Saturday, 31 March 2018

Getting Along With The In-Laws Makes Women More Likely To Divorce

Getting along with the in-laws is never easy but it could be the secret to a long and happy marriage, according to new research.

Husbands who enjoy a good relationship with their in-laws have a 20 per cent higher chance of avoiding divorce, an American study has found.

However, the opposite is true for women. Wives who get on well with their in-laws are 20 per cent more likely to split up.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, women who enjoy the company of their in-laws may become too involved with their husband's family, to the point where wives believe their in-laws are meddling.

Men do not share the same worries, which could explain the discrepancy between husbands and wives.

Dr Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor who led the study, said it's a positive aspect of a relationship if men get on well with their in-laws because "these ties connect the husband to the wife".

However, women do not view relationships with in-laws in the same way, she said.
"Because relationships are so important to women, their identity as a wife and mother is central to their being," she said.

"They interpret what their in-laws say and do as interference into their identity as a spouse and parent."

She added that wives should be wary of sharing details of their marriages so that boundaries are kept in place.

The study at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research examined 373 same-race couples over a period of 26 years, beginning in 1986.

All the couples were aged between 25 and 37 and had been married for a year or less when the study began. Dr Orbuch has followed them throughout their years of marriage.


Friday, 30 March 2018

The Divorcée Stigma That’s Alive and Well

The divorcée. What a retro term, don’t you think? It conjures a sexy little ex-missus in cocktail dress and kitten heels, presumed to be on the prowl for another woman’s husband.

While the stigma of being a divorced woman is nothing like it was in the ‘60s or ‘70s, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the stigma has disappeared. You’re viewed as a failure. You may view yourself as a failure. You’ve got wounds to heal and possibly, things to prove.
The way out of this particular bind, it would seem, is via remarriage. And if you haven’t somehow compensated for divorce by walking down the aisle a second time, you’re regarded with suspicion, pity, or at the very least — bewilderment.

The verdict is this: you’re unattractive, mean-spirited, ungenerous in bed, a helicopter parent. Then again, maybe your baggage includes the crazy ex and more drama than you’re worth.

The bottom line is — you’re no longer good enough. You’re out of the (marriage) club, and you can’t get back in.

In “Divorce Makes You a Bad Person... Again,” Laurie Essig, PhD writes:

Despite [the] trend toward a more familial and friendly divorce, divorce is increasingly seen as a sign of bad parenting and psychological failure among many Americans, especially educated and upper-middle class Americans... for educated Americans the divorce rate is steadily declining and coming with more and more social stigma attached... divorce has become a source of shame, a mark of failure, a sign that you just aren’t working hard enough, or worse, are so incredibly selfish as to not consider the children’s needs.


But in my experience, true.

Even a dozen years after the stamp on my decree, divorcée discrimination is the gift that keeps on giving. Try this on for size — a comment in conversation from a married friend, in which I mentioned the challenges of earning a living, being a solo parent, and maintaining an ongoing relationship. My words elicited the following response:

“Maybe you aren’t cut out for marriage.”

Ouch again!

That was quite the slap in the face, though I doubt she intended the remark to hurt as it did. Her comment was based on assumptions and ignorance: there must be something wrong with those of us that haven’t been “chosen” a second time, there must be something lacking in us if we couldn’t sustain our previous marriage, and marriage (in many circles) is still the measure of a woman’s success in life.

There are other ways the stigma plays out. For example, the persistent question of marital status at social gatherings. Asking if you’re single may be informational or accusatory. In the latter case, it’s hard not feel as though you’re subject to scrutiny, as if you missed the memo on the timeframe post-divorce for emotional readiness to date and explore sexually, number of lovers and months before risking a first real relationship, tips to avoid the pitfalls of the rebound relationship, and then proceeding into more serious territory.

That serious territory?

Remarriage, of course — embracing the institution that tossed you out, or that you (foolishly) walked away from. After all, once remarried, you will no longer threaten or confuse with your single woman status.

Another example occurred just this morning. I ran into an acquaintance of 15 years, and she poses the same question every time I see her. Without fail she asks: “Did you get remarried yet?” And on cue, I smile, shake my head, and firmly say no. But today she added: “I thought you were seeing a nice man. Why don’t you marry him and let him take care of you?”

There’s another assumption that plagues both sexes — the knight in shining armor who will ride in to the rescue, who will fix the female finances, solve outstanding family problems, and restore the Missus crown to boot. But isn’t the White Knight Syndrome part of the flawed fairy tale of marriage in the first place?

Personally, I’m tired of being sized up, packaged up, or sliced up and diced up — and usually, by other women. I’m tired of being considered a failure because I’m divorced, and whatever the reasons, remain unmarried. That I’m not anxious to institutionalize romance, sexuality, intimacy, or playfulness seems logical enough to me — until or unless I explicitly choose to do so.

What’s so hard to understand? Not jumping into the marriage arena doesn’t equate to not being capable of committed, responsible, and loving relationships.

I suppose I ought to look on the bright side of reactions to my long-term post-marital singleness. The fact that anyone would ask why I’m not remarried could be viewed as a compliment of sorts. But I’m never invited into circles that were once an integral part of my life, and only rarely invited into anything that involves couples. More likely, the discomfort that I sense is a matter of fear... fear of being alone, fear of being abandoned, fear of being financially at risk, fear of being cut off from a world that is familiar.

The real stigma stems from fear of contagion: “If it could happen to her it could happen to me.” That stigma is alive and well, even after all these years.


Thursday, 29 March 2018

How to find peace and happiness after a divorce - 3 Steps to rediscovering joy

Note from M2bH: No one enters a marriage expecting it to fall apart. No one wants a marriage to fail—at least not at the beginning. There are steps that can be taken to help heal wounds and resolve issues and return love to the marital relationship. We encourage you to take those steps.

But some marriages are entered into inadvisably. Sometimes people change and love withers and abusive language and behavior replaces the thoughtful attention that defined the relationship in its happier years.

What then?

There are often feelings of shame and embarrassment, regret and disappointment, loneliness and a sense of failure that follow a divorce. But unhappiness is not your destined lot in life for having severed a marital relationship. Happiness can return. It can be rebuilt and rediscovered.

For those of you who have gone through a divorce and still struggle to find your way back to joy, today’s post is a guest write-up from Jade Gallagher meant to offer a way back to happiness.


There is no need to feel like your life has reached a dead end just because your marriage is over. You need to take the positive view that you can and will find life after divorce.

If you can develop some good survival strategies to get you through the initial pain of separation, this will definitely help to set you on the path to finding happiness again.

Let’s look at how to get through your divorce in the best way possible. How do you approach this situation in a positive way? Why is it important to create a reliable support network? There are also some tips on how to re-launch a better version of your old self.

Getting divorced can be a traumatic and confrontational experience, but it is fair to say that not all divorcees hate each other after they have officially ended their marital relationship.
There are many different reasons why people get divorced. Specialists can help people sort through unique divorce issues. From fighting couples who have fallen out of love and friendship to those whose marriages have become verbally or physically violent.

Divorcing in a loving and compassionate way is not always possible. However, it is useful to attempt to find an amicable solution where possible. It will make it easier to recover from your divorce and get your life back on track as quickly as possible.

If there was a simple strategy to help you cope with the feelings of pain and loss that you can experience with divorce, we would all be doing it, but there is rarely a magic solution to such a complex relationship problem.

One of the most important aspects of going through a divorce is being able to rely on a good support network of family and friends who will help you get through this difficult period in your life.

It is often not about the quantity of friends and family you can lean on that counts, as the quality matters more. Even if you only have one really good friend who offers a strong shoulder to cry on when you need it, this can be more valuable than a whole group of friends who offer some support but don’t always know what to say to you.

You should be prepared for some old friends to go missing when you get divorced as this can, and does, happen. Focus your efforts on finding the right people to reach out to, so that you get a great support network that you can truly rely on.

We all change in subtle ways over the years and if you had been married for a long while, you are almost certainly not the same person who fell in love all those years ago.

Getting divorced means you go through quite a life-altering change from being one-half of a couple to becoming a single person again. This can cause an identity crises that is difficult to adjust to.

Work on finding a way to redefine yourself and become the person you want to be now that you are on your own and, frankly speaking, have more personal freedom to explore new options.

Psychologists suggest that exploring previously untapped hobbies and interests is a good strategy for removing any feelings of grief after divorce.

You should find that a period of self-exploration can be very liberating and exciting. Taking up new hobbies and interests is a great way to combat any feelings of isolation that you might be experiencing.

Take a positive approach to your current situation and your future prospects and there is every chance that you can find happiness again after your divorce.


Wednesday, 28 March 2018

10 Amazing Things That Happen After Divorce That No One Bothers to Tell You

At some point during the course of going through my divorce, I stumbled upon an article written by a woman who had recently completed the process -- and she described being newly divorced as "feeling like you'd just had your arm cut off." Along the way I also came across or heard other comments from divorcées talking about how lost, broken, incomplete, and shattered they felt after putting an end to their marriages. And while I totally understand how a major life change can be pretty traumatic for some women, I am most definitely not one of them.

To put it quite frankly, pulling the plug on my marriage was the absolute best life decision I've made up until this point. Ever since my divorce was finalized just over a year ago, I've felt the opposite of incomplete. For the first time in way too many years, I finally feel whole again.

And something tells me I'm not alone. Sure, there are plenty of people who feel like they've had the wind knocked out of them after walking out of the courtroom on that final day -- but there are also some of us who leave with a renewed sense of hope and optimism for whatever the future holds.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- choosing to move on from a negative situation where you honestly feel like you are drowning and gasping for air every single day in the hopes of finally living a happy, authentic life is something worth embracing and celebrating.
I only wish others had been more vocal about the positive changes that were about to happen when I resumed my single status as opposed to all the ways life was going to totally suck. On that note, here are 10 amazing things that happen after you get divorced that no one bothered to tell me about.

1. Your relationship with your child grows stronger. Sure, I've always had a wonderful relationship with my son. But since my divorce was finalized, he and I are close on a much different level. Please don't get me wrong -- I'm not discrediting the relationships married parents have with their children. I'm simply saying that having one-on-one time with my child all the time as opposed to only now and then has strengthened our bond even further. We get each other. We're silly and laugh all the time. We have adventures. We support and help each other. We're a team. And it's amazing.

2. You find out who your people are. I keep saying that I almost feel sorry for those who have not gone through a big life change because it really opens your eyes to the people who truly care for you versus those who are just along for the ride. You can quote me on this: "In tough times, the people who are there for you will surprise you, and the people who are not will shock the hell out of you." But knowing the real ones from the fake ones is more than worth the heartache of losing a friend or two. Trust me.

3. You value your relationships more. When your true people reveal themselves, it suddenly makes you appreciate their presence in your life even more. It's easy to love someone when they're at their best. But if you have people who will love you through your struggles and challenges when you're kind of a mess? You'd better hang on to them for dear life, because they are a gift. I will never forget the family and friends who had my back and still do.

4. You get introduced to sides of yourself you never knew existed. It's amazing what happens when you are living life on your own terms as opposed to trying to please someone else and/or fit into the mold of how you're expected to act in a relationship. It's like being given a free pass to be whoever the hell you want to be without any sort of judgment. Huh. Maybe if I'd simply been myself from the get-go instead of trying to perfectly play a role I didn't belong in, I never would've wound up a divorced 38-year-old single mom. (But everything happens for a reason, right?)

5. You get reacquainted with your pre-married self. Oh, yes ... the girl I used to be has suddenly reintroduced herself -- and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'm smiling, happy, fun-loving, and focused on what I want out of life -- not what someone else does. I have hopes and dreams that are mine, and that feels good. I'm finally making myself a priority again instead of waiting and hoping that someone else will. (#nevergonnahappen)

6. You realize how much you can do for yourself. Not that I was super dependent on my ex or anything, but let's be honest -- when you have someone else living in your household whom you can defer certain tasks to, it's easy to get a little bit complacent. But now that I own my own home, there's a certain amount of empowerment that comes along with it beyond simply paying the mortgage and bills. Beeping smoke detector going off in the middle of the night? No problem. I'm all stocked up on 9-volt batteries. Overflowing toilet? I can handle a plunger like a boss. Moving furniture around? Funny how much strength one can muster when there's nobody around to help. And yes, I know these things are pretty trivial, but they're still small pieces of my independence that I've been happy to reclaim. Calling it a win.

7. You live in the moment instead of having some end goal for your life. When I was in my 20s, I had this big picture of how my life was "supposed" to turn out. I was "supposed" to be married to the guy with the big corporate job and live in a big house in the suburbs with a white picket fence or some sh** like that and I was "supposed" to have a couple of kids and a dog and live happily ever after. Well? Obviously things didn't quite turn out the way I had planned -- but that's okay, because I'm not plotting and planning anymore. I'm on the "living in the moment/never say never plan," and I dig it. I'm confident that my future will turn out exactly the way it's supposed to, so I should just sit back and enjoy the ride. My only real goal is to go with my gut and do whatever feels right.

8. The bitterness fades and you recognize love in others. Okay, shameful confession time. When I was married, every time I would drive by a church and see a bride getting ready to go inside and marry the man of her dreams, I would roll down the window of my car and yell, "Don't do it, honey!" as loud as I could. Um, who does that? What a bitter, unhappy bitch I was. I was so miserable in my own marriage that I couldn't even fathom the idea that: a.) some people really are lucky enough to experience real love, and b.) some people are even luckier than that and manage to walk through life with their soul mate. Just because I got it wrong doesn't mean other couples can't get it right. Now when I see a bride on her wedding day, I congratulate her and wish her the best.

9. You breathe easier. Yes, I mean this literally. Ever since I made the decision to get a divorce, I breathe deeper and easier. Sometimes I find myself actually inhaling and breathing out a huge sigh of relief at the most random times. It's like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. There is no more holding my breath wondering if the grass is greener on the other side. (It is.)

10. You find peace in not knowing what the future holds. Honestly, at this point, I don't want to know -- because knowing where I'll be 5, 10, or even 20 years from now would spoil all the fun of finding out along the way. There are so few surprises left in life anymore, so I'll take as many as I can get. But one thing's for sure: Whatever my life's "plan" happens to be, I'm more than ready for it -- and I can't wait.


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

How To Recover From a Divorce After 60

Many women in our community have been forced to deal with a divorce after 60. These women are not alone. According to UK government statistics, divorce rates for women over 60 have increased significantly since 1991. This is despite the fact that overall divorce rates are down during the same period.

Why is Divorce After 60 So Common?
What’s driving this trend? Perhaps these couples were never really truly happy. Or, maybe they grew in different directions, were no longer meeting each other’s needs, or were waiting for their children to leave home.

Perhaps we simply have more time in our 60s, with fewer family and work commitments, to reevaluate our lives and the people in them. Or, it could be that we feel that we have less time to do all things that have been on hold in an unhappy marriage.

Regardless of the reasons, going through a divorce after 60 can be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. In a previous article, I wrote about how women go through 5 stages when recovering from a divorce.

Now I want to provide some practical advice for surviving a divorce after 60. It almost certainly won’t feel like it at the time, but, a divorce can be a gateway to a new beginning. I hope that these words help you on your journey to freedom.

Get Yourself in the Right Frame of Mind
Divorce conjures up a toxic brew of unwanted, and sometimes irrational, emotions. We suffer from fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loneliness, fear of losing friends or status in the community. We experience a sense of shock, sadness and loss. All of these emotions are understandable, but, left unchecked, they prevent us from moving forward.

If you’re going through a painful divorce, after a long marriage, keep in mind that your identity and self-worth are not defined by one man or one relationship.

Most women emerge from their divorce stronger than ever. You can’t control every aspect of the experience, but, you can choose the frame from which you view the situation.

Look for women in your circle of friends who went through a divorce over 5 years ago. Ask them about their experience. Did their worst fears come true?

Write down 3 ways that your divorce is an opportunity for you to live a better life. What has it freed you to do and what has it liberated you from? Most of all remind yourself that you are worthy of love and support. You have the power to build a wonderful life for yourself, regardless of whether you are married or not.

Don’t Waste Time with Regrets

It’s common for women going through divorce after 60 to feel a sense of grief, guilt or even shame. While much of the cultural stigma surrounding divorce has diminished, it’s natural to feel some sadness and regret. The important thing is to not let these negative emotions define you or drag you down.

Spend time with people you love and trust. Participate in activities you enjoy. Stay active socially and in your career (if you are still working) or take up volunteering. The best way to avoid negative emotions is to fill your life with positive experiences. So, don’t shut yourself away, nursing regrets and feeling sorry for yourself.

An unhappy marriage, where communication was stressful or hurtful, can make you afraid to re-engage with people. You may not trust people, especially other men, but, this is the time to get out into the world and let your light shine!

Take Care of Your Finances and Other Practical Issues
Disagreements about money are a leading cause of divorce and, unfortunately, your financial stress does not always go away when your paperwork is signed. Whatever you do, don’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to conversations about money.

When I went through my divorce, I remember the last thing I wanted to talk about was how to divide our assets. I remember thinking “I don’t want anything from him!” Fortunately, a good friend forced me to get professional support.

Don’t sell yourself short. Even if your husband was primarily responsible for earning and managing money, you still have rights. So, talk to a lawyer and take care of yourself. Think about the years you worked together to help your husband become financially successful and feel confident in asking for your share.

Getting professionals involved doesn’t mean that you are in for a “messy divorce” or that things will drag on. In many cases, the opposite is true. By having professional representation on both sides, you can separate the emotional issues that led to your separation from the practical considerations of your future.

Talk to Your Kids
Divorce can be hard for children, even when they’re adults. Ironically, your children may feel many of the same emotions that you do – sadness, shock and regret. They may also wonder how your separation will affect the family. For example, they may wonder what’s going to happen with family traditions. They may ask “where do we go for Christmas?” “How do we tell the grandkids?” or have a number of other questions.

Encourage them to share their feelings and empower them to move on. Remind them that they will continue to have a relationship with both you and your ex-spouse. Tell them that you don’t need or want them to “pick sides.” They can make their own decisions.

No matter how old they are, children really just want their mother to be happy and will usually give you their support as you move forward into a new and happier life.

Direct your children’s energy towards helping you to start the next amazing chapter of your life. Tell them about your dreams and aspirations. Share your fears, but, try to avoid blaming your ex-husband publically. With time, your family will be stronger than ever as you bring your passions to life.

Make Time for Yourself
Don’t punish yourself. It’s not your fault that things worked out the way that they did. Give yourself permission to do the activities that you enjoy. Go for long walks. Join a yoga class. Spend time with the people that you love. Remind yourself of the many things in life that you still enjoy. Reflect on the fact that love comes in many forms.

You probably won’t want to enter the dating world for some time, but, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the company of others, including men.

Beyond all else, remind yourself every day that you deserve to be happy. You are a good person, worthy of the affection of others, no matter the reasons for your separation.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Surviving a divorce is hard, but, you don’t have to do it alone. Maintaining social connections and making new friends is especially important for women who divorce after 60.
Don’t let yourself become isolated and don’t make the mistake of believing that you’re alone and no one cares. Reach out to your circle of friends. Talk with openness and vulnerability. Ask for help, and you shall receive.

A word of warning. In my experience, friends and family only have so much capacity for listening to our problems. No matter how strong your friendships, try to focus on positive experiences, rather than rehashing regrets.

If you approach the situation with optimism, energy and openness, surviving divorce can be the start of a whole new happier life.


Monday, 26 March 2018

How to Stop Obsessing & Start Living When It’s Finally Over

Recovering from a divorce or break up is never easy. Try these 12 tips to shift your mind-set from starting over to rocking on.

When a marriage finally ends and both husband and wife have signed divorce papers on the dotted line, something counter-intuitive happens.

There is feeling of soaring release, followed by a crash back down to Earth concluding in a hollow echoing sound of “Now what? I am ecstatic to be divorced — why do I feel so damn depressed?”

Starting from scratch in our 30s, 40s or 50s is not what any of us signed up for when we rented the beautiful catering hall and sent out wedding invitations. We mourned the demise of our relationship with our spouse as it was happening — during couples counseling sessions, while crying alone in bed at night when he or she moved into a separate bedroom, and through so many other difficult — if not brutal — times.

Then the divorce starts — and it takes more concentrated adrenaline, focus and brain-power than most of us have ever before used in our lives. It isn’t until that process ends that anyone can afford to stand back and look at the wreckage of the dream we thought we were walking down the aisle toward.

Next to the word “surreal” in the dictionary, there could easily be a picture of a newly divorced mind’s inner-workings.

This shock-and-awe doesn’t have to last forever. Here are 12 effective ways to shift your mind-set past the post-divorce blues.

1. Speak your truth.
In most unhealthy marriages, at some point one or both of you shut down. You stopped communicating what you really felt — about everything. Now is the time to start stretching those trust muscles. Trust yourself to know what you believe, feel what you feel, and express yourself openly with kindness.

2. Stop acting so surprised.
When your ex sends you a nasty message about your parenting, is it really a surprise?
When you realize that 25 year-old woman was just looking for a few free drinks for herself and friends, is it really surprise?

When the guy who said he will never cheat on anyone again cheats on you, is it really a surprise?

You’ve been living in the real world for awhile now. Stop feigning surprise and make decisions based on what you can most likely expect.

3. Figure out who you are — for now.
The idea that you should take time for yourself before you get involved with anyone else is a false premise (in my mostly-humble opinion).

Our personalities, interests, careers, needs, and wants stay in constant flux throughout our lifetime. Getting in touch with yourself is not a one shot deal, but rather a lifetime practice that you will need in times when you are single, and times when you are coupled. Look inward, but don’t keep your nose in there too long or you might get stuck.

4. If the idea excites you, try it!
A divorce is one of the single most frightening experiences anyone can endure, and you endured it! (If yours isn’t final, I promise that at some point it will actually be over, impossible as that may seem.) What could you possibly be afraid of now? There is a good chance that your marriage didn’t succeed because you entered it seeking to make the “right” choices, rather than the choices that spoke to the core of your soul.

So stop it. Stop looking for the safe, the secure and the correct life path and take on those challenges and opportunities that make you hum with satisfaction and pride.

5) Let it go.
There things about my former marriage that I could still complain about. I can pretty much guarantee that won’t change anything that’s happened — or improve my life in any way at all.

When I think of closure, I imagine my computer’s home screen with a zillion tabs open, making it difficult to find and access the specific tab I need most immediately. Many of these tabs are open only because I might forget them if I let them drop. When I think about it, I realize that if I never find that closed tab again, I didn’t need it in the first place. Start closing the tabs in your mind that relate to resentments from your marriage. If you really need them, you can access them later. Most likely, you’ll feel more streamlined and effective.

6) Own your mistakes. And stop owning the mistakes other’s attempt to cast off on you.
I’m sure you’ve heard that women apologize more often necessary. In working with divorcing individuals, I find the same is true of men.

Most people who have been on the receiving end of abuse or manipulation have apologized not only for their own less than ideal moments, but for those of their partner for the sake of keeping — or regaining — the peace. Owning responsibility for your errors is a crucial part of being a healthy person. Keep that up! But you don’t need to apologize for something that you did not do, say, cause, think, express, or manifest in any other way.

7) Release the idea of staying friends with those who have grown distant.
Unfortunately, this urban legend of divorce holds true: once their divorce is final, many people find themselves quickly and silently abandoned by friends they thought would stick by them until the end. I have yet to understand why, but humans are sometimes nasty animals and your time is far better spent seeking out people who get you than trying to understand those who dropped you when you needed them most.

Allow yourself to mourn the loss, which is often much more painful than the loss of the marriage itself, and accept that you have no power to change anyone else’s lack of empathy, humanity or reliability.

8) Find a virtual community.
It would be ideal if we could snap our fingers and find a local group of brand new friends with plenty of free time to hang out, bond, and play as we set out on the Yellow Brick Road of life as a divorced single. Unfortunately, real life makes it hard to find a new, solid group of local friends once your kids are past elementary school age without an extremely concerted effort.

In the more immediate present, make the most of social media and Internet-based opportunities to reconnect with old friends, meet and chat with others in the same life stage, and share discussions based around your interests. You will not only meet some amazing people you would otherwise never have encountered, you will likely think of new local connections as well.

9) Figure out what makes you laugh and do that.
For me, it is Louis CK, ridiculous YouTube videos, silly memes and — strange as it seems even to me — some of my kids’ favorite TV shows. You know what hits your personal funny bone. Watch, read or do it A LOT.

10) Cut the crap about being SO old.
If I hear one more person in their 40’s or 50’s tell me “I’m just soooo old now,” I may just flip my junk. We are not old people! Keep telling yourself that, and you will become so. Keep telling others you are, and they will believe so. I would prefer to stay young and be seen that way. Trite as it sounds, this one actually is a state of mind.

11) Date! Have sex! Get out there!
You may not ever want to get married again. You may not feel you can trust yourself, let alone anyone else, but so what? What’s the worst that could happen to you next? Another divorce? OK.

We end an unhealthy marriage so that we could lead a more healthy and satisfying life. We are social beings. Even introverts do best with at least some human contact — both physical and emotional — with others. I wish it were possible to find love and companionship without risking getting hurt, but I haven’t figured out how to make that so.

Men can hurt you. Women can hurt you. Children can hurt you. Lovers, friends, business associates, strangers — we are all walking potential land mines. Bummer, I know, but oh well. Staying alone in your shell is never going to change any of that or make it better, but finding some good friends — and maybe even a life partner — can sure make it all feel a lot more worthwhile.

12) Allow yourself your feelings. Just not 24/7/365.
A client recently told me her therapist reminds her frequently to “Stop being a Debbie Downer and be a Penny Positive instead!” I may appear cynical, but I almost tossed my non-fat latte.

Whether you were the one to file for divorce or the one who didn’t want it, no one gets through even the most amicable divorce unscathed emotionally. If you stuff down your despair all the time and for everyone, including yourself, you will leave your emotions with nowhere to go other than headed toward Complete Melt-Down Road.

Just don’t let yourself feel it all the time or you spiral down farther than you ever could have imagined it possible to go. When you find yourself over-thinking, over-napping, or over-Netflixing, accept your real need to rest your emotional energy, and give yourself reasonable parameters for how long you will let yourself veg out before you make yourself get up and do at least one productive activity.


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Optimism bias: Why the young and the old tend to look on the bright side

Optimism bias: Why the young and the old tend to look on the bright side

We all like to think of ourselves as rational creatures who smartly prepare for the worst. We watch our back, weigh the odds and pack an umbrella when the skies look threatening. But although we take such precautions, we generally expect things to turn out pretty well — often better than they actually do.

The belief that the future will probably be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias, and most of us have this tendency to overestimate the likelihood of good events happening to us and underestimate the likelihood that bad events will come crashing down.

For instance, people hugely underestimate their chances of losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer. They also envision themselves achieving more than their peers and overestimate their likely life span, sometimes by 20 years or more.

In short, we are often more optimistic than realistic.

Take marriage, for example. In the Western world, divorce rates are higher than 40 percent: Two out of five marriages end in divorce. But newlyweds estimate their own likelihood of divorce at zero. Even divorce lawyers, who should know better, hugely underestimate their own likelihood of divorce. Although the sunniest optimists are just as likely to divorce as the next person, they are also more likely to remarry. In the words of the 18th-century English author Samuel Johnson, “Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

Karl A. Pillemer, a Cornell gerontologist, used the wisdom of crowds — more than 1,000 Americans aged 65 and over — to glean material for his book “30 Lessons in Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.’’ Here are 12 of his tips.

Many of us who have children believe that our kids will be especially talented, even while thinking our neighbor’s kids aren’t all that promising. A survey conducted in 2007 on behalf of the BBC found that 93 percent of respondents were optimistic about the future of their own family, while only 17 percent were optimistic about the future of other families. 
Collectively, we can grow pessimistic — about the future of our fellow citizens, about the direction of our country, about the ability of our leaders to improve education and reduce crime — while we continue to think our own future is bright.

Why does optimism about our personal future remain incredibly resilient? It is not that we think things will magically turn out okay for us, but rather that we believe we have the unique abilities to make it so.

The rosy future
Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. To think positively about our prospects, it helps to be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Our capacity to envision a different time and place is critical for our survival. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity, and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward.

While mental time travel has clear survival advantages, conscious foresight came to humans at an enormous price — the understanding that death awaits. The knowledge that old age, sickness, decline of mental power and oblivion are somewhere around the corner can be devastating.

Ajit Varki, a biologist at the University of California at San Diego, argues that the awareness of mortality on its own would have led evolution to a dead end. The despair would have interfered with our daily function, bringing the daily activities needed for survival to a stop. The only way that conscious mental time travel could have arisen is if it emerged along with irrational optimism. The knowledge of death had to emerge in parallel with the persistent ability to picture a bright future.

The capacity to envision that future relies partially on the hippocampus, a brain structure that is crucial to memory. People with damage to the hippocampus are unable to recollect the past; they are also unable to construct detailed images of future scenarios. The rest of us constantly voyage back and forth in time; we might be thinking of a conversation we had with our spouse yesterday and then immediately jump to our dinner plans for later tonight.
But the brain doesn’t travel in time randomly. It tends to engage in specific types of thoughts: We consider how well our kids will do in life, how we will obtain that desired job, whether our team will win, and we look forward to an enjoyable night on the town. We also worry about losing loved ones, failing at our job or dying in a plane crash. But research shows that most of us spend less time mulling over negative outcomes than we do over positive ones. When we do contemplate defeat and heartache, we tend to focus on how these can be avoided.

Why do we maintain this rosy bias even when information challenging our upbeat forecasts is so readily available? We experience both positive and negative events in our lives. We know the economy is unstable, for example, but still we remain optimistic about our own future. When expectations are not met, we alter them. This should eventually lead to sober realism, not blind optimism.

Underestimating bad news
Only recently have we been able to decipher this mystery. My colleagues and I at University College London recently scanned the brains of people as they processed both positive and negative information about the future.

Among other things, we asked them to estimate how likely they were to encounter 80 different negative events in their life, including developing cancer, having Alzheimer’s disease and being robbed.

We then told them the likelihood that a person like them would suffer these misfortunes; for example, the lifetime risk of cancer is about 30 percent. Then we asked again: How likely are you to suffer from cancer? We wanted to know if people would change their beliefs according to the information we provided. It turns out they did, but mostly when the information we gave them was better than they had expected.

If someone had estimated that their risk of cancer was 50 percent and we told them, “Good news: The average likelihood is much better, only 30 percent,” the next time around they would say, “You know what? Maybe my likelihood is only 35 percent.” So they learned easily and quickly.

However, if someone started off estimating their cancer risk was 10 percent and we told them, “Bad news: The average likelihood is about 30 percent,” they would scale up only gradually. The next time, they might say that their likelihood of contracting cancer was only 11 percent. It is not that they did not learn at all. They simply decided that the figures we provided were not pertinent to them.

Where do these irrational beliefs come from? This disconnect is related to something scientists call prediction errors, which describe the difference between what you expect and what actually happens.

When we gave our research volunteers information about future likelihoods (such as contracting cancer), we scanned their brains looking for changes that might relate to the gap between their estimates and the information they received.

A few brain areas, including the left inferior frontal gyrus 1, responded to unexpected good news. For example, when someone thought his likelihood of cancer was 50 percent and we told him it was only 30 percent, this region responded fiercely.

On the other side of the brain, the right inferior frontal gyrus responded to unexpected bad news. But it did not do a very good job. In fact, the more optimistic a person was, the less this region seemed to process bad news. If your brain is failing to respond to unexpected bad news, you are constantly wearing rose-tinted glasses.

These findings are striking: When people learn, their neurons encode desirable information that can enhance optimism, but the neurons fail at incorporating unexpectedly undesirable information. When we hear a success story such as that of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, our brains take note of the possibility that we, too, may become immensely successful and rich one day. But hearing that the odds of divorce are almost one in two tends not to make us think that our own marriage may be destined to fail.

Does age matter?
Does everyone show an optimistic bias? As it turns out, they do. In an as yet unreleased study, my colleagues and I found that people of all age groups changed their beliefs more in response to good news, and they discounted bad news.

Even more surprising was the finding that kids and elderly people both showed more of a bias than college students. On one hand, the young and the old were quite good at responding to desirable information: Everyone updated their beliefs similarly when they learned they were less likely to get cancer or have their credit card stolen than they had initially believed. But when they learned their chances were worse than expected, kids, teenagers and older adults seemed to ignore this information more than college students and middle-aged individuals.

The behavioral economist Andrew Oswald has found that from about the time we are teenagers, our sense of happiness starts to decline, hitting rock bottom in our mid-40s. (Middle-age crisis, anyone?) Then our sense of happiness miraculously starts to go up again rapidly as we grow older. This finding contradicts the common assumption that people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are less happy and satisfied than people in their 30s and 40s.

How can we explain this? The first thing that comes to mind is that these changes have something to do with raising kids in our 30s and 40s. Could it be that having children in the household has a negative influence on our happiness?

Oswald ruled out this possibility. He also controlled for people being born in better times, marital status, education, employment status, income: The age pattern persisted. Even more surprising, the pattern held strong even though Oswald did not control for physical health. In other words, older individuals are happier and more satisfied than middle-aged individuals even though the health of the former is generally worse.

Oswald tested half a million people in 72 countries, in both developing and developed nations. He observed the same pattern across all parts of the globe and across sexes. Happiness diminishes as we transition from childhood to adulthood and then starts rising as we grow wrinkles and acquire gray hair.

And it’s not only we humans who slump in the middle and feel sunnier toward the end. Just recently, Oswald and colleagues demonstrated that even chimpanzees and orangutans appear to experience a similar pattern of midlife malaise.

Oswald did observe some interesting differences. For one, the age at which happiness is at its lowest is different around the world. In Britain, for example, happiness reaches rock bottom quite early — at 35.8 years of age — before it starts going up again. In Italy, by contrast, happiness hits its ultimate low much later — at 64.2 years. And while women reach the bottom of the happiness barrel at 38.6 years on average, men reach it more than a decade later — at 52.9 years.

(Oswald observed another interesting divergence in happiness trends: Americans have been growing less happy since 1900. In Europe, however, happiness has been increasing steadily since 1950, after 50 years of decline. Why the difference? We simply don’t know.)
What explains the age findings? One possible answer is that happy people live longer, while pessimistic ones die earlier, so those elderly individuals who remain for scientists to test are happier than the average 30- or 40-year-old.

Another possibility is that older individuals have experienced a larger range of adverse events, so they are less likely to view these events as frightening and consequential; thus, their psychological coping mechanisms may be better.

A third potential explanation is that the decreased ability in older adults to take bad news into account may be enhancing their optimism and thus increasing their happiness. The decline may be connected with age-related changes in frontal lobe function, which is important for incorporating new information into prior beliefs.

The sun will shine
Why would our brains be wired in a way that makes us prone to optimistic illusions? It is tempting to speculate that optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival.

Research findings that optimists live longer and are healthier, along with the fact that most humans display optimistic biases — and emerging data that optimism is linked to specific genes — all strongly support this hypothesis.

But the optimism bias also protects and inspires us: It keeps us moving forward, rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities, and not just any old reality but a better one; and we need to believe that we can achieve it. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.


Friday, 23 March 2018

Take Action, Feel Better, use the placebo if you have to

When we're in the midst of a challenging time, when we don't know which way to turn or are losing heart, it feels as though control is taken away from us. At these times, I've been experimenting with forcing myself to take action, even feeding my mind a notional placebo if needed to send the message that in taking action I am giving it permission to feel better. 

Sometimes the placebo effect is a powerful one; it aligns our minds to the process of growth, healing and improvement whcih will allow us to move forwards positively with expectations of success. 

Try it!

If you're interested in learning more, and hearing thoughts on other ways in which we can tackle adversity and rise above challenge, I'd love to share with you my new podcast: Kintsugi Life.

You can access the latest episode and all previous ones on iTunes, at:

The Ugly Truth About Blended Families

Born of grief and tinged with failure, blended families are messy, and complicated, and exhausting.

Last night, as we settled into bed with a glass of wine, my husband shared that my son Caden had recently hurt his feelings. He’d planned an outing he thought my son would like, and Caden’s response was lukewarm.

We’re not new to this experience. Married for the second time later in life, with six children between us, we are often navigating tricky stepfamily terrain. Divided loyalties and missed connections and hurt feelings are standard stuff around here.

Still, my husband was particularly discouraged.

“It feels like nobody wants this blended family we’re working so hard to build,” Gabe said. I have often felt the same way.

We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning working through the problem and identifying ways we could each better connect with the other’s children. We talked about parenting style and discipline and expectations. We talked about stepfamily dynamics and coparenting and child development. We finally fell asleep sometime after 4 a.m.

This morning I woke up knowing my husband was right. No one wants to be in this blended family.

The truth is no one wants to be in a blended family. Born of grief and tinged with failure, blended families are messy, and complicated, and exhausting.

The children didn’t choose this family.

Our household is louder and noisier than it ever would be with three children. Our blended family reduces the attention each child gets. Attention that used to be theirs alone is now divided between them, new stepsiblings and a new adult love.

A stepparent brings new expectations and unfamiliar traditions and habits. A stepparent is a living, breathing grief trigger; an adult whose very presence reminds the child that their biological parents are no longer together. How children feel about the stepparent themselves is a catch-22 of overwhelming proportions: loving them presents loyalty issues with one parent, hating them loyalty issues with the other. The child is trapped in a loyalty bind at seemingly every turn.

A blended family also includes a host of extended family. Extended family that try to include the new partner and children or include the exes or all of the above. Extended family that rushes in with love and attention or stays away for fear of scaring children off. All of it well-intentioned and born of love, and all of it can sometimes feel wrong.

Imagine a child has been given a puzzle to assemble, with a pretty picture on the box. Then, we give the child a handful of extra pieces. Make it work, we tell them. The picture on the box is different from what you have now. Figure it out, it can still be fun.

What child would choose that?

Adults are often wildly unprepared for stepfamily life.

First-family examples surround us, but first-family strategies don’t work in blended families. Studies continually show that stepfamilies who begin their life together with a romantic, first-family approach fail.

The trouble is, adults in blended families typically have only first-family experience. Their friends and extended family have first-family expectations. Movies and books and magazines overwhelmingly tell first-family stories and give first-family advice. We want the first-family fairytale.

Resources for blended families are scarce and the stakes are high.

Adults in stepfamilies are instantly parenting unfamiliar, uncomfortable children ― uncomfortable children related to a person they love deeply. The children have divided loyalties, and the stepparent’s role is nuanced and complex. Intimacy between people takes a long time, and is built over repeated interactions, and develops at its own pace. It can be incredibly frustrating even in healthy relationships between two adults. It can feel impossible between an adult and an unrelated child.

Adults in blended families are given a puzzle too. Their puzzle is missing pieces and has extra pieces from a different set and if you try to assemble it to fit the pretty picture on the cover you are likely to fail. The challenge is to make a new picture with what you’ve been given, smoothing out the bumps and forced pieces as you go. What adult would choose that?

Marrying with children is “a feat of brazen, unadulterated hope.”
Hope. Hope is what kept Gabe and I talking until 4 a.m. Hope that we can keep working together and build a family that is a safe space for our children and for each other. Hope that our love and partnership will be an example for them as they grow. Hope that the children we love wildly will one day be able to freely accept that love, feeling it deep in their bones. Hope that this difficult journey we’re on together will eventually be just the start of our story. Hope that our puzzle, as messy and complicated as it seems now with the frame barely constructed, will one day be a picture we all appreciate.


Thursday, 22 March 2018

10 Reasons to stay positive after a divorce

Make lemonade out of lemons

Life during and after a divorce can be crippling, but there are many reasons to stay positive. Psychologist Michael Jolkovski posed the question to me: Why should there be any trouble holding one's head up after a divorce? 'Shame is a big part of why divorce is always more painful and disruptive than anyone anticipates,' Jolkovski points out. 'At some level, a divorce feels like a giant failure in one of the biggest projects in life.' It takes a lot of emotional work to get through these feelings and to feel better again. But, we believe in you. You can do it. Read 10 reasons why you should stay positive after a divorce -- they may help you along the way...

10. What is Marriage, Anyway?
"I would encourage your readers to reflect on how they built up their understanding of what a marriage is. This begins very early in childhood, in play with dolls and drawings and make-believe with friends, which often center on some notion of family," Jolkovski explains. "These notions are running quietly in the background in adults as unconscious assumptions, which can have a brutal collision with adult reality. This reality includes facts of life such as that people come to marriage with wildly differing understandings of what it is all about; that we cannot make anyone love us, no matter how wonderful we try to be, and that none of us has that much control over the way life plays out." Instead of focusing on the failed marriage, Jolkovski suggests to realize your resilience and flexibility.

9. You Did Something for You
Peggie Arvidson has been divorced twice, and she admits it's not easy. "I guess the best reason for holding your head up, though, is knowing that you did something for you. Not in the selfish, 'It's all about me' way or in the way of making him a bad guy and you look like the victim, but rather I could hold my head up knowing that I had done a lot of inner work to make a decision that was harder than most people think and I was going to honor me," she explains. Arvidson also points out that in the process, you'll come to trust yourself more, realize that you're strong enough to take a stand, and understand that you learned something along the way.

8. Your License to Reinvent
Faith McKinney, who's been divorced twice and has been remarried now for seven years, thinks the new start is a positive change. "The great thing about divorce is that it is a license to reinvent yourself without your ex-husband's input or criticism," she explains. "I learned to trust myself and that it's OK to enjoy myself." McKinney began to make mistakes without fear of reprisal or retaliation. "Even though it is very difficult emotionally, financially and socially, I survived. Twice."
7. Anything is Possible
For Emma, blogger of, the divorce gave her a sense of invincibility. "You'll have good days and atrociously bad days, but on the good days, you'll see that anything is possible," she explains. "People are, for the most part, gracious. You will have fun again as soon as you give yourself permission to let go."

6. Here's to Good Family and Friends
Don't forget about the people on your team! "Your friends and family will be there to help you pick up the pieces -- let them," Emma advises. The love will have your head up in no time. You just have to stop and smell the roses (and by "smell the roses," we mean recognize the people that love you).

5. Looking Good
For those getting divorced, a transformation is inevitable -- that's something to look forward to, according to Andrea Gross, lifestyle coach who's writing a book called, When You're Ready. She's happily divorced and has never been happier. "There were days and even weeks and months that I could barely function. Now, only one year later, I look and feel better than I did 10 years ago." People ask Gross what her secrets are, and that is the reason she started her practice. The secret? "I have found inner happiness and strength -- I am my authentic, sexy, confident self again."

4. Letting Go
It's grand -- it really is. "If you gave it your best shot, and you know it's over, don't waste time in resentment and anger -- it's self-destructive. Let go," says Tina Tessina, a.k.a. "Dr. Romance" and a licensed psychotherapist. "Do your grieving, cry, write in your journal and talk about it alone or with a trusted friend." You can even have a fun "letting go" ceremony with close friends, and say goodbye to your married life, she suggests.

3. Relief
For Ron Thomson, who has been divorced twice with no animosity, fighting or children, believes one reason to keep your head up is because of relief. Although both of his ex-wives were the ones who initiated the breakup and wanted the divorce, Thomson did keep his head up. "Whatever problems we were experiencing are now over," he recalls. "It hits you later that your family is gone and you are alone." At either case, you get to start over again, Thomson points out. "To me the women lost out on a good man. That's a good reason to hold your head up," he adds.

2. When You Put Your Kids First
Sometimes taking the higher road is another way to keep your head up. Don't be negative -- think of the transition for the kids. "You can keep your head up if you manage to put your own needs aside for the kids. I don't mean stay married, but, during divorce and beyond, put the kids first," says Lauren Whitman, author of Austin's Best Idea Ever. "When my (now) husband and I were first together, he missed his daughter terribly. I encouraged him to stay in touch with his daughter daily and to tell her that he loved her often. I think he felt supported in keeping that connection strong since I took that position."

1. Look to the Future
Alicia Rinaldi, a family attorney who has also had to mediate in a multitude of family law matters, reminds us not to forget about what's to come. "I'm not a trained therapist or social worker, but I try to encourage my clients to see past the present so that together we can get them to a better place in the future," she says. "While the stress of experiencing a divorce or strife in your family life is certainly great, keeping an eye towards the future helps put things in perspective so that setbacks don't derail the case."

The transition of divorce can be extremely rewarding -- being in a toxic relationship can stifle a person's dreams and expressions, but separation from it can also be a stepping stone to teach you what you need out of a partner, and what you want out of life.


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Keeping Cool During Divorce

Every divorce has different circumstances, but the emotional toll of the process is something that will be felt by everyone. This can lead to tempers flaring, angry outbursts, feeling lost, depression or any number of strong feelings that may cloud your ability to keep a level head throughout the long and arduous litigation. It is very important that you don’t let raw emotion lead you into doing something rash that may hurt your side in court, and here are a few things to remember about keeping your composure at the toughest of times.

Keep a Positive Outlook
A divorce is one the most stressful situations in a person’s life, and it can be very difficult to remain positive. Marriages require the mutual agreement of two people, but it only takes one to decide they want a divorce. This can be particularly hard if you were not the one to make this choice, and with all of the destructive stereotypes associated with divorce, it is easy to become bogged down in all of that negativity.

Maintaining an optimistic perspective may sound cliche, but it is key to getting through the process. It is important to remember that everyone has their faults and it is not singularly you or your spouse alone that caused the end of the marriage. Consider the divorce as a life lesson, not a synonym for failure, and know that it is possible to move forward with dignity and still find happiness.

Many feel like getting the divorce finalized as soon as possible, regardless of any long-term sacrifices they make in doing so, is the only way to move forward with their life. Samuel Sorensen, a divorce attorney from the Salt Lake City office, said this attitude can force people to lose sight of the future.

“I try to give the client a perspective on how they will think in five years or when they are remarried, and what they wish they would have done in their divorce,” Sorensen said. “I see many clients come in 5-15 years after their divorce and they are still paying alimony and did not get to see their kids as much as they wanted to. I try to relate those stories to my current clients. It helps them see beyond the current situation.”

Focusing on the new and exciting aspects of getting a fresh start to life instead of dwelling on the past is one of the hardest, but most important steps in seeing things through a positive light.

The Scapegoat
During the divorce proceedings, it will often feel easier to roll over and agree with whatever terms the opposing party is putting forward instead of getting in a bitter argument over details that aren’t in your favor. This attitude can lead to blindly signing unfair terms, purely to avoid confrontation. Jamie Kinkaid, a Cordell and Cordell Attorney based in Omaha, said he keeps a “blame me” policy open with his clients for everything that might lead to conflict.
“Many clients find it easier to simply agree and not ‘rock the boat,’” Kinkaid said. “For instance, if it came to alimony and the wife earns 10 times as much as the husband, but the husband really does not want to argue with the wife, he can ‘blame me’ in asking for alimony. He can ‘blame me’ for discovery. He can ‘blame me’ for doing my due diligence.”

Most attorneys will have no problem being the “bad guy,” particularly in the tougher aspects of the divorce, such as settlement negotiations. They are there to be an advocate for you and get the best arrangement possible, but they cannot do their job if you simply sign agreements to avoid hostility.

Meeting regularly with a professional therapist can be a very beneficial way to help regain confidence and find a positive direction, despite the common societal view held by men that opening up about your emotions is an embarrassing sign of weakness. However, that doesn’t stop some from unloading everything they are feeling during meetings with their lawyer. Sorensen said this is not inherently a bad thing, but it can be expensive and there are situations where he would suggest seeking professional help.

“Many times, I will just let them talk, because they just want someone to listen. I don’t mind being the sounding board for my clients and listening; although, it can get quite costly for them depending on how long they talk,” Sorensen said. “However, in some situations, when the client either continues to talk about the same issues over and over or I get concerned about some of the things they are saying [such as] violence against themselves or another, distorted views of reality, etc., I will strongly recommend that they utilize a counselor or therapist.”

While seeking a professional can be very beneficial for dealing with the stress and emotional toll of divorce, take into consideration that it can help or hurt your divorce proceedings depending on where you live. Therapists’ records are discoverable in some states, meaning they could be detrimental or embarrassing depending on what was discussed if they are brought up in court. Attorneys can also recommend seeking a professional counselor in situations where their client has been accused of emotional or psychological abuse to show the court they are working on the problem. Either way, it is probably best to ask your attorney’s advice before seeking out a therapist to ensure it doesn’t hurt your case.

Keeping cool during the divorce and maintaining an optimistic outlook is very important for getting through, and beyond, the proceedings. It may feel crushingly oppressive at times, but the world will continue to turn, there is still plenty to enjoy and much greater happiness to find. Keeping control of your emotions instead of giving in to reckless action will help you avoid unnecessary problems and have a better perspective after everything is over.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Optimism in the Wake of a Divorce

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been over a decade since my twenty- three year marriage ended. I hadn’t really thought much about it for quite some time, but the recent survey that states marriages are in decline reminded me of those last few stressful years before I waved the white flag and called it quits. I didn’t like the message I was sending to my children in the decision I made. I felt like I was telling them that commitment meant very little to me and nothing is forever. And I didn’t want my experience to keep them from falling in love in the future. Yet, getting out of a bad marriage overrode those concerns.

I was young when I married, but no less sincere in my intentions. Both his and my parents stayed married till death did they part so I believed it would be the same for us. Over time, though, it became apparent that was not to be. Where was that young man — that very young man—who traveled close to 400 miles every weekend to see me? Where was that young woman—that very young woman — who once had no idea how she’d ever get by without him? It’s difficult to say exactly when, but the hope I had for racking up one anniversary after the next till we were silver-haired, wrinkled and hunched over was lost in the reality of what time can do to young, hopeful love. But I’m apparently not alone, since divorce is becoming more common than those ‘til-death-do-us-part vows. There are many reasons for this development; we are living longer and most women do not need to be supported by a man or feel obligated to create a family.

Yet, there are those who are still grasping onto the same ambition I once had and willing to take that optimistic stroll down the aisle. Apparently, the high divorce rates haven’t frightened them from wanting to make the marital commitment. For instance, in spite of Prince William’s parents’ bitter break-up played out ubiquitously in the media, he has plans to marry. And, as it happens, my daughter recently became engaged and I couldn’t be happier for her and her fiancé. I’m also grateful that even after witnessing the drama her father and I went through when we divorced, my daughter still believes in the institution. I suppose that is what love can do and instead of considering marriage to be a burden, no matter the challenges or issues, it is an expression of optimism.

For me, though, I think I’ll remain single.


Monday, 19 March 2018

Coping with a Difficult Ex: Divorce, Child Custody & Co-Parenting

10 strategies for reducing frustration and conflict – and increasing respectful communication and peace – between divorced co-parents.

On rare occasions, spouses choose to part in a gentle and respectful way: After looking across the breakfast table, after affirming their care for one another, they agree that they have "grown apart," quickly settle their affairs and move on to raise their children as friends from two separate homes. A wonderful scenario for children who are losing the nest as they have known it.

For a very real percentage of divorcing parents, however, the process of parting and the years that follow involve the cascade of frustrating, infuriating, and hurtful exchanges. Two people who once vowed to spend the rest of their lives together may suddenly view one another as enemies, or at least as deficient or irresponsible parents. The groundwork is laid for years of angry, difficult encounters – anger that he doesn't send the soccer shoes back after the weekend. Sadness that she fails to show for visits with children who miss her. 
Anxiety that he won't buckle the children safely as he drives off with the kids and his new girlfriend. Fear that she will lose control of her volatile temper and say hurtful things to the children. Frustration when he again arrives late to get the children in an apparent effort to stall their mom from making it to work on time. Resentment over her refusal to help pay for school clothes.

The list of frustrations and fears goes on and on, and many divorced moms and dads can offer their own twists on the common theme of an ex-partner who behaves in ways that are infuriating, disrespectful, irresponsible, or downright nasty.

After almost 20 years of working with divorcing families, I now have deeper compassion for how frustrations with a difficult ex-partner can derail a parent's life. However, as a psychologist, I have had the privilege of having skillful and resourceful divorcing parents teach me over the years about a path to personal peace that is available for distressed moms and dads. Here is what they have taught me.

1. Give What You Long to Receive
"What goes around, comes around," or, in more biblical terms, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." All of the major wisdom traditions teach us to focus on giving respect before expecting it from others. Behaving with your ex-partner in the way that you long for your ex to behave toward you is the first step toward not only creating a more civil relationship with your child's other parent, but also toward reclaiming your own personal power. Begin by looking in the mirror and asking the following question: "Am I consistently and regularly acting toward my ex in the way that I long for my ex to act toward me?" The dictate to "Do unto others" is not easily achieved and requires discipline and compassion. It is always sad to watch a divorced parent railing about the vindictiveness or insensitivity of their ex, when they themselves regularly behave in uncivil ways – the cycle of family pain is going to continue, often with little ones in between. Most importantly, remember that you and your ex are always modeling for your children behavior for their futures. You and your ex are always, in a sense, standing before a blackboard, holding pieces of chalk and writing life lessons on the board. Remind yourself that it is your children who are sitting in the classroom scribbling in their life notebooks. If they witness hurtful behavior between their parents, they will hurt others. If they witness civility and peace, they will be a resource of peace in an already angry world.

2. Trade Eyeballs
Longfellow, the renowned nineteenth century poet, once said the following: "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find sorrow and suffering enough to dispel all hostility." Rosy words? Maybe. Timeless truth – definitely. All of the injuries that the divorce process creates can cause parents to demonize their ex-partners, to deny their humanity and their vulnerability, or to forget that there was a time when spending the rest of their life with this person was the most important thing in the world. This means that in the middle of angry or frustrating exchanges, it is easy and understandable for a parent to forget that the person they are now viewing as foolish or rigid is actually another human being with needs and concerns of their own. On one level, choosing to view the world, or a particular problem, through your ex's eyes is a path to compassion that can dampen some of your own suffering: Remember when Toto, in the Wizard of Oz, peeks behind the curtain to reveal a frightened, insecure person behind the false image of the fuming, frightening wizard? 
Peeking behind that same curtain with your ex can help you to remember his or her humanity and to feel less distress. However, if the idea of seeking to understand your ex's position or struggle feels distasteful, remember that it is the choice to view a problem through the other person's eyes that is often the most practical and skillful step employed by the world's greatest negotiators. Trading eyeballs is a critical step toward negotiating successful solutions with your child's other parent. You can't come up with "win-win" proposals about such matters as visitation times, support questions, etc. without thoroughly understanding the needs and desires that are behind your ex's demands, even if these demands appear foolish.

3. Become Clear Which Problems Aren't Yours
In the complex relationships between ex-partners that often ensue after a separation, it is all too easy to become confused about which problems are actually yours to solve – it's all too easy to become confused about which balls you need to pick up and dribble and which need to be passed to your ex, to your children, or to someone else all together. Your ex may call you to complain about your child's behavior, implying that somehow you need to do something about it. Or he may call and simply state that he won't be taking the children for his appointed week because he is going on a vacation. Or your child may come to you complaining that her mom is refusing to pay for her prom dress – as she had promised. You may be accustomed to instinctively protect, defend, or speak for your children, or you may be accustomed to taking care of a dependent, complaining ex-spouse. All of these scenarios involve the same dilemma: A divorced parent is presented with a problem by someone else ("Mommy won't buy my dress," "I can't take the kids – I'll be away"), a problem that is not actually their responsibility to solve. You can help yourself gain clarity about which problems to become tangled in and which problems to detach from by learning to recognize "unnecessary burdens": problems presented by others that are actually the responsibility of others to solve. If it is your ex who is expressing the concern or making the complaint, if it is your ex who is feeling the most emotion about the dilemma, and if it is your ex whose life would most improve if the problem were solved, you are likely being confronted with an unnecessary burden. This simply means that you can choose to gently pass the ball back to your ex, indicating that you trust he will be able to solve the dilemma on his own (after all, it was not your choice to schedule an adult vacation during your custodial week – it was your ex's choice). You may still choose to help with an unnecessary burden (you might find it to be a joyful opportunity to have your children with you for an extra week), but by spotting the unnecessary burden, you have at least alerted yourself to the option of passing the problem back to your ex.

4. Use the Five Cs of Good Communication with Your Difficult Ex
Despite any fantasies that you may have to the contrary, having children means that your ex will never be excised from your life and that the two of you will have to talk to one another – again, and again. Details will have to be worked out. Problems will have to be negotiated. Report cards will have to be passed back and forth. The five Cs of good communication with ex-partners can go a long way to smoothing troubled waters between the two of you.

Before a hot topic conversation with your ex become Centered. Know what you want to say, and rehearse it. Consider multiple solutions to the problem in advance. Create a "won't-do list" of the plans that will be entirely unacceptable to you. Keep your expectations low for the conversation: don't anticipate respect, and then you can be surprised if it comes your way. Becoming centered means becoming self-aware and focused before ever laying eyes on your ex.

During the conversation, be Civil. Offer your proposals or your complaints without attacking language, without references to past history, and without character slams. Behave as you would with a frustrating, yet vital business partner.

Seek Compassion. This doesn't mean pretending that you agree with your ex. It simply means seeking to understand their dilemma, while expressing yours, and letting your ex know that you have an understanding of her perspective. It means listening attentively to what your ex is saying and making it clear that you have heard her. Surprising your ex with understanding ("Suzanne, this sounds difficult I know you want more time with the kids on weekends") can go a long way to disarming an angry ex.

Remaining Calm during a hot topic conversation is critical to responding logically, creatively, and without creating a volcanic event. As you feel your emotions rise, stop yourself from responding defensively and concentrate on bringing yourself into more of a state of calm. Quietly practice deep breathing, count to ten before you speak, imagine your ex-partner's angry words striking a protective shield you have visualized in front of you and imagine his words falling harmless to the ground – whatever works for you. Simply choosing a strategy that effectively helps you to lower your own emotional arousal will prevent you from saying things that you later regret. The simple choice to propose a time out (or to say you have to go to the bathroom!) can help rational minds prevail.

Creative responses are often needed in the dance between two angry ex-partners. These include finding one or two things to agree with in what your ex is proposing and stating this out loud. Poke fun at yourself. Find things to express appreciation about while you stick to your position ("Jack, I wanted you to know that I really appreciate the way you do Suzie's braids before you bring her back to my house. She really loves it! Now, about the Christmas holiday...").

If your conversation about the hot topic somehow fails or falls apart, remember that one failed conversation does not mean that all is lost. It sometimes takes divorced parents months, or even years, to develop a way of resolving problems. Consider finding a neutral professional to whom both of you can go for co-parenting counseling or mediation (e.g., a psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed counselor, or mediator). Consider writing business-like letters or e-mails. If talking directly is too difficult, consider using a "kids log" to write important notes about how the children are doing at each home. Most importantly, remember that working again and again to create civil exchanges is one of the best gifts you can give to children who are caught in the middle of an angry divorce.

5. Honor Your Difficult Ex's Role as Co-Parent
Children are born into this world the product of two imperfect human beings. I often say the following to parents, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: "Your children have a right to both of your imperfections." Nice words, yet tough to live by if your ex is behaving in foolish, upsetting ways. However, you may need to remind yourself that, through your children's eyes, that foolish, disrespectful parent is someone that they love. Remind yourself that there are many different parenting styles that create healthy, happy children. Remind yourself that you cannot entirely protect your children from discomfort or unhappiness in their relationship with their other parent. Most importantly, remind yourself that your children are now traveling a somewhat private, sacred path with their other parent that needs to run its own course. Communicate to your little ones that you expect them to respect their other parent and that you are happy when they have a chance to be with that parent (even if you have to fake this last part!).

6. Create Peace Between Your Ears
"If he would only act like less of a jerk, my life would be better." "If she would stop being such a bitch, the kids and I would be better off." Notice the catch: Life will only get better if the other person changes. However, full maturity and even inner peace can only occur once we have embraced the reality that it is our interpretation of events, and not the events themselves, that causes our distress. George's ex greets him at her door by saying, "You're late again – when will you grow up?" He grows fangs and sees red. Sam's ex greets him at the door with the same angry words, and he stays calm, offers an excuse, and apologizes. The events are the same but what happens "between the ears" of these two fathers must be quite different.

Finding peace with a difficult ex often involves doing basic mental hygiene on yourself by softening what is happening between your own ears: Accept your feelings about your ex as a step toward self-compassion while remembering that you are not your feelings and moods and that you always can choose how to respond to your emotions. Avoid extremist thinking: begin to redefine frustrations with your ex as problems to be solved, rather than as catastrophes. Remind yourself that there is more to your ex than his difficult behavior (something other than his foolishness must have urged you to marry him at one point). 
Count the blessings in your life because there is more to your life than your ex's pain-in-the-neck behavior. Ask if you are somehow contributing to the problem between you and your ex and work on your contribution. Finally (get ready – this is a tough one), consider forgiveness. Remember that your ex is going to blow it on occasion, just as you will. And even if you have been hurt in a "big way" by your ex, forgiveness is often one of the only routes to finally and completely letting go of old suffering and ushering in personal peace.

7. Don't Be a Wet Noodle
Peaceful does not equal passive. Yes, it is true that your own sense of personal peace will be increased commensurate with the degree to which you yourself embody a peaceful attitude with your ex. However, acting with respect and civility does not mean becoming docile or passive, nor does it mean surrendering your own needs and desires. The choice to be peace-oriented does not mean that you cannot set limits on intrusive behavior, demand that your boundaries be respected, refuse to tolerate verbal (and certainly physical) abuse, nor does it take away your responsibility to be sure that your children are not being abused or neglected. Embody self-respect and self-protection for your children. Make sure they're safe, and involve the authorities if you have reason to believe they're not safe with your ex.

8. Keep Your Ears Small
Because we love our children, because protecting them is as basic to being a parent as breathing is to being alive, we often become intensely emotional, interested, and wrapped up in our child's tearful or angry complaints about the other parent. In short, our ears get very big. As our little girl complains that Daddy was mean, or as our son complains that Mommy was somehow unfair, our own spousal resentments can quickly get confused with our desire to protect our children and cause us to overreact. Our children quickly see our ears grow large as we seem intensely interested in their complaint, and we fail to exercise the kind of cautious pause used by most good parents as their child runs in the door complaining that they were kicked by someone on the soccer field: we don't quickly run out to angrily confront the child or their parent – we pause, gather more information, and figure out the best response.

Unfortunately, we respond viscerally to our child's complaints about our ex-spouse. We forget that there is a child in the middle who is adding his interpretation to life events and that it is possible we are not getting the full story. When parents respond with emotion and drama, children quickly learn that their complaints are highly valued information and become little cub reporters about their other parent, with the cycle of hostility continuing as the parent with big ears races to the phone to bark at their adversary. Learning to keep our ears small, to respond with emotional detachment, quiet interest, and empathy can go a long way toward dampening hostility in a divorced family.

9. Control the Tribe
When we divorce, we often return to our "tribe of origin," and the tribal members beat their war sticks around us, preparing to attack on our behalf. Loving grandparents, your brothers and sisters, or your new partner can unknowingly contribute to your long-term suffering by further poisoning the waters between you and your ex or by letting the children hear their derogatory comments. They mean well. They are trying to help. But they can often make things worse, both for you and your children. Insist that in your home and theirs, the other parent is always to be spoken of with honor, or not spoken about at all. Make it clear that it does not help reduce your stress when your parents, your siblings, or your partner decide to angrily confront your ex. Tell them that they can help reduce your distress in life by communicating in civil, cooperative ways with your ex, when such communication is necessary, if for no other reason than to create a sense of peace for your children as they move back and forth between the homes.

10. Focus on What You Can Control
It makes perfect sense to wish that your ex would control his or her temper better with the children. It makes perfect sense to wish that your ex didn't feed the children donuts and Happy Meals during his week with the kids. It makes perfect sense to wish that your ex would put the children to bed at a decent hour. Perfectly sensible – yet you have failed over and over and over again to get your ex to listen to your complaints. Your ex isn't budging and thinks your concerns are foolish. In the end, many parents have to face the difficult reality that despite their best efforts, their ex-partner is refusing to change. They have hit the proverbial "brick wall" and sit fretting and frustrated on the couch as the children leave for their other parent's home with nothing having improved.

Unfortunately, for such parents, every bit of additional mental energy that is put into trying to change their ex-partner is a bit of mental energy that they have wasted and that they no longer have available to use for themselves. Make the empowerment shift: begin by accepting your ex for who he or she is. Recognize that each of you has chosen a certain path in life, that you have made reasonable efforts to change your ex, and that it is now time to move on and focus where you really have power: on the way you are parenting your kids. Every time you find yourself mentally focusing on an aspect of your ex that won't budge, quickly refocus on your own parenting and the gifts that you bring to your children. What do you choose to feed your children? How do you choose to handle your temper when you are angry at them? What bedtime do you choose? Continually insisting that an intransigent ex change in the way that you desire is like standing in front of a custard pie and yelling at it to "be apple!" Ultimately, it is a custard pie. If you love apples, go and bake an apple pie with the children that you love.