When I was going through my divorce, I didn’t know what to say to my kids. I was doing my best to protect them so I didn’t share much with them about the divorce. I assumed they would open up to me if they needed to talk. Knowing what I do now, I would do things differently. Following are some key points to help kids open up during divorce.
1. Start things off with honest communication.
How you are going to communicate with your children during divorce starts when you tell them about the divorce. It’s important to tell them together - with both parents if possible - without blaming either parent. You don’t have to give too many details, but answer their questions as they come up.
Kids are focused primarily on themselves and mostly care about how the divorce will impact them. They’re typically not thinking about their parents’ feelings too much.
You can give them information like:
It’s so important to be available to your kids when they want to talk. You can intentionally create situations where they’re relaxed such as when you’re driving in the car or before they go to bed. Here are some ways to encourage them to open up with you:
Kids live in the present moment - they’re much better at doing that than adults. When they don’t like what’s happening, they may say hurtful things to their parents. Try not to get caught up in the things they say during a stressful moment. They may seem extremely upset one day, but that doesn’t mean it’s how they’re going to feel the next day or next week. Do your best to let little things go and not to take it personally. As a parent, it’s devastating to know they’re hurting, but kids are very resilient. Their moods will not last forever.
However, there are times that you should consider reaching out for help. There are some clues to show if your child is simply upset and processing their feelings or if they are having deeper struggles. Here are some examples:
These behavior changes are signals that your child isn’t coping well with the divorce and may need extra help from a counselor or professional.
The great news is that the most stressful parts of your divorce will not last forever, and that there are clear ways to keep the lines of communication open with you and your children. Many times, parents can have even deeper relationships with their kids after divorce when the strain of the marriage isn’t a part of the parent/child relationship. In the meantime, these strategies can give you a positive direction for how to get your kids to open up.
Divorce is a painful experience that can leave you feeling lost. No matter how many years you’ve been married, your identity has been impacted by being a married person. When you lose this identity, it can send you reeling. Acknowledging all the big and little losses is an important part of healing. Take some time to journal about this loss of identity and talk about it with supportive friends and family, a divorce coach or a therapist.
The next step towards healing from this loss of identity is clarifying who you are and where you’re going. When you got married, you may have lost your identity as a single person, but didn’t realize it because it happened slowly. When you’re going through divorce, you get the chance to find yourself again and learn how to be happy in an authentic way.
Finding yourself is simply knowing yourself, what matters to you, and what makes you happy.
One painful part of divorce is that it shakes up our lives and we aren’t sure what will be left when the dust settles. But you get to choose who and what you want to keep and what to release and leave behind in your old life. You get to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence by knowing that you’re strong enough (you are!) to come through this even more healthy and whole than you were before.
One of the positives of divorce is the opportunity to find who you are and develop a future that aligns with that.
Start with remembering what you enjoyed before you were married. Write down answers to the following questions:
Take some time to think about these questions. Get to know who you are, what your priorities are and how you can move forward committed to living in a way that is fulfilling to you. This journey of finding out who you are can be exciting. Do you want to take up a new sport or other hobby? Do you want to volunteer and help others? Do you want to change careers? You have the opportunity to learn and grow from your divorce and the power to live in a more authentic way. Grab this chance and just do it!!
When you have children and get divorced, the final agreement must include a parenting plan to clarify what will happen after the divorce regarding the care of the children. A parenting plan outlines the parenting schedule - when each parent will see the children and the logistics of how that will happen. It also covers other relevant issues like how decisions should be made about medical situations, the children’s education and religious affiliation.
Everything that’s put into the agreement is part of a legal document, the Marital Settlement Agreement or the Separation Agreement, that’s filed with the court. Parents must follow that agreement and can be brought back to court if they don’t.
A child-centered parenting plan is one where you put your children and their wellbeing first. There are many things that get in the way of putting children first like work schedules and significant others. However, when you center the plan around the needs of the children and what’s best for them, it will help create a structure for them to grow into emotionally healthy adults.
Here are some key tips to keep your parenting plan child-centered:
When going through divorce, many people feel shame and/or guilt because divorce is at some point public and people feel like others are judging them that they’ve failed in their marriage. But shame and guilt are very different and while guilt can be appropriate and understandable, shame never is. There is a major difference between the feelings of shame and the feelings of guilt and there are ways to manage both.
Guilt is a feeling about something either that you’ve done or you *feel* like you’ve done. Brene Brown, a shame researcher, explains that guilt is about behavior where you say to yourself, “I did something bad.” However, Brown explains shame is much deeper and is the feeling like there is something wrong with me. Shame is a focus on one’s self rather than behavior where the person believes, “I am bad.”
Because shame and guilt are quite different at their root, it’s important to determine which one you are struggling with in order to understand what to do about them.
Coping with Guilt in divorce
To manage your guilt in divorce, explore your feelings. What are you feeling guilty about? Talk about your feelings to friends, family, a professional or journal about them. Decide if these feelings of guilt are rational and appropriate or they are irrational and false.
Rational: I took my stress out on my kids and spoke harshly to them.
False: If I had done XYZ, my husband wouldn’t have left me.
If you determine your guilt is rational and related to something real that you DID, then:
But, if your guilt is about something that you had no control over, but you just wish that you could have fixed it by some preventative action, that’s irrational guilt. You aren’t responsible for the actions of your ex, and you’re not responsible for every struggle your children are having because you’re getting a divorce. In these instances, work on your self-talk. Ex: “I am in control of my own responses, not the responses of others.”
Coping with Shame in Divorce
Shame is painful. Shame is the voice in our head that says that we are a failure, not a good person or similar negative messages directed straight at our identity.
To decrease shame, we have to figure out exactly what those messages are. What is that inner voice saying? Shame may come from negative spoken or unspoken expectations and reactions from childhood. What negative messages do you say to yourself? What you think about yourself and how do you talk to yourself and view yourself?
Determine where are these negative messages coming from? Was it from a parent, sibling, or some other significant adult in our life? Was it from religion's or a school's explicit or implicit messages? Or was it something else?
Identify negative thoughts that get stuck on repeat. Call out those thoughts and replace them with new, positive thoughts. Write all your strengths down. Replace the cycle of negative thoughts with positive affirmations and write them down where you can see them. Surround yourself with supportive people or a therapist who can help you work through these negative core beliefs.
It takes work but you can manage your guilt and shame. Like Robert Frost wrote: The only way out is through.
This past year has been tough and a lot of people have lost hope for a better future. But that can change by recognizing that we’re somewhat in control of our thoughts. Did you know that we have about 6,000 thoughts per day? And about 80% of them are negative! That means that we have a huge amount of negative self-talk. We spend a lot of time telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough or not as good as someone else. When we do this often, it becomes a habit. We can start feeling bad about ourselves and lose hope.
The great news is that we can change these negative habits and train our minds to interpret our experiences in a more positive way. Sure, life can be HARD, but our patterns of thinking and the way we perceive the world can make it much harder than necessary.
In the words of Greek Philosopher Epictetus, “We are disturbed not by things, but by what we think about things.” Therefore, if we can change the way we think, we can change the way we feel!
Have you ever expected, even visualized disaster? Have you noticed or heard about a problem and started asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you? That way of thinking is called “catastrophizing” where we catastrophize a problem and make it worse by escalating our negative thoughts.
With catastrophizing, we worry that the worst possible outcome will happen. We exaggerate the problem. When you realize you might be catastrophizing, stop and ask yourself the question, “What story am I telling myself?” It might take a moment, but get specific. For example, maybe you are telling yourself that you are ruining your kids and that you are a terrible parent and that none of you are ever going to be happy again. Whatever it is, when you force yourself outside the thoughts and examine them, it becomes apparent how dramatic your story has become.
After identifying the story you’re telling yourself, ask yourself, “What other story could be true?” This is where you use your logical brain and reference facts. An example of this would be, “Patty went through a divorce and it was so hard, but her children are all doing well and she moved on with her life and is thriving. That can happen for me, too.”
When you identify the negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones, you’ll feel better. If you think you are a good person who deserves to be happy, you’ll create a happy life. You’ll see possibilities for the future and have hope. While using these techniques takes mindfulness and work, it’s worth it as it can give you a tool to start the new year off in a great place.
Setbacks, such as deep sadness or difficult days, are a normal part of getting through divorce. You may be feeling good for a while and then something triggers a strong painful feeling (like a text from your ex). Setbacks can be frustrating and can make you feel helpless. You can feel disoriented and scared about the future. You may feel exhausted, unable to sleep and anxious. You may question if you will ever feel good again.
Although it’s difficult, setbacks are an indication that you’re actually moving forward through your divorce recovery. Some setbacks are small and fleeting while others may be more intense where you don’t see an end to the pain. It’s important to address each setback as it occurs. If you avoid addressing each setback as it comes up, you can remain stuck in the pain or bitterness and it will take longer to move on. Throughout the process of tackling each setback you’ll take another step forward in your healing process.
Here are 6 tools to help you tackle any obstacle that you face:
1.Recognize that you’ve entered a setback and it doesn’t mean that you’re back to square one
2.Instead of distracting yourself so you don’t think about your emotions, really focus on what you’re feeling by journaling or talking to a friend, support group or therapist
3.Start charting your sadness levels twice a day so that you track the setback
4.Make a list of what makes you feel good. Use this list to form your weekly divorce recovery plan.
5.Change your self-talk – stop yourself when you have negative thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts.
6.Regain control – focus on what you can control and not on what you can’t. You can’t control your ex. You can't control the length of the process. Focus on your plan for your new life, your comeback and what you want in your future.
If you focus on what you can control, it will help you move through your divorce with more confidence. Use the tools above and you will have an easier time facing your setbacks. These strategies will enable you to feel good again and to cherish your new life!
Join our Thriving Through Divorce Online Group Coaching Program here: go.divorcecoachjill.com/thrivingprogram
The experience of divorce often involves intense feelings of anger. Whether it’s due to an ex’s behavior in the past or the adversarial divorce process, it’s tempting to hold onto that anger. However, letting the anger and pain dictate how you function each day will not help the healing process or get you where you want to go. It’s like trying to ride a bike with flat tires, you’re not going to get anywhere!
As good as it feels to point fingers at your ex’s mistakes, focusing on that will only create more animosity and won’t move you forward in your life. Yes, you probably have many reasons to be angry and frustrated at your ex but save those conversations for a therapist or a trusted friend. Don’t talk about it to your children, your attorney or your ex. Talking to your children will negatively impact them – they love their other parent and feel badly when anything negative is said about a parent. Talking to your attorney can cost you a significant amount of money. And talking to your ex about his or her mistakes will just escalate things and slow your progress in the divorce.
So how do you handle all the anger and emotions? You need to have a place where you can process what happened. A therapist, a trusted friend or a divorce support group are all great options. I run a Facebook support group – Separation and Divorce Support Community – which is one good option. Once you’ve started to process all the feelings that you’re going through, it helps to put your intention on learning from the past instead of reacting to it. What have you learned from your relationship with your ex? What can you do differently because of this learning? Take the time to come up with a plan for yourself and what you want in your future.
This may seem unfair because you weren’t treated fairly or you aren’t getting a fair deal. But what’s more important in life – fairness or peace? Fairness or happiness? If you could be happy and peaceful, what is that worth to you?
With every door that closes, another one opens. Embrace this new opportunity as a new stage of your life with happiness, peace and hope. Your personal transformation is an exciting time with endless possibilities. Let go of the anger and go for what you want. You deserve it!!
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!
It’s hard to let go of anger: anger at our parents, anger at a former friend, anger at a betrayal, anger at an ex-spouse, anger at ourselves. It’s understandable. Someone has done us wrong and we’re angry. We don’t have to forgive them. We can hold onto the anger for the rest of our lives if we want to. It’s our right to do that. But forgiveness can be healing and enable you to move on.
Holding on to anger can consume you. You start thinking about it all the time. Special occasions can be ruined simply because the person you are angry with is there. Relationships can be damaged as you project what happened to you in the past onto your current situation.
In order to get to forgiveness, you must work through your anger. A beneficial way address anger is to express it. Although anger is a normal emotion, it must be expressed in a constructive manner. Problems develop when the root of the anger isn’t recognized and the feelings aren’t expressed.
One of my clients was angry at her father for leaving her and her mother when she was a child. She carried that anger into her marriage and became angry at her spouse after their child was born. She felt that he was acting like her father even though he wasn’t anything like her father. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her husband left her.
With some guidance, my client learned how to express her anger at her father and went through all of the feelings she had about him which included sadness, anger, regret and grief. After expressing all of her emotions, she was actually able to forgive him. After forgiving him, she was able to move on in her life and develop a deep, intimate connection with a man.
It’s like a jar with the top on. If you keep the top on the jar, the anger stays inside. But if you open the jar and let the anger out, it goes away. Once you release the anger you can start the path to forgiveness. Remember forgiving the person is for you, not for the other person. You’ll feel a sense of relief when you aren’t burdened by the anger anymore. Through this process, you’ll be amazed at your ability to heal your past wounds, let go of your anger and move on in your life.
Effective methods of releasing anger:
Positive affirmations have been shown to reduce stress. The following six mantras can be a powerful tool to reduce stress. Take deep breaths as you say the following:
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.