Co-parenting After Divorce – What NOT to Do!

I talked with Somerset County, NJ divorce attorney Katherine Wagner to find out what behavior she has observed in her clients that got in the way of moving on from the divorce and creating a new relationship as co-parents of their children.

After a couple divorces, if one or both of them still feel hurt or bitter that will make it difficult for them to successfully parent their children as a unified team – which is exactly what the children need, considering the extreme change in the family dynamic.

But What in the World is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is defined as both parents working to parent their children as a team. These days, co-parenting is required of any couple who has children, as well as divorced couples with children –  unless of course there a problem with substance abuse, or there is a history of domestic violence.

Co-parenting requires that a divorced couple place their children’s needs above their own and work through their discomfort or anger over the dissolution of the marriage to form a new relationship with their ex – that of co-parent.

Co-parenting is required if the parents share joint physical and legal custody. A co-parenting arrangement can also occur if one parent has physical custody but the parents share legal custody – meaning, they both have the power to make major decisions for the children. A co-parenting arrangement can even occur when one parent has sole custody and the other parent has visitation, also called parenting time – if the parties agree to collaborate on parenting.

Children of Divorced Parents Need Their Parents To Co-Parent

In a co-parenting situation, children can have close relationships with both parents, consistent expectations and rules, a stable, predictable schedule, and a good model of collaboration despite deep differences. If a couple can practice co-parenting, they send a clear message to their children that they are more important to them than the conflicts that resulted in the divorce. When parents are unsuccessful at co-parenting, their children are the ones who suffer.

AVOID THIS – Harboring Ill Will Toward Your Ex

Some people just cannot put their negative feelings about their ex aside. They indulge in saying negative things about their ex or about the divorce in front of the children, which compromises the children’s relationship with both parents. This is never healthy for the children of the dissolved marriage, who feel put in the middle or that they have to choose sides.

No one expects a divorced couple to remain friends, but to co-parent they must keep their feelings to themselves (or seek therapy!) and have the self-control refrain from bad-mouthing each other. The children have the right to have a relationship with both parents, the quality of which they should be allowed to decide without interference from either parent.

But What If My Child Already Dislikes My Ex?

I would discuss it with the child and find out the reason they don’t like them. It may be something easy to solve – for example, parenting time is scheduled on a night that the child’s favorite program is on. Or it could be something thornier… but you will not know until you ask.

AVOID THIS – Refusing or Being Reluctant to Communicate With Your Ex

Many divorced parents cannot be civil with one another, much less collaborate on parenting. It seems as if divorced couples forget whatever dignity and grace they formerly possessed, and behave in ways that sabotage every interaction they have with one another. Rehashing the disagreements and issues that led to the divorce is common. But what good does that do anyone?

Successful co-parents take the high road. They stay calm and speak civilly with one another, even if they disagree. Some email or text one another just to keep emotion out of the equation. The children are the focus of each and every conversation they have with one another. That’s how to keep conversations with your ex calm and productive.

Successful co-parents also:

  • Have the custody arrangement clearly spelled out
  • Listen to one another
  • Don’t push each other’s buttons, or, don’t respond angrily if their ex attempts to push their buttons
  • Communicate frequently and keep each other in the loop
  • Collaborate to create uniform household rules and expectations
  • Collaborate on major decisions involving the children
  • Stay flexible

AVOID THIS – Creating Drama During Children’s Transitions from One Household to the Other

What is more awkward than picking up the children from your ex, and they are upset because you are taking them away from him or her? Or when the children balk at packing up and going to visit your ex because they were surprised and didn’t know that was happening? Or when your ex calls you angrily because a child forgot to pack some favorite toy or outfit, or all of their toiletries?

Transitions from one household to the other can be managed. First, successful co-parents deliver their children to the other household – much less upsetting for everyone. Successful co-parents remind their children when they are going to their other parent’s house well in advance, and help them pack well before.

Successful co-parents also make sure their children have everything they need at both households – you’d be surprised how upsetting the little things are for children in these circumstances. Things like the wrong kind of toothpaste or cereal can turn a visit into a nightmare for all involved.

The children of divorced parents are going through a difficult time too – and through no fault of their own. If a divorced couple can put their children ahead of their anger or resentment over the divorce, they can co-parent their children in a way that minimizes the impact of the divorce on them.

Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger in the Philadelphia area.


My Shame Experience

Sprawled on the hallway floor, skirt flying, hitting and kicking, I wrestled with Tina before a crowd of junior high school schoolmates, including a dozen boys from my class. Tina was a gang member who had recently transferred from another school. She and her cohorts had taunted and insulted me all week. She started in again, shoving me at our adjacent lockers. I’d finally had enough, I pushed her back, and we ended up fighting on the floor.

Before actually harming one another, the girls V.P. escorted us to her office. Tina was expelled. I felt relieved that only my modesty was tarnished . . . until I returned home. Then I was mortified to discover a small rip in my panties! My defectiveness, symbolized by that imperfection, had been exposed. This is the essence of shame.

It can feel like wearing dirty underwear – which everyone can see. Probably no one saw the rear in my panties. Still, I imagined everyone was mocking me even though no one mentioned the incident. I wanted to hide. How could I face those boys in class day after day? “Saving face” or “losing face” means to protect ones honor or to suffer disgrace. It’s shame that torments us for hours or years following humiliation, rejection, or feeling defective.

No one wants to be called shameless. That’s because it’s normal to have a certain level of shame. Its origins lie in our primal need for others, to be acceptable and accepted, which provides a sense of internal safety and security. Shame encourages us to adhere to socially accepted norms, like basic manners and grooming.

Shame differs from embarrassment. We feel embarrassed when our mistake could happen to anyone, like being late. It’s also distinguishable from guilt, which is about something we did that violates our ethical or moral standards. When we feel guilty, we can make amends, but shame makes us feel irredeemable, because it’s about who we are.

Like what happened to me, shame is generally associated with exposure before others, but an audience isn’t necessarily required. More often, shame is caused by how we think about ourselves. It’s silent and secret. No one need be present to evoke our private angst and self-judgment. We imagine others see what we do when we measure our experienced self against the self we want others to see.

This even holds true for the things others don’t know about our private thoughts or dreams we consider selfish, stupid, or insane. A friend with a beautiful voice felt deep shame about her secret wish to sing professionally, because her father, an opera singer, constantly corrected her and made her feel inadequate. That parental shaming prevented her from developing her talent professionally. Another acquaintance wanted to be a talk show host, but considered his dream too grandiose to pursue.

We can literally interpret any aspect of ourselves – our appearance, income, status, feelings, or behavior as a reflection of our inadequacy. We might feel disgust about our body which keeps us from going swimming with friends. If we feel stupid for running out of gas, we won’t tell our boss why we’re late. We might feel undeserving and not take a vacation or ask for a raise. When we feel like a failure for not solving a problem or achieving a goal, we might give up on ourselves. Or we feel pathetic for being “too sensitive,” grieving “too long,” or undesirable when lonely, so we stifle our emotions rather than talk about them. Despite obvious beauty, we might feel unattractive, and no one can convince us otherwise.

This is internalized shame. It lurks in the unconscious, undermines self-esteem, and creates anxiety and havoc in our lives. The magnitude of feeling different, inadequate, or inferior can be unbearable. It’s the feeling of being a bad, unworthy person. Toxic shame sabotages our relationships, our success, and ability to enjoy life. It can be chronic and take over our identity and ability to enjoy life, chipping away at trust in ourselves and the world.

Internalized shame is an open wound from childhood that seeps into our psyche and spreads like a virus to everything we think and do. It creates false beliefs about ourselves others can’t refute and silently eats away at our spontaneity and confidence. This differs from ordinary shame in the following ways:

1. Our own thoughts can bring on shame without the need an external event or exposure to another person.
2. The negative feelings last much longer.
3. The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
4. It leads to worsening shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
5. We have a negative “shame story” about ourselves originating in childhood.
6. The shaming events and beliefs from childhood needn’t be (and usually aren’t) recalled.
7. It create “shame anxiety” bout re-experiencing judgment, rejection, and shame.
8. It can overtake our personality and be ever-present.
9. Alternatively, it may remain unconscious, but make us defensive and sensitive to criticism, or anything we perceive as shaming, such as, talking too long or too little, making mistakes, showing emotion, receiving too much or too little attention, trying new things, or looking foolish.
10. It creates deep feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or somehow being unlovable.
11. It causes low self-esteem and codependency.
12. It can lead to other problems, such as aggression, PTSD, perfectionism, anti-social behavior, depression, eating disorders, and addiction.

Fortunately, we can heal toxic shame. That doesn’t mean we never feel it. Instead, shame takes its rightful place among our many emotions and no longer controls or overwhelms us. We can remain present and don’t lose our connectedness to others. If we still feel ashamed, we can talk about what happened. Sharing shame diminishes it. We realize our imperfections make us human as we learn to accept ourselves with compassion.

To learn more about shame and follow a recovery plan, read Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. You can also watch my Youtube on toxic shame.
©Darlene Lancer 2019
Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
Author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You

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5 Ways to Protect Your Children During Your Divorce

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Children soak up everything they see, feel, and hear. Parents may believe they are giving their children all the love they need, but they send a conflicting message when they fail to reconcile their own relationships with their former partners.

There are plenty of things parents can do to protect their children from the damaging impact of long-term conflict during and after divorce.

When parents argue excessively and for too long, it can leave children feeling insecure and fearful. Even if it’s not the parents’ intention to cause harm, ongoing conflict can threaten a child’s sense of safety.

Truth be told, parents forget that children are vulnerable to feeling in the middle between their parents’ arguments. High parental conflict can send them into high alert.

As a result, children may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating on school or social activities; or be plagued with fear and anxiety about their future.

Here are 5 tips for resolving disagreements with your ex-spouse constructively:

  1. Use Self-Control And Only Let Out Some Of Your Anger

If you’re frustrated or angry at your ex you don’t have to say everything you’re thinking. Your children won’t benefit from you showing your anger openly to their other parent so be careful what you say in front of them. Kids don’t want to hear negative things about either one of their parents.

  1. Avoid Name-Calling And Blameful Comments

“You never pick up Kylie on time!”  Instead say what you want and state it in a positive way such as: “I would appreciate it if you’d be on time picking up Kylie since she worries you’re not coming and gets upset when you’re late.”

  1. Resolve Conflicts In A Positive Way

Learn the art of compromise and apologize when you do something wrong. Being cordial and businesslike is a good place to start. Take a short break if you feel flooded.

  1. Keep Your Children Out Of The Middle

Keep your children out of the middle and don’t make them a go-between to avoid loyalty conflicts. Communicate clearly and directly to your former spouse—not through your child.

  1. Develop A Parenting Plan

Develop a parenting plan that’s geared to the level of conflict between you and your ex-spouse. For instance, the higher the conflict, the less flexible the plan.

Discuss hot-button issues such as holidays, finances and problems that may arise with your children’s school work or with friends. Seek professional help if needed such as mediation or counseling if you believe you won’t be successful doing this on your own.

Many studies show that being raised in a high-conflict divorce family can cause children to have low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. It can leave him or her with the ultimate feeling of rejection. Many kids internalize the breakup of their families and feel it’s their fault.

Logically, many kids understand their parents’ failed marriage didn’t have to do with them. Often, parents take great pains to make sure their children understand they aren’t to blame for the breakup. But kids often experience a disconnect between logic and emotions, leaving them with low self-esteem.

Growing up, a child may see his or her parents fight constantly, but sleep in the same bed every night. They might have complained about one another, but acted upset when the other went away.

Sometimes parents don’t fight openly in front of children, but tension and anger seethe beneath the surface. These contradictions play a powerful game with a child’s head.

When a child is left with unexplained contradictions, he or she will try to explain them to themselves, often coming up with incomplete or incorrect conclusions. Thus when kids can’t understand the turmoil around them, they tend to internalize this pain and blame themselves.

This is true for children exposed to high conflict in both divorced and intact homes.

Let’s face it, marital conflict can have negative consequences for children whether they have married or divorced parents. In a longitudinal study spanning over many years, renowned divorce researcher Paul Amato found that conflict in intact families was associated with emotional problems in children.

Amato points out that many of the problems children of divorce face begin during the pre-divorce period since it is a time of increased conflict for most parents. Thus, an increase in emotional problems experienced by children after divorce may well be due not only to dealing with their parents’ divorce but marital conflict that led up to it.

Learning new skills to protect children from the harmful effects of parental conflict during and after divorce is worth the effort. According to divorce expert and therapist Gary Direnfeld, “Not all separations are alike and not all parental separations spell disaster for their children.

“The social science research advises that the most salient factor determining risk for poor developmental outcomes for children of divorce is the level of conflict between their parents.”

Feeling safe and loved is what all children want and deserve—despite the family dynamic. In some cases, a child’s self-esteem can improve after his or her parents’ divorce if there’s a reduction in conflict and they feel loved and protected.

Parents need to avoid exposing their child to high-conflict that involves the child, physically violent situations or threatening and abusive content.

As children try to make sense of the world around them, it’s important that they are able to predict the behaviors and responses of important people in their lives. If kids experience a great deal of upheaval and unpredictability, they’ll be wary of the world around them.

They won’t know what to expect, and they’ll be unsure of their own actions. Further, parents must continually validate their children’s abilities in order for them to feel self-confident and sure or themselves and their place in the world.

If this reinforcement is absent or inconsistent from parents, children won’t develop healthy self-esteem.

While it’s impossible to avoid conflict completely, parents who learn to control their emotions bestow their children with the gifts of security and self-esteem they’ll need to thrive and become resilient adults.

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

Terry’s new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

This article was originally published at HuffingtonPostDivorce and


5 Ways to Strengthen Your Bond with Your Teen After Divorce

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Unlike younger children, teens are more likely to take sides during and after a divorce. It’s not difficult to understand why this happens.

Teenaged children have been around the family dynamic longer than their younger siblings. They have more “history” with both parents and may have been favoring one over the other for quite some time. When a divorce comes into play, it may be quite natural for teens to align themselves with the parent who seems easiest to “get on with,” so to speak.

Their decision is impacted by many factors and questions. Does this parent grant me favors? Are they more tolerant of my behavior? Have they been the “good” parent in the marriage? Will they give me a better home life in the future? Do they have more money to spend on my desires? Do they have more power in the divorce equation? Will they assure I get to stay in the same neighborhood with my friends? Will they get me a car or other things I want? Will they be more lenient than my other parent?

The combination of attaining material needs along with ego gratification needs often propels teens to align with one parent over the other. This is especially true when one parent has more power or affluence than the other. Sometimes abusive parents “win” the favor of teens as a survival strategy, even when the abused parent is more loving and nurturing to them.

Here are 5 strategies to strengthen your bond with your teen:

  • Unfortunately we often find teens expressing anger and resentment about the divorce. The unknown future brings up deep insecurities in us all. While it is hurtful to hear painful retorts like “I hate you!” keep in mind that over-dramatizing life is part of the teenage dynamic. Your child needs to be consoled and heard, acknowledging their right to express their frustration. Let go of your self-righteousness and put your attention instead on trying to see the world from your teen’s point of view.
  • Sadly, during a contentious divorce, teens can easily be influenced by their other parent not to respect, trust or love you. This can be due to your spouse trying to win them over to his or her side. Often that involves turning your teen into a confidant and trying to develop more of a friend relationship than a parenting relationship with them.
  • These types of behaviors create distance and distrust for you that can seriously impair your parent-child bond. It’s a form of parental alienation, which is always hard to counter.
  • The more you understand what your adolescent is experiencing, the more compassion you can have for them. That makes it easier for you to step up to being the parent they need. Remember, you are always a role model to your kids. They need to feel your unconditional love, especially during and after a divorce. They may be testing you or may genuinely feel you have hurt their other parent. Your teen may also be torn with guilt regarding supporting either parent through the divorce.
  • How you handle today’s challenges will affect your long-term relationship with your teen. So don’t stand on your soapbox. Show your empathy, compassion and the ability to turn the other cheek. That’s the parent they need to see — and the one they will gravitate towards over time if you are sincere and can be patient.

If you’re overwhelmed or confused, I highly recommend seeking out a support system — a therapist, divorce group or coach – to help you unravel your challenges. A professional will help you step up to taking the “high road” on an issue, even when it’s not always fair to you. Keep in mind the choices you make today will affect your relationship with your teenager for decades to come.

So think before you act. Focus on your deep love for your child. And remember, he or she didn’t create this tremendous life-altering experience. You and your spouse did. The kids are always innocent. An adolescent is not emotionally prepared for handling this drama, so give your teen some flack and also step up to being the mature, reasonable adult.

Whenever possible, I suggest talking to your soon-to-be ex about this. Discuss your feelings and concerns as well as the consequences for your teen to be alienated from you. Identify the advantages when both of you take the high road together on what’s best for your child.

At the same time, be aware that you can’t count on your ex to help you initiate  the changes you desire. Don’t wait for your spouse to do the right thing. Your future relationship with your teen is up to you. Be alert to alienating behavior. Be there for your child and also be patient and loving. Assertive confidence is more likely to earn your teen’s respect and they will come to thank you down the line!

***     ***     ***

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to:

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Prenups

In a recent entry on her blog, divorce adviser, attorney and coach, Karen Covy breaks down the nitty gritty details of the elephant in the room in so many relationships headed toward marriage: Prenups.

Covy tackles the subject so often talked about in the context of celebrity couples, demystifying the finer points of prenups with a practical approach. Acknowledging that prenups are a taboo subject, the ins and outs of a marital contract are viewed with an eye toward the average couple, no matter the assets of either partner.

And while Covy makes light of the fact that a prenup is “about as romantic as a root canal,” she cites a dramatic uptick in the prevalence (and presumably the societal acceptance) of putting pen to paper before saying “I do!” Indeed, The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers polled attorneys, found a 51% increase “in the number of millennials seeking prenuptial agreements in the past three years.” Additionally, 62% of the lawyers surveyed reported a rise in the overall number of prenups.

Covy’s article is a sort of “how to” for couples wondering if a prenuptial agreement is right for them, and covers both the basic concepts of marital contracts, as well as the minutiae — after all, the devil’s in the details.

First, Covy explains what a prenup is in broad strokes. In short, a prenup is simply a legally binding contracts that stipulates what happens when a marriage ends (either in divorce or in the death of one partner). And as with any contract, nothing is set in stone, and the particular circumstances of a couple’s union can be incorporated into a prenup in a way that best serves them. In other words, prenups are not one size fits all.

Next, the specifics — both the economic and the everyday stuff of life — are unpacked. Covy points out that the majority of prenuptial agreements are concerned with finances. However, she also makes clear that any number of factors, choices and expectations can be baked into a contract, from how frequently partners have sex, to how often a spouse is responsible for cooking, cleaning or taking care of household chores.

What are the limitations of a prenup?

But in spite of the seemingly endless number of issues in a marriage that can be governed by a prenup, Covy also points out a handful of limitations. And while the laws around prenups are different from state to state, there are a few keys areas that are out of bounds. Most notably, prenups cannot govern child custody in the event of a divorce, nor can they limit alimony or child support in the event of the dissolution of a marriage. And while it may seem obvious, one fact holds true no matter what state a couple calls home: a prenuptial agreement can not include any provisions that require a spouse to engage in illegal activity.

Some experts believe that prenuptial agreements lead to breakups because they promote defensiveness, but others feel they encourage honest discussion about finances. In my case, my second husband Craig and I had fairly similar incomes and assets when we were engaged, so we decided not to draw up a prenuptial agreement before we got married. However, we met with an attorney and established a trust for my two children from my first marriage that included provisions for all three of our children in the event that I die before Craig. I felt that establishing an estate plan would provide for Craig, ensure that my assets be distributed fairly among our three children.

Prenups and Remarriage

On the other hand, there are plenty of scenarios where a couple entering a remarriage might want to consider a prenuptial agreement. It can protect a more affluent partner when a couple has unequal assets, retirement funds, homes, and sometimes children from a prior marriage. It can also give people greater peace of mind if they were victims of financial infidelity in their first marriage or have concerns about having funds for retirement.

Most people considering marriage, whether the first, second, or third one, shy away from making a prenuptial agreement. The very thought of them raises trust issues and can lead to explosive conversations. However, when people remarry later in life, many concerns arise that could be addressed in a prenuptial agreement. They include supporting each other through retirement and old age, leaving assets to children, stepchildren, and “mutual children” if the marriage is ongoing at the time of death, and ensuing a peaceful divorce if the remarriage fails. Further, a prenuptial agreement can be a vehicle to help you decide how to support yourselves during the remarriage and to make mutual decisions about finances that feel fair to both of you.

Discuss Money Issues Prior to Hiring a Lawyer

Finally, Covy walks couples through the steps of actually taking the plunge and entering into a prenup. Offering sensible advice that may not be obvious to most people, she points out that while both partners need a lawyer to negotiate, craft and execute an effective prenup, couples should not start the process by hiring their own attorneys.

Hiring lawyers from the start can spell disaster for many couples considering marriage, and Covy rightly suggests that the process should start with an honest conversation about the values, expectations intentions and goals of the couple. She writes: “A prenup is an agreement between two people in a relationship. It is about money. Money is a sensitive topic. Money means different things to different people.” Further, she explains that talking through the myriad of tough issues that will ultimately be covered in a prenup is a surefire barometer on the state — and long-term prospects — of a relationship

In other words, if a couple can talk through the uncertainty and anxiety that makes a prenup attractive in the first place, they will be much more likely to come to an understanding informed by both practicality and love.

Covy also breaks down the small but crucial legal requirements that make a prenups binding (namely that it must be in writing, signed by both partners, and include a full and transparent accounting of all pre-marital assets), before ending with a helpful list of “pros and cons” that all couples should consider.

Transparency Often Prevents Divorce

Whether or not you choose to have a prenup, I highly recommend openly discussing the details of your past and current finances. In my experience, transparency often prevents divorce, and it’s certainly better to know if you will have trouble discussing finances prior to marriage rather than after the complications of living together set in.

Ultimately, it boils down to this. Finances are essential to every aspect of your life and discussing them openly provides you and your partner the best opportunity for building the foundation of a strong marriage.  In the end, it’s clear that prenups and their prevalence are reflective of the times, and their increasing acceptance in the culture has both positive and negative ramifications. Either way, as with any major decision in a marriage, prenups should be approached with openness and honesty by couples, and despite the best intentions and the most skillful legalese, a prenup is not going to ensure success in a relationship. It may be one piece of the pie, but long-lasting love and marriage that stands the test of time, requires good old-fashioned communication, compromise and caring.

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

Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.


Why Do We Love An Abuser?

Falling in love happens to us―usually before we really know our partner. It happens to us because we’re at the mercy of unconscious forces, commonly referred to as “chemistry.” Don’t judge yourself for loving someone who doesn’t treat you with care and respect, because by the time the relationship turns abusive, we’re attached and want to maintain our connection and love. There may have been hints of abuse in the beginning that we overlooked, because abusers are good at seduction and wait until they know we’re hooked before showing their true colors.

By then, our love is cemented and doesn’t die easily. It’s difficult to leave an abuser. It’s possible and even probable to know we’re unsafe and still love an abuser. Research shows that even victims of violence on average experience seven incidents before permanently leaving their partner.

It can feel humiliating to stay in an abusive relationship. Those who don’t understand ask why we love someone abusive and why we stay. We don’t have good answers. But there are valid reasons. Our motivations are outside our awareness and control, because we’re wired to attach for survival. These instincts control our feelings and behavior.

Deny to Survive

If we weren’t treated with respect in our family and have low self-esteem, we will tend to deny abuse. We won’t expect to be treated better than how were controlled, demeaned, or punished by a parent. Denial doesn’t mean we don’t know what’s happening. Instead, we minimize or rationalize it and/or its impact. We may not realize it’s actually abuse. Research shows we deny for survival to stay attached and procreate for survival of the species. Facts and feelings that would normally undermine love are minimized or twisted so that we overlook them or blame ourselves in order to keep loving. By appeasing our partner and connecting to love, we stop hurting. Love is rekindled and we feel safe again.

Projection, Idealization, and Repetition Compulsion

When we fall in love, if we haven’t worked through trauma from our childhood, we’re more susceptible to idealizing our partner when dating. It’s likely that we will seek out someone who reminds us of a parent with whom we have unfinished business, not necessary of our opposite sex parent. We might be attracted to someone who has aspects of both parents. Our unconscious is trying to mend our past by reliving it in the hopes that we’ll master the situation and receive the love we didn’t get as a child. This helps us overlook signs that would be predictive of trouble.

The Cycle of Abuse

After an abusive episode, often there’s a honeymoon period. This is part of the Cycle of Abuse. The abuser may seek connection and act romantic, apologetic, or remorseful. Regardless, we’re relieved that there’s peace for now. We believe promises that it will never happen again, because we want to and because we’re wired to attach. The breech of the emotional bond feels worse than the abuse. We yearn to feel connected again. Often the abuser professes to love us. We want to believe it, and feel reassured about the relationship, hopeful, and lovable. Our denial provides an illusion of safety. This is called the “Merry-Go-Round” of denial that happens in alcoholic relationships after a bout of drinking followed by promises of sobriety.

Low Self-Esteem

Due to low self-esteem, we believe the abuser’s belittling, blame, and criticisms, which further lessen our self-esteem and confidence in our own perceptions. They intentionally do this for power and control. We’re brainwashed into thinking we have to change in order to make the relationship work. We blame ourselves and try harder to meet the abuser’s demands. We may interpret sexual overtures, crumbs of kindness, or just absence of abuse as signs of love or hope that the relationship will improve. Thus, as trust in ourselves declines, our love and idealization of the abuser remain intact. We may even doubt that we could find anything better.


Many of us have empathy for the abuser, but not for ourselves. We are unaware of our needs and would feel ashamed asking for them. This makes us susceptible to manipulation if an abuser plays the victim, exaggerates guilt, shows remorse, blames us, or talks about a troubled past (they usually have one). Our empathy feeds our denial system by supplying justification, rationalization, and minimization of the pain we endure. Most victims hide the abuse from friends and relatives to protect the abuser, both out of empathy and shame about being abused. Secrecy is a mistake and gives the abuser more power.

Positive Aspects

Undoubtedly the abuser and the relationship have positive aspects that we enjoy or miss, especially the early romance and good times. We recall or look forward to their recurrence if we stay. We imagine if only he or she would control his or her anger, or agree to get help, or just change one thing, everything would be better. This is our denial.

Often abusers are also good providers, offer a social life, or have special talents. Narcissists can be exceedingly interesting and charming. Many spouses claim that they enjoy the narcissist’s company and lifestyle despite the abuse. People with a borderline personality can light up your life with excitement . . . when they’re in a good mood. Sociopaths can pretend to be whatever you want . . . for their own purposes. You won’t realize what they’re up to for some time.

Intermittent Reinforcement

When we receive occasional and unpredictable positive and negative intermittent reinforcement, we keep looking for the positive. It keeps us addictively hooked. Partners may be emotionally unavailable or have an avoidant attachment style. They may periodically want closeness. After a wonderful, intimate evening, they pull away, shut down, or are abusive. When we don’t hear from the person, we become anxious and keep seeking closeness. We mislabel our pain and longing as love.

Especially people with a personality disorder might intentionally do this to manipulate and control us with rejection or withholding. Then they randomly fulfill our needs. We become addicted to seeking a positive response. Over time, periods of withdrawal are longer, but we’re trained to stay, walk on eggshells, and wait and hope for connection. This is called “trauma bonding” due to repeated cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates emotional bonds that resist change. It explains why abusive relationships are the most difficult to leave, and we become codependent on the abuser. We may completely lose ourselves trying to please and not displease the abuser. Bits of kindness or closeness feel all the more poignant (like make-up sex) because we’re been starved and are relieved to feel loved. This feeds the Cycle of Abuse.

Abusers will turn on the charm if you threaten to leave, but it’s just another temporary ploy to reassert control. Expect to go through withdrawal after you leave. You may still miss and love your abusive ex.

When we feel completely under the control of the abuser and can’t escape from physical injury, we can develop “Stockholm Syndrome,” a term applied to captives. Any act of kindness or even absence of violence feels like a sign of friendship and being cared for. The abuser seems less threatening, and we start imagining that they’re our friend and we’re in this together.

This occurs in intimate relationships that are less perilous due to the power of chemistry, physical attraction, and sexual bonding. We’re loyal to a fault. We want to protect the abuser whom we’re attached to rather than ourselves. We feel guilty talking to outsiders, leaving the relationship, or calling the police. Outsiders who try to help feel threatening. For example, counselors and Twelve-Step Programs may be viewed as interlopers who “want to brainwash and separate us.” This reinforces the toxic bond and isolates us from help . . . what the abuser wants!

Steps You Can Take:

If you feel trapped in a relationship or can’t get over your ex:
• Seek support and professional help. Attend CoDA meetings.
• Get information and challenge your denial.
• Report violence and take steps to protect yourself from violence and emotional abuse.
• When you miss the abuser or are longing for attention, in your mind substitute the parent whom you’re projecting on your partner. Write about and grieve that relationship.
• Be more loving to yourself. Meet your needs.
• Learn to set boundaries.
• Take steps to improve the relationship utilizing Dealing with a Narcissist…and Difficult People.
• Get Breakup Recovery and How to Raise Your Self-Esteem .
©Darlene Lancer 2019

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

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


10 Steps to Self-Esteem

Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People

How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar How to Be Assertive

Breakup Recovery

“I’m Not Perfect – I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism

Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps

Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness

Codependency’s Recovery Daily Reflections

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem

Self-Love Meditation

Follow me on Facebook


10 Key Tips for Resolving a Marital Crisis

You feel that you are missing something or you have feelings for someone else. You annoy each other all the time, you argue for nothing, or you do not understand yourself at all. These are signs that you are going through a marital crisis. Your marriage problems seem to be spinning out of control.

Maybe the flame went out between you. Work, children, or other concerns always take up more time and mental space. Result: you have less and less time for each other.

If you want to fix it, it is important that you determine the essence of the problem. Here are some tips that will help you overcome this marital crisis.

  1. What is the problem?   

When you want to solve a marital conflict, it is good to start by determining the substance. Many people do not know or have a vague idea of ​​what is wrong with their relationship. Solving their marital crisis is all the more difficult. Start by trying to determine on your side what is wrong with your relationship. What is missing? When do disputes arise?

Difficult? In this case, you could help you apply the method described below:

Take a sheet of paper and describe your relationship as you see it now. Write down the negatives of your relationship on the left side of the sheet and the positives on the right side. Strive to list twice as many positives as negatives. Indeed, in most cases, we tend to focus on the negative points while it is important to see the relationship as a whole and determine what to work on, and on the contrary, what works.

  1. Talk about it

After determining what’s wrong and what you want to change, engage in conversation with your partner. Do not take a reproachful tone because it would lead to nothing, or an argument. A couple is composed of two people; it is up to you both to solve this marital crisis.

Tell your partner that you have thought about what you would like to change and ask him or her if he/she shares your opinion. You will probably hear your partner talking about completely different grievances, but you will find that he/she also joins you on a number of frustrations.

  1. What are your needs?

The success of a union depends on the satisfaction of the needs of the two people who form it. This is why it is important to discern the needs of the other. Sometimes, these needs are much less mysterious than you would have imagined.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a little compliment at the right time. If the behavior of your mate bothers you and you need something else, say so. It is very likely that your partner will appreciate your honesty, and it will encourage them to be more transparent. This will prevent misunderstandings. Needs need reflection and discussion.

  1. Emotional inaccessibility

Many people lock themselves into an emotional fortress that prevents them from truly getting closer to their friends or family. Of course, it’s a way to protect yourself  and that is not uncommon. It is possible that this is your situation without you having never noticing it. It is important, however, that you avoid doing this to your partner.

In addition, some people wear a social mask; again, it is a protective measure that often does more harm than good. This can result in you feeling like strangers to each other even if you have been married for years. You do not know who the other is really, because you wear this mask both even when you are together.

If you want to get closer to your partner and solve the marital crisis that you are going through, you will have to restore mutual trust and open yourself to the other. This applies to both of you. Couples therapy can be of great help to facilitating this process.


  1. Do not live in the past  

Many marriages are doomed because one of the partners carries the emotional baggage of past disappointments. Recognize that personal hindrance in the past may be the main reason why you or your partner can not fully expose each other.

This may be a lack of confidence due to a past event, and the person is delaying the current relationship; or else, this lack of trust is rooted in a deep fear of engagement or relationship failures prior to the current relationship. Try to solve these problems and help each other overcome them by being more sensitive and showing empathy toward each other.

Of course, the emotional baggage can also be born during the marriage. Perhaps one of you has deceived the other. In this case, the question is whether you want to preserve your marriage. If the answer is yes, it is important to be able to forgive each other to overcome this marital crisis together.

Tell yourself that you are both human and that humans sometimes make mistakes. Nevertheless, you can control one’s actions, and you can repair the mistakes you has made in many cases. Do not dwell on bad memories.

  1. Treat each other as you would like to be treated

Never see each other as an element of the decor. Never think that you can neglect your marriage without fearing anything negative will happen. Do not think that your marriage can go on without demonstrations of love. You would not like him or her to treat you like this. Do not act like that yourself. Your partner can not know that you love him or her if you do not tell them or show love through your actions.

You can show love through very little gestures, like calling him or her in the middle of the day just to say hello. To buy them a little something or take him or her to dinner at this restaurant where you have so many good memories. To go to an event that does not interest you so much, but that will make your partner crazy. It’s those little things that make life so special.

  1. Do not hide anything

People who have nothing to hide are open and honest. So make sure you have nothing to hide. Nobody is 100% open, but nothing prevents us from making an effort in this direction. So try to be an open book for your partner and make sure that he or she knows you thoroughly. Do not wait for the other. Nothing is more frustrating than a partner who says something but thinks the opposite. Be honest with each other; you will have already traveled halfway.

  1. Do not try to always be right 

You do not need to constantly prove to your partner that you are one step ahead of him/her. Try to understand and put yourself in your partner’s shoes instead. You will make a much more pleasant companion if you decide to be happy now rather than wanting to be right not only for your partner but for all those around you. In addition, you will be better able to have a conversation without it turning into a fight.

If your partner acts in this way, discuss the subject with him or her. Tell him that it bothers you never to be taken seriously and that he/she never agrees with you, no matter what you think. But do not make a match between you. It does not matter who’s right: the important thing is to respect each other.

  1. If the effort does not come from both sides

Show your partner his or her fears and resistance but also let him understand that you will go much further if you work together. If your partner realizes that he/she is not gaining anything to scare himself, he/she will automatically stop doing so. Show that you want to do everything to save your marriage and that you are actively working to overcome this marital crisis. Be careful not to act like a know-it-all but to communicate your kindness.

  1. Make sacrifices

Like any friendship or relationship, a marriage requires sacrifices. Marriage is the union of two different people. Sometimes children also add to the equation, and living together under one roof is not always easy. Do not be unrealistic to the point of thinking that you are simply not made for each other at the slightest disagreement.

Do not go astray in connected divorce motions of the type: “we have taken different paths” or “we are slowly moving away from each other.” A marriage requires everyone to take responsibility. Take yours.

To Summarize:

You can probably solve this marital crisis and save your marriage if you are both willing. Recognize the problems you face and face them. And above all: do it together. If needed, seek help from a licensed couples therapist. You can solve this marital conflict. You just have to find yourself. That is possible. You have fallen in love with each other, and what has united you has not disappeared. It’s just a question of rediscovering it.

The author, Luisa Hilburn knows a thing or two about men and the dating scene. Much of my writing is inspired by my encounters with men – and for good reason, I gets myself into some hilarious situations – like that time I went on a date with a guy who took me to a cow farm. If you need to find me, I am usually on a date or standing in the chocolate isle debating whether or not to give into temptation, also I am a writer and co-owner of

Infidelity As Theft: Lisa Arends’ “What Infidelity Steals From You”

In a recent video by Lisa Arends on her YouTubeChannel, the wellness coach, teacher, and author of “Lessons From the End of a Marriage: A ‘How to Thrive’ Guide After Divorce” digs deep into the aftermath and effects of cheating.

Speaking candidly from personal experience, Arends recounts the end of her own 16-year marriage, which was ultimately beset by an unfaithful partner. While Arends acknowledges that “betrayal, at its core, it somebody going against what they promised you,” she also offers a more nuanced perspective on infidelity, suggesting it is a “kind of theft.”

“Infidelity steals your memories” according to Arends. And her insight and honesty in the wake of her own struggles in an unfaithful marriage certainly rings true.

After almost two decades of shared and special moments, her husband’s infidelity not only undermined the perceived stability of their relationship, it also “tainted” the memories that give so much of marriage its meaning.

The emotions engendered by infidelity are obvious — the anger, the sadness, and the regret. But there’s more under the surface. In an incredibly raw and relatable first-hand account, Arends opens up about the uncertainty and doubt sown by cheating, revealing the reality that “precious memories will never again be so precious.”

Ultimately Arends helps us understand that infidelity isn’t about sex and it isn’t simply resolved with forgiveness or divorce. Those are choices one makes in the wake of infidelity. But in her video, which works as a sort of confessional, she exposes the many emotional levels involved in infidelity.

Infidelity takes your innocence and your inclination and willingness to trust people, whether they be a spouse, or even a stranger. Infidelity robs you of the clarity of your conviction, causes you to question others’ motivations, and significantly, it steals your dreams and your future. All of the hopes and plans that a couple shares in a marriage are made meaningless by infidelity, and those long-term consequences inform live on even after the dissolution of a marriage.

But in posting this video, Lisa Arends has done more than share her story. She has given the victims of infidelity a new clarity and understanding of the pain of an extra-marital affair. She has given viewers a kind of key to unlocking complicated emotions, a well as an example to those in the midst of the affects that there is light at the end of the tunnel — and salvation in valuing yourself.

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

Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.


Divorce Advice: 5 Tips for Staying Positive After a Breakup

Nobody ever imagines that their sparkly new marriage will end up in a bitter divorce when they first say “I do.” But the reality is that many couples will not make it to their tenth anniversary.

Even if getting a divorce was the absolute best idea for you and your ex-spouse, losing the person you thought you’d be with forever is devastating. You watch the life you had planned for yourself slip through your fingers. It can be especially difficult to carry on after separating if you have children with your ex.

So what do you do when your marriage doesn’t turn out like you thought it would? Keep your head up and follow this divorce advice so that you can stay a positive thinker during the hardships in your life.

  1. Put a Positive Spin on It

Studies show that couples who are in a happy marriage carry less of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their bloodstreams than those who are single or divorced. However, those who are with an unloving, disrespectful spouse may find that their stress levels are going through the roof.

If you have just come out of a toxic marriage it can be helpful to look at the positive, such as:

  • No longer dealing with abusive speech and behavior
  • Do not have to rely on someone else financially/take care of someone else financially
  • Stress levels decrease
  • You no longer have to deal with invasive in-laws
  • You can watch the shows you want
  • More time to pursue your hobbies and goals
  • No longer have to report to someone else
  • You have more time to focus on your career
  • You have the freedom to do whatever you want
  • Potential to find a new romantic interest who understands you better

Dealing with divorce is very difficult, but the best divorce advice is to look at the silver lining in your situation. And if you were in a dangerous or frustrating relationship, there are certainly many benefits to being on your own again!

  1. Let Yourself Grieve

Just because your marriage didn’t last doesn’t mean there weren’t good moments with your ex. After some time has passed and you have properly grieved the loss of your marriage, it can be beneficial to look back fondly on the good parts of your relationship.

Studies show that reminiscing on positive memories can reduce symptoms of depression, contribute to your overall well-being, life satisfaction, and boost self-esteem.

You can’t truly move on from your relationship unless you learn to accept your separation and let go of the past. Instead of looking at all the things your ex did wrong or remembering the ways that they hurt you, try and focus on what you learned from that relationship and use it to grow as a person.

  1. Embrace Your Social Life

When you were married, you likely had a healthy social life outside of spending time with your partner, but spending time with your spouse was your top priority. Now that you are single, you have more time to spend with your loving friends.

Family and friends can be an invaluable resource to you during your breakup. Studies show that spending time with friends and family after a breakup can significantly lower psychological distress.

  1. Look for Ways to De-Stress

If you want to be positive after your divorce, you need to start changing your mindset. You can do this by scheduling some serious de-stress activities.

  • Get a massage
  • Use some lavender essential oils
  • Do yoga or meditate
  • Get a new pet
  • Schedule enough time for sleep
  • Eat mood-elevating foods
  • Breathe
  • Take a bath
  • Plan a relaxing vacation

The impacts of divorce on children are seemingly endless. After studying three decades worth of research about family structure, Linacre Quarterly Journal states that “divorce has been shown to diminish a child’s future competence in all areas of life, including family relationships, education, emotional well-being, and future earning power.”

A solid piece of divorce advise is the following: Don’t forget to involve your children in your de-stressing process as well. Look for ways to relax them such as by making playdates with friends, taking them on a picnic, to the beach, or having a family game night.

5 Remember Who You Are

When you go through a big change in life, such as a breakup, it can be difficult to remember who you were outside of your relationship.

One of the most important pieces of divorce advice you can follow is to use your breakup as a way to reconnect with yourself. Remember all of the things you used to love to do such as exercise – studies show that it can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

It can also be beneficial to journal, play an instrument, and find other hobbies and activities that you used to enjoy – or find new ones that inspire you.

The greatest thing about a divorce is that it gives you the chance to have a clean slate, start over, and be the person you always dreamed of being.

Going through a divorce is one of the hardest things you will ever do, especially if you have children. But by following this divorce advice, you will be able to put a positive spin on your current situation and take control of your life.

Author Bio:

Sylvia Smith is a writer who likes to write about relationships and how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. She is currently associated with She is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt its principles in their relationships. By taking purposeful and intentional action, Sylvia feels any relationship or marriage can be transformed and truly enjoyed.

Relationship As A Spiritual Path

A relationship can be an exciting path to the unknown. It offers an ever-present opportunity to grow―a path to spiritual transformation and mutual discovery and ultimately the divine when partners open to one another.

The concept of spirituality derives from “spiritus,” meaning vitality or breath of life. Like an electric charge, our soul awakes when we’re connected to that force. The more we’re aligned to it, the stronger and more alive is our soul. We tap into this power each time we express ourselves authentically.


Consider spiritual concepts, such as faith, surrender, truth, compassion, and love. As we practice these principals in our relationships, they have a synergistic effect, reinforcing one another and strengthening us.
Faith and Surrender

Faith is the first spiritual premise. A relationship with a higher source or higher power, however defined, must be our priority, because when we make someone or something (like an addiction or ambition) more important, we not only live in fear, but we also lose ourselves–our soul.

In relationships, faith in a higher power enables us to surrender our well-being and self-worth to something other than another person. It helps us rise above our fears and build autonomy and self-esteem. When we trust that we won’t disintegrate from loneliness, fear, shame, or abandonment, we’re able to brave rejection and separateness from our partner.

Surrender requires patience, which also comes from faith. If we want to relinquish controlling our relationships, we must have the confidence to wait. On the other hand, when our fears and defenses are activated, we end up hurting the relationship in our attempts to maintain it.


Our spiritual and psychological development soars when we speak and act congruently in alignment with our Self, especially when we feel we have the most to lose. With faith we gain the courage to chance our partner’s displeasure and speak the truth. Honest, authentic and assertive communication replaces passive and/or aggressive attempts to please and manipulate. Expression of our vulnerability invites others to be vulnerable also. This builds our spiritual power, resiliency, and autonomy. By giving loving, non-interfering attention, a safe, healing environment is created. When reciprocated, we no longer feel the need to hide, and our ability to risk and be vulnerable grows. Then true intimacy becomes possible.

Compassion and Love

Acceptance is essential for satisfying relationships. Yet, we can only accept and have compassion for our partner to the degree to which we accept and have compassion for ourselves. Compassion develops from self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It requires we surrender the demands of our ego to live up to unrealistic, unforgiving demands and expectations. When we understand our own and our partner’s tender points and struggles―our “triggers”― we become less reactive. Then we can listen without judgment, without taking our partner’s thoughts and feelings so personally.

Bridges of mutual empathy with our partner permit us to achieve deeper levels of acceptance and compassion for ourselves and one another. We stop clinging to expectations and ideas about how we and our partner should be. Instead, we experience both our Self and our partner as unique and separate.

Anxiety and the need for defensive behaviors that cause problems in relationships gradually dissolve. The relationship becomes a haven for two souls to experience themselves and each other in a space of love and respect. As trust grows, the relationship makes space for greater freedom and acceptance.


In an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion, unconditional love can spontaneously arise. Martin Buber believed that spirit resides not in us, but between us. He explained that the “I-Thou” experience gives rise to a numinous, spiritual force, a “presence” in which we experience our true Self.

Experiencing the Self in this milieu feels exhilarating. When we’re not trying to hide, intimacy supports our wholeness. Paradoxically, as we risk losing our partner, we gain ourselves, and although we’re now closer than before, we’re more autonomous. The Self becomes substantial and more individuated.

Our defenses, which we thought kept us safe and made us strong, have not only been obstacles to intimacy, but have also fortified old feelings of inadequacy, which stifled our Self and true inner strength. Trusting our vulnerability, we hesitatingly walk through our fears. We grow in faith, self-compassion, and courage each time we express our authentic self. By risking defenselessness, we begin to see ourselves and others more clearly. We uncover who we truly are, our divinity, within an intimate, “I-Thou” space of unconditional love.

We realize that we’re enough―that our wholeness and self-acceptance doesn’t depend on what others think, but on self-awareness. Our past conditioning and emotional blocks slowly evaporate, and we become stronger. By living in a state of presence, our lives are enriched and vital. Our being generates healing that strengthens our soul.

Such a relationship necessitates two people committed to a spiritual process. Of course, relationships require safety. Learning to value and protect ourselves are also lessons on our spiritual journey. When we don’t feel safe, we have an inherent right and duty to protect ourselves―not through defensive maneuvers, but by directly expressing our feelings, needs, and wants. Sometimes, we must set boundaries or leave a toxic relationship.

Relationship as a spiritual path requires a willingness to experience the pain of working through our fears and old programming and a belief that in truthfulness lies freedom. In most cases, couples get closer. A healthy relationship will flourish, and an inappropriate one will end.
Copyright Darlene Lancer 2019

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You
10 Steps to Self-Esteem
Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People
How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar How to Be Assertive
Breakup Recovery
“I’m Not Perfect – I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism
Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps
Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness
Codependency’s Recovery Daily Reflections
How to Raise Your Self-Esteem
Self-Love Meditation
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