“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!
Most people who are thinking about divorce are extremely conflicted. Some days you feel confident that divorce is the right decision but other days you question whether or not you could be making a mistake. It may be on your mind for years. There are so many things that change when you decide to divorce. It’s absolutely normal to be unsure and to question yourself about this important decision.
Even if you’ve spoken to your spouse or a lawyer about divorce, you may not be ready to make that decision. Guilt about the impact on the children, fear of financial instability and fear of being alone could be significant factors in the decision of whether or not to divorce. The decision to divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make with consequences that last for a lifetime.
It is extremely important to think through the decision rationally and to try not to let emotions get in the way. Fear, anger, resentment and loss can be so intense that you may not see things clearly. If you can work through these feelings with a friend, therapist or divorce coach, you will be better able to make an informed, rational decision that you will be able to live with for the rest of your life.
The following are factors that you should consider before divorce:
If you have thought through these questions and still feel that divorce is the right decision, then you’re probably ready to start the process. If you need help with making this decision, a therapist or divorce coach can help you think through these issues in a calm, rational and confidential way. You are the only person who can make this decision but it can make a difference if you have support throughout the process.
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.
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:
Studies have shown that some people are inherently more grateful than others. People are born with a proclivity towards many different things and being grateful is one of them. It may have to do with a person's temperament and their ability to be tolerant - some people are more tolerant of everyday hassles such as difficulty finding parking, long waits for help on the phone, etc. The people who are more tolerant of everyday hassles are also more grateful for everyday blessings such as seeing the sunset through the clouds, the right to vote, a quiet moment, etc.
The good news is that being grateful is something that can be learned. If you can incorporate more gratitude into your life, you will be happier, more fulfilled and more peaceful. How do you incorporate gratitude into your life? One way is to keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is simply a journal where you write one thing that you're grateful for every day. Writing what you're grateful for everyday helps you focus on the positive things in your life so that you can develop a grateful focus.
Becoming more grateful has tangible benefits. In 1,000 people studied, the people who kept a gratitude journal had psychological, physical and social benefits. They felt more alert and alive. In addition, they felt less bothered by aches and pains, they exercised more and they had a 10% increase in sleep duration. There was also an improvement in blood pressure! Socially, they felt more outgoing, less lonely and more compassionate. In addition, children who wrote in gratitude journals showed an increase in their GPA.
A gratitude journal is just one way to become more grateful. What other ways can you come up with to become more grateful?
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.