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Managing emotions and relationships with autism
Autistic people have the same need for connection and relationships as anyone else. However, if you or your partner are autistic, developing and maintaining your relationship might need different skills [1, 2].Autistic traits affect people in different ways. Some people might prefer routine. They might have differences in how they think about or do things, which can include a deep focus on a topic or interest. Autistic people are often active learners, are drawn to patterns and typically have an enhanced or reduced experience of taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell [3].As an autistic person, you might struggle to recognise someone's emotional state, but have very good empathy once you recognise it. You might also need to manage differences in sensory experience or mental processing. For example, using earplugs at a gig if the music is painfully loud, or taking a break in a calming environment to help process an exciting experience [2, 4]. How do autistic people regulate their emotions? Regulating emotions is key to building successful relationships. Emotions are closely tied to how we think and feel, and how we manage them can affect how we behave. Emotions go up and down throughout the day. Learning to effectively recognise and regulate them can help us act in line with our values within a relationship [5, 6].Autistic people often focus on balancing over- and under-stimulation to regulate their emotions by stimming. Stimming is stimulating your brain through a repetitive movement or vocalisation, such as hand flapping or humming. Everyone engages in stimming sometimes, but it is more common in autistic people, and may be more noticeable [7].During social interactions, autistic people may use a strategy called masking, to compensate for or hide autistic characteristics such as stimming. They might mask to avoid discrimination, smooth social interactions, or succeed in school or their job. Although these goals might be met, masking can have detrimental effects on relationships. It can cause a loss of identity, exhaustion, and mental health struggles, including suicidal thoughts [8].This may be because the purpose of masking is to avoid a threat: that of being excluded or lonely. Spending a lot of time avoiding threat can cause high levels of stress, possibly leading to burnout [9]. You can read more about stress and burnout in Stress, burnout and relationships.While stimming and masking can be useful in regulating emotions, and helpful for building relationships, they can also be harmful. But there are skills that you can use to help apply them effectively [10]. Mindful stimming and masking Mindfulness is noticing sensations inside and outside your body. It involves focusing and moving your attention around to explore things through your senses. Mindfulness can help you recognise and address your feelings and how others are feeling, which can improve your relationships and your wellbeing. It can help you become more aware of stimming or masking and give you more control over which stimming method to use depending on the situation. Ultimately, mindfulness can help you recognise and respond in the most helpful way when you are over- or under-stimulated [11, 12]. How to practice mindfulness The NHS recommends practicing mindfulness in your daily life: noticing sensations as you brush your teeth or the sounds of the world as you walk to work. You can also try activities that focus on mindfulness like yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Being led by someone in a practice can help you hone your skills in being mindful [13, 14, 15]. Ideas for practicing mindful stimming Below are some mindful stimming ideas. Although we have split them into calming and alerting, different things will suit different people.  It can be useful to try some and make your own list of things that suit you [16]. Calming activities Alerting activities   Sucking a lolly or sweet Sucking a yoghurt or thick milkshake through a straw Walking with a backpack on Press-ups or chair press-ups Chill-out time before a stressful activity Rearranging furniture Engaging in heavy manual tasks around the garden e.g. digging Swimming Wearing a heavy coat or blanket over the shoulders Creating a sensory corner to go to at any time you want Sitting, leaning, or rolling on a gym ball Playing with sensory toys Doing a five-minute meditation or a 10-minute yoga video Trying a progressive muscle relaxation exercise [17]   Chewing gum Drinking a hot or cold drink like a tea or a juice Squeezing a stress ball or fiddling with a fidget toy Knitting or crocheting Short bursts of fast movement like jogging, jumping, dancing Clapping activities Making faces Stamping your feet Eating spicy or crunchy food Smelling or tasting citrus Sucking sour sweets Being playful Applying lip balm Singing or playing an instrument Taking notes Drawing something  Top tip Try watching the Netflix show Atypical. It’s a coming-of-age story about an autistic person who leaves home for university, experiencing his first relationship and best friend. Relating to someone onscreen can be comforting and empowering. Learn more about autism and relationships see these free videos from the NHS. References If you want to know more about any more about the things we’ve mentioned in this article, we’ve included a list of references below: [1] Strunz, S. Schermuck, C. Ballerstein, S. Ahlers, C.J. Dziobek, I. Roepke, S. (2016). Romantic Relationships and Relationship Satisfaction Among Adults With Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73 (1), 113-125. [2] He, J.L., Williams, Z.J., Harris, A. et al. (2023) A working taxonomy for describing the sensory differences of autism. Molecular Autism 14, (15). [3] National Autistic Society (2023). What is Autism? What is autism [4] Warrier, V., Toro, R., Chakrabarti, B. et al. (2018) Genome-wide analyses of self-reported empathy: correlations with autism, schizophrenia, and anorexia nervosa. Translational Psychiatry 8, 35. [5] Guy-Evans, Simply Psychology. (2023, 12). Do You Know How To Manage Your Emotions And Why It Matters? Emotional Regulation: Learn Skills To Manage Your Emotions ( [6] Barlow. A, Ewing. J, Janssens. A & Blake. S. (2018). The Shakleton Relationships project. Shackelton_Relationships_Report_2018_8pp_v5.pdf ( [7] Gal, E., Dyck, M. J., & Passmore, A. (2002). Sensory differences and stereotyped movements in children with autism. Behaviour Change, 19(4), 207-219. [8] Hull, L. Lai, M. Baron-Cohen, S. Allison, C. Smith P. Petrides, K. Mandy, W. (2020). Gender differences in self-reported camouflaging in autistic and nonautistic adults. Autism, Vol. 24(2) 352–363. Gender differences in self-reported camouflaging in autistic and non-autistic adults - Laura Hull, Meng-Chuan Lai, Simon Baron-Cohen, Carrie Allison, Paula Smith, KV Petrides, William Mandy, 2020 ( [9] Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15(3), 199-208. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.107.005264 [10] Frank, D.W. Dewitt, M. Hudgens-Haney, M. Scheaffer, D.J. Ball, B.H. Schwarz, N.F. Husseina, A.A. Smart, L.M. Sabatinelli, D. (2014). Emotion regulation: Quantitative meta-analysis of functional activation and deactivation. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 45, 202-211. [11] Kappen, G., Karremans, J.C., Burk, W.J. et al. (2018) On the Association Between Mindfulness and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: the Role of Partner Acceptance. Mindfulness 9, 1543–1556. On the Association Between Mindfulness and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: the Role of Partner Acceptance | Mindfulness ( [12] Mindfulness for Autism Jessie Poquérusse1 & Francesco Pagnini1,2 & Ellen J. Langer1 # Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 P 80 41252_2020_180_Article 1..8 ( [13] Linehan, M. (2014) DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd). Guilford Press.   [14] Levin, M. Hayes, S. C. (2011). Mindfulness and Acceptance: The Perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Acceptance and Mindfulness in Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Understanding and Applying the New Therapies. John Wiley & Sons. [15] NHS. (2022, 09, 14). Mindfulness. NHS.UK. Mindfulness - NHS ( [16] Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust. (2023). Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder Group. [17] Hamilton Health Sciences. (2017, 01, 19). How to reduce stress with progressive muscle relaxation. Youtube. We Know Why We Go | Bulk™ (
Article | autism, stress
Supporting your child’s mental health
As a parent, you won’t be able to control everything that affects your child's mental health, but the way you act can make a big difference [1]. In this article we'll look at some skills you can use to support your child’s mental health. Using these skills can help your child feel motivated to improve their self-esteem, develop their social skills and do well at school. It can also improve your relationship with your child, your partner and even your community [2].   Causes of mental illness in children  Low self-esteem, an unstable home life and educational difficulties [3] can all cause mental health issues in children. Since Covid-19, many more children are struggling to manage their feelings and need social and behavioural support [4]. More than half of children don't receive enough support for their mental health, and issues can then carry on into adulthood. Giving children the support they need early on helps them to grow into healthy and capable adults [3]. What you can do to help Be interested in their interests  At school, children are often rewarded with a good mark or a teacher's approval. This can help them to do well, but when a child’s efforts go unnoticed it can be stressful for them. Taking an interest in other areas of your child's life can help them connect to a sense of purpose within themselves [3] and motivate them to engage in school. Talk to them about their worries, interests, likes, and dislikes.  Top tip: Ask your child how their day was after school – allow them to lead the conversation and ask them questions about what they want to talk about from their day.  Build a good relationship with school  Children spend a lot of their time at school. Working with their teachers can help you and your child address any challenges they may have in and out of the classroom. This can help you to understand what support your child needs to be able to thrive [5].   Consistency is also important. If there is a lack of trust between teachers and parents, it can lead to your child getting mixed messages [6]. Building a trusting relationship with your child’s school can mean more consistent care and better mental health for your child.   Top tip: Keep in touch with your child’s school and be open with teachers about any concerns you might have. Help them understand their emotions  The school environment can feel overwhelming for children and may trigger strong emotions. Learning how to effectively handle these emotions can help build connections and friendships with other children and teachers.   Being more aware of their emotions can help build a child's self-esteem [7]. It can help them communicate better, feel included, and feel more capable of solving problems.  Five ways to support your child’s emotional awareness:   Pay attention to your child's emotions, so you can recognise when they are upset.  Recognise your child’s expression of emotion as a chance to learn. Encourage them to talk about what they are feeling, and guide them before emotions escalate.  Be empathic and understanding. Listen to what is upsetting your child and let them know you understand their feelings and why they are upset.    Help your child learn to label their emotions with words. This can broaden your child’s vocabulary and help to soothe them. You can lead by example with your own emotions.  Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations. All feelings and wishes are acceptable. Not all actions and behaviours are acceptable. When a child misbehaves it is important to help them identify their feelings and explain why their behaviour was inappropriate [8].  Top tip: A fun way to introduce emotions to your children is to watch the Pixar film Inside Out. It follows a girl called Riley whose emotions are characters in her head that control her behaviour.   Work on your relationship with your partner  How you and your partner interact has a big impact on your children. Having regular heated arguments and leaving them unresolved can affect your child’s mental health and their behaviour at school [9]. If your child is affected by your arguing, they might struggle to concentrate, feel angry and act aggressively to others, or avoid friends and the things they normally do for fun [3]. Couples in happy relationships work at keeping a good connection by talking regularly and seeing things from each other's point of view [2]. Working at your relationship helps to provide a stable home environment, which can help your child thrive [3].  Top tip: For tips on how to improve your relationship with your partner or co-parent, try See it differently [10], a website from OnePlusOne with advice on how to communicate calmly and clearly, avoiding harmful arguments.  Seek help  When parents are thriving, their children are more confident, happy, and more able to concentrate at school [3]. Thriving families typically have a network to support them through good and tough times [2]. Having a network of people you trust can help relieve stress, solve problems, and add to your child’s social life. You can also seek support from the communities you are part of, such as work, school, faith groups, or LGBTQ+ groups.   Top tip: Lean on friends and family for support: ask if grandparents can take the children for a while or have an evening phone call with a good friend.  If you're worried about your child’s mental health, give some of these ideas a try and let us know how you get on.   By Helen Molloy References Below is a list of references if you want to learn more about anything we have talked about.  [1] Music (2010). Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children's Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development (3rd). Routledge.  [2] Barlow. A, Ewing. J, Janssens. A & Blake. S. (2018). The Shakleton Relationships project. Microsoft Word - Shackleton Report Master Copy Final Draft 28-06-18 JE - updated v2.docx (  [3] High speed training, child mental health training v4, CPD certified (2023). Child Mental Health Training | Online Course & Certification (  [4] National centre for educational statistics (2022). The Zones of Regulation. The Zones of Regulation | A Curriculum For Emotional Regulation  [5] Rachael Levy (2023) Home–school communication: what we have learned from the pandemic, Education 3-13, DOI: 10.1080/03004279.2023.2186972  [6] Ozmen, F., Akuzum, C., Zincirli, M., & Selcuk, G. (2016). The communication barriers between teachers and parents in primary schools. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 66, 26-46  [7] Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap (2nd). Robinson.  [8]  Gottman, J.M., Katz, L.F. & Hooven, C. (1996). Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology, 10(3), 243–268.  [9] OnePlusOne. (2023). RPC Package: Reducing parental conflict. LA (  [10] OnePlusOne, Good Things Foundation. (2023). See it differently. See it differently 
Article | mental health, children
Supporting a partner with chronic stress
If your partner is dealing with chronic stress, there are things you can do to support them. While you can’t solve all their problems, pulling together during a stressful time can help make your relationship stronger. In this article we discuss how to recognise signs of chronic stress in your partner and what you can do to help [1]. What is chronic stress? Stress is your body’s response to threat – you may have heard the term ‘fight or flight’ which is when your body gives you a boost of adrenalin to tackle what’s in front of you [2]. Experiencing some stress is a normal part of life, and it can even be good for you – stress helps your body to adapt and grow stronger. However, if the fight or flight reaction kicks in too often, it can result in long-term overwhelming stress, known as chronic stress [3].If a loved one or partner is experiencing chronic stress it can be difficult and distressing for both of you. Sometimes chronic stress can’t be avoided due to circumstances beyond your control, such as illness or money worries. But it can still help to have the support of a partner [1]. Signs of chronic stress There are many signs of chronic stress, and they will differ for different people [2]. Recognising the signs is the first step to helping support your partner. They might include: Feeling overwhelmed by work. Having little or no time for family. Frequently feeling irritable, depressed, or anxious. Being unreasonable. Struggling with relationships. Little or no time for self-care [2, 4].   How to support your partner There are many ways you can help support your partner: Be actively caring Show you care with thoughtful acts that will mean something to your partner. You could make the dinner or take the kids out for the day to give your partner some alone time. Not everyone finds the same things meaningful, so think about what your partner would want. Those little gestures can really add up [5]. Carve out time to talk Talk to your partner – not just about the big issues, but also about the smaller everyday things. While your instinct might be to try and find practical solutions, someone who is chronically stressed might just want to talk. Focus on addressing one thing at a time, and take the time to listen to your partner [6]. Take care of your own needs It’s important to look after yourself as well as your relationship. Taking time for your own interests and hobbies as well as those you do with your partner can be helpful to you both. Think about what you enjoy doing that you find enjoyable and relaxing. It could be anything from playing football with your mates to taking a long hot bath. Whatever it is, intentionally make time for it in your week [1]. Seek help Ask your friends and family for help. Having a close supportive network can help relieve pressure when dealing with stress. You could also seek support from the communities you belong to, such as work, school, faith, or LGBTQ+ groups. It is especially important to seek help if both of you are struggling with your mental health.Relationships are complex and can be difficult to navigate. That is why Click exists – to investigate relationships and share what we find with you! The suggestions in this article come from a range of evidence-based sources. Give them a go and let us know how you get on.If you think you are suffering from chronic stress yourself and want to understand more about it, see our article on burnout.By Helen Molloy References Here is a list of references for you to refer to if you want to learn more about anything we have touched on: [1] Barlow, Ewing, Janssens & Blake (2018) The Shakleton Relationships Project Summary Report. University of Exeter. [2] OnePlusOne (2020) Stress. NHS Foundation trust. [3] American Psychological Association (2023) Stress effects on the body. [4] Mental Health UK (2020) Burnout. [5] Highet, Thompson & King (2006) The Experience of Living with a Person with an eating disorder: The Impact on the Carers. [6] Walden University (2023) How Stress Impacts Decision Making.
Article | stress, mental health
Stress, burnout and relationships
Stress and burnout can affect your relationships and make it difficult to look after yourself. In this article we’ll look at some actions you can take to manage stress, and how you can use self-compassion to address early signs of burnout.  Understanding burnout  Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by long-term stress [1, 2, 3]. Many things can come together to cause burnout. These could be:  Relationship troubles  Money worries  Problems at work  Childcare responsibilities  Lack of support or isolation  Poor physical health  Poor sleep  You can expect to experience some stress in life, but if you have too much for too long you might begin to experience negative symptoms. It is not caused by being too weak or being unable to handle life’s difficulties: it can happen to people who have lived through very tough situations [2].   Burnout can affect your emotional wellbeing: you might feel a loss of motivation, a negative outlook, and feelings of helplessness [3]. It can impact your relationships, both with yourself and with others [5].   How does burnout happen?  The three systems model, created by the psychologist Paul Gilbert [6], can be helpful for understanding burnout. You have three emotional systems: threat, drive and soothe. The threat system alerts you to danger, activating your ‘fight or flight’ response. The drive system motivates you to look for food, water, and safety. Your soothe system helps you to relax and feel safe.These systems work together to help keep us alive, each becoming more powerful over the others when needed. A balance of the three systems is a sign that your body is working how it should. Sometimes the systems become unbalanced, and threat and drive become more dominant. This can happen if you have a lot of demands on your time that are physically and mentally draining to you.   Burnout and relationships  People experiencing burnout often struggle to be kind to themselves. You might notice that you’re being judgemental of yourself, feeling disconnected, or constantly striving without a break. There may be good reasons why you are pushing yourself such as working hard at your job, or caring for other people [2, 7]. However, a lack of self-compassion can be a sign that you are stuck in drive mode and not connecting enough with soothe. This can lead to symptoms of burnout that tend to be harmful to building good relationships [8].   The irony is, if you do burn out, you will be too exhausted to care for other people or achieve your goals at work. It is better for everyone if you are able to take time to take care of yourself before burnout happens.  Show yourself kindness  Recognising your feelings is a way to show yourself compassion and regulate your emotions [9]. In his book The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris explains that pushing feelings away and ignoring them is like trying to hold an air-filled ball underwater: eventually your arm will get tired and the ball will surface. In fact, pushing feelings away can result in a rebound effect, and they can come back even harder. Taking a moment to notice your feelings can help you feel better if it is beyond your control to change anything for now.   Anchoring yourself  You can practice recognising your feelings by ‘dropping anchor’. This is a technique you could try to become more aware of what you are experiencing. To drop anchor you can use the acronym ‘ACE’ [5]:  A – Acknowledge your thoughts and feelingsNotice and name any thoughts, emotions, and sensations you are feeling in your body. C – Come back into your bodyConnect with your physical body in some way – push your feet firmly into the floor, slowly breathe, stretch your arms above your head. E – Engage with what you are doing  Get a sense of where you are – perhaps notice some things you can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Finish by refocusing your attention on what you are currently doing and engage with it.  Burnout is a difficult experience that can affect our relationships, but there are techniques available to help you manage and prevent it. Practising self-compassion and kindness can lead to many benefits, such as more energy and time for those we love. Try dropping anchor and let us know how you get on.  By Helen Molloy References [1] WHO, 2023 [2] BMJ, 2018 [3] Mental Health UK, 2023 [4] Hool, 2022 [5] Harris, 2008 [6] Gibson et al, 2021 [7] Rutter & Croston, 2023 [8] Barlow et al., 2018 [9] Linehan, 2015 
Article | relationships, stress
Friendship: the all-important glue
Support for couples has often been focused on managing disagreements rather than building positive aspects of the relationship, like friendship. However, it is increasingly recognised that in the long term, relationships falter through a lack of positivity rather than the presence of negativity [1]. When thinking about supporting relationships, working to strengthen the depth of friendship is ‘probably the treatment of choice’ [2]. Research suggests that friendship can be the foundation of a strong relationship with our partner. This foundation has three parts: Couples with strong friendships tend to be emotionally connected, knowing what is happening in their partner’s world and being interested in their life. They admire and show appreciation for each other. They respond positively to each other’s requests for attention, interest, or affection [3]. A strong foundation of friendship helps us to see the best in our partner. When we are feeling positive about our partner, it’s much easier to see any inevitable let-downs as being out of character or due to circumstance, making it easier to forgive and move on [4]. Research shows that married and cohabiting couples who see their partner as their ‘best friend’ are much more satisfied with their lives than those who name someone else as their closest friend [5]. Time to ourselves and a network of support from other friends and family are, of course, also vital to wellbeing. Friendship in the good times and the bad One study of couples interviewed separately over the first 15 years of their marriage [6] showed that people who described being great friends with their partner were in some of the most satisfying relationships. Many of the couples had been ‘friends first’ before becoming romantic partners [7]. As one man put it, “You need to have that basic friendship at the base of everything to build up from, and that always gives you something to go back to.” Couples’ experiences of the pandemic differed substantially depending on a number of factors. However, many couples commented that because they were such good friends, they had not found it difficult to be in lockdown together. Couples in thriving relationships ‘work hard’ to keep their relationship vibrant, but because they enjoy each other’s company, this is not ‘hard work’. In the good times and the bad, friendship is “The glue that sticks everything together.” Couples who are good friends look out and want the best for each other. They tackle issues as a team, which can strengthen their relationship further. This can even help when things go wrong – in the 15-year study of couples, one man said that he fell back on the “solid friendship” they had enjoyed to get him through the difficult months after finding out about his wife’s affair in the early years of their marriage. Without this basis of friendship, the relationship may not have survived. What happens if friendship isn’t strong? In the same study, concerns flagged by the researchers over the strength of the couple’s friendship at the first interview reliably predicted which couples would separate. Without a foundation of friendship, there seemed to be little to fight for when couples hit difficulties, and the relationships broke down [4]. When friendship is weak, the likely outcome is that people leave unhappy marriages [7]. That is why it’s essential to choose a partner we get on well with and then work hard to keep the relationship strong. How can you build your friendship as a couple? It is normal for relationships to go through peaks and troughs. It takes time and effort to keep things vibrant with a partner and there will be times when you feel closer than at others. Making time shows your partner they are your priority, especially when time is at a premium. Here are some things you can do to keep your relationship strong: Stay up to date and interested in what is happening in your partner’s life. Show appreciation for what your partner does for you or let them know the qualities you admire in them.  Respond positively and enthusiastically when your partner asks for your time, attention, or affection. Show that you care through small gestures. A cup of tea or a “How was your day?” can be more meaningful than occasional big gestures. Make time for your partner, and carve out time together.  Be your partner’s biggest cheerleader and a shoulder to cry on when things are tough. Tackle things as a team and be ‘in it together’. Make plans for small treats or time together to stay connected and have things to look forward to. Learn what makes your partner feel cherished. If it’s ‘being helpful’, then notice something that needs doing, like loading the dishwasher, and do it without being asked. Written by Dr Jan Ewing, University of Exeter References [1] Frank Fincham, Scott Stanley and Steven Beach, ‘Transformative Processes in Marriage: An Analysis of Emerging Trends’ (2007) 69 Journal of Marriage and Family 275[2] John Gottman and others, The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002)[3] John Gottman and Julie Gottman, ‘The Natural Principles of Love’ (2017) 9(3) Journal of Family Theory and Review 7[4] Anne Barlow and others The Shackleton Relationships Project: Report on Key Findings (University of Exeter, 2018)[5] Shawn Grover and John Helliwell, ‘How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness’ (2017) 20(2) Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being 373[6] Anne Barlow and Jan Ewing, forthcoming[7] See: Danu Stinson,  Jessica Cameron and Lisa Hoplock, ‘The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science’ (2022) 13(2)  Social Psychological and Personality Science 562[8] Denise Prevetti and Paul Amato ‘Why Stay Married? Rewards, Barriers and Marital Stability’ (2003) 65(3) Journal of Marriage and Family 561
Article | frienship
Interracial and cross-cultural relationships
Interracial relationships are still taboo in many families. This article offers some insight on how to manage difficult conversations with family and friends about being with the person who makes you happy, regardless of their race or ethnicity. These taboos may be connected to the long-standing effects of institutional racism or the lingering presence of white privilege, both of which can affect the way people view the world. Although years have passed since the Equality Act, many people from ethnic minorities still worry about being subject to racism and may choose partners from similar backgrounds as a result. If you are in a relationship with someone from a race or culture that is different from your own, you may already have experienced the negative impact of taboos, stereotypes, racism, and the negative attitudes of family members. We are here to remind you that you are not alone in your relationship, even though family and friends’ opinions can make you feel so. The following accounts are from real women who have been in interracial relationships and the emotions they went through when telling their parents or their partner’s parents. Sim (British Gujarati female, 25) talks about her relationship with Matt (white British male) “After telling my parents, I was overthinking whether it was the right decision to be together which may have indirectly affected our relationship at the time... His parents were unsure about our relationship at first as they played to the stereotypes of me being Indian and thought I was with him for fun, only to get an arranged marriage after” Zoe (White British female, 20) talks about her relationship with Elijah (black British male) “We had to keep our relationship secret from his dad for a while... when he found out he didn’t say much but made a comment about my partner saying, ‘he will learn from his mistakes’.” Selina (British Gujarati female, 21) talks about her relationship with Zayn (British Pakistani male) “They were disappointed and ashamed when they found out and my dad made the comment, ‘One thing we told you was no Pakistani boys’... I was frustrated that they only saw ethnicity rather than the person I was with [...] His parents reacted worse than mine, which bought up plans about the future... some cultural aspects didn’t align, and we realised that we had more differences than we thought” How to work through your issues Opinions of family and friends can have negative effects on a relationship. In a situation where your partner does not understand why their family’s comments are hurtful, you may feel you cannot speak to your partner, causing a lack of communication and distance between the two of you. It is easy to feel discouraged if your families are not supportive, but these issues can be worked through. Listen to your partner’s needs Something that seems small to you may be big for your partner. Don’t ignore or dismiss their partner’s feelings as this could push them away, or lead to feelings of bitterness. Listening to your partner and sharing issues about your families can take some of the load off for them and help with the healthy progress of your relationship. Compromise equally The desire to keep in touch with your own culture and embrace your partner’s culture is natural. However, compromise is essential to make sure something that you are passionate about is not being disregarded. Set boundaries with your partner about what aspects of culture and religion are important to you, so that your roots are not being forgotten. Relationships are a two-way thing; in an interracial relationship, cultures and religions from both sides must be taken into consideration and appreciated. Reason with your parents The reality is that a lot of parents won’t understand your relationship but dealing with this doesn’t have to be confrontational. Explain how you feel in a calm manner, using soft start-ups like, ‘I feel...’ or ‘It upsets me when you say...’. This can help them see how their words affect you, which they may not have considered before. Hearing their point of view is important too as this can be part of a discussion that dissolves stereotypes around your partner’s race and brings more normality to interracial relationships. Reassure each other It is easy to overthink what the future may bring for you and your partner when the odds seem against you now. However, living in the present and taking everything one step at a time is more manageable. This allows you both to slowly normalise your relationships in your families and focus on what is going well in the moment rather than what could go wrong in the future. What happened next? Let’s meet those couples again and hear how they moved forward from their parents’ reactions. As you’ll see, things don’t always work out, but there is certainly hope. If you’ve been in a similar situation, we’d like to hear from you in the comments below. Sim and Matt “I managed to win [his parents] over and they were welcoming and looked after me whilst I was away from home, which had a positive impact on our relationship. But I never felt we were going to progress as he was never close to my parents […] maybe if my parents were more supportive, we could have still been together now.” Zoe and Elijah “His dad is a strict Christian and doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, so our relationship was never discussed with him... that being said, my partner never spoke about his relationship with his dad and how our relationship may have affected it” Selina and Zayn “We reassured each other that we’d take our relationship one step at a time and focus on now instead of the future. My parents met him and apologised for judging on stereotypes, and we’ve compromised on things we didn’t initially agree with.” By Sereena Vaja References Brooks, J. E., Ly, L. M., & Brady, S. E. (2021). Race talk: How racial worldview impacts discussions in interracial relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(7), 2249–2267.
Article | culture, race, dating
How to boost your self-esteem
Self-esteem is a sense of belief and confidence in your own values and abilities. This is something you develop over time as you respond to the big and small events in your life – anything from deciding what to eat for dinner to how well you cope with having a baby [1]. Having good self-esteem means you feel capable of tackling the challenges of everyday life and that you have measured up to your goals and values. When it comes to relationships, it’s also important to have a stable sense of self-esteem. This means that your self-esteem is realistic and reflects what others see in you. Self-esteem and relationships Having a good and stable sense of self-esteem can mean you feel more satisfied in your relationship, and any changes in self-esteem can also change how you feel about your relationship. Poor self-esteem is linked with high levels of stress and instability in relationships. One marker of a healthy relationship is that the individuals involved have time for their own activities and friends outside of the relationship. It is important that each person involved in the relationships has their own sense of self-worth [2] [3] [4]. How to build and maintain self-esteem Through humour If you want to work on building your self-esteem, one thing you can try is using self-enhancing humour rather than self-defeating humour. Self-defeating humour is putting yourself down and making a joke at your own expense, such as ‘I was an ugly baby,’ or ‘That was such a stupid thing to do.’ This type of self-talk can make you feel sad and anxious. Self-enhancing humour is finding humour in everyday situations or making yourself the target of a joke in a good-natured way, such as ‘I’m a bit of a klutz’, or ‘You’ll never believe what happened to me’. Self-enhancing behaviour can help you feel more capable and worthy [5]. By emulating a role model Another way to build self-esteem is to model your behaviour on someone you admire. This can help you find ideas about how to solve problems and deal with uncertainty and anxiety. When you are stuck for what to do in a certain situation, seeing how someone else has done it can help you develop the knowledge and skills to try something similar. Take some time to think about who you look up to and the values they embody that are important to you [1]. Through defining your goals and values Another way to improve your self-esteem is by acting in line with your values and working towards goals that are important to you. It is much easier to do this when you know what your goals and values are. You can find a values exercise in our article, ‘Are you having an emotional affair?’ When setting goals, it is important to think ‘SMART’ by making sure your goals embody the following five qualities: S – Make sure your goals are specific. For example, rather than the general goal of ‘being more loving to my partner’ try saying: ‘I will call my partner when I get off work and say “I love you”’. M – Having goals that are meaningful to you is also important. Make sure your goals are not geared towards avoiding pain or pleasing others. One of your values might be showing love and appreciation for your family. In this case your goal could be to make an effort to thank your partner when they do something nice for you. A – Adaptive goals are those that aim to improve your life. It may seem silly but it’s important to weigh this one up. Something that seems like a good idea may not be practicable in the context of your life. For example, you may consider joining a dog walking club to socialise, but if you are often stressed and rushing around trying to get everything done, then a more adaptive goal could be to cut something out of your busy schedule instead. R – Set realistic goals, taking into account your current health and financial circumstances. If you are struggling to make ends meet and your goal is to start exercising it may not be realistic for you to buy a gym membership. Instead you might decide to try something more affordable, like going for a run outside. T – Finally setting timebound goals can help increase specificity. Set yourself a date and time by which to achieve your goals, or an estimate that feels realistic. Instead of setting the general goal of ‘running regularly’, you could aim to go for a run every Thursday at five o’clock [6]. Goal setting exercise Write down a series of goals you want to achieve from the immediate to long term: An immediate goal (something simple and easy that you can achieve in the next 24 hours) A short-term goal (something you can achieve in the next few days or weeks) A medium-term goal (something you can achieve in the next few months) A long-term goal (something you can achieve in the next year or few years) How to approach building and maintaining self-esteem When building self-esteem remember it takes time and is not something that you can improve overnight. Pursuing this goal will take perseverance, patience, mindfulness, and wholeheartedness, but it is possible, and we are behind you all the way. Let us know how you get on!By Helen Molloy References [1] Mruk & Mruk, 2013[2] Erol & Orth, 2014[3] Santangelo et al., 2020[4] Maestripieri et al., 2013[5] Kuiper et al., 2004[6] Harris, 2008
Article | self-esteem, confidence
Are you having an emotional affair?
An emotional affair is a non-sexual relationship where a level of intimacy has built up. It might have a lot in common with a normal friendship, but there is often sexual chemistry and a level of emotional intimacy that may not be present in the person’s committed relationship. Someone having an emotional affair might engage in secrecy around the relationship, even lying to their partner about spending time with that person. Signs you are having an emotional affair Because there’s no physical intimacy, emotional affairs can be tricky to identify. However, there are signs to look out for that might suggest this is something you’re involved in, including: Spending more time with the other person than with your partner. Thinking about the other person a lot. Sharing things you would normally only ever share with your partner. Having less time to spend with your partner [1]. If these signs are familiar, you may be involved in an emotional affair. Why emotional affairs happen Emotional affairs can happen when there are communication difficulties in a relationship. These difficulties are a normal part of life, and building a stable relationship isn’t easy. It’s not something we are taught to do in school, so it is understandable if you find it difficult. Many people do [2]. In a stable relationship, couples work together to build meaning. They maintain their connection by talking regularly, being practically minded, and focusing on solutions when problems arise. It’s OK to recognise your partner’s faults, as long as you see them essentially as a good person. Having a network of friends and family around you and anticipating change so you can pull together during uncertain times, can also help to support a stable relationship [2]. If these things break down, or if they weren’t there in the first place, you might find yourself looking elsewhere for a supportive emotional connection. Impact of an emotional affair Emotional affairs can have unpleasant consequences for you and your partner. If unaddressed, it could even lead to a breakup [3]. Research into online affairs gives a good idea of how emotional affairs can affect a relationship. Emotional affairs can lead to the development of physical intimacy down the line [3] but even without physical contact between the people involved, they can still cause great relational distress. In the aftermath of an affair the partner often experiences emotional hurt and loss of trust. They can experience a fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, and decreased sexual confidence. For many it can lead to a decision to end the relationship [4]. Cognitive dissonance For the person having the affair, emotional affairs may also result in something called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a way of describing the uncomfortable feelings you get when your behaviours don’t match up with your beliefs [5] – for example, you have made a commitment to be monogamous with someone, but you are sharing intimate moments with someone else. Cognitive dissonance can lead to discomfort, stress, and unhappiness. Despite this, there is evidence that couples can repair and improve their relationship after an affair if they both actively work on recovering the relationship. If your relationship is repaired in this way, you could enjoy the benefits of a closer relationship, increased assertiveness, and a greater appreciation for each other. It can also result in couples taking better care of themselves, and realising the importance of good communication [4]. Things you can do to help when you find yourself having an emotional affair Gain better insight into your thoughts and feelings If you think you might be having an emotional affair, it can be helpful to try and gain perspective on your own thoughts and feelings. One way to do this is with a pros and cons exercise [6]. Get a piece of paper and make a list of the pros and cons of staying with your partner. Then make a list of the pros and cons of leaving your partner. When you’ve done this, take some time to notice how you feel about the situation. Improve communication with your partner If you decide you want to stay with your partner, look for ways to be more open. Romantic relationships require work to succeed and thriving couples take time out of their day to talk about both big and small things. Open communication can bring you closer together. If you are not happy about something, tell your partner promptly. When problems come up, think practically and focus on solutions. Once an issue has been resolved, let go of it, and avoid the temptation to bring it up again [2]. Figure out your values Figuring out your values can help you think about what you want or need. It can make you more aware of what’s important to you and help you make decisions about how to behave. Let’s say ‘Loyalty to my partner’ is one of your values. Now imagine that someone you are attracted to at work asks if you want to go for a coffee. You could respond in one of two ways –  you could choose to turn away from your values by accepting their offer and indulging in a bit of flirtation over a cup of coffee. Or you could choose to turn towards your values by refusing the offer or inviting others along to reduce the intimacy of the situation. Often decisions like this are not black and white. However, being aware of your values means you’re more likely to behave in a way that honours them. Values exercise Have a think about what your values might be. They could be things like acceptance, honesty, courage, or patience. Make a list and label each value to indicate its importance to you with a ‘V’ for very important, a ‘Q’ for quite important, and an ‘N’ for not important. Repeat this exercise to remind yourself of what is important to you [7]. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure what to do, you can check in with your values, ask yourself what you really want, and make an honest decision. These are just some techniques we have found that have proved helpful when you find yourself in this situation. Try them out and let us know how you get on.By Helen Molloy References [1] Moultrup, 1990[2] Barlow et al., 2018[3] © 2002 - 2023 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy[4] Adrian et al., 2005[5] Festinger 1957[6] Linehan, 2015[7] Harris, 2022
Article | emotional affair
Building and maintaining trust
Trusting your partner isn’t always easy. Sometimes feelings of distrust can be a useful sign that something isn’t quite right in your relationship. However, if you’re not sure why you are feeling distrust, or notice it’s becoming a pattern in your relationships, it can help to learn why and what you can do about it. Importance of trust in relationships Trust is confidence that you will find what you desire from your partner rather than what you fear. It means feeling comfortable being close to your partner and having a low fear of rejection. It is one of the most important ingredients of a healthy and stable romantic relationship [1]. The impact of a lack of trust Negative emotions and interactions are a normal part of a romantic relationship – in fact it has been found to be essential in a healthy relationship, with the golden ratio being around five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. That said, too much negativity in a relationship can lead to emotional instability, conflict, and ultimately a decision to break up [2]. What can cause distrust in a relationship? There’s no simple answer to what causes distrust but many things can contribute to how we function in adult relationships. Let’s talk about one of them. In the 1980s, a famous psychologist called Bowlby came up with a theory that is still relevant today. This is called attachment theory. Bowlby said that we are born wanting to be close to other people. He said that interactions with people we are close to when we are little can shape our opinion of ourselves, and our adult relationships [3]. For example, if your mum was going through a hard time when you were a baby and wasn’t able to give you as much attention as you needed, you may feel more distrust towards your partner as an adult. This could be because you have learned to expect that you can’t rely on the people close to you to provide you with what you need. This natural instinct of self-protection may have been helpful when you were little but could be less helpful in your adult relationships. Learning this may be frustrating and it might seem unfair to be paying the price for something we had no control over. However, research shows that you can learn skills to help know how to address feelings of distrust. Using Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to tackle feelings of distrust Improving and maintaining trust takes persistence and practice. One way to tackle relational issues is through using Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) techniques. DBT is a well-researched and effective therapy, developed to help people improve their relational skills, and change deeply ingrained habits. Below are three DBT skills you can try today to help improve and maintain trust in your relationship [4]. Three DBT skills to help deal with feelings of distrust: Observe skill When there is a lack of trust in your relationship, it can be upsetting and confusing. Recognising and identifying individual thoughts can help bring some clarity, then we can address them specifically if needed, by using other skills. It can help to set a timer to help practice this skill. Something like 1-2 minutes. Take a moment to observe your thoughts and feelings. Breathe. When a thought comes up, notice it. Is it a judgement? What is the subject? After identifying the thought, bring your attention back to your breathing and allow your thoughts to keep moving through your mind. Many thoughts may come up in 1-2 minutes or maybe just one or two. Check the facts skill We have lots of thoughts throughout the day. Distrustful thoughts can be distressing, and they may stick around for longer or be more prominent in our minds. If you find yourself thinking a specific distrustful thought, it can be helpful to check out how valid it is. Following a procedure to check the facts can help you do just that. Sit down with a pen and paper or do this in your head – whichever is most helpful to you. Ask yourself: What is the emotion I am feeling right now? What is the event prompting my emotion? (Describe the facts of the situation and avoid making judgements or black and white thinking). What are my interpretations, thoughts, and assumptions about the event? Am I assuming a threat? (Think of the likelihood of the catastrophe occurring, imagine coping well with it) Does my emotion fit the facts? After doing this exercise, you may have a better idea of whether or not your emotion is because of something your partner has done, and act accordingly. GIVE skill If you want to build a more trusting and positive relationship dynamic, it can help to empathise with your partner by using the GIVE skill. GIVE is an acronym. G – be gentle and respectful in your communication. When you are angry use words to describe how you feel calmly, without raising your voice. Avoid doing things like rolling your eyes or exaggerating to make your point.I – Show interest in your partner and what they say, face your partner, listen to their point of view, be patient, and don’t interrupt them.V – Validate your partner’s feelings by offering support and understanding.E – Use an easy manner. A little humour and light heartedness can help. What does improving and maintaining trust look like? After practising these skills for a while, you may find yourself having a clearer idea of what is upsetting you. You may notice that you feel calmer and have fewer negative interactions with your partner. Give them a go and remember that seeing an improvement in your relationship takes persistence and practice. By Helen Molloy References [1] Kleinert et al., 2020[2] Gottman & Levenson, 1992[3] Bowlby 1982[4] Linehan, 2015
Article | trust, jealousy
Community posts
Inappropriate old friend
Me and my boyfriend have been together 9 years. We have a happy healthy relationship with each other. But recently an old female friend who has not been around for 20+ years moved in across the street with another friend of theirs, he is a male also. This female friend decided while she just left her husband of 20 years or more to start a relationship with the friend she moved in with. Then after a week decides she just wants to be friends with him, because he just wants to constantly touch her. Now she has decided she wants to come over to our house almost every day. We couldn.t even spend Valentine's Evening together alone because she needed support, because it was her wedding anniversary that day. Well she keeps coming over and is constantly hugging my boyfriend. She also finds it necessary to sit by my man constantly. She touches his leg constantly and whispers in his ear. Shows him things on her phone giggling like a school girl. She even went as far as to bring up how she has seen my boyfriends penis before. Then on Valentines decides to take her hoodie off and keep putting half naked boobs toward my boyfriend basically wanting him to look. This girl claims she wants to be my friend, but never contacts me unless she wants to come over and she makes sure my bouyfriend is always here. I'm not jealous of her at all. But I feel like she wants my boyfriend and is trying to work her way into being with him and getting rid of me. What is some advice on how to approach this situation. I mention it to my boyfriend and he acts like it is all fine. Of course he is oblivious if anybody tries to flirt with him. What should I do?
User article | friend
Please advise me
I am 31 years old woman with 10 years old relationship with my boyfriend. I have been 100% loyalty with my boyfriend. My physical appearance, personality and career is above average. There had been many decent guys who genuinely wanted to be with me, but I refused them all. The problem is as I am from Asian country, the couple in my country marry around the age of 28, me and my boyfriend has been together for a long time (10 years), so, my family, my relatives and my friends also asked about the marriage plan. But, from 2 years ago till now, whenever I asked about my boyfriend for the future, i mean about the marriage, he always went blank or confused and didn't answer thoroughly, and he never started the conversation about the marriage until i started or our friends asked him. (PS. We are both financially stable). When we hang out or date, we always talk about movies, work, games or funny things. From 2 years ago, I started to think like he doesn't really love me, if he only hang out me for fun and i feel guilty myself for rejecting the decent guys previously. And whenever I told my boyfriend that we need a break, he didn't accept it nor let me go. I am so stressful that my life will slowly age like this and becomes lonely. ( in my country, when you are around 35, no one interests you). And recently, I have got the feelings for the other guy. We have been known each other for months but we are not close. One day, we met at the resturant accidentally and greet each other and dined together that day. We have same likes and had really fun talking while having dinner. (I let my boyfriend know i am having dinner with that acquaintance). Another day we had our dinner together and talked about random things. After a few times we have been hang out , he said he is very happy to be with me and he has been waiting for this moment with me long ago. He said i am very beautiful like an angel and talked about the future unlike my boyfriend. Everytime we hang out, he cares me in details. He did everything sweet gestures that make me smile. Then I also start growing feelings for him. The thing is when he found out that i have boyfriend , he didn't talk to me anymore. At the current moment, 70% of my mind is always thinking about him and want to be with him and want to build a beautiful family with him. But i am also afraid being told me a cheater by the surroundings. Even if i told him that i want to be with him, will he accept me back? So, I don't know what to do. Please suggest me.
User article | relationships, marriage, commitment, long-term
Move on from friendship
I have this best friend and we have a bit of history, even though we have feelings for each other, we never officially dated as there’s no future! We continued to be best friends, where we do almost everything together. Whenever any guy shows interest in me, my best friend used to get upset even though I would not be 1% interested in any of them. On the other hand, there have been women casually flirting with him which I never minded because he would never reciprocate the same interest. Now moving on to current situation, I have this new friend of mine who needed some help so I got my best friend involved and all three started figuring things out for her issues! And both of us were so worried for her that we were always talking about her and how to solve her issue! Suddenly, this new girl has stopped telling me about her problems and directly started reaching out to my friend! First I thought it’s normal but then I felt weird vibe and saw many texts b/w them which seems to be little flirtatious, they were up texting till past midnight, which is very unusual for my best friend. I got upset and asked my friend about it he told it’s nothing! When I told him that even if there is something building it would be okay as it would be selfish of me to think that he would not be interested in anyone, I just wanted to him to be honest as he had not shown interest in anyone since I met him. Then he agreed that there’s an obvious interest from both the end since they are lot similar. And if anything would have to happen he would let me know!  I don’t know how to feel about the whole thing! The new girl has completely sidelined me from a lot of the conversations, even though my best friend tries to involve me, he still thinks that there’s is nothing going on between them and it won’t be anything also in future! I don’t know, I have this weird feeling that what I am thinking is correct! I am upset due to this whole equation but don’t want to show to either one of them.
User article | jealousy, friends, friendship
He thinks I want to leave
Me and my boyfriend have been together 8 months now. We met at work and had a rocky start. When we met, i was getting out of a toxic relationship and he had a girlfriend and didn’t know how to leave her as he was extremely unhappy. We met each other and i was his trainer at work and everything fell into place. it wasn’t the easiest of starts as his ex worked in the same place as us and there’s a 6 year gap between the two of us and kept it quiet for a while. He was homeless when we met and during the first 5/6 months i was with him every step of the way, staying in hotels and even stayed on the streets with him at times. My family didn’t like this and it caused a big divide between us all. My mum ended up kicking me out and me and my boyfriend has just got our new flat together and moved in. We all okay with my family now and my brothers love him! he has problems with alcohol and can black out sometimes and often says some horrible things during these moments but we talk about it the next day and he’s always apologetic and can’t remeber what he said. The beginning of the week we went on a pub crawl with my brother and his brother and had a really good night! that was up until a woman had come up to me and said that had seen him trying to talk to other girls, including herself. this evidently annoyed me and i asked him about it when we got home to which he sat there and laughed. i left the flat around 1am and met one of my new friends i had made recently as i’ve lost my friends since being with him. her boyfriend works at my boyfriends local pub and knows what he’s like so they came back to the flat with me and tried to talk to him as i was utterly heartbroken. Everything was fine and we found out there was a bit of miscommunication during the night and he hadn’t spoken to anyone else. after they left our flat everything seemed normal until he went through my phone and read the messages between me and my friend. he has somehow got into his head that i want to leave him for her and it kicked off massively. I went to sleep and he woke me up at 8am asking me to leave the flat and not come back. my brother picked me up and i went to his and spoke about everything. i came back to the flat later that day and we tried to talk but he had more to drink and was just going round in circles and ended the conversation with ‘i am falling out of love with you and cannot trust you’ it has been almost three days now and we haven’t really said a word to eachother. I wrote him a heart felt paragraph in my notes and asked him to read it as i can communicate better that way and he’s refused. i love this man to pieces and i cannot imagine my life without him. what do i do? .
User article | communication, alcohol
Girl has feelings for another guy
Hello everyone! I’m kind of in a weird predicament at the moment, I (24m) have finally admitted my love to this lady (25f) after we originally cut things off in February. We were falling for each other very hard but I had some serious things happen in my personal life that I had to focus my attention on. Yeah I know it sounds cliche but I told her about what was going on and she told me she understood. As we were no longer talking, I couldn’t get her off my mind and felt as if I didn’t give us a fair shot so we started talking again back in November. Things were going well and we both agreed that we should see each other during the holidays. During the trip, I told her everything that I’d been feeling and how I knew I was falling in love with her in February and she reciprocated that back and I confessed my love for her. That felt nice and we told each other we loved each other but she told me that she met someone over the summer that she caught feelings for (she doesn’t love the guy) but he had a job offer in another country after they were seeing each other for about 2 months and kind of left her high and dry. She says she wants to pursue things with me and tells me she loves me but tells me that she doesn’t feel deserving of the love I give her because she still has feelings for this other guy. She knows that there is nothing there in terms of them dating but still has these feelings. Well, guess who texts her to let her know that he's coming back to the country, THE GUY. She says she doesn't plan on seeing him but if he makes plans, she would see him to "catch up like an old friend". She says he doesn't know about me and would only bring me up if he tried to pick up where they left off, as in dating or being intimate. I think she wants to get closure that things between them wouldn't work. My question to yall is what do you think I should do? Should I support her and let her get the closure she never got? Should I just runaway? I know it’s a lot but I really would like some outside opinions from my friends hahaha
User article | dating