Thank you to guest writer, Carla C. Hugo, divorce coach at www.getcoached.com!
When a threat comes between you and your child, what's your first response? Often, your hackles are raised and your lips recede baring your teeth, all in an attempt to defend your “cub.”
What happens when the threat to your child is the dissolution of your own marriage? Facing divorce is as frightening as any other threat to your children’s well-being. And in this state of emotion, you function from your “Reptilian Brain.” This is the part of your brain that is activated for survival. Your response to the threat of a broken home for your children may include fight, flight, fear or freezing.
It is imperative that you learn techniques to move out of your emotional brain and into your logical-thinking brain. Otherwise, you will be making life long decisions about parenting time, housing, alimony and child-support from the short-term survival decision making part of your brain. Doing so can cause long-term challenges on your life and those precious cubs you long to protect.
Get the neutral support you need from a counselor or coach. Learn to feel your emotions, and to refrain from making major life decisions while in an emotional state. A counselor that has experience with divorce or a coach who specializes in divorce are both great resources. Thinking with your logical brain will enable you to protect your “cub” and function better. If you’re functioning better, your children will function better and you will be able to make the right decisions for your family's future.
Most couples struggle with communication. You may spend a lot of time together with your partner but much of that is tied up with kids, work, or chores and responsibilities. At the end of the day, exhausted, you each watch your favorite program and go to sleep. In truth, very little meaningful communication occurred.
If that sounds familiar in your relationship, you can make some changes that will significantly improve your communication. The first step is to schedule time to communicate into your day two to three times a week. Make that time sacred so that nothing else can take priority. It doesn’t have to be that long – 30 minutes is plenty of time. Make sure there are no distractions. Then use the following guidelines to structure your communication time:
Good communication in relationships is a skill that takes practice. It may take some time to change the way you communicate, especially if you’ve been doing it differently for a long time. But using these techniques successfully will help you communication better and as a result, you will have a closer, more connected relationship.
On average, 40% of all first marriages end in divorce, and over half of those families have children under the age of 18. When you add to that the 57% of millennials choosing to have children outside of a marital union, there are lot of parents who are not living under the same roof. Under the best of circumstances, raising a child is difficult, but when you’re divorced or not living together, it brings a lot of additional challenges.
Ideally, both parents share childcare responsibilities – and the quality of their co-parenting relationship can be characterized by the extent to which they support or fail to support each other. When parents fail to cooperate, it can have consequences for all involved. For years, research has shown that the quality of interaction between separated parents is a strong predictor of the mental health and psychological well-being of children living in this type of family structure and young children especially are at higher risk for anxiety, aggressive behavior, and poor social skills. If you can’t manage to get along, it can cause lasting mental and emotional problems for your kids.
In such situations, having a support network is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. All parents going through divorce or separation need supportive people that they can talk to, so they don’t speak to their children about any ill feelings about the other parent. A therapist, a friend, a family member, a clergy member, or any supportive individual can make the difference between frustration and anger and learning how to manage your emotions.
The following rules an help to build a healthy co-parenting environment:
Divorce or separation can be devastating and can be an incredibly isolating experience. If you are going through a separation or divorce, don’t lose hope. There are a number of painful feelings that come along with separation and divorce, including depression, anxiety, a sense of loss, and a sense of guilt. All of these emotions can take a toll, but with the right people on your side, you can begin to heal. Thanks to online support groups, you can find help in a place and time convenient to you via a group of people who understand exactly how you feel. Here are 3 major reasons why you should join an online separated and divorced support group:
1. Receive Support Specific for Your Situation
Finding a support group for people who are separated and divorced is a great way to get personalized support for your specific situation. The people in your support group will understand the emotions you’re feeling and have valuable advice for coping. Plus, the people you meet through the support group can help you feel less judged and more accepted.
2. Reduce Anxiety and Depression by Sharing Your Story
An online support group for separation and divorce can help reduce anxiety and depression because you are connecting with people who have been there too. Sharing your feelings with others simply helps reduce the stress and bad emotions related to divorce and separation. It decreases isolation as you find a common bond with others on a deep level through discussing your daily struggles.
3. Learn to Move On
An online separated and divorced support group can ultimately help you move on. You’ll receive valuable feedback from your group while sharing your own experiences, and over time, you’ll acquire coping skills that help you feel empowered and motivated to move past this difficult time in your life. In addition, you’ll receive access to valuable resources that can help you learn to move on.
Joining a separated and divorced support group might seem intimidating at first, but when you think about it, it’s just a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people going through the same thing as you. Here at Princeton Counseling and Parenting Center, we’re offering an online support group for separation and divorce beginning in the next few weeks. We invite you to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We can get provoked or “triggered” by many things – a fight with a spouse, a child who won’t listen, a boss who treats you badly, an aggressive driver, etc. Being triggered simply means that some event has impacted us emotionally and we have a difficult time reacting rationally. When we’re triggered, we do things that we shouldn’t do. We yell back at our spouse or child, we say something inappropriate to our boss, or we leave in a huff. How wonderful would it be if we could somehow, in the moment that we are triggered, find a way to detach?
One skill that you may have tried in the past when you’ve been triggered is deep abdominal breathing. Deep abdominal breathing is where you push your stomach out as you breath in and pull your stomach in as you breath out. This enables your lungs to expand much farther than if you take the typical “chest breath”. When you do it correctly and for long enough, your brain will release a hormone that will calm you. This calm will enable you to detach. Once you’re detached, you can respond logically rather than emotionally.
Sometimes deep abdominal breathing doesn’t work. You try it and you’re still triggered and unable to detach. Grounding is another technique that can be helpful in these circumstances. Grounding is a type of coping strategy that is designed to “ground” you in or connect you to the present moment. You can only use grounding if you have given yourself some space from the person that you were interacting with. You can say that you have to go to the bathroom, ask them if you can talk about this a little later or find some other way to get to a separate space. Once you’ve gotten to a separate space, you can try these steps for grounding:
The key to being successful with these techniques is to practice them when you’re not being triggered. You can also make up your own method of grounding that enables you to distract and detach yourself from your emotions. Learning to detach is a powerful tool that can help you to be more successful in your communication skills and improve your relationships with your spouse, children, boss and anyone else important in your life. Let me know what techniques work for you!
“I’m not like them”
That’s the thought that many people have when they are going through a divorce. It’s particularly true if no one among your family, close friends, or neighbors have been divorced. You may know that 50% of marriages end in divorce but it still feels lonely if you don’t seem to know any of them. And it may be difficult to meet other divorced people if you feel ashamed that your marriage failed. You can become isolated and depressed which can make the transition from being married to being divorced much more difficult than it has to be. Remedies for shame and the resulting loneliness may be within reach.
First, recognize that just because your marriage failed, you aren’t a failure. And, conversely, just because someone is married doesn’t mean they are a success. In fact, I would argue that getting divorced takes a tremendous amount of strength. It is not an easy process. Many choose not to do it and remain in marriages that are basically not functioning. Does that make them successful? No, it’s a lot more complicated than that. But clearly being divorced does not equate to being a failure. In many ways, it actually shows your strength.
Recognizing your strength is important to combat feelings of shame. You can then have the confidence to reach out to others to make the connections you need when you transition through your divorce. Two connections that can be helpful is a therapist or a divorce coach. It’s important to find a therapist who specializes in working with individuals going through divorce. You can ask the therapist what their specialties are to see if they are experienced with divorce. Divorce coaches work with clients on a more practical level to develop goals and help them prioritize what is needed for the next chapter of their life. In addition to therapists and divorce coaches, connecting with others who have been through the divorce process is especially important. Supportive friends who understand how you feel make you feel less different and can help you move on in your life. But many find it challenging to find others who are divorced.
So how do you find other divorced people? There are online support groups, meetups and in-person support groups through organizations that sponsor them. Although it’s scary to reach out, keep in mind that others are most likely feeling the same way. They may be very receptive to your friendship. It takes courage to reach out when you’re feeling vulnerable. Ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?”
I recently started a closed Facebook support group for individuals who are separated and divorced. It’s called “Separation and Divorce Support Community”. I encourage you to take a look at it and see if it could be helpful to you. Here are some other ways to make connections and not be lonely:
Whatever you choose to do, remembering your strength will help you have the courage to make connections and combat loneliness. You will see that others are more like you than you thought. Give some of these ideas a try and let me know what works for you!!
In most relationships, there is conflict. The way that you deal with conflict is so important to being close. John Gottman suggests using specific word to help people repair their relationships when there is conflict. He suggests using “I feel” statements instead of “You” statements. Saying how you feel with “I feel” statements allows the other person to hear you without becoming defensive. It’s a non-threatening way of communicating.
I Feel statements:
If the communication starts to get more intense or emotional, one of you may need to take the intensity down. When emotions are high, it’s very difficult to have a reasonable conversation. Here are some suggestions for those circumstances:
I Need To Calm Down:
Apologies and taking responsibility for your part can be really powerful, especially when they’re heartfelt. They can immediately change the intensity of the interaction and start moving you in a different direction.
Finally, in every conflict there is a way to get to a resolution. Providing some positive comments can be very helpful in getting you to an agreement.
Get To Yes:
Using these statements and tools involves being kind. Kindness is the glue to healthy relationships. Kindness is like a muscle – it’s easier to be kind the more you practice. It’s difficult to practice kindness during a fight when emotions are running high. When you’re emotional, it can be hard to think of what to say to be kind. But these kind words can be powerful tools to repair feelings during a conflict so that the end result is a much closer, more intimate relationship.
When your partner pulls away, you may feel hurt. You may even feel a deep sense of rejection and fear that he or she doesn’t love you and may leave you. Typically, this is an irrational feeling if your partner has shown you over time that they love you. Your partner pulling away from you is likely the result of their past experiences and circumstances. Something happened in their past that makes them pull away when they feel upset.
Intimate relationships are hard because there are so many complex emotions that we might not fully understand. Experiences from the past are brought up and those feelings impact your reactions. If it was just about the single incident, it wouldn’t take you long to recognize that your partner loves you and when he or she pulled away, it wasn’t due to the way they feel about you. But instead you feel that irrational rejection. So why do you have that irrational feeling?
These irrational feelings are usually triggered by past experience – possibly being rejected by a parent or a past partner. A part of the brain that is triggered doesn’t know the difference between the current experience and the past experience. So you feel deeply hurt and you become scared that the person will leave you. You immediately react – either fight or pull away. This may create the same feeling in your partner and, in turn, they may pull away even further. Before you know it, you are completely disconnected from each other emotionally.
What do we do about this? The first step is try to figure out what previous experience is coming up for you. Did you have a rejecting parent? Was your parent depressed, anxious, addicted to something or unable to meet your needs when you were a child? If so, when a partner pulls away you feel like a child again. I call it being “kicked into your kid”. You are that 8 or 10-year-old child again where you didn’t get your needs met and didn’t feel unconditional love from a parent. If you have a bad experience of being hurt by a previous relationship, when a partner pulls away you may feel scared of being hurt again. This is a little easier to understand and connect on an emotional level. But this new partner didn’t leave so it’s important to separate your feelings from your past from this current relationship.
The second step is to share your feelings with your partner in a clear, non-threatening way. Use an “I message”:
I feel ________________ when you ____________ because _________. Would you please ______________?
I feel hurt when you pull away because it brings up the feelings I had when I was rejected by my mom when I was a child. Would you please let me know that you still love me?
This is scary to do for many people because you are making yourself extremely vulnerable. But you are also learning how to communicate your feelings which will bring you closer and will enable you to have a truly deep intimate connection with your significant other.
When you disagree with a spouse, co-worker or child, it’s easy to get emotional. Intense feelings can be triggered and the disagreement can turn into a messy fight. Things are said in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back. At that moment, it seems like you don’t have control over your brain. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to train your brain so this wouldn’t happen?
During these interactions, we get consumed by what's called the “reptilian” part of the brain – the survival part of our brain that scans for danger multiple times per second to find potential danger lurking. That primitive part of the brain only sees two possible solutions to problems – fight or flight. The reptilian brain feeds on fear and actually shuts off the creative problem-solving part of the brain. Your heart starts racing, you get flushed and your voice starts getting louder. The other person responds in the same way and the interaction escalates.
When your creative thinking area of the brain is shut off, you won’t be able to come to a compromise or handle the situation in the best manner. So what do you do to train your brain not to respond this way? The main technique to learn is to slow your brain down. To be able to do that you literally have to remove yourself from the heated situation by saying, “I need some time…” Give yourself the time and space to slow down. Take deep abdominal breaths, go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend. It may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Once your brain is functioning slower, you may be able to think of a solution. Or you may realize that you don’t need to come up with a solution right away – you may be able to give yourself a few days or more to find a compromise.
Training your brain this way takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do it right away. Tell yourself, “I’ve got this, I can do this.” Eventually you’ll learn this technique and you’ll find that your newly trained brain will help you tremendously in many different areas of your life.
I am excited to announce that I am now a verified Expert on Marriage.com! Here’s my profile page and my first article titled, "How To Cope With Changes In Marriage After A Baby":
Marriage.com is a wonderful resource that provides articles on a variety of topics including pre-marital issues, communication and intimacy in marriage, parenting, estate planning and financial issues, divorce and legal issues. The website also provides a forum where you can ask any marriage related question and have an expert answer it. Marriage.com is a wonderful resource for all things related to marriage. Check it out!
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.