One reason that divorce is so hard is because divorce has a stigma associated with it that other losses don’t have. When a spouse dies, what happens? Most likely the entire community comes out to support the widow or widower, setting up daily meals for them, dropping by with offers of help, hugs and thoughts and prayers. When a couple decides to divorce, there probably aren’t many offers of help. People may not know what to say or think that the person wants to be left alone. In some instances, the couple decide that they aren’t telling anyone possibly because they’re ashamed. This absence of support from the community is a key factor of why divorce is so difficult.
Because there is a stigma, there’s less awareness about the impact of divorce. Most people don’t truly understand what you are going through. Divorce is not just one loss, it comes with many losses. You lose your “intact family” – a mom, dad and children all together. You may lose time with your children. Any time away from your children is a loss and you feel it deeply. You also lose people – obviously your spouse/partner, your in-laws and possibly some friends. You may lose your financial security. You may also lose your place in your community or invitations to events that are only for couples. There are so many losses at once and the grief can run very deep.
Most of my clients are surprised at just how difficult divorce is. They didn’t think it would be easy but never expected it to be this hard. The strong emotions of sadness, anger, denial, shame, fear and guilt are surprising to them. They tell themselves, “You shouldn’t feel this way. You need to be able to handle this better.” A woman shared with me that she went through cancer and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as her divorce. A friend apologized when she was going through her divorce because she felt bad that she didn’t help me enough through my divorce. She said that she never dreamed it was this hard. It’s one of the most difficult things you can go through.
So how do you make it through your divorce? Get support!!! I can’t emphasize enough how important support is. Find an understanding friend, join a support group, find people who are going through divorce and can relate to you. Get a therapist, divorce coach or other professional who can listen and guide you. The good news is you will get through it and when you do, you’ll realize how strong you are. Also, you’ll be empowered with your new life and all that you have to look forward to!
Most of the time, when a couple goes through separation and divorce, many angry and resentful feelings occur and it's difficult to see any way to forgive an ex-spouse. However, there are ways to work toward forgiveness. Not only will you benefit from forgiving your ex-spouse, if you have children, they will benefit tremendously.
Forgiveness involves a change of heart and occurs at different times for different people. Circumstances can impact the ability to forgive. If there was an affair, an addiction or some other betrayal, it may take longer to forgive. But there are many reasons to forgive your ex-spouse, including the impact that not forgiving has on you.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
When you hold onto anger, you’re hurting yourself. You can become stuck in the feelings from the past and it can hold you back from moving on with your life. In addition, it doesn’t feel good to be angry much of the time. It’s not good for people physically to be angry and to hold onto anger. Finally, it can negatively impact children when one or both of their parents are angry at the other.
So how can you let go of your anger? The first step is getting it out. You can talk about it to a friend or therapist or write about it in a journal. Find a way to release some of the feelings and that will help you move on.
Forgiving yourself is part of the process of forgiveness after divorce. Being angry with your ex may be a way for you not to look at how angry you are at yourself. You may feel guilt, remorse and shame. If you develop empathy for your ex-spouse, you may then feel worthy of empathy and forgiveness also, potentially leading to self-forgiveness. This can lead to a journey of healing and the ability to move on in your life.
Although forgiveness may feel like the last thing you want to do, forgiving another and forgiving yourself may be exactly what you need. It will ultimately restore your personal power, reduce negativity and create peace in your life once again.
For most parents, telling their children about the decision to divorce is one of the most difficult things that they have to face. It is helpful for both parents to discuss ahead of time what they’re going to share with their children and how they’re going to respond to their children’s questions.
Parents should make several agreements:
If you don’t know where you’ll live, that will create some stress for children. Letting children know a plan for where you’re living, even if it’s just for the near future, will help lower children’s anxiety.
If there are issues that the children already know about such as substance abuse, sexual orientation or an affair, it’s better to acknowledge the issue rather than avoid it. If you discuss it with the children, it will enable them to ask questions and feel that they can come to you to talk about things that concern them.
Discuss what the schedule will be and anything else that will impact them. Children need to know things like will they be moving, where will each parent live, who they will live with, when will they see each parent, will they stay at the same school and what will happen on their birthday and holidays. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, telling children what’s happening in the near future will help.
It’s best for parents to tell their children about the divorce together. It helps children see that their parents are still working together. It provides a sense of safety for children through an unstable time. It also provides an opportunity for children to process the information in a safe environment as both parents are available for questions, reassurance and support. Choose a time where there's no distractions and everyone can be together.
If children don’t feel like asking questions or talking about anything, don’t push them. Allow them to have time to process the information. They probably feel a lot of conflicting emotions and may not be able to verbalize their feelings right away.
It’s ok to tell children that you’re sad about the divorce and that with time, you will all heal and adjust to the changes in the family. However, try not to show intense emotions like crying for hours or saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Even though you may be struggling emotionally, you need to deal with your emotions separately from your children. They need to know that you are strong enough to deal with the divorce so that they don’t feel obligated to take care of you. If you need help dealing with all of the emotions and overwhelm of divorce, see a therapist so that you can be there for your children.
Many clients seek counseling because they’re having difficulty with combining two families after divorce. They have children who are different ages, have different needs and personalities and they find it overwhelming and stressful. It’s not surprising considering how difficult it is raising children in intact families where there hasn’t been divorce!
Despite the difficulties, it is possible to have a happy family even if you have children from two different marriages. Some of the ways to make this situation successful are as follows:
These suggestions will help you develop a closer family when you have partners that have children from previous marriages/relationships. If these techniques don’t work, family counseling with an experienced therapist is an option. However, if you make children and your relationship a priority, respect boundaries and communicate effectively, you’ll be far along the way to having a happy blended family!
When you are going through a divorce, you may feel hurt, guilty, alone, scared – a lot of very difficult feelings. Starting a new relationship is appealing because it can help you feel less lonely and it can provide support when it may be difficult to get support from others who don’t understand what you’re going through. However, relationships take time, energy and a lot of compromise. Thinking through what is best for you and your family will help you determine when to move forward with a new relationship.
Some things to consider when starting a new relationship after divorce:
Look into your situation and assess where you and your children are emotionally. This will help you determine if you’re ready for a relationship.
There are parents who don’t consider starting a new relationship because they feel that they need to focus on their children. They feel that they can’t have a relationship at all until their children are out of the house. Although some may think that this is best for children, there can be some negative consequences to this.
A parent who focuses primarily on their children may find that they don’t have any time to develop their own life, hobbies, interests, friendships or take care of themself. This works for young children as they want and need their parent’s undivided attention. But as children get older, they start to develop their own life, friends and activities. If their mom or dad is solely focused on them, the children may feel responsible for their parent’s happiness and feel guilty that they don’t want to spend all their time with the parent.
There is a middle ground. You can have a relationship and your own life after a divorce while putting your children as a priority. One of the reasons to develop your own life outside of your children is that you are your children’s main role model. If you are happy and have a full life, it encourages your children to have that too.
There is no one right or wrong answer. Think through what you want and take your time with every decision. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist to help you think clearly. Balance your own needs with that of your children. You know what is best for your children and for yourself. Have faith in yourself that if you take the time and space you need, you will come up with what will be best for you and your family.
In today’s fast-paced, connected world, we often communicate via email and text. Remembering to update an ex on all events, conversations and decisions is important and requires organization and time. But failure to do so can lead to the breakdown of the co-parenting relationship and can negatively impact your children.
Luckily there are tools that are now available to help co-parents communicate more effectively. The app that I’d like to highlight is called “2Houses” which includes a calendar where every family member can view an online schedule. Parents can schedule recurrent activities like tennis lessons and special events such as birthday parties. The app has a finance tool that helps parents manage their children’s expenses. When a payment is needed for a doctor’s appointment, a reminder is sent to the parent in charge of that payment. A great feature is a wish list where each parent can suggest what should be bought for their children such as food or something needed for school. It even has an album feature where you can share pictures of your children with each other. Lastly, there is an info bank where you can share important contact numbers and addresses.
If something is not communicated correctly, there can be serious consequences. Apps like 2Houses make it easier for co-parents to be on the same page. By using 2Houses, the chances of miscommunication is lessened and you and your children will benefit.
Being divorced can be lonely and being divorced during the holidays can be really difficult. Your friends who have intact families may not be able to understand what it feels like to be home by yourself while the rest of the world seems to be happily celebrating the holidays. You may feel emotional pain and lonely. Even if you have friends that invite you to join their holiday celebration, you may feel so different from them that it hurts.
These are all normal feelings. Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve the loss of your intact family. At some point, you will be more used to it and it won't hurt as much. If you can connect with others who are also divorced, that can be extremely helpful during the holidays. They can understand what you're feeling and be supportive when you need them to be.
Focus on your children - think about what would make them happy. Seeing your children happy can help you feel happiness during the holidays. Try to keep traditions going or start new ones so that children have a sense of family. Doing holiday traditions with friends or family is so important for children whose parents are divorced. They feel a sense of family and closeness that helps children feel good when their family is different from what it used to be.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to get a better perspective. Providing gifts for homeless families, working at a food kitchen or visiting sick children in the hospital can really make you appreciate what you have. It's amazing the difference you feel when you help others. You can do this with or without your children. Either way, it feels really great.
Two other important techniques for feeling good throughout the holiday season is to keep active and learn how to enjoy being by yourself. Walk, go to the gym or play tennis and you will find that you feel better. Do something by yourself like read, visit a museum or meditate. Learn how to be alone and you may like it. If you can enjoy spending time with yourself, you will be able to handle the holidays and anything else that comes up. You may find that the time you spend by yourself is not lonely - it's a gift that you give yourself that truly makes you happy.
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.
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:
Experts agree that parents who are divorcing need to have an age appropriate conversation with their children telling them: 1) “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love and we will always be here for you.”, 2) ”The divorce isn’t your fault, it’s ours.” and 3) “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.” However, to give your children the best chance for a happy childhood, the positive messaging can’t stop there.
There are a number of effective strategies that are extremely important for parents to bear in mind. One strategy to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to keep children out of disagreements between the parents. Even when couples are married, children get upset when their parents fight. Imagine how much worse it is for children of divorced or separated parents. They already have experienced their family breaking apart. They need their parents to reassure them that their new family structure is stable and secure. Children need to know that their parents will work disagreements out in a calm and rational way.
Another way to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to avoid saying anything negative about the other parent in front of the children. When parents say negative things about the other parent, they “parentify” their children. They actually switch roles with the child and children become the parent. Many parents don’t even realize that they do this. They rely on their children to be their support system and share information with children that children shouldn’t be aware of. For example, a father complains to his children that he has to pay so much in alimony. Or a mother complains that the father called her a name. These things are very upsetting to children and can be damaging.
Separation and divorce can be an extremely difficult time in life and it’s very important to get support such as a therapist or a divorce coach. This will enable parents to have someone to talk to so that they won’t put their children in the middle of their conflicts with their ex-spouse. This will enable children to focus on school, friends and their own lives which is what we want them to be focused on.
Finally, if your child complains about the other parent, encourage your child to work things out with him or her. Say something supportive like, “I’m sure that mom didn’t mean to upset you. Talk to her about it.” It’s so important for children to have strong relationships with both parents, if at all possible. These strategies can make the difference and result in children who grow into adults who have happy lives and healthy relationships.
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.