Building Better Relationships

IGS-00075550-001By: Maureen Croken, Family Service PEI

We know that relationships are important and contribute to our well being .We also  know that having a good support system in our life is one of the determinants of good health, and in particular good mental health. How do we achieve this?  We learn skills early on in our family, school and community that inform us how to interact with others. Sometimes however to improve the quality of our relationships we need to improve these skills and there are many resources available to us in the form of books, lectures, blogs, and therapists to name a few. Some skills that will be helpful are communication skills, listening skills, problem solving skills and mindfulness skills. Learning these skills takes work and practice and for many of us is an ongoing process.

We are all unique but also similar in that we have a need to have a connection with others, to belong and ideally to have acceptance by others of our most authentic self. In view of this we need to establish relationships with others and more importantly maintain them. There are some who say our resilience is rooted in our ability to form close relationships.

Relationships can range from deep friendships to more superficial acquaintances. Both play a role in our life and the latter, in some cases, may lead to a deeper friendship.

Establishing Relationships:

Taking risks:

We do need to remember it does take two people to establish a relationship. Individuals have different needs and interests at different stages of the life cycle. A relationship may not work out because of time, because of other commitments and priorities or lack of common interests. It is important to remember, that in most situations it has nothing to do with you. This work of connecting with others can cause anxiety, in some cases fear and for others it is remarkably easy and natural. We need to over come our fear of rejection, a common fear for many of us.

We need to accept that our attempts at establishing relationships will not always work out; in fact we need to plan on it. For example, you think you might like to be a friend with a certain person and for example, arrange to have lunch. You soon realize this is going to be a long lunch .Your lunch partner is talking about sports or some other topic in which you absolutely have no interest .They have no interest in what you have to say. Another scenario could be completely different. You have lots on common and lunch is over before you know it. You are surprized when your lunch partner does not want to schedule lunch again. That may have nothing to do with you. Your lunch partner may be overwhelmed with other commitments and responsibilities.

Be Yourself:

Being yourself gives others a chance to see if there is compatibility and if they have anything in common with you. At the same time, pace the level of self-disclosure…too much too soon can scare people away. Have you ever met someone who disclosed their life history without even asking you, your name?


You meet people sharing common interests. You need to identify your interests and be able to discuss them with others, such as reading, cooking, gardening, sports, bird watching, just to name a few. If you do not have any interests you need to develop some. This may involve trying many different things until you find something you love to do. It is fun to share with others and this becomes a win win situation.

Social Activities   

You are more likely to meet people if you attend events and activities. Some people are fearful of attending some event on their own, yet others see it as an opportunity to meet someone. In fact, many people travel on their own for this reason.

Social Media

There is great potential for connecting with others through social media. You have to use the same judgement and caution as you do in the offline world.

Maintaining and Improving Relationships

Know Yourself

There needs to be a balance between healthy relationships and feeling secure and satisfied with ourselves. Are you aware of your values, beliefs, interests and feelings? Are you able to say no to something makes you feel uncomfortable? Do you sometimes go along with a request and then feel resentful? Are you able to take time for yourself and know that you deserve it? The better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to care for others.

Give and take

Recognize what is important to the other. This involves being there for the other as well as your expectation that they be there for you. Relationships are a two way street. Give importance to the needs of the other. Develop the skill of both giving and receiving emotional support.

Learn to Listen.

Do you ever find when some one is talking you are waiting for your turn to talk, and tell your own story or you may interrupt without hearing what was actually said. Most of us do this at some time and we miss out. You may need to practice this skill of focusing on what the other person is saying. This becomes even more difficult when the topic triggers negative or uncomfortable feelings within. For example, imagine you are discussing the subjects of vaccines with someone and they have a strong opinion that is different than yours. You are convinced that they are wrong and shut down before they have had a chance to state their position.


Be realistic about what to expect. When we have a relationship with someone, it usually comes with a set of expectations. Keep in mind that we all have our own habits, personalities, beliefs, values and experiences. Your definition of a friend or friendship may be different than that of another individual.  Many of us expect our friends to be mind readers and know what we want. We are disappointed when our friend or friends fail to meet our expectations. Be clear about what you want. For example, you may want your friend to be available by text, email or phone more often then they would like or are able. Check with your friend what works for them. You may need to adjust your expectations or come up with some kind of compromise.

In conclusion building better relationship takes work, practice of specific skills and involves risks. Your life will be richer and more meaningful. As mentioned previously, there are many resources available to assist you in this process.

Communicating Effectively- The Readers Digest Version

3c6f8c3c-9d57-47cf-929c-3db7104e2a38By: Suzanne St Amour, Family Service PEI

Communication is part of life. The daily activity is practiced all over the world. However humans are not always successful in their attempts at communicating.

In general terms, communication is about imparting or exchanging information. It also has a variety of other functions.

There are several steps in communicating effectively. Lets use a situation where two people are talking to each other.

1) GOAL– Decide on what goal is to be achieved in a particular communication. Consider the reason for the communication. For instance, is it being used to impart information, convey an idea, share thoughts and emotions, argue, or transmit displeasure..

2)  DISCUSS TOPIC– Together explore the topic to be discussed. To do this each person needs to be clear about what they are trying to say.. This part of a conversation is about making meaning. The intent is to listen, understand and accept what each other is trying to communicate. Both persons needs to feel heard. This happens when we are able to show each other that we understanding what the other is saying. At this stage it is not necessary to agree or worry about disagreeing. Notice that the conversation has not yet reached the stage of finding a solution. Perhaps the communication is not about finding a solution, it could, for example, be about what they each feel regarding the day’s events. Jumping to solution talk or “fixing” is a common mistake made in communicating. People want to get right to “the answer”.

3) GENERATE OPTIONS– Think back to step one. Be clear about the shared goal of the communication. If there is a problem to solve or an issue to overcome, start brainstorming possible solutions.  Write them down if you like. Generate as many ideas as possible. 4) When step 3 is complete go through the options and evaluate the pros and cons. After further discussion, rule out the options that are not suitable.

5) DECIDE ON A SOLUTION– From the ones that remain select a solution that both of you can live with. This can be the most difficult step. It may require compromise and thinking outside the box (creativity). The more a person practices this method the better they will get at it.  Remember that the first part  of communication to make a point or share information and perhaps solve a problem if that is the outcome you have agreed to.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG– Note that it is important for each person to remain calm and use their cognitive skills. Avoid picking a solution that is non-negotiable. If a person does this there is no space for options and the situation becomes a “I win you lose” or “you win I lose” proposition. Resist becoming polarised and digging in. This will bring our emotional upset and may kick start the Fight or Flight response. This response is a hard wired physiological (body) reaction which occurs automatically when humans feel threatened.

Research has found that, during upset,  if a person’s heart rate rises above 90 beats per minute, all logic goes out the window (part of the Fight or Flight response).  If this happens any kind of logical discussion or solution becomes impossible. This is when fighting starts.  A conversation that deteriorates  into  a fights will not end with a solution. In fact it is likely to end with “bad feelings” because people will have said things in the heat of the moment that they cannot take back. It also damages the ability to have a reasonable, productive conversation on the topic next time because trust has been damaged and people are less willing to take another risk. Agree in advance that if either person becomes upset you will take a break and return to the topic when you are both calm again.

TO RECAP– communications or conversations have a variety of purposes. In order to attain this purpose one has to remain calm and be open go slowly, a willingness to explore a topic, to listen to the other person, to understanding what they are saying to validate their position by indicating that they understand. In addition options must be generated, weighed and considered. Finding a solution will ideally involve input from both individuals and be mutually satisfying.  Sometimes it may require compromise or taking turns. So they may agree that they will do it this way this time and the other way next time.  For couples, remember that you are a team (We) not adversaries (Me).

Asking For Help, And Why It Can Be Hard

How-to-be-a-More-Assertive-Parent_ArticleBy: Suzanne St. Amour, Family Service PEI

At one time or another most people need help. That is a pretty straightforward statement.  It’s what happens after, that gets complicated. It turns out most people don’t like to ask for help. That may not come as a surprise. There’s even a gender difference. Women find it more difficult to ask for help than men.

So what’s up with that? One article I looked at said that HELP is a four-letter word (what does that tell you?). In North America, part of our culture is to be self-reliant. It is such an ingrained idea that most of us probably never give it a second thought; it just is, like the sky is blue and the grass is green. Hey wait! What if that is not the case? What if it’s all in our heads? We’ll get back to that later.

As I said earlier, women find it more difficult to ask for help that men. That does not mean that there is necessarily a huge gap between the genders, so men, keep reading. The main reasons that people give for not asking for help have to do with us wanting to protect our self-concept, or how we see ourselves. We avoid asking because 1) we don’t want to look weak; 2) we don’t want to look incompetent by imposing on friends of family; 3) it won’t be done right away if we don’t take care of it ourselves; 4) we were raised to be self-sufficient; 5) it won’t be done right if we do not do it ourselves.  Females (including myself) are particularly prone to # 3 and 5. We must have a high opinion of ourselves.

All kidding aside, the result of these beliefs cause us to work harder than we need to, feel like we’re doing it on our own, and no one understands how difficult our lives are. What’s the answer? There’s more than one way of dealing with it. The ways are not all equal. We can just suck it up and keep doing what we are doing (till or mind or body starts to break down).  Or we could consider changing how we think and feel about asking for help. It turns out that for some individuals there’s a crisis that forced them to ask for help. Often the reason is physical. For example, a person may get in an accident and may no longer be able to do the things they use to. Someone else may be pregnant with complications. Suddenly they find themselves having to face their limitations. Being forced to do something is not fun. No one wants to be forced. One alternative is to choose to chance not only how you do things but the beliefs that enslave you to doing more than is humanly possible.

Change how I think? Now there’s a new concept. How does one do that, you ask? Here’s the abridged version.  Keep in mind that this is not an easy process. Ideas and beliefs are like old friends that we do not want to give up because they are familiar. These ideas are also like stubborn stains or computer glitches that just won’t seem to go away. Here are some steps you can try.

1) Consider exactly why you think that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

2) Work through how not wanting to ever seek help is reinforced by unrealistic ideas and wishful thinking.

3) Think about whether your bias to not ask or seek help has any (actual) benefits to yourself or others.

4) Look to reality instead of relying on wishful thinking.

5) Expect some paradoxes (a paradox is something that seems self-contradictory or inconsistent, so they may make you wonder why you are trying to change).

6) Beware the illusion that all problems are easy or that problems needing solving only apply to some people (not you of course).

7) Prioritise your problems.

Sound complicated?

Perhaps you should ask for help.

Assertive Versus Aggressive


By: Family Service PEI

Are you assertive enough in your everyday life?  Being assertive is a necessary communication skill to practice in order to avoid being taken advantage of, and to protect yourself from harm and wrongdoing. Being assertive involves expressing your feelings honestly and comfortably, without violating the rights of others.  It is a way of effectively expressing your likes, dislikes, interests, opinions and feelings in a way that people will easily understand.  Being assertive also involves being able to politely disagree with others, saying no to others’ demanding requests, and taking a stand for what you feel is right.

So, what are the benefits of developing an assertive communicate style?  It leads to better self-esteem and strong supportive relationships involving mutual respect. It lets others know that you are not willing to be taken advantage of and that you have a voice of your own.  Furthermore, being assertive better prepares you to accept compliments and positive feedback.

However, it is important to understand and recognize the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.  So, let’s break down the difference between the two:

Assertive                                Vs.                                 Aggressive

–  Speaking openly                                                            – Interrupting and talking over others

– Uses a conversational tone                                          – Speaks loudly and abrupt

– Maintains good eye contact                                         – Stares and glares at others

– Shows expressions that match the message            – Intimidates others with expressions

– Relaxed appearance with open posture                    – Stands rigidly with crossed arms, invades personal space.

– Participates in groups                                                   – Controls groups

– Values self equal to others                                           – Values self more than others

– Tries to hurt no one (including self)                          – Hurts others to avoid being hurt


Believe it or not, assertion is not a natural trait that we are born with, we must continue to learn  and develop this skill regularly.

10 Questions to Ask Your Financial Planner


By: The Financial Planning Standards Council

Financial planners can help you plan for retirement, find the best way to finance a new home, save for your child’s education or simply help put your finances in order. Whatever your needs, working with an appropriately qualified financial planner is a crucial step in helping you meet short-term and long- term goals that will help ensure your future financial well-being.

Finding the right planner is extremely important because your choice will almost certainly affect the security of your financial future. The following questions will help you interview and evaluate financial planners to find a competent, qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable and whose business style suits your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask these and any other questions you feel need a full and open answer. Any professional will welcome them.

  1. What are your qualifications?
  2. What experience do you have?
  3. What services do you offer?
  4. What is your approach to financial planning?
  5. Will you be the only person working with me?
  6. How will I pay for your services?
  7. How much do you typically charge?
  8. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?
  9. Are you regulated by any organization?
  10. Can I have it in writing?

1. What are your qualifications?

Many people offering financial services call themselves financial planners. However, financial planning is a detailed, comprehensive process requiring hands-on experience and a strong technical understanding of topics such as personal tax planning, insurance, investments, retirement planning and estate planning – and how a recommendation in one area can affect the others.

In addition, in Canadian provinces with the exception of Quebec, there is no legislated standard in place for those who call themselves financial planners to obtain any credentials whatsoever. Be sure that your planner is appropriately trained, certified and held accountable to professional oversight – as Certified Financial Planner® professionals are today.

Ask the planner about his/her qualifications to offer financial advice and if, in fact, s/he is a qualified planner.

Ask what training s/he has successfully completed.

Ask what steps s/he takes to keep up with changes and developments in the financial planning field.

Ask whether s/he holds any professional credentials including the CFP® credential, which is recognized internationally as the mark of the competent, ethical, professional financial planner.

2. What experience do you have?

Experience is an important consideration in choosing any professional. Ask how long the planner has been in practice, the number and types of firms with which s/he has been associated, and how their work experience relates to their current practice. Inquire about what experience the planner has in dealing with people in similar situations to yours and whether s/he has any specialized training. Choose a financial planner who has at least three years’ experience counselling individuals on their financial needs.

3. What services do you offer?

The services a financial planner offers will vary and depend on their credentials, registration, areas of expertise and the organization for which s/he works. Some planners offer financial planning advice on a range of topics but do not sell financial products. Others may provide advice only in specific areas such as estate planning or taxation. Those who sell financial products such as insurance, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, or who give investment advice, must be registered with provincial regulatory authorities and may have specialized designations in these areas of expertise.

4. What is your approach to financial planning?

The types of services a financial planner will provide vary from organization to organization. Some planners prefer to develop financial plans encompassing all of a client’s financial goals. Be sure to work with a planner who considers your overall financial goals, values and attitudes even where they may specialize in a specific area such as taxation, estate planning, insurance or investments. As an example, an investment specialist’s portfolio recommendations should consider your investment objectives and risk tolerance, but as well your cash flow needs, tax situation, risk management and estate goals. Ask whether the individual deals primarily with clients with specific net worth, levels of income or investable assets, and whether the planner will help you implement the plan s/he develops or refer you to others who will do so.

5. Will you be the only person working with me?

It is quite common for a financial planner to work with others in their organization to develop and implement financial planning recommendations. You may want to meet everyone who will be working with you. Financial planners often work with other professionals, including the ones you already use, such as your lawyer and accountant.

6. How will I pay for your services?

Your planner should disclose in writing how s/he will be paid for the services they will provide. Understand how your potential planner will be compensated and choose whatever model works best for you. Planners can be paid in several ways:

From the cost of the product: Some planners receive their compensation directly from the product manufacturer when you purchase a product through the planner, as part of the management fee of the fund for example. In this case no money is exchanged between the client and the planner. Rather, the cost to the client is embedded in the cost of the mutual fund.

Percentage of assets under management: Some planners will charge a fee as a percentage of the assets they are managing or administering on your behalf.

Fee-for-service: Some planners charge an hourly or set fee for the service they provide.

7. How much do you typically charge?

While the amount you pay the planner will depend on your particular needs, the financial planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Such costs would include the planner’s hourly rates or flat fees or the percentage s/he would receive as commission on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations

8. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?

Ask the planner – regardless of fee structure – if they have a written professional obligation to put your interests ahead of their own. For example, CFP professionals must attest to a code of ethics annually that clearly states that your interests will always come first.

9. Are you regulated by any organization?

Financial planners who sell financial products such as securities and insurance or who provide investment advice must be regulated by provincial regulatory authorities and may also subscribe to a code of ethics through a professional association. Others who are members of the accounting and legal professions are usually members of professional bodies that govern their fields. Planners who hold the CFP credential are subject to internationally recognized professional standards of competence, ethics, and practice set and enforced in Canada by Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC®).

It is a fair question to ask if a prospective financial planner has ever been the subject of disciplinary action by any regulatory body or industry association. You can verify the answer by contacting the relevant organization. Ask the financial planner whether s/he subscribes to a professional code of ethics such as the FPSC Code of Ethics for CFP professionals..

10. Can I have it in writing?

Ask the planner to provide you with a written agreement that details the services that will be provided. Keep this document in your files for future reference.

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The Questions That Will Save Your Relationships


By: Glennon Melton

When I was a mama of three very tiny, very messy, very beautiful rug rats, we had DAYS THAT WENT ON FOR LIFETIMES. Craig left at 6:00 a.m. every morning and as I watched his showered, ironed self leave the house I felt incredibly blessed and thrilled to have so much time alone with my babies and incredibly terrified and bitter to have so much time alone with my babies. If you don’t believe that all of those feelings can exist at once — well, you’ve never been a parent to many tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats.

When Craig returned each day at 6:00 p.m. (he actually returned at 5:50 but took a STUNNINGLY LONG TIME TO GET THE MAIL) he’d walk through the door, smile and say — “So! How was your day?”

This question was like a spotlight pointed directly at the chasm between his experience of a “DAY” and my experience of a “DAY.” How was my day?

The question would linger in the air for a moment while I stared at Craig and the baby shoved her hand in my mouth like they do — while the oldest screamed MOMMY I NEED HELP POOING from the bathroom and the middle one cried in the corner because I NEVER EVER EVER let her drink the dishwasher detergent. NOT EVER EVEN ONCE, MOMMY!!! And I’d look down at my spaghetti-stained pajama top, unwashed hair, and gorgeous baby on my hip — and my eyes would wander around the room, pausing to notice the toys peppering the floor and the kids’ stunning new art on the fridge…

And I’d want to say:

How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated — just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst. At 3:30 today I decided that we should adopt four more children, and then at 3:35 I decided that we should give up the kids we already have for adoption. Husband — when your day is completely and totally dependent upon the moods and needs and schedules of tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats your day is ALL OF THE THINGS and NONE OF THE THINGS, sometimes within the same three minute period. But I’m not complaining. This is not a complaint, so don’t try to FIX IT. I wouldn’t have my day Any.Other.Way. I’m just saying — it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain — an entire day with lots of babies.

But I’d be too tired to say all of that. So I’d just cry, or yell, or smile and say “fine,” and then hand the baby over and run to Target to wander aisles aimlessly, because that’s all I ever really wanted. But I’d be a little sad because love is about really being seen and known and I wasn’t being seen or known then. Everything was really hard to explain. It made me lonely.

So we went went to therapy, like we do.

Through therapy, we learned to ask each other better questions. We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them — we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers. We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.” If we don’t want throwaway answers, we can’t ask throwaway questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.

So Craig and I don’t ask “How was your day?” anymore. After a few years of practicing increasingly intimate question asking, now we find ourselves asking each other questions like these:

When did you feel loved today?

When did you feel lonely?

What did I do today that made you feel appreciated?

What did I say that made you feel unnoticed?

What can I do to help you right now?

I know. WEEEEEIRRD at first. But not after a while. Not any weirder than asking the same damn empty questions you’ve always asked that elicit the same damn empty answers you’ve always gotten.

And so now when our kids get home from school, we don’t say: “How was your day?” Because they don’t know. Their day was lots of things.

Instead we ask:

How did you feel during your spelling test?

What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?

Did you feel lonely at all today?

Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?

And I never ask my friends: “How are you?” Because they don’t know either.

Instead I ask:

How is your mom’s chemo going?

How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?

What’s going really well with work right now?

Questions are like gifts — it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become.

Life is a conversation. Make it a good one.

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