Thursday, 31 August 2017

Helping Kids Cope with Your Amicable Divorce

When divorce is an obvious solution to a disastrous marriage, it’s easier for kids to understand. If either parent is abusive to partner and kids, an addict whose habit has thrown the family into poverty, or a criminal in the world and a tyrant at home, it makes sense to children that the more balanced parent would want to take them away from all that. When home is a place filled with tension, where everyone has to walk on eggshells to avoid a blowup, where the primary contact between the grownups is fighting and violence or seething hostility, kids often want out as much as one of their parents.

But what can the kids make of it when the reasons for the divorce aren’t so obvious? Adult reasons aren’t always appropriate to share with kids. The reasons you can share may seem lame to them. You’re not happy. You and your partner don’t share the same interests, activities, or goals. You or your partner is attracted to someone else. Sex isn’t what you think it should be. Daily life is boring at best; clouded by low-grade hostility at worst. Little decisions get left to one or the other. Big decisions seem impossible. Maybe there is a hidden addiction (gambling, shopping, Internet porn) that is eroding the marriage but isn’t visible to the children. You and your partner aren’t a team. You aren’t in love. You think life has to be better than this. But you’ve been wise enough to shield the children from your growing unhappiness.

Adding to the kids’ confusion is that you and the other parent have managed to work out a way to be responsible parents in spite of growing apart from each other. Maybe you’ve divided the turf, with each of you taking on different tasks — one becoming the caregiver; the other doing specific routines. Maybe you can’t talk to each other but you can both talk to the kids. Most important, the kids know you both love them. Kids, being kids, think the way you are together is the way all parents live. They think your family is no different from anyone else’s. They think everything is fine.

Although an amicable divorce is what most adults would want and what is ultimately better for the kids, it only adds to their bewilderment. If you guys can get along so well, they think, why couldn’t you just stay married and keep our family together?

Make no mistake. For the children in such a situation, your divorce is their catastrophe. They can’t believe it. From where they sit, you’ve got a good family. They love you both and don’t believe that you don’t love each other. Their usual reaction is panic and protest. They don’t want it to happen. They worry it’s their fault. They fantasize they can do something to stop it or fix it. They worry their parents will divorce them, just as they are divorcing each other. They hate it. They may even hate you for disrupting their life, for making the other parent leave, for changing things that seemed just fine to them.

Helping your kids through your amicable divorce is a long-term proposition. Since there was no obvious blowup and blowout, the kids will return to questioning the decision at each stage of their development. If you expect it, if you respond with age-appropriate answers, if you can avoid being defensive, the issue will quiet down again until the next developmental milestone. It often takes until they are adults and have had experience with adult relationships for them to really understand.

There are some common and predictable issues at every “why did you have to go and get a divorce?” conversation along the way:

  • The kids will wonder if somehow the divorce is their fault. Since they don’t understand adult reasons for separating, since they are by definition narcissistic little beings, they will assume that it is something they did or didn’t do that drove one parent away or made the other one unwilling to stay a couple. Little kids will think it’s because they did something “bad.” Older kids will think they didn’t do well enough in school or didn’t obey enough of the rules or weren’t the right kind of kid. Teens are especially vulnerable to thinking it’s all their fault. You and their other parent will need to reassure them many, many times that the divorce is not about them.
  • The flip side is that they will fantasize that they can get you two back together. They may even try to engineer it. They will try hard to be extra, extra “good” so that you will want to be a family again. They will try to manipulate situations so that you and the other parent have to get together and talk. They may try to sabotage a new relationship. You and their other parent will need to relieve them of their imagined responsibility for recreating the family. You’ll need to explain many, many times that the divorce is permanent.
  • The kids will worry you will “divorce” them too. Their reasoning is that since you once loved your partner but left, you could leave them too. You and their other parent will need to explain to them frequently that partner love is different from parent love and that there is nothing they can do that will make either of you stop loving them or being their parents.
  • In their efforts to make sense of the situation, kids will sometimes decide that one or the other parent is really the bad guy. Sometimes in a moment of temper, they will say terrible things: “You’re such a ____, it’s no wonder my father/mother left you!” “My dad/mom must have an awful secret or you wouldn’t have left!” Whatever your own feelings about your former spouse, kids need to feel that they have two good parents. You both will need to explain many, many times that the other parent is a perfectly good person but wasn’t a good partner for you.
  • Often kids will make threats in attempts to get their parents to stay together or reunite. “I’ll run away.” “I’ll hate you forever.” “I won’t cooperate with your arrangements for where I should live or who I should be with.” You and their other parent need to repeat many, many times that you understand why they are so upset but that threats don’t solve the problems. You’ll need to have many, many serious talks about what might make things work better for them.

There’s no such thing as an easy divorce when there are children. Divorcing amicably doesn’t guarantee that the children will go along with the new arrangement without turmoil. They need empathy. They need your support. They need you to acknowledge that you are disrupting their lives. They need to be validated that you are making the choice that, yes, you are really so unhappy that at this point your happiness comes before theirs.

When parents are honest about how hard the divorce is on their children, the kids usually eventually accept it. It’s unfair to expect them to like it. It’s unreasonable to look to them to support the decision. But when children and teens feel heard, they are more likely to join in constructing a new idea of their family. The parents’ job is to work very hard to be cooperative co-parents and to do as much as possible to accommodate the kids’ needs for predictability and stability in the midst of the major disruption that even the most amicable divorce creates for them.


What we do today and how it can affect what we get tomorrow

"What we do now, echoes for eternity"

-Maximus, Gladiator

This video considers the quote above from the movie Gladiator and proposes that we would all do well from time to time to consider the lasting impacts of our actions in the outcomes that we can expect to see in our own lives.

Fixating on negativity, getting bogged down in difficulty or settling for too little and taking lowly actions aligned with lowly aspirations for life will likely ensure that we get more of the same and see the consequences of these actions in our lives. Conversely, if we can raise expectations and live in alignment with higher goals then we can reasonably expect bigger and better things back from life.

How to Heal From Feeling Rejected After Divorce

When a marriage ends because our partner leaves or betrays us, it’s natural to experience feelings of rejection. When we are left, it can be a devastating experience and it can leave us feeling angry, sad, and self-critical — at times, ruminating about what went wrong. We may be in shock and feel shaken to the core of our being. Self-defeating thoughts can grab hold because we are vulnerable and trying to make sense of things. However, it’s important to realize that this is a normal part of grieving and letting go after a marriage dissolves.

While it’s natural to go through a period of self-reflection when you are rejected by your partner, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if your fears of being alone are preventing you from looking at the breakup honestly. For instance, it’s likely that there have been problems in the relationship for some time and that one or both of you have been unhappy.

Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts might range from: We will never have children together, to the mundane: We won’t ever eat another meal together. For example, Kerry told me during a counseling session that the hardest part of being left by her husband Jake was watching TV alone after he moved out.

However, when we feel rejected, we might be listening to destructive “inner voices” which are rarely based in reality, according to author Dr. Lisa Firestone. She writes, “When we are listening to these destructive thoughts, we’re more likely to feel humiliation than real sadness over our loss. Our inner critic fuels feelings of not being able to survive on our own, often saying that no one will ever love us. When these voices aren’t viciously attacking us, they are often raging at our partner, which only supports a victimized orientation to a situation.”

Feelings of rejection are closely tied to feelings of self-worth and self-love. Part of the healing process after divorce is recognizing and accepting that the way you feel about yourself affects the way you relate to people in the world. As you learn to accept what happens and begin to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will diminish. When you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.

Let’s take a closer look at rejection and examine whether someone is a dumper or a dumpee in the divorce process. These two terms were coined by divorce expert Dr. Bruce Fisher in his groundbreaking book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. Fisher writes, “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”

It’s important to remember that the roles of dumper and dumpee aren’t always clearly defined and that sometimes they can be reversed. For instance, a partner might be told by their spouse that their marriage is over, and then they decide to file for divorce. Surprisingly, it’s not always the dumper who files for divorce. Sometimes the dumpee simply gets tired of waiting and takes this bold step as a way to take charge of their life.

When you think about it, aren’t guilt and rejection two sides of the same coin when it comes to emotions after divorce? It makes sense that a partner who decides to terminate the marriage would experience more guilt, while the person who is left would suffer from feelings of rejection. Notice the difference in their priorities. The dumper typically focuses on personal growth and will say things like ,”I have to find myself.” On the other hand, dumpees usually express a desire to work on the relationship and will say things like, “Just tell me what you want me to change and I’ll work on it.”

Although it’s not an exact science, we might expect that roughly the same amount of people would identify themselves as the person who was left (dumpee) as the one who decided to leave (dumper). However, in a small percentage of divorces, people say their divorce was mutual. In these cases, it’s normal to feel both guilty and rejected at times.

Here are six ways to heal from feelings of rejection:

Accept the fact that it’s normal or typical to have emotional reactions to the ending of a relationship. They’ve probably been there all along (in your marriage) and are simply intensified during and after the divorce process.

Acknowledge that all relationships end due to breakup or death. Just because your marriage is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior — or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.

Work on self-love. You are a worthwhile person who doesn’t have to let the end of your love relationship define your self-worth. No person can complete you.

Accept that feeling rejected is an expected part of the ending of a marriage and it takes time to heal. Discover that relationships are our teachers.

Adopt a mindset of getting to know yourself better. Stay open to new experiences, hobbies, or interests that you couldn’t pursue with your partner.

Cultivate supportive relationships. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of rejection. Get energized by the possibilities ahead for you.

In closing, looking at how feelings of rejection that may be impacting your behavior can help you gain a healthier viewpoint. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your marriage? Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. A person whose marriage ended due to their spouse making a decision to end the relationship must fight against falling prey to a victim mentality and take care of themselves. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your divorce experience can help you to heal and move forward with your life.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Social media tips for separating parents

The widespread use of social media has presented new opportunities and challenges for people experiencing family separation and/or parenting disputes, and can frequently change the nature of evidence in the family courts. Family Law Accredited Specialist Simone Green shares some of the positives and negatives of social media in Family Law cases.

Beneficial use of social media in Family Law

One of the benefits of the widespread use of social media is that the courts can serve documents via Facebook or similar social media accounts in circumstances where the other party cannot be located through any other means.

In the case of Macguire & Klein [2016] FamCA 874 (5 October 2016), the father made an application for sole parental responsibility for his eight-year-old daughter after he discovered the mother had left the child with her grandparents and essentially disappeared. Despite extensive efforts by the father to locate the mother and serve her with court documents, he was unsuccessful. The father did manage to contact the mother through her Facebook Messenger app and received a reply. His solicitor then forwarded a cover letter notifying her of the date of the hearing, together with the Court documents, via her Facebook account. 
The mother did not attend Court but as the Court was satisfied that she knew of the Application because the message had been marked as ‘seen’, the father was granted sole parental responsibility for the child by way of an undefended hearing.

Ugly side of using social media in Family Law

The darker side of social media presents itself when people vent their anger, frustration or hate for their former partner on social media pages, post hateful memes or photos, or even post photos which contradict statements otherwise made in evidence. For example, one party may be tagged in photos by others in situations they have otherwise denied in statements to the court; for example drinking alcohol while caring for children, or bragging about new possessions in circumstances where they deny having means to pay spousal maintenance and child support.

To avoid the social media traps that can come back to haunt you during separation, 
Streeterlaw advises you do the following:

  1. Delete all your social media accounts during the separation process
  2. If not possible or not willing to delete social media accounts, then do not post content.
  3. If you must post content, ensure that you do not say or infer anything that you would not say, write or show to your grandmother. Do not say anything negative about your ex-partner, his/her friends, family or children, or (and yes, it has happened) the judge.
  4. Assume that anything you post will appear in your ex-partner’s affidavit, be read in court and make great cross-examination material for your ex-partner’s bulldog barrister. The same goes for text messages and emails.
  5. Encourage your friends and family not to post negative material about your former spouse online.

Monday, 28 August 2017

What Marathon Runners Can Teach Us About Coping With Suffering

We are picking up the pieces once again from a great tragedy that has taken innocent lives and shattered our sense of safety in the world. Again we see before our eyes that what is good and noble on the Earth can be brought down in an instant by the evil that lurks in the shadows.

The bombing that occurred at the finish line of the venerable Boston Marathon is deeply ironic in that it threatened those who had already proven their greatness by running 26.2 miles, along with the supporters who cheered them on. Many of those runners who were nearing the finish line were already carrying stories of triumph over tragedy. They were running on Patriots’ Day to celebrate a personal victory or commemorate a deep loss or champion a heartfelt cause.

Having run two marathons in the past, I know firsthand the dedication and inner fortitude it requires to train for and complete a marathon. What marathon runners know about suffering can help us all learn how to cope with this tragedy and rise above it:

1. You must be willing to change yourself. 

Marathon training requires a new schedule, new priorities, new diet, and a new way of looking at life. Surviving any tragedy requires you to open up to the possibility of change and even to celebrate that change. Many of the problems in our society arise because people demand that things around them change, but are unwilling to change themselves.

“You cannot change a single thing on this Earth except yourself. And when you do change yourself... it changes everything.”

2. Change happens one step at a time. 

No one can become a marathon runner overnight. It takes patience, time and a step-wise process to train the body to perform at a high level for 26.2 miles. How much more then does life itself require patience, time, and taking simple steps?

“You must overcome your need for instant gratification and prepare yourself for ‘the long haul’ of life.”

3. Be passionate about the goal without attachment. 

Training for a marathon, like surviving a tragedy, is never a sure thing. There are no guarantees that the runner will make it all the way to the race or be able to finish it after starting. But the possibility of failure is not a deterrent to the training process, and marathon runners are able to stay true to the goal even when there is no certainty of getting there.

“You have to be willing to stay on the path even when you don’t know for sure where it is leading you.”

4. Commitment must override comfort. 

Many marathon runners have to endure injuries, illness and failure on their path toward successful completion of the run. Training itself, even on the best days, is a difficult process that requires discipline and focus. Many aspects of our society promote pleasure and comfort as achievements, without an appreciation for effort and determination.

“You must choose commitment to your goal over comfort in the moment if you want to change yourself and the world.”

5. Don’t run away from suffering. 

Marathon training is all about learning how to manage suffering to enhance strength and endurance. The best athletes know where the balance lies for them between discomfort and overexertion, which is the point of maximum growth. The attempt to avoid suffering at all costs leads to addiction and hopelessness, which are common problems undermining our society.

“You cannot achieve greatness or fulfill your true life purpose without suffering.”

When senseless tragedy befalls us — which seems to be happening frequently these days — it is important to remember the larger picture of life. These moments in time that would seem to crush us can also bring out the sweetness and strength we carry inside — like grapes being prepared to become fine wine.

We must accept the crushing forces brought to us by life and allow ourselves to be broken, so that we can emerge from our own process of change and transform everything around us. The world needs us now — there is no time to wait.


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Bumping Into Your Ex!

It’s the moment we all dread. Bumping into our ex!

With the festive season upon us and social events filling up our diaries the chances are high that if you move in the same circles you may both be at the same event.

So what do you choose to do? Would you rather stay in and avoid that moment? Or would you rather go out and run the risk?

It does depend on how your relationship ended and how amicable you still are. If you are heartbroken and unable to function when they are around you it will feel like a bigger decision to make.

The reality is that life goes on and if your ex chose to end your relationship then they are not the person you hoped they were. It’s better to find out now rather than later. Sometimes good things come to an end so better things can come together so it’s not all doom and gloom.

If you ended it and are worried that they may be unhappy to see you then its key to be sensitive to their feelings but not to allow that to prevent you from living your life.

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself. Make an effort to look good as this will boost your confidence. It’s much better to bump into them at a party when you look a million dollars rather than at the shops when you haven’t had time to brush your hair!

But what happens if I bump into them off guard? It’s always good to have a plan and to think through how you will react if you do meet them again somewhere.

A smile is a great weapon to deploy when you get a sudden shock. It is disarming as it puts the other person at ease and also makes you more relaxed. It will also buy you some time to take a deep breath and ask a question to deflect from you. If you have the strength to add in a nice comment that again will help the situation to go more smoothly.

1. Smile
2. Deep breath
3. “Great to see you/You look great”
4. “How are you doing?”

After all you want to leave a good impression and leave them thinking good thoughts about you. However the relationship ended you will feel better about yourself if you take the higher ground and appear friendly. It may even make them realise what they missed out on!

Don’t feel you have to stay and chat. Be comfortable to say “I have to dash as I have someone to talk to”

Remember that people will always come and go in your life. By being out and about during the festive season you are much more likely to meet new people, make new friends and create exciting opportunities for yourself.

Don’t let past relationships hold you back from having new ones. You never know what is around the corner or who you might meet under the mistletoe!


Friday, 25 August 2017

Coping with Adversity from "Inside Out"

Pixar film offers fun, valuable insights into maintaining emotional well-being.

The brilliant Disney/Pixar film, Inside Outhas taken the country by storm.

How is it possible that a cartoon about emotions could become so popular?

It succeeds because it reaches out and touches us, from the outside in. It plumbs the depths of our own human experience. And it’s a rich emotional rollercoaster, at turns hilarious, poignant, suspenseful, fascinating, and heartfelt.

It’s also like attending a 102-minute therapy session, the way it shines a light on the inner workings of our brains and our emotional lives and why we struggle at times. It demonstrates clearly and accurately how memories are formed and managed, how personality develops, and most of all, how our emotions drive our behavior, decisions, and our interpretations of reality. (For a swell overview, see the film's trailer here.) Most powerfully, its metaphor of Emotions at Your Central Control Paneloffers up a useful way to reflect on our own feelings and how they can push us to react, sometimes to our disadvantage.

The film begins with the main characters, 11-year-old Riley and her parents, living happily and quietly in Minnesota. But then Dad gets a new job in San Francisco and we witness their struggles to adjust to this big move. With humor and an accurate understanding of our emotional brain, the film spends most of its time in Riley’s head, showing us how Joy tries to stifle Sadness, but the result is that they both get lost, leaving Anger, Disgust, and Fear at the controls, whereupon chaos reigns.

This simple story line will captivate young viewers, and the profound emotional insights will captivate grown-ups.

Listed below are just some of the film's insights, all of which can enhance your own emotional intelligence and spark meaningful conversations with others, including the children.

Insight #1: Joy mustn’t stifle Sadness.

Joy stifling Sadness is a very common condition. We are taught, “don’t cry over spilt milk” and “count your blessings”. We routinely try to get others to look on the bright side, in misguided attempts to help them avoid feeling the pain of sadness. While finding the silver lining is a hallmark of resilience, this film clearly demonstrates that the way you get there is to first allow Sadness to flow through you.

Insight #2: Without Sadness, there is no Joy.

When Joy stifles Sadness, they both get lost. This central storyline is an ingenious demonstration of how and why people who suppress their grief also lose their capacity for joy. Indeed, the more Joy tries to stifle Sadness, the more manic, obnoxious, and lost Joy gets. And the more stifled Sadness gets, the more destructive and pervasive it becomes, leading to core personality breakdown and melancholy.

Insight #3: Sadness plays an important role in adjustment to loss.

Riley is naturally saddened by the move away from her old house, friends, and activities. Riley’s parents are struggling too, but like most of us, they place a premium on being happy, latching onto the idea that Joy is what leads to adjustment and there is no room for Sadness. So they tell Riley to just smile and be happy. But Joy can only prevail when there is nothing to be sad about. Later, after Joy and Sadness get lost, there is a poignant scene where Joy watches Sadness expertly empathize with an Imaginary Friend who is feeling bereft. Sinking into sadness and letting it flow is what frees this character to move forward with a brighter outlook. In other words, when Sadness is called for, let it flow so Sadness can contribute to your resilience instead of becoming destructive.

Insight # 4: Make room for all your feelings, as they are all important.

Too often we value certain feelings over others. But all your feelings help you authentically handle a variety of situations and realize your needs, wants, and values. For example, Anger helps you get mad and stand up for yourself if you’re being mistreated. Disgust helps you be discerning and reach for what’s right for you. Fear helps you be scared and flee/fight/freeze if you’re in danger. And of course, Sadness helps you feel bereft if you’ve lost something dear to you and Joy helps you feel gratitude and seek contentment where you can find it.

But if you don’t make room for certain feelings, others become magnified, leading to dysfunction at the Central Control Panel. For instance, after Joy and Sadness get lost, Riley can only operate out of Anger, Fear, and Disgust, with disastrous (and sometimes funny) results. It’s only when Riley is able to express Sadness that she eventually also regains Joy and balance is restored in how she responds to life. This emotional flow and balance is what helps any of us recover our sense of well-being.

Insight #5: Anger is easily triggered when we are stressed.

There is a priceless scene at the dinner table, where Riley and her parents, all stressed out, start bickering. For all three of them, Anger is seated at the controls, just waiting to feel justified in launching an attack, and the result is breathtaking hilarious. And sotrue. After all, when we are stressed and irritable, we are easily triggered into throwing darts. That’s why it’s often smart to back off when you know you-- or the person you’re interacting with-- has had a hard day, or is hungry, unwell, or sleep deprived.

Insight #6: Anger can be a cover for Fear.

Often, just before Anger takes over, Fear is the first to be triggered, only to be pushed aside by Anger.

For instance, when Riley tries out for the new hockey team, she naturally worries that she won’t be good enough to make the cut. But her mother encourages her to push aside her fears without airing them. So after she makes a mistake on the ice, we see Anger pushing Fear aside and taking over the controls. The result is that Riley storms off, saboutaging her chances of making the team.

Replacing Fear with Anger is so common that you can easily witness it in yourself and others. For instance, we may get mad at our kids when they don’t do as we say, but it’s a cover for our deep-seated and often irrational fears that they’ll forever fight sleep, be messy, and roll their eyes at us—and no doubt, they’ll still be in diapers at their senior proms. So the next time you feel Anger bubbling up, listen to Fear so you can tend to what’s really bothering you. 

Insight #7: Disgust is exhausting.

Make sure you sit through the credits at the end of the film, because you'll get a look inside many of the other characters, including the lead “mean girl” at Riley’s new school. Inside her head, you’ll see that Disgust rules, and it’s ever so tiring. Used appropriately (and sparingly), Disgust can help us steer clear of putting something icky in our mouths or making bad fashion choices. But when it’s the default response toward everyone and everything, we become judgmental, cold, and mean. And that’s exhausting.

Insight #8: Question the emotional rules you live by.

Besides offering a powerful demonstration of the interplay of emotions and how each emotion has value, this film gives you a way to question the rules you adhere to. For Riley, the rule was “Be Happy.” So Joy ruled, tinging Riley's perceptions and memories, and leaving little room for the other emotions, even when the situation called for them to be relevant. As a result, the Central Control Panel wasn’t well staffed, and Riley lost control when met with adversity.

So the next time you feel yourself “losing control”, it might help to pause and become an observer of your Emotions and your Central Control Panel. Who’s got their hands on the lever? Who’s coloring your perception and memories? Who’s not allowed to have a say? How can you find a good balance, giving each of your feelings room to contribute to your emotional life, your assessment of situations, and your responses?

In my opinion, this film should be required viewing for everyone. It might as well be titled Your Owner’s Manual for the Human Brain. Chapter 5: Instructions for Coping with Adversity.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Personal Growth: Five Steps to Positive Life Change (And the Big Payoff!)

Ready to take the five steps to positive life change?


In my first post in this exploration of how we can produce meaningful and last life change, I described the four obstacles that prevent change. In my last post on this topic, I introduced you to the five building blocks of change. These steps I just described set the stage for change, but the real work lies ahead. Change can be scary, tiring, frustrating, and repetitious. And change takes time. How much?, you might ask. It depends on your ability to remove the four obstacles to change and embrace the five building blocks I discussed above. It also relies on your ability to commit to the minute-to-minute process of change. But I have found that when someone makes a deep commitment to change, they can expect to see a positive shift in 3-6 months.

With the foundation for positive life change now in place, it's time to take action. Here are the five steps you must take to turn possibility and hope into real change.

Explore Your Inner World

Perhaps the most difficult part of changing your life involves exploring your inner world. True change cannot just occur on the surface or outside of you. Change means not only
understanding who you are, but also why you are who you are, in other words, what makes you tick. The first step you must take is to identify the obstacles that are preventing you from changing. You need to "look in the mirror" and specify what the baggage, habits, emotions, and environment are that are keeping you from your goals. Understanding these obstacles takes the mystery out of who you are and what has been holding you back. It also gives you clarity on what you need to change and gives you an initial direction in your path of change.

These explorations of your inner world can enable you to finally understand why you have been the way you have been and done things you have done even when neither have worked for you ("So that's why I've been this way all of my life!"). This process will also help you to remove the obstacles that have stood in your path to change. These insights also, at a deep level, liberate you to move from your current path to another that will take you where you really want to go. Most importantly, truly understanding your inner world will allow you to finally put the past behind you-when most of your life you have been putting your past in front of you.

Change Goals

Once the path to your goals has been cleared, you still need to have a clear idea about your final destination. Think of its like GPS; you can't get directions unless you input where you want to go.

When you establish clear objectives of the changes you want to make, you are able to better focus your efforts and direct your energy toward those changes. These goals should identify what areas you want to change, how you will change them, and the ultimate outcome you want to achieve. Moreover, the goals should be specific, objective, and time defined.

Action Steps

So far, everything you have done to change has been talk. Now it's time to actually make change happen. Action steps describe the particular actions you will take to achieve your change goals. They may range from adhering to an exercise regimen to maintaining emotional control in a crisis situation to staying focused when surrounded by distractions. 
Action steps give you the specific tools you need to act on the world in the present and to give you alternative actions that counter your old baggage, habits, emotions, and environment.

Forks in the Road

Taking the action steps and achieving your change goals depends on recognizing important forks in the road. I make the distinction between the bad road and the good road (there can actually be multiple bad and good roads, but let's keep things simple). The bad road is the one that you've been on for so long driven by the four obstacles I described above; it's a "feel bad, do bad" road. In contrast, the good road is the one you want to be on; it's a "feel good, do good" road.

This fork in the road is simple, but not easy. It's simple because you would, of course, want to be on the good road. It's not easy because you have years of baggage, habits, emotions, and environment continuing to propel you down the bad road.

A key to the change process involves recognizing the forks in the road when they appear because without seeing the forks in the road, you obviously can't take the good road, that is, makes positive changes. This awareness isn't as easy as it seems because all those years of obstacles has created a myopia that can limit your field of vision causing you to miss the forks when you come upon them.

In all likelihood, you will initially only recognize the forks when you are long past them ("Darn it, I wish I had seen that fork earlier!"). But, with time and vigilance, you will see those forks earlier and earlier until one day an amazing thing will happen; you will see the fork when you arrive at it.

Unfortunately, because of the Sirens' call of the four obstacles, you will still probably take the bad road at first. But, one day, another amazing thing will happen. You will recognize that fork in the road as you approach it and, yes, you will take it! And you will never be the same person again.

Don't get me wrong; you don't have it made yet. You'll have setbacks and struggles because you will still go down the bad road sometimes; those obstacles take time to dismantle. But every time you take the good road, you'll see what a great road it is to be on and it will encourage you to continue to resist your baggage, habits, emotions, and environment and to take the good road at the many forks that lay ahead.
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Three Ps
One of the most difficult aspects of change is the need to make a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and minute-to-minute commitment to change (Every time you miss an opportunity for change, you further ingrain your old obstacles). A helpful reminder of this necessity is what I call the Three Ps.

The first P, patience, is a constant reminder that change takes time and that if you maintain your commitment, you have a good chance to make the changes you want long lasting.

The second P, persistence, means you must keep vigilant and, as the saying goes, "keep on keeping on" in your journey to change.

The third P, perseverance, refers to your ability to overcome setbacks and maintain your
motivation and confidence in the face of periodic failures and disappointment.

The Payoff

There is an immense payoff for your commitment and efforts at change: A life-altering shift in who you are and how you think, feel, and behave. A new direction that your life will take. And finally moving toward achieving your life goals. As a former client told me so poignantly: "I realized that I would never have to go back to the way I used to live my life, and I have never been so happy!"


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

How To Make A Hard Divorce Easier On Your Kids

What are some tips for parents who are divorcing who have small children?

Answer by
Alecia Li Morgan, single mum to four kids ages 8, 6, 5, and 3:
These are my tips, some serious, some playful, some in-between:
Remember that your children are the first priority. Sometimes this can get lost in translation, especially if the circumstances of your divorce are exceptionally emotional or ugly.
  • Try to do this with mediation rather than litigation. If you can manage it this way, you’re more likely to be able to have an amicable relationship afterwards, which is pretty mission critical to coparenting. It also just costs far less money. If money isn’t really an issue, then litigation might be necessary, but if you can mediate, I recommend trying it.
  • With that said, bring a picture of your child(ren) and put it up during your discussions. Although this may bring emotions up, it also should help you both remember the priorities. This helps curb dire scare threats like “I won’t help pay for their school!” - if you look at their pictures and then try to say things that you don’t 100% mean, it’s a lot harder to get ugly.
  • Lay out what you agree upon first. Then work from there. By getting things you agree upon written down first, it means it’s less likely you “pull” these things from the table later just to get your way on something else. Your goal is to agree on everything (with compromises), so putting down your groundwork first is really good.
  • Don’t look at support numbers when deciding timeshare. This is hard. We tried not to do this, but it still crept in. The parent who will be paying support often may begin agreeing to letting the other parent (usually the one who has been primary caregiver) have the lion’s share of the children’s time, which is generally in the best interest of everyone involved, but then see the way the support breaks down (it is dependent on both wages *and* amount of time with children in your care) and balk. For us, this meant a change of 20% of the time from what our original agreement was. It’s unfortunate when this becomes a deciding factor in where the kids will be. So as much as you can, set this stuff aside.
  • Do whatever you can to preserve their lives, at least for the first year. One thing I committed to as I went into all of this was that no matter what it took from me, I was going to try to keep their lives “the same” as much as possible for this first year. For me, this meant taking on a 4k a month rent solo, plus paying half of their private school tuition. It meant living month to month on a lot of things and getting help from family. But I have no regrets. Being able to keep the kids in their home and at their school this year as they adjusted to the changes has been invaluable. I’m convinced it is one of the key factors in how well they’ve coped, overall, with the changes.
  • If you were primarily at fault, say sorry. Seriously. Say it. My ex didn’t say this as much as I wish he had (and his affair partner not at all). It would have helped, honestly. You want to lessen the hurt and anger, not just because of negotiations, but because it’s best for your kids in the long run.
  • Force yourself to express gratitude and recognition. Mid-mediation cycle, I sent my ex an email. I just said I knew this was not the outcome either of us set out wanting, but I appreciated that he was working with me to make mediation work so that we could avoid the ugliness and cost of litigation. I told him I recognized his efforts towards being a better dad and more present for our children, and I appreciated that. Those things are true, but they were hard to write. However, it was important to me that I did. I don’t know if it mattered to him; he never responded, but it mattered to me. It helped start me on the new cycle that I needed to be on for coparenting to work. One where the marriage was a dead thing now, and I needed to look at the present to evaluate and react for the kids’ sake.
  • Be flexible. Yes, it might be “your” night, but if your child is crying for home and the other parent, be flexible. There’s debate on whether that’s healthy or not (just like “cry it out”), but just try to be flexible.
  • Be compassionate. Your spouse is hurting. Yes, even if your spouse is the one who cheated and is living with his/her affair partner now. Divorce is still ugly. (S)He may not be hurting the same way you are, but there’s still hurt. It might be simply because change is scary, it might be reputation amongst friends and family, who knows. Try really hard to work up compassion. Your children need *both* of you to be as emotionally healthy as possible. You may not be partners in life anymore officially, but you’re always going to have some obligation if only because it affects your children.
Good luck. Divorce isn’t easy. Get support and do what you have to do. Your kids depend on you.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Shame On You for Getting a Divorce!

How to not buy into feeling like a failure when your marriage ends

Have you ever heard anyone utter these words regarding

“I have two failed marriages.”

“How can you be so selfish?”

“We’re staying together for the kids.”

“But, we
love each other. Why can’t we make it work?”

“But, you’re the perfect couple. Why couldn’t you make it work?”

“People who get divorced are afraid of intimacy.”

“I would never get divorced.”

The list could go on.

In our culture, we have so many preconceived notions about
marriage and divorce—many, if not most, are unconscious. These beliefs include a soul-mate mentality (having to marry “The One”), and the idea that there’s something wrong with someone who cannot find or keep “The One.”

That’s a lot of pressure! In a time when we have so much choice, are these beliefs still pertinent? Or has the time come to stop and take a good hard look at what we’re doing?

In 2014, my, The New I Do, co-author, Vicki Larson, and I started what we called, “The Occupy Marriage Movement.” This wasn’t a message about whether or not gays and lesbians should have the right to marry (of course they should!), rather it was a call to action to stop all the shaming and blaming we do to those who don’t fit into the “one-size-fits-all” mold we call matrimony.

Take my friend, Brett. He is well into his 60’s and he’s never been married. Onlookers are quite sure that there’s something terribly wrong with him because clearly, he can’t commit. But he not only can commit, he does every time he’s in relationship (a state he’s in often!). Brett told me quite matter-of-factly one day, “I just don’t see the point of marriage but when I’m in relationship, I’m monogamous and devoted to my partner.”

Why does society make him wrong? Why is there only one acceptable way to form partnerships?

In my work with divorcing people, I see the tremendous fallout from
shame people are subjected to. One woman told me the reason she never dated after her divorce was that she felt like “damaged goods,” even though the divorce was not her fault (her ex was an alcoholic and a rage-aholic). In her case, it was a sign of good mental health and self-preservation that she got out of that relationship. Yet, she couldn’t view it in any way other than that she had “failed” to keep the marriage together.

Last year, I came across a book that spoke to me in a big way because it carried the same message I’d been trying to get out there about letting go of our righteous indignation when others don’t do what they’re “supposed to” in the
mating arena.

It’s called, Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage, by Danielle Teller, MD, and Astro Teller, PhD. Both authors had been married and divorced prior to meeting and marrying each other. They compared notes and found that they’d had similar shaming experiences following their dissolutions. They began to talk to others who’d also been given
grief by well-meaning friends and relatives. As they say in the book, these [attitudes] of condemnation “add unnecessary pain to a situation that is already plenty painful.”
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Sacred Cows pushes back and mocks the mockers! Each chapter outlines the behavior of a different attitude that they call “cows.” There are seven:

The Holy Cow: This person is especially righteous and unforgivingly rigid stating simply, marriage is always good and divorce is always bad. (Must be a Holstein – only seeing in black or white!)

The Expert Cow: Every problem a couple has can be fixed and therefore, if the couple divorces, it is undoubtedly because they didn’t try hard enough.

The Selfish Cow: Those who divorce are immature and selfish. Period. They will tell you that you have to compromise and lose yourself in service of the couple-ship. They will also say that you didn’t try hard enough to be in relationship if your marriage ends in divorce.

The Defective Cow: There’s something wrong with you because you couldn’t keep your mate. If I make you doubt yourself enough, maybe you’ll conform and be “normal.” (I didn’t marry for the first time until I was 43 and I can attest to the pressure I felt when people would say to me, “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you married?”)

The Innocent Victim Cow: These folks will spout the endless studies that “prove” how divorce harms children. They will advocate for the poor kids who, they believe, should stay in the home where the
parents tear each other down and continue to be subjected to unhealthy relationship patterns. One advantage of bringing up kids who see marriage as a battlefield is that they will develop a high tolerance for bad behavior from their mate and will stay and suffer just like their parents did. But at least they’ll be married!

The One True Cow: This is the most romantic of the models and it’s the attitude that has done the greatest disservice to young men and women everywhere (luckily, Millennials aren’t buying into this ideal so much these days). There’s such a tremendous buildup to finding this one true love that when the trivialities of life and the billions of dashed expectations emerge (as they invariably will), the self-doubt it propagates is astounding.
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And, finally, The Other Cow: which states that no one should ever leave a marriage for another person. If you do, you are
evil, weak, commit-a-phobic and a player.

So, what’s wrong with all these attitudes? In a word, presumption. They do not account for the many variables people encounter in their own unique relationship. We can never know what goes on behind closed doors. Like the neighbors I had years ago that clearly loved each other and used to delight in telling us how they met. They dressed alike and went everywhere together. They even looked and talked alike.

One day, they knocked on our door unexpectedly and asked if they could talk to us. They came in, sat down, and announced that they were splitting up. I literally got teary eyed—not because I thought they “shouldn’t” get divorced, but because it really threw me for a loop (Me! A therapist who specializes in divorce!). I thought they were so happy together.

It turns out the woman had been having an illicit affair for years and when confronted by her husband, she refused to give her paramour up. They just couldn’t come to an agreement about this so they parted ways. It happens.

This “perfect couple” that I made assumptions about was not so perfect after all.

One reason we shame people is because we are sad and don't want nice people to split up.

Another reason is because we want couples to obey “the status quo” so we know what to expect. If marriage is between a man and a woman and it lasts (happily) for a lifetime, then we feel safer. If marriage is open to gays and lesbians, if it only lasts five years, if it’s for any reason other than love, we stop being predictable and, therefore, we stop feeling safe. But sticking to an old, outdated script, and being safe are not the same thing and, in fact, they are much more likely to be opposing forces.

There’s no question that divorce can be hard on many people (not the least of whom are the kids), but the time has come to stop adding layers of shame to the pain.

I’ll leave you with a quote from an
article (link is external) the Sacred Cows authors wrote recently:

“When divorce represents a couple’s best chance at future love and
happiness, let’s imagine a world where empathy and support trump our old-fashioned concepts.”


Sunday, 20 August 2017

What to Consider During a Divorce

Great emotion and some difficulty is to be expected.

A friend of mine told me last week that his marriage of 12 years was ending in divorce. I was quite surprised, as his marriage looked like one that was healthy, happy, and successful. He and his wife had the nice house, the three children, and the vacations to exotic places. He had a stable and high paying job, and his wife wore the nicest of clothing.

Yet, like so many marriages, his one was not as healthy and as happy as it appeared on the surface.

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate in America has decreased the past few years, with a rate of 16.9 out of every 1,000 marriages ending in divorce. Yet, despite the fact that the divorce rate has decreased in the United States, it still happens, and marriages do end. For those children who are caught in the middle of a divorce, their young lives are forever changed; forever altered. Indeed, it is often that the children suffer the most when their parents chose divorce. Research points out that children from divorced families many times suffer academically, with lower grades in school. Furthermore, studies also indicate that children from divorced families are more likely to engage in drugs and early alcohol use.

Many times, parents in the midst of a divorce turn to mediation as a means to settling differences with a third party when the couple is unable to do so by themselves. Certainly, there are times when a divorce mediator might be necessary, for all involved. Yet, it is not always the solution. To be sure, there are times when it might not be necessary to hire a mediator. Mediators do not necessarily look out for the best interest of those who hired them, as the mediator’s job is to act as a neutral third party. Along with that, mediation can be costly, and does not guarantee that your problems and challenges will be relieved, or that the case will be settled.

As noted earlier, the divorce rate in our nation has decreased, yet divorce is still a reality, both for parents and children alike. A reality that is, for so many families, one that is filled with great emotion and with difficulty.


Saturday, 19 August 2017

Five Things to Do After Your Divorce to Help You Thrive

It’s completely normal to feel like your world has been turned upside down after going through a divorce. There is a plethora of emotions to work through, your living conditions are different, and even your daily routine has been completely altered. Life as you knew it will just never be the same.

Healing from a divorce and eventually moving on with your life takes time and effort. Here are five things to do to help you get back on track after your divorce. 

Seek counselling

Regardless of the reason for your divorce, getting counselling during and after your divorce can help you process through the losses and work through your emotions. Counselling can help bring about resolution and get you through a time that is completely devastating.
Divorce counselling can help you get back in control of your life and make sound decisions about your future. Find someone you trust who specializes in divorce counselling.
Spend time alone

Don’t jump right back into dating immediately following a divorce. Take time to rediscover your passions and interests. When you have been a part of a pair for so long it’s easy to forget who you are as an individual. The relationship likely changed you as a person. Spending time on your own will help you figure out who you are when you aren’t attached to anyone else.

Create a new financial plan

Getting a divorce dramatically changes your financial situation. Your income, savings accounts, retirement plan, and spending looks completely different after a divorce. Once things are final and you are on your own, get your finances organized and create a new financial plan for yourself. Set up new savings and retirement accounts if you need to, create a monthly budget, and implement any lifestyle changes you may have to make in order to live within your new means. Being in control of your finances is one thing you can have complete control over during this time.

Do things for yourself

Living as a couple for so long meant that you had to make compromises and sacrifices frequently. Now that you’re free, go out and do some of the things you wanted to while you were married but that your partner held you back from. Maybe you could never eat red meat because of his high cholesterol levels or maybe she hated it when you wore a certain shirt. Do the things you’ve always wanted to do for awhile, just because you can.

Find support

Chatting with friends who have been through the divorce process and can relate to you can help immensely. Get together with them regularly for emotional support. There are also online support groups where you can connect with other divorcees any time of day and get support in a judgment-free zone. Talking about your feelings with others who have been down a similar road can be healing.

Going through a divorce can be an extremely difficult process. Taking care of yourself and getting support from family, friends and counselling can help you heal and move on with your life. It takes tools and resources to survive and thrive after a divorce, so utilize all that you can. You will get through it and can discover a whole new life after divorce.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Momentum and removing the brakes

Following on from my thoughts on building and maintaining momentum, this video builds on the analogy. 

If you are trying to build momentum as you work through the process of divorce, you must make sure you've taken off the brakes; these 'brakes' may include intrusive thoughts, distractions or fears that slow your progress and prevent momentum from being built up.

There’s a great way to figure out child custody. Most divorce courts don’t use it.

Laws that mandate equal parenting time are not always in children's best interest.

The November 2014 elections included a North Dakota voter initiative emblematic of the vigorous debate taking place nationwide about child custody.

The “Parental Rights Initiative” required courts to award “equal parenting time” to both parents after divorce or separation. The measure was defeated by a sizeable margin (62% to 38%) but it represents only the latest round in a combustible campaign to change how child custody cases are decided.

A history of child custody (in a nutshell)

Colonial Americans followed the English common law rule that upon divorce the father retained custody of his children. Fathers had the right to the physical custody, labor and earnings of their children in exchange for supporting, educating, and training them to earn their own livelihoods or, in the case of girls, marry a man who would support them.
Colonial mothers, though deemed worthy of honor and deference, were not endowed with legally enforceable parental rights.

This paternal preference continued well into the 19th century. In fact, the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls – the first women’s rights convention – listed the fathers’ automatic custody rule among its principal complaints. But women began gaining the upper hand as our legal system dealt with two cultural transformations: the industrial revolution’s remaking men into marketplace wage earners and the emergence of a “separate sphere” for women as domestic caregivers.

By the early 20th century, motherhood had attained near-mythical status. Under the “tender years” presumption, custody of young children was almost exclusively awarded to mothers upon divorce.

It took a social revolution to unseat the tender years doctrine and replace it with gender-neutral custody standards.

Mounting divorce rates in the 1960s and ensuing decades provoked a lively debate about parental roles and custody issues. The movement for gender equality, along with the rise of fathers’ rights groups, called attention to the importance of both parents in the care of children at the same time as loosening the link between gender and parental roles.
The end of formal rules dictating a result favoring one parent over the other led to the adoption of a more inclusive but less definitive standard of deciding custody cases based on the “best interests of the child.” This standard opened up the possibility of excessive judicial discretion as well as a threat of inconsistency in the results, resulting in hotly contested custody battles.

From the rule of one to the sharing of custody

No matter how child custody was determined, one rule continued to be ironclad: custody was indivisible. After a marital breakup, only one parent could properly raise the children, with the other parent entitled merely to visiting rights. Until the late 20th century, courts regularly refused to allow divorcing parents to share custody. The dominant view was that after divorce a child needed the full time stability of a home run by one parent.

The greater social and legal acceptance of shared custody in recent decades came about when parents began shouldering more equal parenting responsibilities. State legislatures, courts, and parents themselves began to value the opportunity for a child to continue a strong and meaningful relationship with both parents. The new approach sought to avoid treating one parent as merely a visitor, and to reduce the trauma of marital dissolution for children. Sharing custody also became a way to circumvent the brutal dynamics of adversarial child custody litigation.

An important 2014 study shows that child custody norms are significantly changing in the 21st century, with the proportion of parents sharing custody rising dramatically. In fact, we reached a major milestone in the past decade: for the first time since the mid-19th century, custodial arrangements that did not provide sole custody to mothers constituted a majority.
The vocabulary of child custody is also adapting to shared parenting.

“Decision making” and “parenting time” are replacing “legal custody” and “physical custody.” The modern terms reflect a cultural pivot toward mutual child rearing responsibilities rather than declaring a winner and a loser. On balance, then, it appears that our society has adapted the best-interest-of-the-child standard to provide some variant of shared custody. In custody cases today, both parents increasingly enjoy significant, though not necessarily equal, amounts of parenting time.

The problem with presumptions, and a better alternative

Legally enforceable presumptions, such as the one proposed and rejected in North Dakota or the one that the Governor of Minnesota vetoed in 2012, are problematic. An equal parenting presumption shifts the starting point for a custody determination from the child’s best interests to how the parents will divide the 168 hours in a week so that each parent handles half the child rearing.

A 50/50 presumption alters the critical issue from what’s best for the child to how we can treat the parents equally. That’s not the same question at all. A legal presumption of equal parenting time effectively converts the current focus on the child’s welfare to a best-interests-of-the-parents standard.

There is another alternative, better than having a judge decide the child’s best interests and far better than a legal presumption.

In the past few years, separating and divorcing parents have begun taking matters into their own hands by crafting “parenting plans” for their children. These blueprints for post-divorce child rearing allocate parenting time and decision-making authority for each child, depending on the child’s particular needs and circumstances. A good parenting plan also sets out dispute resolution options (such as mediation or a parenting coordinator) for the inevitable time when the parents will face unanticipated child rearing problems.

Many states — Arizona is a leader on the issue — are redefining the issue of parenting after divorce from a demand for custody by one parent to a requirement that both parents work together to create a “parenting plan.” These plans further the public policy goal that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, and that both share in the responsibilities of raising their children.

Parenting plans may be crafted from scratch, or they may be customized from a menu of templates and sample plans available from court or private organization websites. Parents often negotiate these plans by themselves, with the help of a mediator, or through counsel. 
The plans should be flexible but fairly detailed, describing each parent’s area of responsibility in providing for the child’s residential and physical care as well as emotional well being, both at the time the plan goes into effect and as the child ages and matures.
Unlike a court custody order, a parenting plan can include mechanisms to adjust to children’s developmental changes as they age and to other significant family transformations.

Parenting plans are homemade custody resolutions, and courts remain a last resort for deciding contested custody cases. But the parenting plan movement is providing approaches towards sharing custody more in keeping with child development research and less likely to lead to further damaging litigation.

The failed North Dakota “equal parenting time” initiative sought a rigid resolution of the most sensitive issue after divorce: how can parents who no longer live together continue to raise their children.

Our society is gradually adopting shared parenting by choice, not by mathematical formula. We should encourage the movement toward parenting plans rather than legal briefs, mediation rather than litigation, and sharing the parenting rather than dividing the child.