - that's the healthy thing to do.

Take the test: How healthy is your relationship?

Some more expert pointers: If you're the one doing the breaking up, the main thing to remember is this: be kind. It could be that your soon-to-be ex had no idea he or she was about to be dumped. It could be that he or she had no inkling of the extent of your unhappiness. Or they may have been desperately trying to cling to a relationship that was clearly sinking under the waves. Whatever it is, remember that you love, loved or at least really liked this person once. You shared plenty of good times as well as the more recent bad. You owe it to your ex to treat him or her with respect when you split up.

You need to think quite a bit about yourself and why you're breaking up the relationship. You need to know why you have reached this impasse, because you owe it to your partner to be able to explain it to them. If you have been feeling for some time that things were not right in your relationship, then it is unfair for both of you to continue. Using someone for company, or because we fear to be single is unfair and has no basis in love. And Valentine's Day can help you reassess your feelings.

Remember to do this with as much dignity as possible. Avoid apportioning blame, and try to get to the core issue - whether that's money, sex, social lives or anything else - so you can avoid repeating mistakes next time. But when you're the one facing that long dark night of the soul, you need simple, practical advice too. You need tips to get you through the emotional torment of being dumped by someone you love.

Relationship experts say the most important thing is to talk about it - but not to your ex if it is truly over. You need the support of friends who'll be sympathetic and supportive and will encourage you to get everything emotional out in the open, and help you get back out dating again. Don't beat yourself up to much during this time. Relationships end and it's not your duty to stick with a partnership that is making you unhappy. But experts advise you need to complete the relationship, without blame, rather than just split up.

In other words, by understanding why you want it to end - and by explaining that clearly to your ex partner - you are offering the chance for both of you to grow. You're giving both of you the chance to learn lessons. By doing so, your ex can take something positive from a painful time. Gain an understanding of why you've fallen out of love, explain it without blame, and you give him or her the chance to move on with dignity.

It may be that you have different interests, or you feel you can't communicate with her. Either way, remember that her interests are still perfectly valid, and that any communication issues may be as much to do with you as him or her. Even if you think your needs weren't being met in the relationship, it could easily be that you weren't articulating your needs well. Take some responsibility. It could be that this is no one's fault.

You need to let your ex feel he or she has completed the relationship - that it has come to a natural end. So after talking through the issues you may have had, ask her if there's anything else he or she needs you to explain. To avoid going round in ever more bitter circles, agree a time limit for your talk and then agree to meet some time later - maybe in a month - to clear up any loose ends. Nobody is suggesting that this will make your ex happy or make breaking up pain-free. But it will give both of you something positive to take from the relationships. Accept it didn't last a lifetime, but you will both learn important lessons for the future.

It may also be that stepping stone to finding your real love - because twin flame love means being 100% committed and fulfilled. So, always try and see the positive, and treat others accordingly. Respect the love that once was, because love in all its forms is worth respect. Armed with that knowledge is the only way to be a really healthy valentine.

Yours in love,

Mickie Kent

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