How Children Are Affected by Divorce

By Kristin M. Davin, Psy.D.

Divorce is a game changer in a child’s life. That we know. It creates significant physical, emotional, financial, and psychological changes. Feelings of loss and separation abound. Sadness and pain of the breakup of their family unit, the anger they feel that often gets expressed either internally (stomaches, headaches) or externally (through behavior problems, acting out) are very common.

Children struggle to adjust to living without one parent every day, as they shuffle between two homes, splitting and sharing their time. They are often caught in the middle of potential conflict between their parents, enduring at times economic hardship, broken bonds with a parent, loss of emotional security and stability, and multiple emotional stressors. They do this while hanging on tight as they ride the emotional roller coaster of the inherent ups and downs and uncertainties of their life. Of their parent’s divorce. It’s a new life they never asked for but for one they have no choice to endure.

Long term, children of divorce are more aggressive towards their teachers and parents. They are more often referred for psychological help due to heightened anxiety and depression, struggle to get along with their peers, and more likely to divorce themselves (Wallerstein, 2000).

Yet, although divorce affects a child’s world in impactful ways, there are many things that parents can do – individually and collectively – to help them navigate this major change in their life in positive and healthy ways.

Preschool Children

This is a very sensitive developmental stage for preschool children. They have developed a strong attachment to each parent, but young and vulnerable to possible breaks in attachment and a fear of abandonment because family means everything to them. It is common for many children to fantacize that their parents will get back together again. They are aware of what is happening.

And although they understand many things, they do not fully understand or grasp the meaning of divorce and often react with confusion. This may be demonstrated through thinking if one parent left, maybe the other one will leave, too. Or, thinking they are to blame for their parents break up (thinking I did something wrong or if they behaved better, then their parents would still be together). They will search for an explanation for what they know best – their own thoughts and experiences.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• An increase in separation anxiety with more clingy behavior, and/or an increase in anxiety about losing a parent.
• May become more fearful in general.
• Resistance to being apart from one or both of their parents.
• Group negative emotions together (sadness and anger may feel the same).
• Emergence of attention seeking behavior.
• Regression or loss of developmental skills previously mastered.
• Asking the same questions repeatedly because they are struggling to make sense and understand what is happening (for example, where will I sleep? Will I go to the same school? Will I have the same friends? Where will all my toys go?).

What parents can do:

• Offer stability and a predictable routine. The use of a calendar is a positive way to help your young child, so they can anticipate visits with the non-resident parent helping them to feel more control and consistency over their environment.
• Reassure them that things will be OK (even if in the moment it doesn’t feel that way).
• Spend quality 1:1 time by reading, playing and cuddling together.
• Maintain consistent communication with the non-resident parent.
• Provide a safe space for your child to express their thoughts and feelings.
• Maintain your own self-care by having a healthy lifestyle and having a support system to share your thoughts and feelings.

School age children

During this stage of development, elementary-aged children have begun the process of figuring out who they are and their own identity with a focus on building their self-esteem. Despite the divorce, their relationship with the other parent is critical in how their view themselves and maintaining that relationship. They also have a greater understanding about their parent’s divorce. However, this can increase their feelings of sadness and loss because they are better able to grasp the depth and the full implications of their parent’s divorce. Many may also have second hand knowledge through their friends at school who are experiencing something similar. They are more prone to getting their feelings hurt by negative words expressed by their peers as they deeply value their family unit as it’s an extension of their own identity and divorce makes them feel betrayed by their parents. Yet, they continue to hope their parents will reconcile.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• Worry more about the emotional well-being of their parents and internalize their sadness and anxiety especially when they are with one parent and the other one is alone.
• Feel personally rejected by the divorce.
• Worry about money, living arrangements and how well (or not) their parents are getting along.
• Feel shame around their parent’s divorce.
• An increase in anger, often overt, towards their parents especially if they feel that one parent is to blame for the divorce.
• Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork while being preoccupied with their family and the separation/divorce process.

What parents can do:

• Ensure your child has someone to speak to about how they feel (therapist, school counselor, family member or friend).
• Inform the school of the current situation so the teachers can watch for signs of acting out or a decrease in their grades.
• Keep them informed (to a large degree) what is going on and talk to them about any impending changes with schedules. This will help them feel they are being kept in the loop and that in some ways, the family is still intact.
• Speak to them how the family is changing and what their new family will look like. This could be creating new family traditions or habits after the divorce.


Developmentally, adolescents are more independent, relying more on friends for support and guidance than younger children, they are still dependent on their parents emotionally, physically, and financially. Yet, they are just as affected by their parent’s divorce as younger children but are affected in different ways.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• They may act out more aggressively and in defiant ways that create greater distance with a stronger determination to live life on ‘his or her life in their own way’, with greater self-interest. They may disregard discipline and start taking care of themselves more.
• May try and get back at their parents, as this is a way of expressing their anger, fear, and disappointment at their parents. They may also not want to follow their advice due to a break in trust.
• Act ‘cool’ and say the divorce doesn’t affect them (as a way to hide their true feelings of sadness and loss) because they are often confused and angry by what their parents did, what they saw, and how they were told they should behave.
• Start to question their future that once felt more secure, asking, should I go to college, leave home, get married, and worry if one parent is sad and depressed.
• Experience greater insecurity as they navigate their own way to adulthood because divorce has taught them to be skeptical of trust and loyalty and may struggle to maintain their own close relationships
• Act out in dangerous and destructive ways such as delinquency, drug or alcohol abuse, or sexual promiscuity.
• Worry about money or be concerned they will not be able to do the things they have been doing.
Find faults in their parents and pick sides during the divorce.
• Attempt to fill the role they perceive to be filled by one of their parents. Unfortunately, some parents allow this to happen and place the older child in the role of the parent (‘the man of the house’) well before they are developmentally, emotionally, and psychologically ready (often referred to as being parentified).

What parents shouldn’t do:

• Do not speak negatively about your ex-spouse in front of them keeping in mind that they will always be the mother or father of your child. Doing this only creates greater confusion, stress, and anxiety for them. Find other resources (family and friends) to manage your negative feelings.
• Do not use your child as the messenger by giving them information to communicate with your ex-spouse (money issues, custody, visitation, personal anger).
• Do not use them as a weapon in the divorce battle by putting them in the middle or asking them to take sides.

What parents can do:
• Continue to maintain and nurture your relationship with them.
• Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
• Encourage support by including extended family and other positive people in their life to help them so they feel less alone and have someone to talk to outside of their parents).
• Maintain routines as much as you are able to. This will help provide consistency and help them feel safe.
• Create a few new habits to help them transition. This will give them a sense of control and ownership and will also help to create resiliency.
• Listen to them. Give them the time they need to talk and process their feelings. Don’t judge and feel they should be further along they are.
• Don’t have lofty expectations just because they ‘appear’ to be doing fine or you think they can handle more information (as they often cannot but will not tell you that because they don’t want to burden you more.
• Create healthy conversations that include them and talk with them, not at them.

At the end of the day, one of the most important things that you can do as a parent is to simply talk with and listen to your child. They need to know that you are emotionally and physically available for them as this will provide them with a safe place to share their feelings, which will better equip you to understand what exactly is bothering them.

Finally, as a parent, it’s imperative that you work through your own negative emotions with friends and family and not use your child or children as a sounding board as this will only prolong their adjustment and increase their distress. Being able to speak positively about your ex as this is your child’s parent speaks volumes and will have a positive long lasting effect on their overall health and well-being both now and in the future.

Kristin M. Davin, Psy.D.
Strategic Professional Coach and Therapist
Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting

This blog was originally posted on on

6 Steps to Set Yourself Free from People Pleasing

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

While it’s admirable to be a caring person, learning to accept and respect myself has helped me to set healthy boundaries and to say “no” without feeling guilty. For instance, I used to take on too much responsibility at work because I thought that others would “like” me and I’d feel better about myself. As it turns out, it was a quick way to burn out and I ended up feeling resentful and depleted.

The term “People Pleaser” is often used to describe people who go out of their way to make sure someone else is happy to the detriment of their own happiness. They seek approval from others due to unresolved issues with their parents or a need to be accepted. Becoming a people pleaser is a way in which many individuals neglect to set boundaries and convey to others that they’re not good enough.

If you’re not sure if this description fits you, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

-Do you have a hard time saying “no” when you are asked to do something for others?

-Do you worry a lot about disappointing others or worry they’ll leave you?

-Do you bend over backwards for other people, often at your own expense?

-Do you do some things because of a feeling of obligation, and then feel resentful afterwards?

-Are you afraid that if you don’t take care of others, they’ll think you’re not “nice?”

-Do you avoid speaking up for yourself or voicing your opinion because you’re afraid of conflict?

-Do you let your other people “take advantage” of you?”

If you find yourself recognizing yourself in a lot of these, then you probably can benefit from being more assertive. After all, although pleasing others at your own expense might gain you some recognition, it won’t be good for your self-esteem in the long run.

Letting Go of Being a Victim

Studies show that while some men may experience “People Pleasing” it appears more often in women. Over time, a lack of setting boundaries in relationships can damage a person’s sense of self-worth. The good news is that this damage is reversible with self-awareness and support from others.

Before you can begin to  build healthy relationships you must have healthy self-esteem – which means evaluating yourself in positive ways and believing in yourself. Honestly take stock of your patterns of relating to others. One of the first things to ask yourself is: how do I treat ymyself? No one is going to treat you with respect if you beat yourself up. Get rid of all those self-defeating thoughts in your head – such as calling yourself “stupid” that won’t help you get back on your feet.

The first step to addressing people pleasing behavior is to examine your attitudes and beliefs. Often people get stuck in the role of “People Pleasing” because they lack self-awareness.  The following 6 steps will allow you to gain control of your life.

  • Embrace the idea that you can’t be liked by everyone. There will always be those who don’t agree or approve of your words or actions. Accept that you can’t control what others think of you. All you can really control is yourself.
  • Ask yourself: do I give too much in relationships? Do you ignore your own needs due to seeking other’s approval? Therapy, reading, and keeping a journal can aid you in this process.
  • Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about your self-worth. You don’t need to prove anything to another person about your self-worth. You are just as deserving of attention and caring as other people are.
  • Put an end to playing the role of a victim. Make new decisions to change your life – such as taking time to do the things that you enjoy rather than deferring to the needs of others.
  • Practice compassion and self-approval by learning to set personal boundaries and saying “no”to unreasonable requests from others.  You will feel better when you give yourself time to replenish yourself rather than focusing too much on others.
  • Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you are selfish. As you begin to care less about seeking the approval of others, you’ll find you have more energy – people pleasing can drain us of time and make us feel tired. Strive to achieve balance between your physical, mental, and emotional heath.

Take a moment to ask yourself: Am I able to freeing express my thoughts, wishes, and desires without worrying about my partner or friends reaction? If the answer is no, it may be time to consider working on freeing yourself from being a people pleaser. By learning to be more assertive, you will no longer feel like a victim. Making yourself a priority isn’t the same as being selfish. You are worth the effort and deserve a freer, happier life.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship. Her new book “The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around” will be published by Sounds True in the spring of 2020.

How Couples Can Repair from an Argument and Make Love Last

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

During counseling sessions couples often ask me some version of this important question: How can we get back on track after a disagreement and build a strong relationship that lasts a lifetime?

Typically, I explain that conflict is an inevitable part of an intimate relationship and that one of the main ingredients of a healthy, long-lasting partnership is making a commitment to repair hurt feelings and bounce back from arguments fairly quickly.

In over 40 years of research in his classic “Love Lab” studies, Dr. John Gottman discovered that the number one solution to marital problems is to get good at repair skills. He explains that repair attempts allow a couple to get back on track after a dispute and are an important way to avoid resentment.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman describes repair attempts as the secret weapon that emotionally intelligent couples employ that allows their marriage to flourish rather than flounder. A repair attempt is any statement or action – verbal, physical, or otherwise – intended to diffuse negativity and keep a conflict from escalating.

Couples who discuss concerns in a timely and respectful way and adopt a “we’re in this together” mindset have a better chance of creating a happy long-lasting partnership. They are resilient and don’t let anger destroy the loving feelings and affection that brought them together in the first place.

7 Steps to getting good at repair skills:

1. Do not blame, criticize, or show contempt for your partner. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking him or her. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about spending money on new clothes. We agreed to be open with each other and money is tight right now.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?” Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).

2. Start a conversation with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness. Dr. John Gottman reminds us that criticism is extremely damaging to a marriage and that talking about specific issues with a soft approach will reap better results.

3. Avoid character assassinations. Don’t attack your partner’s character, values, or core beliefs. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so stop and reflect on your own emotions. Listen to our partner’s side of the story instead of focusing on your counterargument. Validate their perspective first – then share your viewpoint. When you feel like attacking your partner, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish?

4. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you will regret later. Being vulnerable with your partner can make you feel exposed but it is an important ingredient in a trusting, intimate relationship. You may have created a psychological armor since childhood due to being hurt or judged but this might not serve you well as an adult. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.

5. Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down or criticizing him or her.

6. Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner. Author David Akiva, encourages couples to develop a Hurt-Free Zone Policy which is a period when criticism is not allowed between partners. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and as a result, feelings of hurt and rejection dissolve within 3 to 4 weeks.

7. Practice having a recovery conversation after an argument. Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D. believes that your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safety and good will if you want to develop good repair skills. A recovery conversation can reveal information about your relationship, lead to a resolution of the fight, and restore intimacy. It’s best to wait until both partners have calmed down before starting it and to be careful not to rekindle the fight. If you stay focused on the present this will prevent rehashing an argument.

Be sure to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Avoid building a case against your partner. Instead, express positive feelings and gestures of love often and become skilled at demonstrating acceptance and gratitude in your words and actions.

Can a Marriage Thrive with Unresolved Conflict?

Dr. Gottman advises us that couples can live with unsolvable differences about ongoing issues in their relationship as long as they aren’t deal breakers. His research informs us that 69% of problems in a marriage don’t get resolved but can be managed successfully.

Author Marcia Naomi Berger, explains that many couples buy into the myth that if a marriage is healthy all issues get resolved. She writes: “Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it is the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.”

Once you have gotten better at recovering after a dispute, it becomes easier to restore loving feelings with your partner. If you find yourself struggling, tell him or her what is on your mind. For instance, say something like “I feel flooded right now. Can you hold me or tell me you love me? I feel like attacking you but I don’t want to do that.”

Most of the time, you’ll restore intimacy during times of conflict or stress by being honest and vulnerable with your partner. Adopting these skills takes time and patience but will help you recapture the love, trust, and intimacy you once experienced.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.

Parents: How To Talk To Your Children After Your Divorce

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges a parent faces after divorce is staying in good communication with your children. Obviously all parents struggle with communication issues as their children grow, but children who have had their lives dramatically altered by separation or divorce need even more attention – and diligent observation by their parents.

Children tend not to tell you when they are angry, resentful, confused, hurt or depressed. Instead they reflect their problems through their behavior – acting out or perhaps turning inward in ways that you have not experienced prior to the divorce.

Here are some tips about ways to encourage positive and productive communication between you and your children. Many of these are obvious or innate behaviors. Some can easily be forgotten amid the challenges you are juggling in your own life on a daily basis.

Take time to see the world through your children’s eyes and you will be better able to meet their needs, understand their confusion or aggression and find appropriate ways to dissolve tension through your conversation and caring behaviors.

   Be available and attentive when your child comes to you to talk or ask questions. That means turning off the TV, putting down the newspaper, not answering the phone and giving them eye-contact and a welcoming smile. Sometimes attempting to talk to you is the result of considerable thought and risk on their part. Encourage these conversations when they happen.

   It is helpful to sit, kneel or in other ways get down closer to your child’s level when you talk. Towering over them is a form of intimidation that does not translate into safety or trust.

   Keep your conversations private unless they want to include others. Let them know they are safe in confiding to you and that you are interested and care about matters that concern them.

   Don’t dismiss a subject lightly if it is one bothering your child. Laughing, joking or teasing will create alienation that ultimately will discourage your child to share what is bothering them with you. This is a dangerous road to travel, especially as your children develop into their teen years.

   Equally important is to never embarrass your children or put them on the spot in front of others. This will immediately close the door to honest, trustworthy communication.

   Avoid talking to your child when you are angry or upset with them or others. Promise to talk in a half-hour or hour at a specific place after you’ve had a chance to settle down and regain your objectivity.

   Be an active listener. Don’t interrupt while your child is talking. Listen carefully and then paraphrase back what you heard them say. Ask if you’re right in your interpretation. They’ll tell you. This give and tack will   help you be more precisely understood what is really at issue.

Children who feel safe talking to their parents grow up as better communicators overall. They will be more likely to have healthy communication in their own adult relationships – with their spouses and children.

Families that keep feelings repressed, that don’t discuss issues that come up, send the message that it’s not all right to talk about things that bother us. The consequences of this can be seen in our news headlines every day.

You can open the doors to caring communication in your home by starting today. Your children may be a little resistant at first as they test the waters, but they will surely appreciate this opportunity once they know you are sincere. Start the process yourself – and see how valuable it is to “hear” what your children have to say!

*    *    *

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of the acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — With Love! To get her free ebook, coaching services, expert interviews, programs, e-courses and other valuable resources on divorce and co-parenting, visit:

Beware of the Dark Triad and Narcissism

Think of the Dark Triad of Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism as the Bermuda Triangle – it’s perilous to get near it! The traits of all three often overlap and create personality profiles that are damaging and toxic, especially when it comes to intimate relationships, where we let our guard down.

One woman was the subject of identity fraud. Her bank accounts and credit cards were compromised. At the time, she was in love with her boyfriend who lived with her in her apartment. She was speaking regularly with the FBI and suffered extreme anxiety and emotionally stress. The authorities were unsuccessful in finding the culprit. Her fiancé was very supportive in doing research to try to find him. He comforted her, occasionally bought her gifts, and paid her monthly rent out of money she gave him. When the landlord confronted her about months of delinquency, she realized that the criminal was in fact her own boyfriend, who had been pocketing her rent money, except to buy her gifts. Her denial made it difficult to accept the truth about his ruthless gaslighting.

What is the Dark Triad ?

This is a popular term was coined in 2002 by Paulhus and Williams. Dark Triad refers to three unusually negative personality traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. The latter two share more traits with each other than with narcissists. Generally, the term refers to individuals with “subclinical” symptoms, meaning that they may not necessarily fully have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Machiavellianism arose out of Machiavelli’s philosophy and is not a mental health disorder.

• Narcissism is characterized by the pursuit of ego gratification, vanity, and a sense of superiority, grandiosity, dominance, and entitlement.
• Machiavellianism is marked by manipulation – a calculating, duplicitous and amoral personality, focused on self-interest and personal gain.
• Psychopathy is distinguished by callousness, impulsivity, and enduring antisocial and bold behavior.

Common Dark Triad Traits

Recent comparative research on the Dark Triad has attempted to analyze differences among these three malevolent personalities. To varying degrees, all act aggressively out of self-interest and lack empathy and remorse. They’re skilled at manipulation and exploit and deceive others, though their motivations and tactics vary. They violate social norms and moral values and lie, deceive, cheat, steal, and bully. It’s thought that genetic factors underlie their personality.

Machiavellianism and psychopathy are more closely correlated due to their malicious behavior; whereas narcissists are defensive and more fragile. This is because their grandiosity and arrogance is a façade for deeper feelings of inadequacy. (See “Relationships with Narcissists.”) Men outnumber women, primarily when psychopathic traits were measured (i.e., not just deceit, manipulation, etc.) This difference is linked to the overt antisocial behavior associated with psychopathy, suggesting that it may be due to biological factors, such as testosterone, and social norms.

All three types (narcissism to a lesser degree) scored low on agreeableness, measured by the Big Five personality test that assesses extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Agreeableness differs from charm and charisma. It involves trustworthiness, unselfishness, straightforwardness, compliance, kindness, and modesty, which are essential for good relationships.

Machiavellians and psychopaths are more lacking in conscientiousness. (Why work when you can cheat and steal!) Psychopaths have the lowest level of neuroticism or negative emotions, which makes them the most sinister. Predictably, narcissists scored higher on openness and are much more extroverted. Openness correlates with evidence that narcissists tend to be creative.


All three personalities lack honesty and humility, which includes sincerity, faithfulness, lack of greed, and fairness. A study of cheating revealed that all three cheat when the risk of getting caught is low. When the risk is high, psychopaths and Machiavellians (when their energy for thinking is low) cheat. Both will intentionally lie. Narcissists have high levels of self-deception rather than intentional dishonesty.

Psychosocial Consequences

The comparative research examined a variety of behaviors, including aggression (bullying, sadism, aggression, and violence), erratic lifestyle (impulsivity, risk taking, and substance use), sexual activity (bizarre fantasies, infidelity, and sexual harassment), socio-emotional deficits (lack of empathy, low emotional intelligence, and theory of mind, i.e., to attribute own and others’ mental states), poor well-being (depression, loneliness, and stress), interpersonal problems (dominance, entitlement, and self-aggrandizement), immorality (lack of values, “deadly sins,” and moral disengagement, i.e. “standards don’t apply to me”), and antisocial tactics (cheating, lying, and negative humor). Machiavellians and psychopaths scored higher in these psychosocial issues; psychopaths twice as high as narcissists. The highest scores were among psychopaths, with aggression being the highest trait. Narcissists scored in the categories of aggression, sexual issues, interpersonal difficulties, and antisocial tactics. Among all three personalities, most of the high scores were due to psychopathic traits. When those were controlled (removed), narcissism still accounted for interpersonal difficulties.


To further understand the lack of empathy among the Dark Triad personalities, research examined affective empathy, which is the ability to have an appropriate emotional response to others’ emotions, and cognitive empathy, the ability to discern others’ emotional states. They found that all three personality types lacked affective empathy, but had unimpaired cognitive empathy. Creepily, all three felt positive looking a sad faces and felt negative seeing happy images! Narcissists and psychopaths also felt good seeing angry faces. Psychopaths liked seeing fearful faces. Overall empathy was lowest among psychopaths and Machiavellians, and study participants who were high on any of the three personality profiles had the lowest affective empathy. Narcissists scored highest on cognitive empathy. The fact that these people are insensitive to others feelings, while retaining the ability to assess others’ emotions, allows them to strategically manipulate people, while ignoring the harm they inflict.

Protect Yourself

If you think you may be involved with a Dark Triad personality, seek psychotherapy. Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your experience. Covering up bad behavior is a common, but dangerous form of denial. Learn about narcissistic abuse, subtle forms of abuse, abusive relationships, and narcissistic relationships. Learn How to Be Assertive and read Dealing with a Narcissist. Violence is preceded by emotional abuse. If you’ve been threatened with violence, don’t wait for it to happen or trust that it won’t be repeated!
© Darlene Lancer 2018

Author of
Codependency for Dummies and
ame> Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You


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Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult
<> How To Speak
Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar
<> How to Be Assertive

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10 Questions Every Single Parent Should Ask Their New Partner

By Terry Gaspard, LICSW, MSW

Dating after divorce can be exciting, but when you have children it’s a risky proposition. Over and over again, I see single mom and single dad clients leap headlong into a new relationship — even move in with someone — only to face a disastrous breakup a short while afterward.

While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be permanent. Ask yourself, “Is my new love interest a good fit for my family?” After all, you might have great chemistry with someone, but they might not be best suited to become part of your family.

Here are 10 questions every single parent must ask a new partner before diving in head-first.

  1. How long was your longest committed relationship and how many times have you been married?
  2. Why did your marriage (or last committed relationship) end?
  3. Are you close to your family members, including any children you have?
  4. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger-management skills. Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth? 
  5. How do you feel about making a commitment to someone with children? 
  6. How do you feel about having children? How many children do you consider the best number if you want them? 
  7. Do you believe that couples should share chores and child-care responsibilities? If so, what do you believe is a fair distribution of chores? 
  8. What is your view of divorce? What would you consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky? 
  9. What are your values and beliefs about infidelity? 
  10. What is your vision for your life in five, 10, and 20 years?

Next, if you feel satisfied that your new love interest is a good fit for your family, it’s critical to determine the best time to introduce them to your children. This is the number one question parents ask me. My response is: What’s the hurry? Even if you are madly in love and seem to have a lot in common with your new love interest, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire.

When you find a person that you are becoming seriously involved with, be sure to prepare your children in advance for the first visit. Keep in mind that the setting and timing of an introduction is vital to your success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.

Divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca recommends these tips: “Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought that they are losing their Mom or Dad to a stranger. How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children.”

A crucial factor to keep in mind when introducing a new partner to your children is their age. In fact, younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.

On the other hand, adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, but they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling, so go easy on physical contact in front of them. Do you want your teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.

I’ve witnessed many new relationships go south when a partner is introduced to children too quickly. It can cause anguish for everyone, especially children who are probably holding on to the idea that their parents will eventually get back together. It may take them time to accept a new person in their life.

Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interests, especially the first few years after the divorce. Children need time to adjust to their parents’ split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions.

Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not set an example for responsible dating. Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love?

The key to successful parenting post-divorce is healing, and introducing a new love interest too soon might complicate, delay or damage this process. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm.

Using the questions every single parent must ask a new partner will pay off for everyone. Consider the amount of time since your divorce, the age of your children and the level of commitment with your new partner. Don’t introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually because they may not know how to interpret this relationship and could feel let down if you breakup.

You can inform your kids that you are going out with friends and that’s enough information. Talking to a relationship coach or therapist may help you to make a smooth transition into this next phase of your life.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.


After Divorce: Building a Safe Financial Future

I received the text at 11:42pm on a Tuesday. I’d just finished getting laundry folded, and kid prep completed for the morning, when my text tone cut through the quiet. It was just a few words, “My god, it’s his high school girlfriend!” but it flashed me back to my own life, so many years ago. I knew all too well what the next year or more would look like for my good friend. We talked for a while by text, and in the end, she told me that her divorce would soon be final.

This could be any one of us because we’ve all either been that woman, had that friend, or more than likely, both. These are the major life moments when we feel forced to fight. We make enormous decisions about our children, employment, finances – yet, these are the absolute worst times to trust our fragile hearts and minds. Often, we’ve been raised with bad examples of how to handle conflict, and fear takes over. Fear does not help us make good decisions. In my line of work as a realtor, I help clients in all phases of their lives, including divorce. In this case, and with the goal of helping others, I’ll share a bit of my story.

Back in 2005, I found myself in the unhappy position of filing for divorce. Although I was educated and had previously held good professional positions, I had been a stay home mom since my son was born seven years earlier. I was terrified. My son was terrified. To be fair, I’m sure my then husband was also terrified. I remember collapsing onto the kitchen floor one evening well after midnight, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. Where would I live? Could I afford a place to live? Would my husband try to take my son? What would I do with my horses? How could I have let this happen? What would everyone think of me? FEAR. Every day. Every night. Months and months of mounting fear. There seemed to be no end in sight. It was through this lens that I made the major financial decisions that would impact my life for many years to come.

My fear dictated that my son had to have a comparable house immediately. I used most of my divorce settlement money, approximately 90,000, for a down payment on a property I could not afford. I withdrew all the money from my 401k, incurring steep penalties, and built a small barn so I could bring my horses home. I secured a home equity loan, (interest at the time was just over 7%) so I could pay my bills while I got myself fully employed. At the time of this writing, I have four more payments on this loan – thirteen years later! These major financial decisions were made at the most emotionally charged time of my life, and they have made an enormous negative impact on my fiscal stability.

In preparation for this article, I reached out Edythe M. De Marco, CFP ®, of the De Marco-McCarthy Group, Merrill Lynch, Providence, RI, for suggestions that will help anyone, but especially women, plan their financial way through a major life change. Edythe shared this advice, “Seeking the advice of an experienced Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) would be my recommendation right from the outset.  Any woman contemplating divorce, or one in the process of divorce, can best prepare herself for the next chapter in her life by seeking the advice of a trained professional who can help her prepare a net worth statement, budget and cash flow analyses, which would factor in both taxes and inflation.  By going through a “financial stress test” analysis like this, she would be empowered with the knowledge to best prepare and care for herself and her family. Our team conducts these types of analyses, as would most CFP®’s.” Edith also offered a downloadable guide to financial stability specifically designed for women, which you can download here: Women & Wellness

Four tips to help you build a safe financial future:

  1. Break the taboo around money talk. Encourage conversation between friends, family, and financial professionals, and in the press and in schools. Seek mentors and learn more about money and finances. This is an area where women especially have gaps in experience.
  2. Turn longevity into an asset. Start a retirement plan as early as you can, take advantage of tax-efficient retirement plan options such as 401(k)s that provide the opportunity to grow with compound interest, work longer, if possible and maximize Social Security and pension benefits.
  3. Acknowledge financial challenges that impact women. These can include career interruptions, longer lives to fund, or increased healthcare costs. Save and plan for these eventualities. Every little bit makes a difference.
  4. Plan early and often. Consult a professional, discuss life priorities and goals, create a plan that matches any unique circumstances and revisit that plan often and make course corrections along the way.

As a realtor, I meet people who are buying and selling homes at various stages of their life. When I meet someone going through the divorce process, especially a woman, I always try to help them process more than just the buying and selling of their home. If I’m able, and it’s appropriate, I give them resources that can position them for a future of financial success, rather than the hardship and rebuilding I endured.

I’m grateful that I was able to raise my son on that little farm and build an amazing career at the same time. Even so, my finances will never be what they could have been if I had worked with a counselor and a certified financial planner to help me process my fear and make a solid financial plan. If you are going through any heavy life change, find a team to help to ensure you have a solid financial plan. It will secure your future, empower you emotionally and make you stronger.

Kimberly McHale is a real estate agent with Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty and works with buyers and sellers state-wide. She is also a professional vocalist and an avid equestrian. Email: 401.692.1644

Why I Kept My Debt Secret from My Husband

Learning how to have productive, low-conflict discussions about money is essential to handling finances in a healthy way. Finances are a touchy subject for all couples and a leading cause of divorce. However, when you get married, your spouse should be made aware of any debts that you have in your name. And after you wed, having regular discussions about expenses, income, and debts is essential to having a happy, long-term marriage.

Anything less than full disclosure about money matters will breed an atmosphere of mistrust in your relationship. Being in debt can result in a great deal of stress and being open about it with your partner will enable you to come up with a plan to improve your situation.

Despite the fact that financial issues and money problems are the number one subjects couples argue about and a leading cause of divorce, there are few studies that address the issue of financial secrecy or financial infidelity. The reason why many people keep secrets about money is fear of being abandoned, shame, and fear of being vulnerable due to past betrayal by a parent or partner.

In my case, I was a single parent raising two school-age children when I met my second husband Craig, and feel in love. Truth be told, I had accumulated debt from living beyond my means as a single parent, but I was ashamed to tell him about this fact. Wanting to impress Craig with my financial independence, I felt embarrassed about my debts and feared losing him. But after several years together, it was becoming more obvious to him that I didn’t enter our marriage with a clean financial slate and I realized that by keeping secrets about my debt and financial obligations, I was breeding mistrust between us.

Unfortunately, I dug myself into such a deep hole by keeping secrets about money from Craig for many years that I could barely distinguish when I was telling the truth from a lie. In retrospect, I’m not sure how forthcoming I would have been if Craig hadn’t discovered a credit card bill laying on the kitchen counter when he was grabbing a cup of coffee one morning.

Getting caught in the act of being deceptive felt awful, but it was the first step towards being vulnerable and open about my past debt and problems living within a budget. After twenty-one years of marriage, it’s still a challenge for me to be open about financial matters. But when I stop and remember the guilt and anguish I felt about concealing details about my past and current debts, I’m inclined to be transparent with him about even the smallest purchases.

Being in debt can result in a great deal of stress and being open about it with your partner will enable you to come up with a plan to improve your situation. Here are some steps you can make to address debt head-on as a unified couple:

  1. Having weekly one to two hour discussions about money.
  2. Taking the time to create a budget together.
  3. Seeing a debt counselor or financial advisor.
  4. Looking into debt relief or consolidation companies.

The first two steps above will help you to look at your assets and expenses, and to decide on strategies. For instance, Craig and I decided that one way to get out of debt was for us both to take on a second part-time job until our debt was payed off.

If restructuring your budget and coming up with solutions doesn’t seem to relieve your stress and help you to pay off your debt, seeing a debt counselor may be a good idea. Having a financial plan in place will help you to have less stress and you’ll probably argue less and feel more content.

In hindsight, my financial infidelity didn’t foster love and intimacy with my husband. It definitely contributed to our trust and communication problems. What I have come to realize is that when a partner withholds important financial information, regardless of their reasons, it is normal to feel betrayed. Many couples that I counsel have worked hard to restore trust. Others have chronic arguments over money matters because they don’t have the skills to communicate about touchy topics such as who pays for big things including educational expenses. Even smaller purchases like buying a car for your children can unleash other concerns such as who pays for car maintenance and insurance.

If couples have not established a bedrock of trust and vulnerability together, they might be more prone to committing financial infidelity. If you consistently feel uneasy because you can’t trust your partner, even minor mistakes or errors in judgment can make you feel vulnerable, in spite of your partner offering a good explanation for their actions. In other words, by keeping secrets or lying to your partner you put your relationship in jeopardy because he or she may have lost a sense of trust and security that couples need to thrive and grow resilient together.

Even though I have made progress in practicing full disclosure about finances, I still struggle with being open about money with Craig during times of financial stress, such as when our youngest daughter went to a private college a few years ago. Soon after she was accepted at one of her first choices, we began arguing about money until we both decided to restore our commitment to changing the way we communicate about finances.

Fortunately, we have reached the point where we have open dialogues about money weekly, and I feel safe enough with Craig to be transparent about my past and present debts. We have also begun seeing a counselor to discuss ways to communicate about money and other important issues in our marriage since we are dedicated to staying together and want to preserve our love.

Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.



6 Ways to Stop Being Defensive with Your Partner

During tough conversations, it’s helpful to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones. Many experts agree that bickering can lead to the demise of a relationship. It’s like chronic warfare that erodes the quality of a relationship and makes it tough to discuss difficult topics. When dealing with differences with your partner, the key is to listen attentively, understand each other’s perspective, reign in defensiveness, and stop criticizing and blaming each other.

For instance, Jackson has become resentful of Becca over the last few years because she spends money without informing him. From his perspective, Becca has been increasingly detached and secretive about her spending habits. During our session, they had an argument that left them both feeling defeated and bitter. I encouraged them to listen to each other and not focus on who was to blame for their problem.

Jackson glanced at Becca and put it like this: “My anger and resentment started to mount when you told me two months after you put a trip with your girlfriend on a credit card without telling me. You were literally charging large amounts for clothes and air fare without telling me – even when I asked you why our balances were going up. I can’t trust you anymore since you kept this secret. If you hadn’t lied to me, I might feel differently.”

Becca explains, “I understand how bad this sounds but I needed to get some new clothes to go on a trip with Caitlyn which we planned a year ago. I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d object and we’d argue. You often criticize me because I don’t earn enough money. I’m starting my own business and it will take time.”

Jackson and Becca need a way to stop blaming each other and to stop their pattern of trying to prove a point. The first step toward changing this negative pattern of relating is awareness. They can benefit from embracing the mindset that working together is more important than being right.

While it’s tempting to launch into expressing anger and to get into the attack mode when you feel hurt or frustrated, it can alienate your partner and drive a wedge between you. That said, you’ll accomplish more and improve your communication if you tell your partner what you need in a positive way.

For instance, if Jackson says to Becca “I would appreciate it if you’d do a budget for your trip with me,” this “I” statement would be more effective than saying, “You never worry about money. In most cases, a“You” statement that sparks her defensiveness.

In marriage, one of the biggest hurdles couples face is how to approach difficult conversations without getting defensive. This leads to an unfortunate pattern of attack and defensiveness where both partners believe they must prove they’re right and must defend their positions.

In After the Fight, psychologist Dr. Daniel B. Wile, explains that if this defensive pattern continues over time, it can diminish love and respect between you and your partner The following are ways to stop being defensive with your partner before it becomes a bigger issue.

6 Ways to Stop Being Defensive With Your Partner:

1. Keep a calm composure and state needs clearly: While it is natural to raise your voice and get agitated when you feel attacked, lower your voice and adopt a friendlier tone. If you feel yourself taking things personally, press the pause button and suggest a 10 to 15-minute break to your partner before continuing a conflictual conversation. You might say “I’m trying to listen but I can feel myself getting defensive. Can we start this conversation again in 15 minutes?

2. Listen to your partner’s side of the story and validate him or her. Instead of focusing on your own agenda and the points you want to get across, ask your partner what is bothering them and really listen before responding. When you respond, validate their perspective and use a soft start-up such as “I value your input and I’d love to hear more from you.” Be sure to use good eye contact and reassuring touch to comfort your mate such as holding their hand.

3. Focus on the issues at hand. When you focus on the past, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You are no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand or in the present to meet both of your needs. Resist the urge to bring up baggage or touch on your partner’s raw spots or issues you know might trigger his or her defensiveness.

4. Use “I” statements to express yourself in a positive way. State what you want such as “I would like you to share more information about your spending with me. Avoid using “You” statements such as “You never talk to me about money.” Remember to focus on expressing your feelings in a way that invites your partner to communicate, rather than pushing them away.

5. Take responsibility. If you focus more on your part of the problem, you will be less likely to point your finger at your partner or take things personally. Reflect on how your words and actions might make your partner feel and let him or her know that you own your part in a disagreement. Try to focus on changing your approach to communication, rather than trying to change your partner’s perspective or personality.

6. Apologize if you have done something to hurt your mate – even if it was not intentional – after they’ve had a chance to describe how you hurt them. This will ensure it’s a sincere apology. Be brief and to the point without making excuses. For instance, Becca might simply say, “I am sorry for keeping a secret from you. I love you and won’t do it again.” By taking responsibility for her part in the dispute, even just a small piece, this will validate Jackon’s feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow them both to move on.

Becca put it like this: “When we disagree, I try to apologize to Jackson when I overreact to something he says and not take it so personally. I know that when I blow things out of proportion, it’s often my own baggage. When he apologizes to me after he’s said something hurtful, it really helps me move on and feel better. I’m working on accepting his apology, letting go, and I’m trying to be a bigger person.”

When you are having an argument with your partner, stop and try to remember the positive qualities that drew you to him or her in the first place. It’s a good idea to give your partner the benefit of the doubt rather than attacking them or getting defensive. Being defensive or negative will only push your partner away. The next time you feel upset at your partner, examine your own thoughts and responses — before you point out his or her faults—if you want your relationship to endure the test of time.

Follow Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW on Twitter, Facebook, and Terry’s book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

How Do I Choose a Divorce Lawyer?

Going through a divorce is a challenging process.  There are so many details to arrange in your new life without your spouse.  A good deal of those details will be handled by your attorney so it should be a huge relief to hand off that responsibility to a professional.

Before you outsource your problems to an attorney, you have to be sure you’re hiring the right attorney for you and your case.  This is a process that I, as a divorce lawyer, will walk you through step-by-step.

  • Do you know a lawyer?

If you know a lawyer, just call them up and ask for a recommendation.  The worst they can say is, “I don’t know any divorce lawyers. If the lawyer you know has a recommendation, that is a great starting point.  In most communities, most lawyers know who is good and who is…not so good.  While the lawyer you know may not have direct experience with the divorce lawyers’ style, strategy and fees, the lawyer you call will know the divorce lawyer’s reputation.

Still, the lawyer may only know the divorce lawyer by his golf swing at the country club. So, you probably should do some additional investigation.

  • Is The Divorce Lawyer On The Internet?

If the divorce lawyer you’re interested in does not have an internet presence, it is a problem.  It does not mean that he or she is so busy that they never needed a website.  It means that the divorce lawyer does not keep up with the times.

Does a lawyer with no website review the current appellate decisions that are released on the internet every month?  I’d be surprised if they did.

A lawyer’s website is also telling.  We all know what an old, out dated website looks like.  It’s a reflection of how the divorce lawyer chooses to present him or herself.  If the divorce lawyer’s website looks cheap and sloppy, how do you think the lawyer looks in court?

A divorce lawyer should also have a small internet presence outside of his or her website.  This means a Yelp and an Avvo page.

The best sign of a good divorce lawyer is if he or she publishes content on his or her website and/or in local bar association publications.  This is a sign that the divorce lawyer both knows their stuff and wants to share and help others.

  • Does the Divorce Lawyer Have Online Reviews?

Online reviews are great.  Perfect strangers are giving recommendations or warnings to the public at large.  But, not all online reviews are created equally.

Online reviews encourage cheating from both the merchant and his competitors.  While all lawyers should be honest, some lawyers will just adopt 20 different online identities and give themselves good reviews.  Other lawyers, both dishonest and spiteful, will give their competitors bad reviews under aliases.

Some online review sites have strict policies to ensure that the reviews are from actual people who have experienced the divorce lawyer’s services.  Yelp is the gold standard. You have to publish your picture, have a history of reviews and the service provider can contest ever having served the reviewer.

Facebook reviews require you to publish your picture but have no feedback mechanism to deal with unverifiable reviews.  Beware of reviews without a photo of the reviewer.

Google reviews are available to anyone with a gmail account.  These reviews should be taken with a grain of salt.

Mostly, look at the content of an online review.  Are there lots of details? If so, the review is probably both real and well informed.

A good review for a divorce attorney is such a wonderful sign that he or she is a professional and a good human being.  Divorce is a difficult process and the client will associate the attorney with the divorce even if there’s a successful outcome.  If the divorce lawyer left a good impression on the client at the end of this horrible process, you know they did a great job.

  • Call The Attorney And Find Out If You Like Him Or Her!

All divorce attorneys have phone numbers.  Just call and ask if you can speak with him or her.  A lot of divorce attorneys will not speak to you on the phone or offer a free consultation.  This makes the attorney seem exclusive but this is not a sign of quality.  If the divorce lawyer won’t take your call as a potential client, will they take your call when you’re an actual client and they already have your money?

Most divorce lawyers are happy to chat about a potential case for a few minutes to learn more.  After a few calls you will immediately be able to separate the masters of their craft from the amateurs.

A lawyer without much experience in divorce law will make vague statements like, “Well, I’d have to know more about your case before advising you.”

A lawyer who truly knows the divorce process will give you definitive advice immediately and explain why he or she is giving that advice based on the law and their personal experience.

More important than testing the divorce lawyer’s knowledge is finding out if he or she has compassion.  Divorce is difficult and the lawyer that guides you through it should care about you as a person.

  • What About Price?

This is a very difficult thing to assess.  Different divorce lawyers charge different retainers and different hourly rates.

There is no difference between a $200 an hour lawyer who takes 20 hours to finish your case and a $400 an hour lawyer who takes 10 hours to finish your case.  There’s almost no way gauge a lawyer’s efficiency in advance.

The one thing you can use to determine if your lawyer is efficient is whether he or she has paralegals or not.

If the lawyer does not have paralegals, you will be paying his or her hourly rate for typing up letters, sending out correspondence and organizing the file.  A paralegal usually charges a much lower rate and performs these more mundane tasks for the lawyer.

The same goes for a retainer.  A retainer is a way for a lawyer to establish he or she will get paid by the client. The money gets deposited in the lawyer’s trust account and the lawyer withdraws the money as he or she earns the money.  A divorce lawyer’s retainer of $ 5000 does not mean the lawyer is more expensive than a lawyer with a $2500 retainer.   It just means they need more money to start the case.  Once the retainer is exhausted, the lawyer will just ask that you replenish the retainer.

Finally, choosing a divorce lawyer is not a final decision.  You can always hire a different lawyer if you are no longer satisfied with his or her services.   It’s very common, in fact.  Keep in mind that you are paying for his or her services and should approach this process as an informed consumer.

Written by Russell D. Knight who is the owner of The Law Office of Russell D. Knight in Chicago, Illinois