Thursday, 16 August 2018

What 3 divorced moms want you to know about co-parenting after a breakup

Great advice about how to put your children first despite the pain and challenges of being divorced.

Although we try to avoid divorce at all costs, if it does happen, it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the complete breakup of the family. In the past, we worked under the assumption that ex-partners were considered adversaries, with any contact being antagonistic and hostile: “The dissolution of a couple was synonymous with the dissolution of the family,” explains Helena Afonso, author of the French book Two Households, One family: the relationship between parents after a conjugal separation. Yet, with experience and time, couples have become more aware that in any separation, the role of the parent should never change.

Psychologist GĂ©rard Poussin, a professor in clinical psychology and author of The Children of Divorce, a French-language title, introduces the notion of co-parenting. He speaks of a relationship “based on mutual support and cooperation.” He encourages parents to discuss school grades and warn each other about medical appointments, and especially support each other in difficult situations. “Children need a certain level of consistency to grow up normally. Imagine that a 5-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m. when he’s with mom, but at dad’s he’s allowed to stay up until 10 p.m. watching TV,” explains Poussin. The divorce process doesn’t always make this easy. Over time, the separating couple needs to establish what level and type of contact is necessary to maintain effective co-parenting.

The longer good quality co-parenting continues, the better it is for everyone; it will have a more positive impact on the whole family, in particular the children. Key to its success is the relationship between the ex-spouses: the degree to which the parents have managed to get over feelings of resentment and anger towards each other, “but also their ability to separate the problems and conflicts of their ex-couple status from the questions linked to the education of their children,” points out Afonso. Ex-spouses, especially fathers, have a habit of getting more involved in their parental role if they receive approval and support from their ex.

So how do you set the right limits in this new relationship? “Have brief but regular contact, pick conversation topics that relate to the kids or that don’t interfere too much with parenting skills, avoid subjects that could lead to conflict, and don’t constantly bring up contentious issues, such as vacations,” emphasizes Afonso. It is not necessary to be good friends to be a good parental couple. All it takes is a bit of cordiality and respect.

We spoke to three divorced moms to learn from their experiences on how to continue being successful parents through separation.

Julie, a journalist, aged 41, divorced for 8 years, with an 11-year-old child

Her best advice: Make peace

“My ex-husband and I didn’t actually speak to each other for a year. As soon as the phone started ringing we would jump on it and hang up straight away. He hadn’t taken our break-up very well. The only viable way we could communicate with each other about our 3-year-old son was through text messages. ‘What time are you picking him up?’; ‘He’s sick so make sure he takes his medicine’; ‘Check his hair for lice’… I found it very annoying; he didn’t know how to cope with himself, let alone our son. He began to torment me with little threats, such as: ‘If you arrive 5 minutes late, I’ll keep your son.’ This reached the point that one day he threatened me with legal proceedings to gain custody over our son. Supposedly I worked too much and didn’t look after him enough. I got scared. I brought up the subject with my lawyer, who reassured me I had a solid case. She opened my eyes to the fact that my husband’s reaction was that of someone who’d been hurt; in this story, I had gained everything, and he — on top of being unemployed —had lost his wife and son. She showed me that we needed to stop our war for the good of our son.

“Supported by prayer, I decided to put my pride to one side and make peace, even if I felt I was facing a brick wall. I gave in to everything. Concerning finances, I wrote off the idea of receiving any alimony, and custody arrangements, well, I became more flexible. My ex preferred to get our son on Friday night, rather than Saturday morning; it wasn’t a problem. One day, he said to me, ‘We made the most beautiful thing together: Max.’ This one phrase really touched me, and still does today. Little by little, I felt he was taking on his role of father once more, becoming more responsible — someone I could rely on. I got him involved once more in the education of our son. Two years ago, I accepted equal joint custody. I remember our first post-divorce dinner together, all three of us, at a restaurant in a neutral location. Max was so proud! That’s when I realized the importance for him that we remain, above all, his parents.

“Today, we are truly forming one unit: we go to piano auditions together, school trips, school meetings … We make any schooling decisions together, consulting each other all the time, and I’ve even found myself saying to my son: ‘You’re behaving badly, I’ll call your dad.’ Last week, he had his first tween party, and his dad called me to give me the lowdown. We’ve even managed to dine together, all three of us, at his home. I was pleasantly surprised to see my son clear the table and get himself off to bed. For the first time I stayed to chat with my ex, putting the world to rights. I realized that we were complementary. He’s a father who emphasizes self-management, whereas I’m a mother hen, watching over homework, teeth brushing … I’m delighted he’s the father of my son.”

Corinne, a 44-year-old photographer, divorced for 7 years, two children ages 10 and 14

Her best advice: Don’t stir up the past

“During the first year, I forced myself to accept many things for the good of my kids: equal joint custody, parents’ evenings where I remained ramrod straight, his permanent reflections like: ‘The children are badly dressed,’ ‘You’re not making them work hard enough,’ ‘They sleep too late when they’re with you’ … Yet he was the one who left me! I let it go because I knew his aggression was just a reaction based on his guilt. I think he also realized what it meant to be a father, a role he hadn’t really invested in before. The work I went through with a spiritual counselor over a long period of time really helped me to receive his criticisms without reacting. Then, it became impossible to speak with my ex; we communicated through the nanny, who went from one house to another.

“One day, I cracked. I wrote to him saying that I couldn’t cope with any more of his criticisms, I didn’t want to stir up the past, I didn’t regret our history, and that he would remain the father of my children, and that I would always tell them he is a good father. After he received the letter he just said: ‘I don’t have any words in response to what you’ve said, just thank you.’ Our relationship then became calmer. Today, we manage to coordinate with each other. We telephone each other once or twice a week. When we hand over the kids, we give a summary of the week. Sometimes we meet up, always outside for a coffee, to speak of more specific issues. Most recently, we spoke about our eldest, who is going to high school. What school should we choose? How will he get there? What options should he consider? We speak purely of our children, never about us. I avoid all contentious issues — especially anything to do with his new partner. My children can’t bear her at all, to the point that my eldest wanted to live full-time with me last year. I encouraged him to change his mind, for his benefit. He needs his father as much as me. Starting this summer, our relationship has developed into a parental friendship. We send each other photos of our kids on vacation, we go to Mass together, we’ve even gotten into fits of laughter, as was the case at our last teacher-parent meeting. I’d almost forgotten that we’d separated! I’ve turned the page, and the pain has passed. We remain parents for the rest of our lives.”

Agathe, stay-at-home mom, aged 40, divorced for two years, three children ages 8, 11 and 12

Her best advice: Be united parents

“Since our separation four years ago, our children have been our main concern. We were a separated couple, but still parents united in the love of God. To communicate as smoothly as possible, and update whoever was picking up the kids, we followed the advice of a child psychiatrist who suggested a correspondence notebook. This was warmer and less impersonal than an email, and it could assure some continuity from one week to the next: ‘John’s math grades need watching,’ ‘Lucas needs more confidence,’ and ‘Mason needs to feel valued,’ etc. At the end of a trimester, I ended up using email as it was just quicker to write. As our divorce progressed, the emails got shorter. I wanted to get straight to the point, as if our relationship had ended.

“Today we use text messages to remind each other of the essentials: ‘Don’t forget the dentist appointment,’ ‘Have you paid for the soccer lessons?’… I remain courteous, even when I’m annoyed. I always say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Even for more crucial issues we start an exchange by text and swap to email if more detail is necessary. Lately he wrote: ‘Cris is unbearable, I want to send her to boarding school’ to which I replied ‘no’ by text. I would like to see him at the end of each year, just to summarize what the children have been up to, their behavior, their extra-curricular activities … but he avoids any contact; he thinks the way we are doing things is fine. No doubt, he worries that I’ll end up on more sensitive issues, such as the alimony, which the judge has not yet determined. I think that our relationship will become more serene once our divorce has been settled. But overall, the assessment is pretty positive: we have managed to stay united as parents for our children. They haven’t had to take one side over another. We make sure we communicate what is necessary concerning the children, we set boundaries, and we reassure them; all three are flourishing.”


Wednesday, 15 August 2018

To The Moms In The Middle Of Divorce Chaos

First let me say, I am sorry you are here. So sorry.

Please know, you will get through the chaos. And, in the midst of the awful, know that you are not alone. You will survive this. And there is a rich life for you at the end of the tunnel.

Divorce is extremely disorienting. You have built your life around your family. The markers of safety and normalcy in your life have likely been associated with being part of your family unit, even if your marriage was not actually a safe place to be. Suddenly, in divorce you are sort of spiraling in space. It is like being on a lake at night, where you knew your way around during the day time and how to get there, and then suddenly it is dark and you have no idea where you are or how to make it back to shore.

All the markers you recognize are indiscernible. You have to discover new ones to be able to find your way. There will be times when you feel extreme anxiety and find yourself in a fetal position alone on your couch. This is a normal and necessary process. Fear, grief, regret, and anxiety are normal human emotions. They are not signs of weakness. They are signs of life.

Try to consciously avoid falling into the traps of escape. Human beings, like most living creatures, fear pain, run from it, try to insulate themselves from it. But the pain of divorce cannot be escaped if you are going to live and rebuild yourself and your life authentically and honestly. You will be tempted to find an escape, because pain is pain. You may reach for another drink, for your credit card, for dating apps, for tons of exercise, whatever your drug of choice may be.

But ultimately you have to sit in your aloneness and really feel it and acknowledge that you are no longer in a partnership, and that is new and frightening. You cannot create real new growth without first cutting through the wreckage.

That said, in this period, it is extremely important to give yourself grace. Regardless of how intentionally you commit to do it all exactly the right way, you will fall flat on your face more than a few times. You will make bad choices. You will embarrass yourself. You will do things you never imagined yourself doing just as many others have done before you. You are in a life crisis. Treat yourself kindly, stop ruminating over your mistakes, and be proud of yourself for the progress you are making. Sleep, get your nails done, go for a walk. You need to love and care for yourself better than you ever have in your life.

Treat the others in your life with grace too. Friends and family may have difficulty accepting your divorce. You have likely accepted it long before it happened. You were on the inside of it. Those on the outside likely did not see. They may be shocked. They may have their own grief. They may have lots of advice you do not want to hear. They may be flat out wrong. But now is not the time in your life to wage war on your support system. No one is going to get it exactly right. They are people too. No one is perfect, including you. You still need them. Try your very best not to alienate yourself from the people who have always loved and cared for you. You need them now more than ever.

Recognize that some relationships will need to end. Some of your friends will feel the need to take a side, and it will not necessarily be yours. Some people in your life might totally oppose what you are doing and be unwilling to support you. Other friendships may just be too painful for you to return to because they are associated fully in your mind with your marriage and being around those people causes you to feel sadness over the loss of your old life with your old friends, and when you are around them it is too much to bear.
A sad reality of divorce is that it not only ends the marriage relationship. It ends other relationships in your life as well, including sometimes in-laws you loved like your own family. You will need time to grieve these losses too.

Now is also a good time in your life to remove all the negative influences that you can. Divorce is emotionally draining. If there are other things or people in your life who are also emotionally draining you, now, in your time of reinvention, is a good time to cut those things or people out of your life.

With the loss of so many relationships, now is also a time to try to cultivate deeper connections with those who remain in your life and to seek out new friends. People need people, especially in a time of crisis. Figure out which friendships you have that have potential to deepen, and pursue them. Figure out if you know any other single moms. You will have a different schedule now than many of your married mom friends. You need single friends now too.

If you are the one who filed for divorce, there is a tendency to feel guilty for feeling sad about getting divorced. There may be a voice in your head that says, “I don’t get to feel sad because I’m the one doing this.” Ignore that voice. You are entitled to grieve. You likely did not choose the circumstances that led you to make the final choice to end the marriage and this is likely not what you dreamed for your life. This is a loss for you, too. It is a loss of a dream of what you wanted out of life. It is a loss of the family unit. It is the loss of the idealized family. You are entitled to feel however you feel.

If your spouse is the one who filed for divorce, there is a tendency to feel inadequate. Try your best to ignore that voice. Believe in your own worth and goodness. Your spouse’s feelings about you do not define you. You are who you are, a worthy human being, with or without them. You are a person, and like all other people, you are not perfect. But you are valuable and worthy and there is good within you. You deserve to be loved. You do not deserve to be hurt or rejected. Do not believe the lies in your head about your worth.

Find new or old things that you love and bring them back into your life. You now get to make a whole new you and a whole new life. Grow flowers. Read books. Get back to knitting. Do something you have always wanted to do and never done. You now have your life back. You get to decide who you want to be and how you want to live. It is like being given a second chance at life. Take it.

Know that all of the immediate chaos and crisis associated with the newness of divorce will end. You will suddenly look up and realize you have made a life for yourself that you love. The chaos and the terrible things that kept you up at night will be over. Life will just be life again. Hold on to this hope in the midst of the awful.

Form a tangible goal in your mind that you will achieve when your life settles down again and hold onto that image. Maybe it is a trip, a new outfit, etc. For me it was something really simple. It was a flamingo light cover that I had picked out and knew I would put in the new kids’ bathroom that I planned on making when everything settled down. In the worst moments, I would think, one day I will have a peaceful home, with a kids’ bathroom that has a flamingo light cover.

I have it now. It brings me joy. You will get your flamingo in time.


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

How to Know When Divorce Is The Right Choice

Getting divorced is a deeply personal decision, and you shouldn't make it in haste. If you are contemplating ending your marriage, you may be struggling to face up to the potential consequences of your actions. You may be wondering if it would be easier to stay married than to deal with the emotional turmoil and financial pressures of divorce. If you have children, you may want to stay together for their sake. Every situation is different, and ultimately, you are the only person who can decide whether divorce is the right choice.

Step 1

Ask yourself what would be your reasons for staying married. If you have an objective in mind that you could achieve if you were able to work through the problems in the marriage, your relationship is more likely to last, says Susan Pease Gadoua, author of "Contemplating Divorce." You could set a positive goal to maintain a secure, two-parent family for your children or to work through your trust issues to improve your relationship and your self-esteem. If your main reason for staying married stems from an avoidance of difficult emotions, the marriage is less likely to survive, says Gadoua. Staying married because you are scared of being alone or you can't bear the thought of spending time apart from your children is not likely to lead to long-term happiness.

Step 2

Make sure you have done everything possible to improve the relationship. If both parties are committed to working through issues to create a healthier relationship, the marriage may be salvageable, says Gadoua. If you both want the marriage to last, consider marital therapy to help you identify the problems and develop the skills required to solve them.

Step 3

Accept when the relationship is over. A healthy, fulfilling marriage should have honesty, trust, commitment, fidelity, care, respect and common goals. If any of these are absent, it may be better for you to go your separate ways.

Step 4

Put your own needs before those of your spouse, children, and anybody else who may be affected by a divorce. Children will be happier being the product of a broken home than living in one, says psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw. Don't stay together for your children's sake if that means living with stress and unhappiness. Look deep within yourself to find the answer. There is a part of you that will know whether divorce is the right option, says Judith Johnson, an interfaith minister who holds a doctorate in social psychology.


Monday, 13 August 2018

5 Steps to Being More of an Optimist

Life is easier and generally more enjoyable if you're an optimist. Research shows that optimists enjoy many health and lifestyle benefits, including greater achievement, greater health, a sense of persistence toward goals, greater emotional health, increased longevity, and lower reactivity to stress. Because of this, optimists tend to be happier overall. 
Optimism is measured by your explanatory style, or how you define events. You're halfway there if you can learn to define positive events in the following three ways:

  1. Positive events occurred because of something you did.
  2. Positive events are a sign of more good things to come.
  3. Positive events are evidence that good things will happen in other areas of your life.

You're all the way there if you can also think of negative events as:

  1. not your fault
  2. isolated occurrences that have no bearing on future events or other areas of your life
If you find yourself expecting the worst and selling yourself short a little too much of the time, you can always increase your tendency toward optimism. The following steps can get you there.

Analyze Your Thoughts, Giving Yourself Credit
When something positive happens in your life, stop to analyze your thought process for a moment. Are you giving yourself due credit for making it happen? Think of all the strengths you possess and ways you contributed, both directly and indirectly, to make this event occur. For example, if you aced a test, don’t just think of how great it is that you were prepared, but also think of how your intelligence and dedication played a role.

Think of How Your Strengths Can Bring Other Good Things
Think of other areas of your life that could be affected by this good event. Also, think of how the strengths you possess that caused this good thing to happen can also cause other positive events in your life. For example, what other good things can come from your intelligence, dedication, and ability to effectively prepare for tasks?

Think of Future Events That Can Also Happen

Imagine what future possibilities could be in store. Because you hold the key to your success, shouldn’t you expect to do well on future tests? Isn’t a successful career a natural result?

Minimize the Negative, When It's Realistic to Do So
When negative events occur, think of the extenuating circumstances that could have contributed to this happening. If you do poorly on an exam, for example, were you especially busy in the preceding week? Were you somewhat sleep deprived? What outside circumstances contributed to your failure? Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a reflection of personal weakness.

This doesn't mean that you should never recognize when you may need to change your behavior in the future or deny responsibility for mistakes — that's how we learn! It does mean, however, to focus more on the positive and don't let negative events kill your self-confidence.

Remember: Tomorrow Is Another Day
Also, remember that you’ll have endless opportunities to do better in the future. Think of your next potential success or other areas where you can excel.

Tips to Remember:

  1. The key to optimism is to maximize your successes and minimize your failures.
  2. It’s beneficial to look honestly at your shortcomings, so you can work on them, but focusing on your strengths can never hurt.
  3. Keep in mind that the more you practice challenging your thought patterns, the more automatic it'll become. Don't expect major changes in thinking right away, but do expect them to become ingrained over time.
  4. Always remember that virtually any failure can be a learning experience, and an important step toward your next success!
  5. Practice positive affirmations. They really work!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Psychological Effects of Divorce on Women

Understanding the psychological effects of divorce can help one move forward after the end of a marriage. Many of the feelings after a divorce are perfectly natural as one may experience confusion and uncertainty about the future. Similarly, learning how these feelings may affect one's ability to connect with other family members, such as children, is important, as well.

Feeling Guilty

The psychological effects of divorce on women are far-reaching, but one of the most basic emotions is guilt. This can be true if the woman initiated the divorce or not. Women in both situations may feel at fault for not working hard enough to make the marriage work, explains life coach Cindy Holbrook on her website for divorced women. If the woman initiated divorce, she may feel a sense of guilt for the demise of the marriage. This is especially true if there are children involved as women may feel as though they are responsible for breaking up a family and causing emotional trauma.

Experiencing Depression

The end of a marriage is devastating to both parties. Women, especially, may feel saddened by the sudden loss of their marriage. Their dreams for the future may be wrapped up in their marriage, and now that hope for the future appears to be gone. Increased responsibility combined with the realization that the life they envisioned no longer exists correlates with the fact that women are more likely to suffer from depression three years after a divorce, suggests Rocky Mountain Family Council.

Feeling Anxious

After a divorce, one may experience a great deal of anxiety. The future is uncertain and therefore, so is one's security. Women may experience more stress as they may have solely or mostly relied on their husbands for financial support. Trying to figure out how to support themselves, and often times a family, may prove to be difficult. Despite this, there are many things one can do to lessen anxiety including eating healthy, meditating and exercising.

Positive Effects

Some of the effects of divorce can affect women's lives positively. There are many factors that influence this, but many women report feeling a sense of relief especially if the relationship was particularly stressful towards the end. Mediator Kathleen O'Connell Corcoran explains that women may have a greater support system than men. Because of this, when they experience setbacks, they are likely to turn to them for comfort and guidance and move through the issues. Finally, women may be more likely to expand their personal and professional roles, suggests Corcoran. In the past, they may have limited themselves by focusing solely on their duties as wives and mothers. Now, they may seek out new careers, volunteer opportunities and social networking that will increase their esteem.


Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Truth About Divorce Statistics

“The truth about marriage is that divorce is getting less common,” New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope says in her newly released book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage” (Dutton, 2010). For a variety of reasons, “divorce rates have dropped sharply since peaking in the late 1970s,” she observes.

Parker-Pope frequently reports on current marriage research in the Times. Her book says that in recent years she has “interviewed dozens of the world’s top marriage and relationship researchers, and pored over hundreds of published research studies,” exploring “what science has taught us about lasting relationships and the complexities of courtship, love and marriage.”

Inflated divorce statistics can be harmful, Parker-Pope suggests. She is concerned that misleading statistics have “trained a generation to be ambivalent about marriage and divorce.” People are left asking, “If half of all married couples are getting divorced, what’s the big deal?”

Parker-Pope cautions that incorrectly understanding current divorce statistics may result in many people believing that “marriage is more fragile than it really is.” Believing that more people are destined to divorce than is the case could lead some couples simply to give up when problems occur in their marriages, she fears.

The “grim statistic” that 50 percent of marriages are destined to end in divorce has been repeated for years, “but that bleak prognosis doesn’t apply to most couples getting married today or even most of those who married in the last few decades,” according to Parker-Pope. The problem, she adds, lies at least partly in how divorce rates tend to be calculated.
Her book holds that “because so many variables in the marriage-and-divorce equation are changing, a simple calculation comparing marriages and divorces in a given year ends up distorting the result and suggesting that the divorce rate is higher than it really is.”

One factor in the overall divorce-rate picture is that couples today tend to marry at an older age than was the case in 1970, for example. Studies indicate that the “risk for divorce drops significantly when couples wait to wed until after the age of twenty-five,” Parker-Pope writes. She says an added benefit of marrying at a later age may be that “many of the weakest relationships are ending before a couple ever heads to the altar.”

It is true that couples married in the 1970s divorce at high rates, according to Parker-Pope. Then couples typically married “in their late teens and early twenties,” she states; statistics show that the 30-year divorce rate among these couples “is about 47 percent.”

But Parker-Pope finds that “people married in the 1980s and 1990s are getting divorced at lower rates than their counterparts married in the 1970s.” In fact, she says it appears that marital stability is “improving each decade.”

So, for Parker-Pope, today “the good news” is that “far more people are succeeding at marriage than failing.” She says research suggests that “far more than half of married couples today stay married.”

Nonetheless, she points out that “a sizable minority of marriages will eventually fail.” She notes, as well, that fewer people today marry at all.

The writer cautions that current statistics on divorce do not mean that marriage has become easy. Actually, Parker-Pope finds that contemporary couples “have far higher expectations of marriage than did earlier generations.” Social shifts have “raised the bar” for marriage in terms of the emotional fulfillment that is sought, the partnership and fairness that is desired, and the strong sense many spouses have that they ought to remain soul mates.


Friday, 10 August 2018

Life After Divorce: 3 Survival Strategies

How ex-spouses and their kids can cope after divorce and move beyond the pain.

Sixteen years and three children into her marriage, Nancy Michaels' husband dealt her the blow of a lifetime. Out of the blue, he told her he wanted a divorce -- but he wouldn't tell her or their kids why he was leaving. Months later, a sudden and unexpected medical problem found Michaels close to death.

Unable to take care of her children while she was hospitalized, she risked losing custody of them permanently.

Now, less than four years later, with her health back, Michaels has risen from the depths of emotional despair brought on by the blow of an unexpected divorce, regained primary custody of her children, bought a house of her own, and begun a web site exclusively for women over 40 going through divorce.

Without question, coping with divorce can be one of the most difficult challenges a person faces in a lifetime. Mental health experts say the pain it causes rivals grieving the death of a loved one. But as Michaels' story illustrates, surviving divorce is possible.

WebMD spoke with the pros -- adults who have been through a divorce, as well as counselors who help people survive the effects of divorce -- to learn what coping strategies work to help people through this trying time.

1. Seek Out a Support Network

No single strategy will ease the pain and loss that divorce brings. But time and time again, when asked how best to weather the effects of divorce, respondents say this: lean on a support network.

"Recognize your support network. If it's not strong enough, build it up," says Jennifer Coleman, EdS, NCC, a life transition coach who works with divorce clients of the Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina.

For Michaels, her support network while surviving divorce initially consisted of one good friend. "She has a great sense of humor," Michaels tells WebMD, recalling how she went from crying alone in a movie theater as she watched a romantic love story to laughing out loud afterward when her friend insisted they go to dinner together.

At the suggestion of the judge who oversaw her divorce case, Michaels then expanded her circle of support to include the group Women with Controlling Partners. She's glad she took him up on it. "When you get divorced, most of your old friends run. They're no longer thrilled to have you in their house; there's a dynamic that shifts considerably," she tells WebMD. That hasn't been the case with women in the support group. "We have Friday night pizza with our kids. We'll give each other a ride to the airport if we need it. It really has saved my sanity," Michaels says.

Finding support is not just for women. While women tend to seek and find support rather easily while coping with divorce, men are more likely to hesitate to reach out to others, despite having equally strong emotional needs. Consider David Wood, a handyman who recently went through a bitter divorce. "I was embarrassed, even ashamed. I thought people would think less of me," he says.

It wasn't until a neighbor started sharing his own story about a difficult divorce that Wood felt comfortable enough reciprocating with his own woes -- and finding it incredibly cathartic. "You've got to open up," he says.

While emotional support helps people navigate the initially painful hurdles of divorce, the importance of shoring up assistance for practical purposes post-divorce cannot be overstated. Even before the clouds of her divorce lifted, Susan Perrotta knew she had to be a strong presence for her children, who were barely school age at the time. She made immense sacrifices to be there for them, sometimes pulling all-nighters to complete art projects for clients, then seeing her children off to school in the morning.

A single mother with no family in town, Perrotta essentially raised her children on her own. But she strategically sought and took advantage of support resources available to her. "I made friends with teachers and administrators at my kids' schools. They were fantastic," she tells WebMD.

She also chose to move to a close-knit neighborhood where she could call on neighbors for help in a pinch. She used her pediatrician as a sounding board, recalling him as "a wonderful pediatrician who knew the kids well." And she looked beyond differences with her ex-husband to get him involved. "I pulled him in when I needed his help. I made him work with me," she says.

2. Redefine Yourself

Going through a divorce means no longer being part of a couple, a reality that can come as a relief or a frightening prospect. "For the person who sees him or herself as multifaceted, it's generally a lot easier. But if someone has been nothing but a spouse and saw that as the most important role, it can be pretty crushing," Coleman tells WebMD.

Looking at this time as a period of self-exploration is one way to overcome feelings of isolation and fear. "Take up new hobbies, activities, interests -- expand yourself. Stay busy in a constructive way," suggests Patricia Covalt, PhD, a Denver-based licensed marriage therapist.

Exploring untapped interests can be both a place to positively let go of the grief brought on by divorce and a way to redefine yourself. Wood, devastated by not seeing his children on a daily basis, threw himself into starting and cultivating a community garden. "It was a big help. I'd physically exhaust myself working there. It kept my mind from wandering," he says. Taking ownership of the garden also served as a productive hobby, in which Wood grew not only seasonal vegetables and fruits but also stronger friendships with other community members.

3. Minimize the Impact on Kids

While coping with divorce, pain is inevitable -- but soon-to-be ex-spouses have the power to minimize the pain their children feel by keeping things as amicable as possible.
"You're dealing with a lot of grief and personal feelings. But always avoid criticizing the other parent in front of the children," says Jennipher Cole, LPC-S, a marriage and family therapist with the DePelchin Children's Center in Houston.

She has seen the poor outcomes of clients who ignore this advice: in younger children, regressive behavior like bed-wetting; in older children and teenagers, low self-esteem and risky behaviour.

Cole also warns against pulling children into any conflict with an ex-spouse, a scenario that provokes "taking sides."

Others echo her sentiments. "If you put your kids in the middle, it's a short gain with a long loss. I'm much more interested in maintaining a long-term relationship with my kids," Michaels says.


Thursday, 9 August 2018

How to survive a divorce: find acceptance after falling apart

Amid the pain of a failed marriage, it is impossible to forgive your former partner. But it is possible to come to terms with the split – by admitting you have lost

We were together for 13 years. Some days it feels like I didn’t exist until the day we met. Other times it seems like it never happened.

I thought we had a whole life to spend together. We navigated foreign countries and slept on straw mats while lizards crawled on the ceiling and the ocean heaved and moaned outside. We sat bleary-eyed in emergency rooms at ungodly hours, taking turns holding our sick and wailing infant who would not be comforted. We stood hand in hand at the newly dug graves of parents, weeping and silently holding each other. We talked quietly for hours on couches, emptying bottles of wine and telling of our childhoods, our fears, the little triumphs that made us carry on.

But we also wove lies into the DNA of our relationship. Not maliciously, but childishly. Fearfully. We manipulated and tricked each other because we didn’t know the cost. We memorized each other’s scars and picked at them to to get what we wanted. We abused each other’s trust. We allowed our trust to be abused. We were only afraid of being alone. Of being wrong.

I thought we had a whole life together, but it turns out it was only a couple of chapters. The realization that your marriage is over is so cumbersome, so all-consuming, that your brain can only process it in pieces. You drive past an apartment building and wonder what it would be like to live in a cozy studio there. You stand in the grocery store and imagine how your life would be different if you’d ended up with that woman who is taking forever to pick out a bottle of olive oil. You lie in bed at night so far off in your imagination that you forget that your wife is lying asleep next you. You realize you’re living your life as though she isn’t even there.

You don’t yet know that your marriage is over. These thoughts don’t fully register. They float in and out like small pieces of trash in between chunkier, more graspable thoughts like “we need more eggs” or “I should call someone about the sound the dryer is making”. So when the end finally materializes, it is like finally coming face to face with a horrifying and yet entirely predictable demon. It was in the house the whole time. And once it is freed, it attacks your body in slow motion, the grief of it devouring you seemingly cell by aching cell.

You develop impossible obsessions. Two weeks after my wife left, I was driving our kids to an amusement park and George Jones’s She Thinks I Still Care came on during an NPR interview. I became fixated on learning the chords and playing the song. For six months, I played it compulsively. I sang it in the shower, I serenaded my kids to sleep with it, and woe unto anyone who happened to be in the same room with me and a piano; they’d be treated to the most morose and self-pitying rendition in the history of mankind.

You feel like a failure. You can take struggling at your job, health problems, money challenges. These are all things that you feel you can survive as long as you don’t have to do them alone. But losing your marriage leaves you feeling like you are without purpose, like you have permanently and irrevocably failed at the single most important thing in your life.

You sit comatose in front of your television until the sun sets, only to lie awake at night listening until the silence hurts your ears. You cry until you dry heave. And after that comes the emptiness, both outside and in, that makes you feel how lonely you truly are.

For the first year or so, you keep the relationship going. Not willing to admit it’s truly over, the both of you keep playing the game. You push her buttons, she pushes yours. Your intimate knowledge of one another, the secrets you once whispered in close moments, are now weaponized. You remember years ago, when the two of you were barely in your twenties, you saw a couple fighting on the street. You said: “Why is it so hard for people to let go?” And she said: “Because you can never let someone walk away with all your secrets.” Hearing her say that, you fell in love all over again; her intelligence, her emotional courage, her understanding of what makes our hearts work. Over a decade later, you hate her for those things and how she uses them against you. You hate yourself for how you use them against her.

The reason it is so difficult to have a healthy relationship with the person you’ve divorced is because no matter how well you learn to get along, no matter how thorough and exhaustive the amends that are made, it is impossible to completely forgive someone who has meant this much pain. It is simply too much. It is impossible to completely forgive someone whom you once loved so deeply.

It has been six years since our marriage ended. The pain has not been healed. It has been dulled to the point where it no longer keeps me up at night. We have two children, a teenager and a pre-teen whose lives and struggles and needs are such that the two of us must talk and strategize together every day. We function well. We don’t fight. We don’t say terrible things to our kids about one another. We have dinners and brunches together. We don’t hate each other.

But it is not easy. The cost of this peace and relative civility is this: you have to admit that you have lost. You have to admit that what the two of you tried to do is over. And that it can never be resurrected. You must concede that you will never get what you want from the other person, and you must stop punishing them for that.

You must accept the distance that now exists between the two of you. They no longer belong to you. Your marriage no longer belongs to you. You must forgive them for being the person that they are. You must forgive yourself. The two of you were young. You tried to make a love. You didn’t know how. It could have been different. But it was not. Your very best wasn’t good enough.

To survive divorce, you must find acceptance for this. Even if you can’t ever find forgiveness.


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Benefits of Looking on the Bright Side: 10 Reasons to Think Like an Optimist

Having a cheery disposition can influence more than just your mood. "People who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people," says Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. Research shows that people tend to be optimistic by nature, but what if you're naturally more of an Eeyore? Strengthen your sense of hope: 
The trick is to act like an optimistic person, even if you aren't feeling particularly hopeful. "If you think that the future can be positive, you're more willing to put in time and energy to make that come about," says Segerstrom. By being engaged and persistent, even if you don't feel particularly positive, the benefits of optimism—like satisfaction and health—will soon follow. In fact, seeing the proverbial glass as half full can pay off in a number of unexpected ways, from improving your work experience to enhancing your relationships and protecting your mind and body. Here are 10 reasons strengthening your optimism is a good idea:

Optimists Feel Healthier
If you think that the world is inherently good, and that life will work out in your favor, you're more likely to rate your own health and sense of well-being as better. Best of all, it doesn't matter where you live or what language you speak: These statistics came from a study of more than 150,000 people living in 142 countries. But optimism doesn't just make you feel healthier—it can actually make you healthier, as these next few studies show.

Optimists Are Healthier
A recent Harvard School of Public Health study found that positive psychological well-being, which includes self-acceptance and positive relations with others, is linked to improved heart health. However, having an optimistic attitude was the biggest predictor of all: People who tend to look on the bright side have fewer heart problems, such as cardiovascular disease. They also have better cholesterol readings: In a separate survey of nearly 1,000 middle aged men and women, those who reported higher levels of optimism had lower levels of triglycerides, or less fat in the blood.

Optimists are More Likely to be Centenarians
If you expect that you'll live into old age, you increase your chances of actually doing so. An analysis of the health and hope of nearly 100,000 women by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that over an eight-year-period, optimists were less likely to die from all causes than cynics.

Optimists Take Fewer Sick Days
Can hope help you stay cold- and illness-free? The results are promising. In one recent study Segerstrom and her colleagues studied the relationship between optimism and immune response in first-year law students throughout the school year. When a student was more optimistic they fought off infection more effectively than during the times when they were less hopeful.

Optimists Are Less Prone to Freakouts
By nature, optimists don't sweat the small stuff. Those were the findings in a study at Quebec's Concordia University. Not only did optimists produce less cortisol—the stress hormone--during times of stress, they also didn't experience as much perceived stress during stressful times.

Optimists Are the Best Dates
Romantic relationships benefit from a sunny disposition: Optimists and their partners tend to be happier than pessimistic pairings. This theory was put to the test at the University of Oregon, where researchers found that this increased happiness held true regardless if both or just one partner were identified as optimists.

Optimists Have Happier 9 to 5s
People who see a glass that's half full tend to rate their jobs as more satisfying than those who don't. A study from Kuwait University found that people who were the most optimistic were also happiest in their jobs and had the fewest work complaints; the opposite was true for pessimists.

Optimists Get More Job Offers and Promotions
A positive outlook is just as important as a polished resume when it comes to job-hunting. A study from Duke University followed a group of MBA graduates as they entered the workforce: Those who believed good things would happen to them had an easier time finding jobs than those who had a less hopeful outlook.The same Duke University study found that optimists in the workforce often have a reason to be happy on the job: They tend to earn higher starting salaries than pessimists and they also are promoted more frequently.

Optimists Are Better at Bouncing Back
When life delivers lemons, optimists are more likely to make lemonade. Those were the findings in a survey of college freshman in Australia: The students who were more optimistic about their transition to university life experienced less stress, anxiety, and uncertainty and had a more successful first year overall.

Optimists Make Better Athletes
Optimists don't necessarily have more muscle mass or greater athletic ability than pessimists. But what they do have is hope. In a study co-authored by Martin Seligman, PhD, director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a group of swimmers was instructed to swim their hardest then were told a false time—one that added several seconds. The optimists used this negative feedback to fuel an even faster time on their next swim; the pessimists performed more poorly than before.


Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Notes from My Divorce: 5 Coping Strategies that Worked

The art of managing negative emotions

It’s ironic but true that knowing something intellectually—in my case, what research has discovered about managing negativity and fording a crisis—is very different from applying that knowledge in one’s life and translating it into action. So, despite writing about strategies to cope, my own mettle and facility were put to the test during a very protracted and stressful divorce. So, seen from a personal point of view and as a layperson, I thought I’d share what worked and what didn’t, and why. While inspired by divorce, broadly speaking these are difficulties common to most stressful situations.

Chief among the difficulties I had were 1) rumination: I found it nearly impossible to stop the loop in my head, even in the middle of the night; 2) managing negative emotion: While I was able not to sink in the main, I still had trouble with emotional flooding and feeling overwhelmed at moments; 3) staying balanced: The hardest part was being open to feelings of happiness; 4) looking to the future: setting interim goals as well as future ones was surprisingly difficult since I was devoting so much energy to keeping myself together; 5) making sense of the experience: I found this hard to do given the tenor of the divorce, the involvement and parrying of attorneys for both sides, and the length of time it all took (18 months or so!).

What follows are the problems and the strategies that I found worked for me, with some important caveats, and offered up as information, not advice.

1. Rumination: Inviting the “White Bears” in

The term “White Bears” was coined by Daniel Wegner for those repetitive and intrusive thoughts, the unfinished business of life, that the brain unconsciously searches for and result in that endless loop of rumination that preoccupies us during times of stress, sapping our emotional and cognitive energy. In my case, the White Bears were emblematic of my inability to control the outcome or even speed it along since the other side was disinclined to negotiate. I worried about everything, especially money. I tried all the techniques usually suggested such as assigning myself a worry time (an utter failure for me, given my personality) and discussing my worries with trusted friends. The latter approach defanged the White Bears for a limited time and then, within hours, they’d be back, growling in my head. Visualizing a happier time in my life and mentally recounting it, as suggested by other research, didn’t help me either; my inner Pollyanna had gone missing.

But what did help me was Wegner’s suggestion to invite the White Bears in. In my case, since my stress was a function of the divorce, imagining the worst possible outcome and all that it implied actually helped me stop ruminating. Once out in the open—and I actually wrote it out and charted all the implication of the worst scenario—it became something I could tackle and deal with, instead of just ruminating about it. I became less fearful once I saw what the worst resolution looked like on paper. (It’s worth saying that this divorce involved no children, and no long history together, so the worst case was largely about money. This strategy might be overwhelming to do without a therapist with a more complicated or emotionally fraught situation.) Even so, sitting down with the White Bears was more of a process than a magic bullet. Forcing myself to face my fears before bed helped to keep me asleep longer but it never shut down my brain completely.

2. Managing emotion: Reflective processing

I knew from the research that reliving a bad experience or a series of them—which I was doing on the daily—was absolutely the worst thing I could do, but at the same time, since a contentious divorce with a boatload of filings forced me to be actively engaged with past and present behaviors, I had trouble turning down the emotional volume. But what did work was consciously distancing myself from an incident and seeing it as though it had happened to someone else and focusing on why I felt and reacted as I did, as suggested by the work of Ethan Kross and his colleagues. This helped me get out of the fray emotionally by focusing on why I was feeling the way I was, instead of honing in on what I was feeling which makes you relive the moment. Asking why permits “cool” processing while focusing on what yields to “hot” processing and can open the door to even more rumination. Unlike distraction—yes, going to the flicks will help put your turmoil on hold for a bit but it’ll start up again the minute the lights come back on—this kind of reflection yields both more self-knowledge and allows you to better manage your feelings.

3. Staying balanced: Savouring

Generally speaking, things that make us happy, alas, stop making us happy after a while (it’s called “hedonic adaptation” or “the hedonic treadmill”) and I found it especially true when I was feeling so under fire. But the research on savoring—making the morning last, as Simon and Garfunkel put it—suggests that we are made happier by things that aren’t commonplace. So, yes, eating chocolate now and again as a treat will make you happier than it will when it’s an everyday thing. So I concentrated on being more apt to “savor” things that would make me happy—anticipating a visit with a friend or going to an art gallery, or buying something online and then waiting a time to open it. I got into the habit of parceling out my pleasures—spending real time anticipating them—which, counterintuitively, makes you happier. Did it help me? Yes.

4. Looking to the future: Abstract thinking

In a crisis, you’re much more focused on simply getting through than thinking about where you’re going next but, at the same time, looking forward does help to tamp down feelings of bitterness or hopelessness about where you find yourself. In a divorce or during a breakup, you’re much more likely to enumerate your former partner’s flaws than you are to make a list of what you want for your future. One observation I encountered in the research by Charles Carver and Michael Scheier struck a chord: that thinking about what you want in abstract terms opens up more possibilities for action than thinking concretely. So, if you miss companionship and sharing, instead of thinking concretely about an individual who might give you that (and how you might meet him or her), you think about companionship and sharing in abstract. That makes you realize that a sense of companionship can come from many situations: having lunch with a friend or striking up a conversation with a neighbor; calling someone you haven’t seen in a while and making plans to do something together; getting involved in a charity or doing volunteer work, or any other activity that includes a shared goal. I did find that this helped during the crisis, and is still helping as I emerge into a new phase of my life.

5. Making sense of the experience: Writing (or maybe not)

The work of James Pennebaker has shown that writing about experience as a coherent narrative can be a very effective therapeutic process, and it was in that spirit that I embarked on writing a memoir to help myself make sense of my marriage and divorce, And, of course, since I write for a living, I also thought I might be able to make some money too, amending the saying to “When life hands you lemons, sell lemonade.” Interestingly, many of my friends, including one who is a therapist, worried that writing about the marriage and its failure would only intensify my rumination and negative emotions and make me feel worse.

What I didn’t know is that there’s research that shows my friends were right, and that while generally writing is an effective tool for reducing negative emotion after a stressful situation, it may not be when you’ve experienced divorce. That’s what a study by David A.Sbarra found which had recently separated or divorced participants write about their experiences either in a stream-of-consciousness style which focused on their deepest emotions or write as a first or third-person narrator, exploring the breakdown of the marriage as a turning point in their lives and what they learned from it. The control group wrote about how they spent their time without recalling any emotion. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, given the body of research that shows the benefits of writing, they found that in follow-ups, the participants who wrote in either style were emotionally worse off. Only the control group appeared to benefit from the act of writing (keep in mind that they were not writing about divorce); in fact, even those in the control group who reported themselves as high in rumination fared better. It may well be, as the researchers opine, that further studies may show that writing about something totally unrelated to divorce might work best if you are going through it or have recently.

So, if it’s a divorce you’re dealing with, writing may be a bad idea. I can’t quite tell whether it hurt or helped me emotionally but it was intellectually useful to me and gave me the sense that there was something in my life I had control over. But that may be just personal to me and how writing makes me feel.

Good luck to everyone! Managing negative emotion is admittedly tough stuff.


Monday, 6 August 2018

Adversity: An Opportunity to Choose Growth

Adversity will happen It’s guaranteed. The more important and interesting question is how will you choose to engage with it. What will you do to turn adversity into a learning opportunity?

Anyone who has ever been a caregiver to someone has faced great strain. This spring, I embarked on a journey that no one “chooses” but also one that over 44 million Americans are on currently. As a beloved, childless, widowed uncle embarked into a cancer journey, my husband and I choose to step up. As the closest (and healthiest) family member, I was the most obvious and able person to assume the role of caregiver. In the process, I learned more about adversity and what it means to engage with it than I imagine possible.

4 Things that Happen When you Navigate Undesirable and Stressful Experiences

You see the core character of those around you. Who they are, what they believe, and how they live—all these things quickly come into view. Let’s face it, stress, illness and uncertainty do not bring out the best in most people. In my experience, as a professional psychologist and as family member, stress, illness and uncertainty can strip us to our core and reveal who we are. Many speak decisively of how they want to help, but few show up. Many people disappear. Some who do show up aren’t pretty.

But the experience is not necessarily negative. For everyone who disappoints, there are others who come through. During the experience of caring for my uncle, my husband’s core character was revealed. I am profoundly grateful to see yet again who he is, what he values, and how much he loves, respects and supports me.

You reconnect to what matters. Most people I know have more than they want to do than there is time in the day. We are all forced to make chooses. Adversity and caring for a loved one presents a new opportunity to focus on what matters most, who matters most and why we exist.

You find new fortitude within. As we juggled caring for an aging and sick relative with our existing work and childcare demands, volumes of responsibilities landed on our plate. I needed to find new energy sources. Rather than reaching for a snickers, you have to dig deep. There is strength to muscle through the long days, to juggle the extra demands, and to get everything done. I found it harder to manage my own perpetual stress as I was trying to think through all the questions, anticipate different scenarios, and manage my uncle’s care.

During the longest days, I felt most connected to my father. Even though my father has been dead for almost two years, I felt his loving presence stronger than I had in months. I knew that he is profoundly proud of how I was showing up and loving his brother and his best friend.

Compassion comes from unexpected places. As my uncle’s “point person,” I was committing to keeping his inner circle of friends current on his status and his needs. Over several months, I forged friendships with people I have never met but with whom I shared a common love—a love for my uncle. Interestingly, the greatest compassion and appreciation that I received for my efforts came from this group of faceless friends.

Did I encounter adversity caring for my uncle? Absolutely. The process was exhausting, demanding and punctuated by events that one can never schedule or control in advance. Over the course of the treatments, however, I also grew and so did those closest to me.


Sunday, 5 August 2018

Overcoming Pain, Fear, and Suffering

Get the tips on releasing fear of change, so you can get past the pain and begin to heal within yourself after the divorce. It is not easy beginning your new life when you have negative emotions still attached to you.

Fear of change breeds resistance to it, which prevents movement and hinders healing and growth. Letting go is painful, but until you do, your emotional wounds cannot heal. Here’s some help.

Divorce is difficult: it is hard on our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls. We lose sleep, weight, strength, concentration, judgment, faith, and peace. It can numb our consciousness and blacken our mood. And it can reveal a darker side of us, our mates, our friends, and our lives than we might have ever imagined.

At its best, divorce is one of those things that we consider bad even when it leads to a better life. This attitude results partly from our fear of endings and loss, and partly because, for a long while, our suffering seems to outweigh any benefits we might gain.

I know that people who divorce are not failures, and that divorce is not the senseless loss it is made out to be, but I also know that just saying so will not eliminate the gnawing suspicion, especially among those who are struggling with a divorce right now. But if we can keep from being defeated by our bad feelings, we have a chance to find a healing perspective, a belief that, like other natural changes, divorce is a prelude to growth and an important opportunity for gain.

More than most experiences, divorce can open a world of discovery about our selves and our place in life that being forever married can conceal. This statement is not a therapist’s balm to reassure those who have failed: it is a fact. Separation and divorce provide a wealth of learning that is impossible when we are continuously in long-term relationships — even good ones.

The healing perspective is based on an observation that might seem simplistic and overly optimistic, yet upon deep consideration is a source of understanding and hope. This observation is that everything in life — including separation and divorce — is meant to advance our growth, and that not only do we have the potential to advance, it is our obligation to take every opportunity to do so.

I would not be surprised that anyone’s first response to this would be skepticism. It is too easy to cite the apparent destructiveness of divorce to counter this idea and to write it off as another New Ageism that hardly reflects the reality of ending a marriage.
But the divorce experiences of many people I have known, including my own, actually prove the point. What is required is the willingness to allow for the possibility that there may be something positive behind the constant high rate of marital endings, regardless of our personal fear and the doomsday attitude of our society.

Overcoming Fear

The common theme in all of our journeys is the development of faith. We are provided with built-in motivation for accomplishing this goal, which is our constant struggle with and our desire to master fear.

As a psychologist, I deal with people’s fear every day; it is one of the chief reasons they seek my help. Until my separation, though, it was not my style to address fear with faith. But with the end of my marriage, when having to face the demise of my image of the happy life and the violation of my values and standards, and having to be on my own, the fear-faith connection became something I could not ignore.

Fear is opposed to faith. It is associated with feeling isolated, abandoned, vulnerable, and helpless, where faith helps us feel enfolded, protected, and supported. The more we are guided by fear, the weaker our faith; the stronger our faith, the less we fear.

The faith I discovered when I was at my lowest emotional point has transformed the way I look at life. It has also changed how I serve people who come to me for therapy. When I found a sense of connection with something much larger than me and was able to see how what occurred in my life was meant to happen, I learned not to fear for myself, and I no longer fear for my clients, either.

Therapy has become a matter of helping clients embrace or strengthen their own sense of the spiritual nature of the journey, if and when they are ready. This assures finding meaning in the divorce experience and it also encourages them to challenge their fear regarding other personal limitations, and thereby to risk growth in unpredictable ways.

Psychologists have long wondered what allows some people to take growthful risks that others avoid. We have generally agreed that there is some sort of readiness factor involved, but no one knows for sure where it comes from. I think one of the best explanations is faith.

The more we are inclined to believe that our lives are about something, that things happen for a reason, and that we are meant to benefit from the experience of our journey, the more courageous we are when confronted with difficult situations, like separation and divorce.
Perhaps the best example of this comes from the life of the most courageous person I have known. “Rachel” was a client whose divorce meant a colossal change in her lifestyle. Of all the divorcing people I have met, she had the most to fear — but she also had the strongest faith.

Middle-aged by the time of her separation, Rachel had been a lifelong member of the socially insular Amish community; family and religion had circumscribed her life, and her chronic marital unhappiness was something she would ordinarily just have had to bear.
Once she decided that marital therapy would not significantly change her relationship with her mate, we began to meet individually and had many remarkable conversations about the path she believed she had to follow if she were to grow and not stagnate.

Without any encouragement from me, Rachel began to behave more in line with her independent nature and to follow her calling. For example, she began to appear in public without her traditional bonnet; she added a telephone to the home, which was unheard of; she looked for work outside of the home; and she spoke openly about her feelings.
At stake were the respect and support of her family and friends and the approval of her God as understood by her religion. Along with losing these, she faced having to make a life in a foreign culture, for which her eighth-grade Amish education, pre-modern life on the farm, and domestic work history were no preparation.

Eventually, Rachel decided to leave, which meant losing her family, the family farm, her friends and neighbors, her church, and her roots; in that culture, when you decide to leave, you are truly out. She was subsequently shunned, which meant there was no contact with or recognition by anyone from the Amish community, including a daughter and son she had to leave behind.

Rachel’s separation and divorce presented her with challenges beyond what most of us can imagine. She moved from a lifestyle literally unchanged from the previous century to finding a job, owning a house, and finally learning to drive.

Although apprehensive, at no time did she seriously doubt that her journey was right. Her reward has been immense. Having begun her path of separation and divorce with only faith to go on and visions of hardship awaiting her, she says that she has found more happiness, joy, and peace than she ever thought possible. What is best, she notes, is that her growth has affirmed her faith.

Most of our stories are not quite so dramatic, but in their own way, they are no less heroic. There are many instances of people taking on their divorce challenges with a trusting heart and little else to go on, and who benefit substantially as a result.

One story is that of a woman who, after more than 20 years of marriage, decided that she had to leave. “Sarah” didn’t know where she was going — or exactly why. She wasn’t happy at home, but things weren’t terrible, either. She remembers that while she was preparing to load a truck with her part of the household furnishings, the older of her two children, a college freshman, tearfully inquired if she thought that what she was doing was really necessary. My client could only answer that she believed it was.

Sarah hadn’t finished her own college education, had a job that paid little, and was leaving a materially comfortable life. She had been plagued for years with depression and agoraphobia, which she had just recently overcome, so susceptibility to be overwhelmed by pessimism and fear was still a possibility.

Still she moved on, never complaining, and continuing to profess her belief in the mysterious guidance that directed her. Sarah found a small house where she lived with her difficult adolescent son, completed college over the next two years, and improved her work circumstances and income to a more livable level. In the process, her fear diminished and her faith grew. When I later told her that I thought she had made a heroic journey, Sarah felt surprised. She said that she had not thought of it that way, but as something she knew she had to do if she were to grow.

There are other stories of people choosing the same paths of faith when it was their mates who left unexpectedly. None of the stories, however, is substantially different in terms of hardships faced. What they all have in common is that the people involved expressed the belief that the changes were guided and contributed to their growth.

Truly spiritual people always do better with change. Those newer to spiritual guidance may be fearful about separation, but they are still inclined to go with the flow. The more spiritually advanced are even eager to see what awaits them with change. And because from experience they have no question that they are being guided, those who are most intimately familiar with the spiritual nature of the journey tend to move with the most grace. To think, feel, and behave as if everything is meant to assist us in our spiritual development, and to be able to let go of our need for control, is the road to inner peace.

Easing Suffering

This infusion of a belief in meaning and purpose makes all of life more acceptable. We all have experienced apparently meaningless suffering, the kind that can cause feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, enough of which can lead to desperate acts. The suffering of separation and divorce is of this kind. Spiritual awareness will not take all suffering away, but believing that what we go through has meaning that we will understand at some time can reduce it.

With separation, for example, when from fear of failure and loss we try to hold onto what is no longer appropriate for us, faith in the journey and the inevitability of growth can overcome our grip on the status quo.

Fear of change breeds resistance to it, which prevents movement and in turn hinders healing and growth, forming a vicious cycle. Letting go is painful, but until we let go, our emotional wounds cannot heal.

Much of our suffering comes from our desire for security, order, and predictability in life, which a marriage provides. Faith provides a context for our suffering and a reason for letting go when a marriage ends and our desires are frustrated.

I worked with a client whose husband had been involved with a lover for two years, and who had been living on his own for several months. “Lisa” knew of the affair, and she knew the marriage was probably over. She liked the comfort of their lifestyle and feared being alone, and so was afraid of facing change. Because of this, she had not told even her closest kin, sensing that talking about it would add the weight of reality to the process and tip the scale in favor of separation for real.

Her husband had often traveled on his job, so Lisa allowed that to explain his absence. She was trying to forestall the inevitable even after it was actually well underway. She was afraid of letting go: of him, their lifestyle, her status, the house, and the sense of order, predictability and security they combined to provide.

When we first met, Lisa wanted nothing more than to be angry and to get back at him in some spiteful way. She really had the normal sense of entitlement we all tend to develop with a lengthy marriage. She was willing, however, to hear another approach to the matter.
With support and the understanding that she was avoiding the inevitable, she informed her family and then some others that her husband had left her. Once she had, the healing process began, and she did some excellent work. Ironically, because her husband had already removed himself from her life in a substantial way, Lisa had already begun managing daily life alone. She had not really held off change; she had tried to circumvent the fear of change through the illusion of order and control.

When she released the energy she had invested in maintaining the status quo and faced life courageously as it presented itself to her, she was able to begin to discover security that was not dependent on the marriage. Lisa began to realize that she did not need him to feel secure after all. This discovery would have remained outside her grasp if she continued to struggle against the flow of her life. She had genuine sadness, but she steadily gained confidence in herself and trust in the path that her life was following. Had she remained stuck, this treasure could not have been hers.

Another client, whose divorce hearing was near, felt the tingling feeling of fear that often comes at the end. Her husband promised anything if “Karen” would reconsider. Her lawyer hinted that a temporary stay would help her financial position in the divorce. A new relationship she had enjoyed had abruptly ended. She felt tempted, but did not think it was right to agree to a postponement unless she really wanted to reconcile. In spite of this, the fear lingered.

Karen had a dream in which she was being pursued by a dark gray energy, like a wind that she could see. The image had multiple meanings, but we surmised an immediately relevant one had to do with the fear of change she had expressed. Just as the energy was about to collide with her, she intuited what to do: she ducked, and it flew right over and past her. In other words, her guidance was to resist the impulse to run or to turn and fight. She was not to try to have control over the force, but to get out of the way.

Karen now looks for the meaning in everything, and she feels more secure than ever. This has allowed her to do significant healing of wounds suffered at the hands of a father who had sexually abused her many times over many years, and the betrayal of a mother who did not try to stop him. Had she not followed her inner guidance to exit the financial security of her marriage, it is doubtful this healing would have taken place.

A third client seemed to have the longest road to healing of all. Having married a man she knew to be an alcoholic and drug abuser, “Sandy” should not have been surprised when his addictions worsened and became so intolerable that she had to ask him to leave.
During the entire first year of this separation, he remained completely out of contact with her, and Sandy finally filed for divorce to gain closure. She did well with her feelings during this time by using the same process of denial that she employed to convince herself that his substance abuse would not hinder their relationship in the first place.

When I first saw Sandy, just after her divorce was final, she was in an extreme state. All of the feelings of loss and abandonment she had denied were pouring forth. She was hurt, bitter, and angry to the point of having thoughts of shooting him for the pain he had caused and burning down the dream house they had built and now had to sell.

I talked with Sandy about a larger framework for viewing her situation: a spiritual framework from which she could begin to gain a sense that what she was going through might have some meaning. For her, this was like hearing a foreign language.

The reason Sandy wanted to kill her ex-husband is that she felt that her life had ended with his departure. As limited as life with him had been, it had supplied the only sense of connection she had. Her belief was that there was nothing for her in life beyond that paltry love experience and its material trappings.

Sandy’s healing work began with a discussion of the limits of her perspective on life, a non-judgmental observation of the darkness of her own feelings and motives, and an invitation to open herself to some new light as a palliative for her pain.

She began to understand that her rage and feelings of entitlement to satisfaction arose from her lack of a spiritual foundation regarding what her life was really about, and that his leaving had only brought this to the surface, not caused it.

Without a spiritual foundation, there could be no hope of finding meaning in her experiences, so Sandy teetered on the verge of annihilation. Could her life have been only about trying to fashion an intimacy with a drug-addicted mate? She was stuck with believing so.

Rather than continuing to rail against this man’s limitations and wallow in her sense of loss, Sandy began to seek a healing perspective, and soon her life began to change. She could appreciate her marital ending as a necessary conveyance to growth — not as the death sentence she had unconsciously concluded it was.


Sit quietly, breathe slowly, and relax your mind. Silently read the following phrases:
My path has changed. I am entering a new phase of my journey. I am being led as part of a plan for me.

  • The purpose of this change is growth. The growth I will experience from this change will be made clear to me in time.
  • I will make the most of this growth experience. I will be a better person as a result.
  • I have nothing to be ashamed of. Other good people have been through this experience, too. I am as worthy as anyone is.
  • Everyone suffers in life. The suffering I am experiencing now will eventually pass, as other suffering in my life has passed.
  • Each path in life is special. My path is special, too. I have complete faith in it.
Now repeat the phrases, paying close attention to the calmness that comes to you as you consider each one intently.

If you are in a place to do so, read each phrase aloud, and repeat it several times.
Think of people you know and like who have also been through this experience. Write their names and something about them that you admire.

Recall other difficult passages in your life and how you have changed and grown from them. Write briefly about these, too.