New Roots Therapy Blog

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Understanding Relationship Ambivalence: Part 2

Co-Written By: Melissa Kroonenberg & Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapists and Relationship Therapists

Last week’s blog focused on understanding relationship ambivalence and highlighted some common factors that keep people feeling stuck in a state of uncertainty about their relationship, including: fearing the consequences, experiencing a split between values, and issues related to self-esteem. This week, in Part 2, we will focus on specific strategies to help you address ambivalence in your relationship. These strategies will be framed as “antidotes” to each of the common factors outlined in Part 1. Please note: the term “antidote” is used here to illustrate that the following suggestions may be helpful for “counteracting”, or responding to, the common factors of relationship ambivalence, not to imply that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving relationship ambivalence, or that these are the only strategies available!

Go or Stay concept with three red dice on a white background.

Factor #1: Fear of Consequences

Antidotes: Practicing Courage & Staying Present

Whether it’s fear over your partner’s reaction to your concerns, fear of accepting your concerns as real and valid because of the internal upset this creates, or fear of dissolving the relationship altogether and being alone, if fear is the main factor keeping you stuck in ambivalence about your relationship, your antidotes include: practicing courage and staying present.

Although it may sound painfully simple (and come at the risk of a few eye-rolls from our readers…), when it comes to making change, courage is a necessary mindset. Practicing courage means that you’re open and willing to do something different, even if it’s something small (change is change, after all!). Operating from a place of courage within yourself means that you’re developing awareness of the default behaviours that keep you stuck (e.g., shutting down after conflict, getting defensive, staying quiet about your concerns, etc.) and then, rather than allowing your default reaction to take over, thoughtfully and courageously choosing to do something different.

Where staying present is concerned, so often we hear our clients speaking in “what if’s” when working through their experience of relationship ambivalence which, by its nature, takes them out of the present moment and into some imagined future (or past). Because we’re so invested in our relationship, and we feel a lack of control over the outcome of our situation, it can be easy to become caught up in “what if’s”, such as: “What if talking about it makes things worse?”, “What if we can’t resolve this concern?”, and perhaps most common, “What if I try and work things out and nothing gets better?” The thing about “what if’s” is that they ultimately focus on trying to problem solve the future (or time travel to the past). The future is unsolvable because it hasn’t happened yet, and the past is unsolvable because it has come and gone; yet the mind feels the discomfort of inner conflict and tries in vain to solve the unsolvable anyways. This is part of what keeps people stuck in ambivalence because if you tell yourself you have to solve a problem before moving forward, and that problem is unsolvable, then presto – you’re stuck! The only way to make change – the only way out of “stuckness” – is by focusing on what’s happening right now. It’s healthy to process unresolved experiences from the past, just as it’s healthy to be mindful of the potential consequences of your behaviour as they may unfold, but wishing the past had been different or trying to control the outcome of something that hasn’t happened are impossible and are part of what keeps you stuck.

Factor #2: Split between Values

Antidote: Practicing Curiosity & “The Death Bed Question”

It can be hard to imagine how to move forward if you find yourself facing a split between two strong values in your relationship, particularly if your understanding of one (or both) values isn’t yet fully formed. Practicing curiosity is all about meaning-making where your values are concerned; the goal is to help you better understand your values so that you are well-positioned for decision-making. The names that we give to the values we hold – honesty, conscious parenting, engagement and connection, self-growth, etc. – are simply words used to describe a set of characteristics or a way of being that is precious to us. While the words we assign to our values can be meaningful in and of themselves, to fully understand our values and the importance they have in our lives, we have to dig deeper, past our descriptors; we have to adopt a curious attitude in order to understand not only what is important to us, but also why. If we use the value of parenting that was discussed in Part 1 as an example, practicing curiosity would mean asking yourself questions like: what is it about “parenting” that holds the most meaning for me? Is it the aspect of nurturing another being? Teaching someone? Is it the desire to create something special and unique? You may also benefit from asking yourself the question, “Whose value is this really?” Without realizing it, many of us go through life living with a set of values and expectations that belong to other people. Our parents, extended family, friends, bosses, society, culture, etc. all give us ideas about how we “should” live. Most of the time, we don’t even realize how powerful these messages are until a process of reflection and examination takes place. The process of disentangling our authentic core values from the expectations and values of others is a challenging task. Some questions that we have found most helpful for this process are:

  • Has this always been a value of yours?
  • Who else in your life shares this value?
  • Who would be the most disappointed if you did not prioritize this value?
  • Are there times when this value is not so important?
  • How important is this value to you, on a scale of 1-10?
  • What will you be risking if you do not prioritize this value at this time?

Upon reflection, most people we meet with can acknowledge that some aspects of a particular value are more important than others, and they can begin to identify their true values from those of others. By becoming more specific about your values, you may be able to create more space for negotiation with your partner where there was once no breathing room, and new possibilities for resolving the split in values may begin to emerge. For example, if upon reflection you realize that parenting a child is not really what you value but, rather, it’s the aspect of creating something special with your partner that matters most to you, this becomes a very different conversation than one where you want children and your partner doesn’t. Resolving a split between values doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your partner come to share the exact same values in the exact same ways; rather it means that both of you can find a way to live out your values together, without either person feeling like they’ve had to repress or disown an important aspect of themselves. Most differences in values are resolvable. However, there are times when, after much curiosity, reflection, and conversation, people find themselves facing a difference in values with their partner that cannot be bridged. If you’re facing an unresolvable split, this is when the “death bed question” comes in: that is, if you imagine yourself on your death bed looking back on your life, would you regret that a value (or set of values) was never realized? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time to get really honest with yourself about whether avoiding the temporary pain of relationship dissolution is worth the life-long pain of living inauthentically. You deserve to live your best life – a life that’s in line with your values – and so does your partner. Give yourself your best chance at your best life.

Factor #3: Issues related to Self-Esteem

Antidotes: Repairing your Relationship with Yourself & Practicing Self-care

Part 1 talks about how, when needs go unvoiced (and, as a result, go unmet!) for long periods of time, this inevitably creates a sense of inner conflict which, in turn, can erode a relationship. It can be hard to understand how shifting your focus from your partner to yourself could be useful when it feels like your relationship is in trouble, but sometimes paying attention to and investigating your relationship with yourself is a necessary step towards managing relationship distress.

A healthy relationship requires that each partner is attuned to their own needs, and values themselves enough to share those needs with their partner in a direct and specific way. For example, in our work with clients, women especially seem to struggle with being specific and direct with their partner about what their needs are and how they want their partners to respond. Most commonly there is an idea that their partners should “just know what they need to do” – that asking for a need to be met somehow makes the gesture of meeting the need less meaningful – or the idea that their partner’s ability to just “know” what they need is related to how valuable they must be to them. These ideas can lead women to feel uncomfortable and disempowered when it comes to having their needs met in a relationship, resulting in tension and a fear that their partner doesn’t “know” them or “care enough” to meet their needs. Although it may seem surprising, this experience of not having your needs met in this case is less about your partner and more about your relationship with yourself. When you remain detached from what you need, or rely on your partner to “just know”, you are sending a message to yourself that you are not entitled or powerful enough to get yourself what you need. To love yourself enough to connect with your needs and validate their worthiness is the first step towards feeling better about yourself and your relationship.

Learning to love yourself and value your needs is essential for developing a healthy self-esteem. Self-love develops when you regularly turn towards yourself with kindness and engage in self-care practices. Since healthy relationships are made up of healthy individuals, caring for yourself and focusing on maintaining a positive self-esteem is an important part of caring for your relationships too! Check out our previous post on self-care for more information on how to enhance your sense of self and bolster self-esteem.

If you’re experiencing relationship ambivalence, we hope that these suggestions will be helpful to you in moving out of “stuckness” and into the sense of freedom and groundedness that come from knowing where you stand.

Grow Courageously!

-Melissa & Corinne


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Healing a Broken Heart: Part 2

Written By: Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist

In Part 1 of this post, which you can check out here, I wrote about three ways to help yourself heal a broken heart.  Now, here are four more ways to move through heartbreak with love and compassion:

1. Learn to keep your heart open. When we’re broken-hearted, in the grips of deep sadness, loss, and fear, we may choose to close our hearts as a way of protecting ourselves and re-establishing a sense of security in our lives.   When we’re hurting, closing our hearts can seem like a great idea in order to keep ourselves safe!  However, the safety we feel by closing our hearts is a false sense of safety; closing our hearts is about avoiding our pain, rather than embracing our pain with gentleness and letting it pass through us.  If you’ve read Part 1, you know that avoidance doesn’t actually lessen or heal our pain but, rather, has a tendency to prolong and intensify it.  Closing our hearts moves us farther away from our true selves and from true healing.  Love is healing and, in order to feel love for ourselves and receive love and support from those around us during this difficult time, our hearts must be open.  How do we keep our hearts open?  By paying attention to when we feel love, energy, and engagement with our experiences, as well as noticing when we don’t, and choosing to do more of the former no matter what the situation.  Michael A. Singer, in his book “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself”, writes about this beautifully:

“Through meditation, through awareness and willful efforts, you can learn to keep your centers open.  You do this by just relaxing and releasing.  You do this by not buying into the concept that there is anything worth closing over.  Remember, if you love life, nothing is worth closing over.  Nothing, ever, is worth closing your heart over.”

2. Find meaning in your emotions to connect with yourself on a deeper level. Our emotions are important messengers, and they have a lot of teach us about ourselves and our values.  When we feel happy and uplifted, it may be easier to receive the messages that our emotions have to offer because it’s easier to stay open when we feel good.  But there is a lot to learn from our pain if we can stay open and be conscious to it.  If the loss you experienced didn’t matter to your life or bump up against your beliefs and values in some meaningful way, your heart wouldn’t be broken in the first place.  So, as you practice keeping your heart open when pain is present, you can also ask yourself questions like: what does this sadness that I feel so deeply suggest about what’s important to me?  What can this fear teach me about my opportunities for growth right now?  This is different from telling yourself that “everything happens for a reason”.  It’s more about accepting that, even in the greatest tragedies, there are opportunities for profound personal, spiritual, and relational evolution.  When you learn to embrace your pain, you can also begin to embrace its lessons.

3. Begin to move towards forgiveness. When we experience a broken heart, our sense of internal power may be shaken up.  We may feel wronged by someone or something, and we may feel like our personal power has been violated.  It’s important to stay awakened to our inner power, and one way to do this is to move towards forgiveness.  Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things to do, and it can also be one of the most liberating for our hearts.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we approve of a person’s hurtful actions or that we like how a situation unfolded which caused us harm.  It also doesn’t mean that we forget what happened.  Instead, forgiveness is about acknowledging the wrong-doing and then choosing to let go of the hold that it has on us, in exchange for our freedom and inner power.  If we aren’t ready to forgive fully (and it’s okay if we aren’t) we might wish to start by simply setting the intention to forgive.  Forgiveness is a choice that we must make, often times not just once but again and again, to respond to the person or experience and say, “I’m hurt and my heart is broken, and I’m choosing to live my life fully and freely anyway.”  Since forgiveness is such a complex topic in and of itself, we’ll be writing a full blog post about it over the coming weeks.

4. Build your life!  When your heart has been broken, after you’ve done some initial processing and reflection, this is a time to work on building up your life and creating a life you love even more than you did before.  What have you wanted to do for yourself that you haven’t had/made time for?  What new activities have you wanted to try?  What have you wanted to learn more about?   How can you live in a way that honours the loss you’ve experienced and the lessons you’ve learned from it?  What makes you feel your best, most fulfilled, and most alive?  This is the time to do more of that!

Heartbreak is never easy.  At the same time, it’s important to remember that heartbreak is a human experience and, if we approach it with love and compassion, we can not only move through it, we can also grow from it to become more fully ourselves.

Wishing you wellness, always ❤


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What To Do When Sh*t Hits the Fan: 3 Tips for Coping With Messy, Stressy Situations

Post written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Sh*t happens and, when it does, it’s helpful to have some strategies in place to deal with the mess! Below are three tips to help you cope the next time your circumstances seem less than crap-tastic.

  • Feel your Feelings: before you clean up the mess, let yourself get knee-deep in sh*t (you’re welcome for the imagery on that one)!  In other words, allow yourself to feel your feelings and acknowledge the emotions that are coming up for you.  Whether it’s frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment…give yourself permission to be fully in that place of emotion.  Cry if you need to.  Take a drive and scream it out (you might want to make sure you’ve got the windows rolled up!).  Meditate.  Say the words out loud, “I feel [fill in the blank]”.  Unacknowledged feelings are more likely to get stuck in our bodies and manifest as physical pain and tension; simply feeling your feelings (without trying to change them) can be enough to release them from your body, helping to mitigate both physical and psychological aches.  As well, acknowledging your emotions can help you to better identify your needs, which can be valuable in any post-“poop happens” planning that you do moving forward.
  • Laugh: The saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” was created for a reason because it truly is good for your mind, body, and relationships.  In the midst of stress, laughter can help you to relax, minimize distress, and point a light-hearted lens at the situation to open up new perspectives.  The next time crap happens, look for the humour in the situation.  Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time (self-disclosure moment: this blog post is totally my way of not taking myself too seriously right now!).  Ask yourself, “Is this really that important? Will it still matter a year from now?”  By developing an appreciation for life’s follies, you create a buffer that helps to keep you from being completely swept away in the sh*tstorm!  For more information on the health benefits of laughter, click here.
  • Practice Gratitude: Gratitude works– it’s a science!  In particular, research has shown that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis demonstrate higher levels of mental alertness and determination, experience greater levels of happiness and optimism, report fewer physical symptoms, and fare better in the face of daily stressors.  In other words, a little gratitude each day helps keep the doctor away.  And the practice of gratitude (both in the moment and proactively) helps to make sh*tty situations more bearable by widening your perspective, developing your resilience, and helping you keep a positive outlook.

I hope you enjoyed this playful, poop-filled post! How do you cope when life sneaks up on you and makes a big ol’ mess? Let us know in the comments below!

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The Upside of Rejection

Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

It goes without saying: most of us don’t like rejection.  Rejection is often painful and can be hard on our mental and emotional well-being.  For these reasons, many of us not only dislike rejection; we fear it.  However, there are some upsides to rejection that tend to go unnoticed…

For example, when we are rejected, it frees us up for other experiences.  One might even say that rejection frees us up to be where we truly belong.  Using an example from my own life, when I was a new graduate seeking full-time employment, my application package was rejected by several employers time and time again.  Each time I submitted an application to a new job opening and heard nothing in response, I felt distressed; it was difficult not to become discouraged by all of the rejection.  Eventually, after about a year of applying, I received a full-time job offer for a position that allowed me to work from a “virtual office” and structure my own schedule, by and large.  This particular position has been a great fit for me in many ways; the flexibility of the role has allowed me to work as a therapist in private practice at New Roots Therapy simultaneously, and has made it possible for me and my business partner to grow our counselling practice over the past three years.  I’m quite certain that I would NOT have had the time or energy to continue working as a therapist in private practice, let alone grow a business, had I been given an offer for one of the many other positions I had applied to which would have required me to commute to a central office location daily, nowhere near my counselling practice.  After enduring a year of rejected applications, I found myself in a full-time position that was better than I could have imagined.

Rejection also provides us with an invitation to grow.  When we’re rejected, it’s easy to slip into self-judgmental thinking where we begin to make evaluations of our self-worth (e.g., “Of course they didn’t want to hire me, I’m not smart enough for the job”).  Instead of sliding into self-judgment which, in fact, impedes growth and change, we can use rejection as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and ask: “Is there anything I could be doing differently to help change the outcome next time?”  Perhaps using a different approach next time around would be helpful, or perhaps it makes sense to revise your goal.  Perhaps you could take some additional training.  Whatever the case might be, rejection provides us with an opportunity to grow ourselves as individuals, which is absolutely critical to overall success.

None of this means that rejection won’t ever hurt again.  It will, and it might even hurt a lot.  However, the next time you experience rejection, we’d encourage you to try and see beyond the hurt in order to see the upsides that it has to offer as well.

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Back to Work After Baby: Coping with Separation Anxiety

Written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Relationship Therapist

Going back to work can bring about a wide range of emotions for you and your child.  It’s normal and healthy for you and your baby to experience some anxiety in anticipation of, and during, this process.  Separation anxiety in a child can begin anywhere from 8-10 months and usually peaks at around 1 ½-2 years of age.  It typically coincides with the development of “object permanence”, which is when a baby learns that objects and people still exist even when they can’t see them.  Because young children have a limited concept of time, they become anxious when they see that you have gone because they have little understanding of when, or even if, you are coming back.

There are many things that you can do to help your child through separation anxiety:

  1. Leading up to your transition back to work, begin leaving your child with a trusted caregiver for brief periods of time.
  2. Always tell your child when you are leaving and when you will be coming back (even if you feel they are too young to understand you).
  3. Play games like peek-a-boo.
  4. Develop a goodbye ritual and be consistent in using it for every goodbye.
  5. If they will be going to a new caregiver/daycare when you go back to work, try spending some time with your child at the new daycare/caregiver before you have to leave them there.
  6. Go early to daycare so that you can spend some time helping your child acclimate to their surroundings.
  7. Let your child bring objects or things from home that they typically find soothing (e.g., a blanket or favourite toy).
  8. When you are introducing your child to a new caregiver, be sure to show them that you trust them.  Introduce the child to the caregiver and tell them that they are a friend.  Your orientation and energy towards a person can go a long way to help them trust.
  9. Try to keep your emotions light and positive (even if you are not feeling that way on the inside).  Your children will be looking to you for reassurance.  The more calm, confident, and positive you appear, the better it will be for your child.
  10. When you decide to leave, leave.  It may be difficult to keep walking out the door when you hear their protests, but it is better for them when you don’t prolong the process by going back- even if it is to console them.  Most times, the crying and protesting stops before you get out of the driveway.

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Dealing with Disappointment

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

It’s inevitable that there will be times when you feel disappointed – plans won’t work out as you’d hoped, loved ones will let you down, you’ll miss the mark for achieving a goal you’d set out for yourself, etc.  Disappointment is a natural part of the human experience.  How does the famous Rolling Stones’ lyric go?  “You can’t always get what you want”.  Indeed!

So, how can we deal with disappointment when it shows up in our lives?  Below are some tips for moving through the experience of disappointment:

1. Feel it and accept it:  Allow yourself to feel your emotions, whatever they are.  What emotions do you notice alongside disappointment?  For example, do you feel any sadness, frustration, worry, discouragement, etc.?  Notice where the emotions sit inside your body – is there a sensation of tightness in your chest/back/shoulders?  Do you feel a tingling sensation in your limbs?  Are there butterflies in your stomach?  Does your head ache?  Are your eyes welling up?  Breathe into any areas of your body where you notice physical discomfort, and cry if you need to.  You might wish to try doing a “Body Scan” exercise:  a mindfulness practice focused on increasing your awareness of the physical sensations in your body and allowing yourself, with gentle acceptance, to simply experience what you feel without trying to change or adapt it in any way.  Check out the following Body Scan exercises from – included in the link is a 10-, 5-, and 3-minute Body Scan, to suit your needs:

2. Address it (from a place of values):  When we feel disappointed and we don’t allow ourselves the space to experience our emotions, it’s much more likely that we’ll respond rashly to the situation – for example, we might address our disappointment by lashing out at the person who let us down, or withdrawing and acting “cold” towards the other person, or we might “beat ourselves up” for not meeting our own expectations.  However, by feeling our emotions and accepting the situation for what it is, as described in tip #1 above, it’s far more likely that we’ll be able to address the disappointment in ways that are in line with our values.  Do you strive to be someone who gives others the benefit of the doubt?  Do you value the ability to see multiple perspectives?  Do you value honesty and openness?  Are kindness and empathy important in your relationships with others?  How do you want to move through the world?  How do you want to be remembered?  When you identify what your values for living are, you can then address the feeling of disappointment from this place.  This could mean choosing to give yourself or another person the benefit of the doubt, choosing to stay open to another person even though disappointment invites you to withdraw, speaking up about how a situation impacted you in a way that is honest and non-confrontational, etc.   Once you’ve connected with your values, you can consciously choose to address the disappointment in ways that are revealing of them.

3. Make a plan to move forward:  Now that you’ve addressed the disappointment, you can create a plan for moving forward from here.  When we experience disappointment, it can actually be a perfect opportunity to re-examine our goals, priorities, and expectations.  Is there anything that you could do differently next time to result in a different outcome?  Are there any goals or priorities that need to shift?  Are there any expectations you’ve been holding onto that perhaps you could live without?   Whatever your answers are to these questions, writing them down will thicken your plan for moving forward and help it grow from a plan into action!

At times, disappointment can make you feel like wanting to throw in the towel – but don’t give up!   Try the strategies outlined above to help you move through the experience of disappointment; in doing so, you just might find yourself somewhere even greater than you had imagined – with a better opportunity, a better relationship, a better sense of self, etc.   After all, how does the rest of the lyric go?

“You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”.

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Coping Skills for Stress

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

When we first meet with clients, we always ask the question: “what are your goals for counselling?”  One of the most frequent answers that we hear from clients is that, through counselling, they want to develop “better coping skills” for dealing with times of stress.

Everyone experiences stress in different ways, and there are countless unique and creative coping strategies available for you to try when you’re up against a stressful situation.  Stress, in and of itself, is not a negative thing; in fact, it’s a necessary part of life!  Rather, it’s the way that we respond to stress and think about stress that can be problematic.  The next time you’re experiencing a difficult/painful/stressful situation, consider trying one (or all!) of the following coping strategies:

1. Focus on what you can control; accept what you can’t:  There are many things in life that we can’t control, such as the behaviour of other people.  Instead of worrying about the reactions of others, focus on how you can respond differently in stressful situations.  Ask yourself, “what is changeable in this situation?”  By highlighting what is changeable, you can then create an action plan to deal with those particular aspects of your circumstance.  Accept that there are some things you cannot change.  Acceptance doesn’t mean that you’re giving up or that you don’t care.  Rather, it means acknowledging that certain things are outside of your control.  By accepting what is outside of your control, you will have more capacity for making changes to those areas where you do have an influence.

2. Take care of yourself:  Self-care is important for lessening the impact of stress on our bodies, hearts, and minds.  Making sure that your physical self is taken care of is critical; if your physical needs are neglected, then it will be even more difficult to face emotional and mental stressors.  Getting enough rest, feeding and nourishing your body, burning off excess energy through exercise, etc. are all important elements in caring for ourselves.  Connecting with others – accessing the support of loved ones – is another vital element of self-care.  Self-care doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming – taking 10 minutes to do something good for yourself is better than nothing!

3. Remember your resilience:  In times of stress, it’s easy to lose sight of the challenges you’ve already overcome.  When we feel overwhelmed, we often forget just what we’re capable of!  By remembering past challenges and the ways you’ve worked through them, you can access “lost” coping skills (i.e., coping skills that you already have, but have forgotten over time).  Perhaps the coping skills you’ve used in the past are no longer strategies that you consider helpful.  Recalling those coping skills can still be useful for more closely examining how you’d like to respond to stress differently now.

If you’d like to speak with one of our therapists to develop coping skills, or preferred ways of responding to stress, please feel free to contact our office at: