Divorce is one of life’s most challenging experiences but during a pandemic it’s just that much more difficult. For instance, how do you handle custody arrangements when families are supposed to be quarantined? What if you and your ex have different ideas about what is safe? One parent may think that it’s ok to see close family and friends and the other may not be seeing anyone. These situations may make it necessary for divorcing couples to communicate and agree on a temporary custody arrangement that’s different from what the original agreement specifies.
And if you’re still living with your ex, it can be even more complicated. You’re probably having a harder time keeping apart from each other. If there's conflict between you (which there usually is in divorce), how do you keep that away from the children? It sounds like a recipe for disaster.
All of this is stressful for adults, but it’s really stressful for children who don’t understand what’s going on. Following are guidelines to help parents co-parent effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic:
1.Talk to your ex about putting your anger aside for the good of the children. Recognize that this is an emergency and that you need to work together in order for your children to feel better during this stressful time.
2.Together, maybe by Skype, reassure your children that everything’s going to be ok. Ask your children if they’re worried about anything and work together as a family to help each other.
3.Provide consistent routines such as waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, doing school work at the same time every day, etc. Routines can help children have more stability.
4.Focus on the positives. You probably have more time to spend with your children. Play games, laugh, be in the moment and go outside every day you can. When you pay attention to positives, you have less time and focus on all the things you don’t have control of.
This is a difficult time. It’s ok to put the logistics of divorce on hold right now. Good communication, working as a team with your co-parent and focusing on the positives is more important now than it ever has been. Children need as much support as possible, and they need their parents on the same page. Set aside your differences, at least for the time being, and focus on handling this crisis for the good of you and your children.
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!!
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!
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.
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.
According to John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain healthy relationships, the greatest predictor of divorce is contempt. Contempt means attacking your partner’s sense of self with an insult and includes sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, rolling the eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Some examples:
These statements are destructive to the relationship and make your partner feel defeated. Avoid these responses at all times. If you’ve said things like this to your partner, you can apologize and start working on eliminating them.
People communicate contempt to their partners because of several reasons:
What do you do when there is contempt when you communicate with your partner? Build respect and appreciation in your relationship. Regularly express the following:
Five or more positive interactions can counteract one negative interaction. There are simple ways to add positive interactions into your day which has shown to decrease conflict and improve intimacy in couples. Remind yourself of your partners positive qualities. Why did you start dating him or her? What was it about your partner that you fell in love with? If you can keep these things in mind and eliminate contempt, you will be able to have a happier relationship and avoid the path of divorce.
Sometimes you may feel your relationship is going well and other times you may be worried about the strength of your relationship. It can help to take a step back and see what’s working and what’s not. Here are some areas to look at:
These five areas are important when assessing the strength of your relationship. If you’re doing most or all of these, you’re probably doing pretty well. If you need work on one or more of these areas, don’t be discouraged. These skills can be learned. You can improve the strength of your relationship yourselves or you can always try couples counseling.
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!
Marriage isn’t always easy and most, if not all, marriages go through ups and downs. The loss of a job, mourning the loss of a friend or parent or an illness can significantly impact a marriage. In some marriages, neither spouse ever considers divorce. But sometimes one or both spouses may think about divorce.
Thinking about divorce is very different from deciding you want a divorce. When you’re just thinking about divorce, you’re not ready to take that step. You may be very angry at your spouse or feel very hurt. You may realize that the stresses that you’re dealing with right now will not last forever. When you spend a night out with your spouse you may get along well and feel hopeful that things will get better. And many times things do get better.
In general, unless you’re seriously thinking about divorce, you probably shouldn’t mention it to your spouse. Threats of divorce or leaving a relationship can be damaging to a relationship. If there’s a discussion about divorce every time there is a fight, that can make the relationship emotionally unsafe. Divorce is a loaded word and shouldn’t be overused. Once you say it, you can’t take it back.
Most people who are seriously considering divorce have thought about it for a long time. But when do you talk about it with your spouse? It depends on a lot of factors. Is there abuse in the relationship? Are you concerned that your spouse may do something extreme if you have that discussion? Do you have children? Does your spouse react rationally to stressful situations? All of these things must be considered before you make the decision to talk to your spouse about getting a divorce.
One way of navigating this process is to work with a professional – a therapist who can provide a safe place where you can discuss your feelings with your spouse. Ideally you can come to the decision together whether or not to get divorced. Although that’s not always possible, if you’re working with a therapist, you’ll have guidance about how to work together respectfully. You can avoid some post-divorce anger and misunderstanding. This is especially important if there are children involved because children are significantly impacted by their parents’ relationship.
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.