How Attachment Style Determines Your Choices in a Partner

By Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT

Your attachment style and degree of individuation determine your partnership choices and relationship satisfaction. The process of individuation—becoming an individual—allows you to meet your needs for both attachment and autonomy necessary for healthy relationships. It starts in the first year of life, as we learn that we’re separate from our mother and that we and other people each have our own thoughts, feelings, needs, perceptions, and boundaries.

Margaret Mahler studied mother-child dyads and identified how we separate from our earliest caregivers and developing autonomy and identity to become an individual. This allows us to develop our true self.

Mahler concluded that separation-individuation depends on continued attachment to a responsive caregiver. This allows a child to develop a stable sense of self and others by integrating fluctuating internal states and frustrating and pleasurable aspects of another person.

Whereas Mahler studied the task of separating, John Bowlby developed attachment theory, also based on early child development, but which focused on how attachment defines our sense of self and others. The two theories overlap, and attachment is affected when we have difficulty differentiating from our first caretaker. Both Bowlby and Mahler agreed that a mother’s consistent and understanding attitude is critical for child development.1

As we grow, other people at home become important and impact our sense of security, self-esteem, and later adult relationships. Autonomy is best achieved when separation from our parents is conflict-free and they’re seen as supportive and nurturing. Separation marked by guilt, resentment, and anxiety is associated with insecure attachments.2

Object Constancy and Splitting

To separate from our mother (or earliest caretaker), as infants we must make sense of contradictory feelings of love and hatred toward her and develop a cohesive view (“object constancy”) of ourselves and others, meaning that we internalize a steady image of ourselves and our mother. When parenting is deficient and we’re unable to integrate good and bad feelings and aspects of our mother, the result is called splitting, first coined by Freud. To cope, we mentally split the good and bad mother into two contrary representations.3 Splitting keeps the “good” and loved aspects of our mother separate from the “bad” and hated aspects of her. This impairs object constancy and our ability to fully develop autonomy. Splitting affects us internally and confuses us. It creates turmoil in close relationships and is associated with an anxious attachment style and fears of abandonment.4

For example, splitting impairs your ability to remember that you love your partner when you’re angry or that your partner is dishonest when you feel close. Splitting contributes to idealization and devaluation. Then you react to your projection rather than reality. You might take impulsive action, such as breaking up or cheating, all the while denying the ensuing heartache stemming from your love and need for your partner. Conversely, you may deny or forget about abuse when your partner is flattering or apologetic.

When separated, you may not be able to recall your partner’s positive or negative traits. If you have an anxious attachment, you may imagine your girlfriend is losing interest or that your boyfriend is flirting. You feel compelled to frequently text or seek reassurance. Not only is it difficult to stay emotionally connected to your partner when apart, you may also conjure up negative characterizations that are abusive, ungratifying, or abandoning, which feel very real until you again talk or see each other. Then you realize it was all in your mind as you struggle to differentiate the present from your unhealed past. (To complicate matters, it may also be true, but splitting confuses you.)

Attachment Styles

Attachment theory claims that daily interactions with our earliest caretaker determine our style of attaching and how we relate to other people. When not parented well, lack object constancy might produce a defensive detachment style, low self-esteem, and pseudo-self-sufficiency to compensate for a lack of connection.5 In some cases, a child may develop narcissism or borderline personality disorder.

We’re likely to seek a partner who conforms to our internal models and reflects how we see ourselves and others.6 Although not fully explained by research, some people with dysfunctional early parenting develop secure attachments

later in life. Temperament also influences how babies behave in ways that appear unrelated to caregiving or are different from siblings who share the same parents.7 The three basic attachment styles include secure, anxious, and avoidant; the last has two variants: fearful and dismissive. Estimates suggest roughly 50 percent of the population is secure, 20 percent is anxious, 25 percent is avoidant, and 5 percent is fearful.8

Secure Attachment

A responsive caretaker in our earliest years helps us traverse the individuation-separation process with a secure attachment, healthy self-esteem, and the capacity for autonomy and intimacy.9 This enables us to deal with separations and object constancy. Secure attachers see themselves and others in a positive light and anticipate that they’re reliable, available, and trustworthy. Thus, they believe that it’s easy for them to be in intimate relationships and depend upon other people. They don’t split or idealize their partners but see them as “whole” persons with positive and negative traits. They seek a comfortable rather than intense relationship. They’re compassionate and responsive to their partner’s communications and needs without reacting to requests for more space or intimacy.

Anxious Attachment

People with an anxious attachment style (also called preoccupied) are hyper-focused on the relationship. If their mother was emotionally unavailable or inconsistent, they might worry about rejection and abandonment, just like as a baby they were preoccupied with her mother’s lack of responsiveness and/or comings and goings. This insecurity sensitizes them to signs of withdrawal or abandonment and makes them question their partner’s feelings and commitment.

People with an anxious attachment style view others positively but believe themselves to be unworthy and unlovable (most codependents). They’ve internalized their early caretaker’s behavior as shaming, inferring that they’re not good enough, lovable, or worthy. Their self-esteem suffers as a result.

They’re uncomfortable and feel less valued being on their own, but believe that relationships will validate their lovability and provide the acceptance that they lack internally. Separations are often fraught with guilt, resentment, and anxiety. In relationships, they’re dependent, insecure, and needy, and want complete closeness. Since relationships reflect self-assessments, their strategy usually doesn’t work, because anxious attachers often bond with someone avoidant whose attachment style matches that of their parent and childhood experience. This only exacerbates their experience of abandonment and reinforces their dependency and low self-esteem. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of emotional abandonment.

Avoidant Attachment An avoidant attachment style evolves when a mother is frequently unresponsive or emotionally unavailable. Her child learns to be self-sufficient and suppresses vulnerable feelings and attachment needs for love and closeness. Those feelings and needs felt unsafe and were experienced as shameful or disappointing. Such a cold mother may also have had this style and expected her child to be independent before it was emotionally mature enough to do so. (See Sons and Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.)

People who suffered abuse or neglect often develop a fearful attachment style, also known as disorganized. When children fear their mother, they may develop a fearful-avoidant attachment style that has elements of both anxious and avoidant attachment. Like anxious attachers, they see themselves as unworthy and unlovable and want a close relationship, but fear abandonment. However, because they see other people as unavailable, untrustworthy, and rejecting, they’re afraid of becoming dependent and getting hurt. So they avoid relationships to be safe.

Individuals with a dismissive-avoidant style achieve autonomy and have a positive view of themselves. They prefer their independence, avoid closeness, and have disdain for people who want intimacy and a close relationship. They don’t want to depend on other people or have others depend on them, which protects them from rejection and disappointment.

Codependency For codependents, the task of individuation isn’t successfully traversed. Much of their suffering is due to incomplete separation-individuation begun in toddlerhood and conflicting needs for maternal attachment vs. autonomy. Power struggles that accompany individuation in childhood and adolescence frequently continue into adult relationships. Boundaries are difficult to distinguish and establish. Insecure attachments in adult relationships reflect insecure and inconsistent parenting. The dance of intimacy between an anxious pursuer and an avoidant distancer often re-enacts the

earlier mother-child drama. The former seeks more closeness and a secure attachment, while the avoidant partner tries to separate and individuate. In actuality, both are codependent but have adapted to an insecure parenting style in different ways.

Developing object constancy and achieving individuation are never finished.10 Similarly, our attachment style is updated by our adult relational experiences. Secure relationships help us grow. Overcoming codependency promotes individuation and secure attachments. Raise Your Self-Esteem and develop self-love.

© Darlene Lancer 2021

  1. I. Blom, A. Bergman. (2013) “Observing Development: A Comparative View of Attachment Theory and Separation–Individuation,” in Eds. J.E. Bettmann and D.D. Friedman, Attachment-Based Clinical Work with Children and Adolescents. pp. 9-44. New York: Springer Science+Business Media.
  2. D.K. Lapsky, J. Edgerton. (2002). “Separation-Individualization, Adult Attachment Style, and College Adjustment.” Journal of Counseling & Development. Vol. 80:484-492.
  3.  Rubens, R. L. (1996). “The unique origins of Fairbairn’s Theories.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues: The International Journal of Relational Perspectives. 6(3): 413–435.
  4.  D.K. Lapsky, J. Edgerton. Ibid.
  5.  Horner, A. (1995). Object Relations and the Developing Ego in Therapy. United States: Jason Aronson Incorporated.
  6.  D.K. Lapsky, J. Edgerton. Ibid.
  7.  Van IJzendoorn, et al. (2000). The similarity of siblings’ attachments to their mother. Child Dev Jul-Aug; 71(4):1086-98.
  8. J. Birch. (August 16, 2018). “Knowing your ‘attachment style’ could make you a smarter dater,” Washington Post.
  9. D.K. Lapsky, J. Edgerton. Ibid. 10 Mahler, M. S., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (1975). The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant. New York: Basic Books

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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5 Healthy Ways to Fill the Void After Divorce

By Lisa Arends

From the chilled and vacant bed to the endless evening hours to the loss of a trusted confidant, the void left in your life after divorce can be both vast and agonizing. The emptiness begs to be filled, the cracks call for smoothing over and you try to distract yourself from staring too long at the vastness of the crater in your life.

Watch Out For These Unhealthy Ways to Fill the Void-

 In an attempt to soothe the initial pain from divorce, many of us first turn to one or more of the following unhealthy (and ultimately ineffectual) methods of trying to fill the vacuum:

Filling Your Belly to Try to Fill Your Heart

 When you’re feeling gutted and vacuous, it can be natural to turn to food for relief, mistaking the temporary physical fullness for emotional satiety. There is a very real link between emotions and food – we often speak of “comfort foods,” bring food to those in mourning and bond with others over a meal. Yet the real comfort comes less from the sustenance and more from the nourishment of the connection with others.

When you attempt to feed an emotional hunger with food, you will never be completely satisfied because you are addressing the wrong area of need. Repeatedly turning to food may have a detrimental impact on your health and will also serve to widen the disconnect between your mind and body.

Avoiding Reality With Alcohol or Drugs

Emptiness is uncomfortable. A sense of free falling through space is frightening. In those dark and lonely hours when you’re alone and worried that you’ll always be alone, it can be tempting to numb the pain and quiet the fear through chemistry.

And there will be relief in the moment, those blissful moments where you are able to forget reality and embrace a dream world. Yet reality always bursts back in, throwing open the door and blinding you with its harshness. Trying to avoid it only delays the inevitable confrontation and acceptance.

Bolstering Confidence With Shopping

It’s no wonder that shopping is a common pastime for those that are feeling down – the hunt of a good bargain and the acquisition of new baubles rewards us with a feel-good burst of dopamine. Those who have experienced an esteem hit after infidelity and/or divorce can be especially drawn to the appeal of covering the vulnerable skin with fancy clothes, new cars or a designer house.

Shopping gives us an opportunity to briefly occupy a fantasy world where the advertisements and markers have us convinced that material goods are associated with a particular life. But the thrill is always temporary, the boost short-lived. Chasing the tail of this dragon can ultimately be devastating to both your wallet and your well-being.

Distracting From the Pain by Dating

When you’re facing the heartbreak and the hollowness that follows the end of a relationship, there can be a powerful craving to experience the excitement and potential of new partnerships (even if they only last the night). Giving in to this desire too soon is like going to the grocery store hungry; you are not going to be able to make good decisions.

Additionally, when you’re still vulnerable, dating can often serve to highlight the void you feel as you realize that this person in front of you is really a stranger and that your early feelings are more hope and projection than actuality. It’s often better to wait to re-enter the dating scene until that compulsive desire to replace your partner has faded.

Passing the Time By Consuming Media

What is easiest is often not what is best for us. And nowhere in modern culture is this more apparent than in the consumption of media. In a moment of loneliness, we may turn to Facebook for the sense of connection, yet studies show that browsing the platform leaves people feeling even more isolated. When we’re feeling low, we easily give in to a Netflix binge, expecting to feel more rested. When instead, television (especially when consumed in binges), only intensifies feelings of sadness and fatigue.

Instead, Try These to Fill the Void –

The previous strategies may work for a short period of time but ultimately, they will cause more harm than good as they prevent you from healing the wound from within. Instead of leaning on those quick fixes in an attempt to fill the void left from divorce, try building yourself up through the following strategies. Be patient – these methods may take longer to work than the unhealthier ones, but their results are lasting and authentic.

Finding Purpose Through Work

 With divorce, you lose one of your major life roles, that of husband or wife. It can be an uncanny feeling as you wonder what position you now occupy and what purpose you now serve. Depending upon your particular circumstances, this can be an opportunity to allocate more of your energy into your career.

You may find that the changes in your life allow you to take bigger risks or to break out of your standard mold. Changes in your home life may have given you extra time to commit to your job or financial matters may necessitate that you undertake a new endeavor.

Often, when you’re feeling like a failure in your personal life, successes at work take on even greater meaning. Use this opportunity to recommit or reinvent your work persona. Strive to carve out a position where you feel needed, appreciated and interested.

Building Strength and Poise Through Movement

Divorce has a way of making you feel weak. Powerless. And exercise in any form is an excellent way to begin to reclaim your strength and feeling of control over your life. The best form of exercise to undertake is the one that you enjoy and that you can pledge yourself to.

It’s harder to feel powerless when you accomplish the goals you have set for yourself. It’s harder to feel vulnerable when you feel the increase in your performance capacity from week to week. As you throw yourself into movement, focusing on form and breath, the void no longer seems so vast or so dark.

If you’re struggling with sadness and isolation during unstructured hours, use exercise to build a framework around those times. If you flounder without accountability, sign up for group or team exercise so that you have others to answer to. And if you’re feeling disconnected from your body, opt for yoga or weight training so that you can again reconnect with yourself.

Reclaiming Vitality Through a Passion Project

What endeavor encourages you into a state of flow, where your entire focus is on what is at hand and time seems to stop? What activity did you used to enjoy in your youth or dream about turning into a career? What is something that you have always been curious about trying but practicality and circumstances have stopped you? These are hints about your passions, your interests that both consume you and fuel you.

The period after divorce provides a wonderful opportunity for pursuing or restoring a passion project. I know of people who have picked up the violin again, started stand-up comedy, written a book or chartered a non-profit charity. Others, selecting a more physical approach, sign up for a marathon or strive to earn the next belt level in Jiu Jitsu.

The “what” matters less than the enthusiasm you have for the enterprise. When you throw yourself into something that you enjoy and find success in, you breathe life back into the hole in your heart. When you’re passionate about something, you focus more on creation rather than any residual emptiness.

Rising By Lifting Others

When we’re feeling alone and eviscerated by divorce, we can easily become a captive of our own minds. The thoughts cycle and the self-pity begins to grow in our emotional isolation. Perhaps the best way to both put problems in perspective and help jettison us from our thoughts is by empowering others.

If you have children, strive to help them become strong, independent and compassionate people. Reach out to your friends and family that are in need and find ways to help to liberate them from their struggles. Help strangers through your church or a volunteer organization, selflessly sending positivity into the world. If you find people overwhelming, consider helping by adopting an abandoned pet or volunteering in an animal shelter.

Giving to others helps you feel better about yourself and also allows you to shift your focus away from your pain. As you give to others, you will find that paradoxically, you become filled yourself.

Generating Legacy Through Creation

Some of the most beautiful and lasting art, music and prose has been born of heartbreak. Even if you’re not destined to be the next Shakespeare or next year’s Beyoncé, you can still use your pain as an impetus for creation.

Even if it never sees the light of day, the mere act of using your sorrow as a conduit through your medium of choice helps to transform your relationship with the heartache. As you create, you’re building scaffolding throughout that void left from divorce. Scaffolding that you can then use to begin to climb your way out of the darkness.

By Lisa Arends


6 Ways to Stop Being Defensive with Your Partner

By Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW

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,” a “You” statement that sparks her defensiveness.

In intimate relationships, 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:

  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 gentler 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.”

Since we all have flaws, give your partner the benefit of the doubt rather than attacking him or her 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.

Find Terry on 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. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.


8 Ways to Deal with Flooding and Manage Conflict with Your Partner 

By Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW

Many of the couples I counsel find that they fall into cyclical and unhealthy patterns when conflict arises. Fights occur and reoccur that concern the same issues, and often play out in the same ways, with this unfortunate dynamic causing one or both partners to make regrettable comments.

For instance, Holly, age 48, has been married to Josh, 50, for twenty years and they sought counseling because they often bicker about day-to-day issues such as errands, chores, and who will choose weekend activities.

Holly put it like this: “The day our son, Conner, graduated from middle school should have been a joyous occasion but it was stressful because Josh insisted on picking a restaurant that was crowded and not family friendly. My elderly parents and our three kids didn’t have a good time. But he wouldn’t listen to reason and when I tried to discuss it with him, he raised his voice, and accused me of being stubborn.”

Having the same fight over and over again with the same result is a relatable problem, but in a recent article for The Gottman Institute’s website, therapist Kari Rusnak, writes about the ways in which we’re internally programmed to engage in these routines. Known as “flooding,” our bodies are physiologically programmed to respond to threats — like a disagreement with our partner — with a fight or flight response.

The physical and mental manifestation of the fight or flight reflex in us shows itself in myriad ways, from a rush of adrenaline, to increased heart rate and blood pressure, to quickened breathing. And while these are natural chemical responses to a perceived threat, Rusnak argues that understanding what’s happening in our minds and bodies in these moments can help unlock our ability to diffuse conflict and resolve fights more quickly and successfully.

As with so many tools that can help us improve our relationship, awareness is the first key step toward progress. Rusnak writes that when we fail to recognize signs of flooding, “adrenaline builds up without release, you feel anxious and stressed, and you can’t focus to listen or speak clearly.

In fact, many of the couples I meet with find that if they’re in the middle of a conflict with their partner, flooding can derail what the problem is and create more problems. It’s common to say things you don’t mean when flooded, and this can cause a new conflict.

Signs of flooding include not feeling heard by your partner, saying things you don’t mean in the midst of a conflict, feeling defensive, and raising your voice. In the moment, any of these could cause you to shut down, or alternately, to ramp up a fight. In either case, the outcome will lead to further issues and can cement the kind of hamster wheel effect caused by flooding.

However, if you can be in tune with our physical and emotional response, and identify flooding when it occurs, there are a set of strategies at our fingertips that will nip relationship turmoil in the bud. First, Rusnak suggest coming up with a “key phrase or word to initiate a flooding time-out.” Simply establish a sort of code word that means something in this context to only you and your partner.

When you or your partners invokes the word or phrase, take a break, or time out, from the conflict. Give yourself and your partner time to calm down, process the response to flooding, and do something calming. As Rusnak writes, “don’t stew. This is not a time to replay the argument or think about how you would like to respond once the time out is over. Redirect your thoughts to calming and soothing your body and mind.”

Steps to dealing effectively with flooding and conflict in intimate relationships:

  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.). Starting conversations with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness.
  2. 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?
  3. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you will regret later. 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.
  4. 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. Sometimes couples can benefit from a short break before doing this.
  5. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements that tend to come across as blameful – such as “I felt hurt when purchased the car without discussing it with me” rather than “You’re so selfish; you never think of what I need.”
  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 (2 days).
  7. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, 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.
  8. 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. A recovery conversation can reveal information about your relationship, lead to a resolution of the fight, and restore intimacy.  Be careful not to rekindle the fight and be respectful of each other (following the guidelines in points 1 to 7 of this list). Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.

Once you’ve learned to manage and resolve conflicts effectively, it becomes much easier to repair disputes and to get back on track. If you find yourself struggling, tell your partner what is on your mind. Starting with an “I” statement, such as “I feel upset right now, are you free to talk?” will meet with more success than a “You” statement such as “You’re not listening to me.”

If you are in the middle of a conflict with your partner, pause and use an “I” statement to change the direction of the conversation. 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 by being honest and open with your partner during times of high conflict or distress. It takes time and patience!

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.

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 Warning Signs – Taking An Honest Look Back

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

From time to time when talking to clients they tell me they were caught off guard by their divorce. Some even proclaim their spouses left them “one day, without any warning!”

I usually respond by asking: is that actually true? Was there really no warning?

Upon deeper reflection, in most every case some “warning” signs were there already. Often they were evident looking quite a way back. Consequently, the day their partner left actually took place after an accumulation of many previous warning signs. Sadly they were overlooked or dismissed.

While that doesn’t soften the blow of the experience, it puts another perspective on the importance of being aware of what’s going on in your relationship. That means keeping your eyes wide open even when you’d prefer not to “see.” Think back on all the times you felt something was not quite right, but you just couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Or you couldn’t decide what to do about it — or how to address the issues. Those were warning signs, whether you decided to act on them or not. Most of us weren’t raised with the knowledge of how to tune in to our emotions, let alone to someone else’s emotions. So it can be easier to look the other way, dismiss the behavior … or just do nothing about it. Nevertheless, they were “warning signs” indicating all was not okay.

Think back to some incidents when you chose, perhaps and most probably unconsciously, to brush those signs away. How often did that happen? From that viewpoint does the fatal moment still look like … “one day, without any warning?”

When life throws a curve ball at you, it’s important to stop, digest the circumstances and ask yourself some serious questions:

Ø What part did I play in this experience?

Ø What did I miss that I can now see more clearly?

Ø What can I do moving forward to prevent this from happening again?

Ø What lessons can I learn that can help me transform my life in better ways?

We call this doing the “inner work.” That means taking responsibility for your role, actions or inactions. That way you can heal more quickly and move on, especially from feeling like being a victim in your life.

Owning your part, forgiving yourself for any mistakes and identifying the lessons that come with the experience gives you control over tomorrow as well as your entire future. And that is essential if you are to grow and create better times ahead.

No doubt, this can be a tough step to take — accepting responsibility for understanding how you came to this point in your life — but it is also a valuable step in the right direction. Letting go of victimhood can lead to personal empowerment, greater self-esteem and the confidence to know you are the creator in your life from this day forward.

Perhaps that is the true “gift” you can receive from the pain of a breakup or divorce.

You cannot move forward when you are focused on looking behind. Is it time to let go of some of the blame and anger so you can reframe your life in the direction you want to take it? I sincerely hope so. And I encourage you to reach out to a therapist, coach, support group or other trusted help through the process.

If you’d like to share your wisdom on how you took steps toward personal empowerment during or after your divorce, I would all appreciate your contribution.

Wishing you a bright future and happy parenting.

* * *

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 advice, coaching services, expert interviews, programs, e-courses and other valuable resources on divorce and co-parenting, visit:

All rights reserved. © Rosalind Sedacca

How to Leave a Narcissist or Abuser

When we fall in love, it’s natural to become attached and form a romantic bond. But once in love with a narcissist, it’s not easy to leave, despite the abuse. Although you’re unhappy, you may be ambivalent about leaving because you still love your partner, have young children, lack resources, and/or enjoy lifestyle benefits. Outsiders often question why you stay, or urge you to, “Just leave.” Those words can feel humiliating, because you also think you should. You may want to leave, but feel stuck, and don’t understand why. This is because there are deeper reasons that keep you bonded unlike in other relationships.

Why it’s Hard to Leave

Narcissists, especially, can be exceedingly charming, interesting, and enlivening to be around. Initially, they and other abusers may treat you with kindness and warmth, or even love bomb you. Of course, you want to be with them forever and easily become dependent on their attention and validation. Once you’re hooked and they feel secure, they aren’t motivated to be nice to you. Their charming traits fade or disappear and are replaced or intermixed with varying degrees of coldness, criticism, demands, and narcissistic abuse. (See “Narcissus and Echo:  The Heartbreak of Relationships with Narcissists.)

You’re hopeful and accommodating and keep trying to win back their loving attention. Meanwhile, your self-esteem and independence are undermined daily. You may be gaslighted and begin doubting your own perceptions due to blame and lies. When you object, you’re attacked, intimidated, or confused by manipulation. Over time, you attempt to avoid conflict and become more deferential.  As denial and cognitive dissonance grow, you do and allow things you wouldn’t have imagined when you first met. Your shame increases as your self-esteem declines. You wonder what happened to the happy, self-respecting, confident person you once were.

Research confirms that it’s common for victims to attach to their abuser, particularly when there’s intermittent positive reinforcement. You may be trauma-bonded, meaning that after being subjected to prolonged belittling and control, you’ve become childlike and addicted to any sign of approval from your abuser. This is referred to as Stockholm Syndrome, named for hostages who developed positive feelings for their captors.

You’re especially susceptible to this if the relationship dynamics are repeating a pattern you experienced with a distant, abusive, absent, or withholding parent. The trauma bond with your partner outweighs the negative aspects of the relationship. Studies show that victims of physical abuse on average don’t leave until after the seventh incident of violence. They not only fear retaliation, but also the loss of the emotional connection with their partner, which can feel worse than the abuse.

Additionally, codependents, who are usually preyed upon by narcissists and abusers, often feel trapped and find it hard to leave any relationship. They can be loyal to a fault due to their codependency.

After You Leave

Narcissists and abusers are basically codependent. (See “Narcissists are Codependent, too.”) If you distance yourself from them, they do what it takes to pull you back in, because they don’t want to be abandoned. Narcissists want to keep you interested to feed their ego and supply their needs (“narcissistic supply”). Being left is a major humiliation and blow to their fragile self. They will attempt to stop you with kindness and charm, blame and guilt-trips, threats and punishment, or neediness, promises, or pleas―whatever it takes to control you so that they “win.”

If you succeed in leaving, they usually continue their games to exert power over you that compensates for their hidden insecurities. They may gossip and slander you to family and friends, hoover you to suck you back into the relationship (like a vacuum cleaner). They show up on your social media, try to make you jealous with photos of them having fun with someone else, talk to your friends and relatives, text or call you, promise to reform, express guilt and love, ask for help, or “accidentally” appear in your neighborhood or usual haunts.

They don’t want to be forgotten, but keep you waiting and hoping. Just when you think you’ve moved on, you’re reeled back in. This may reflect their intentional spacing of contacts. Even if they don’t want to be with you, they may not want you to let go or be with anyone else. The fact that you respond to them may give them enough satisfaction. When they contact you, remember that they’re incapable of giving you want you need.

You might feel guilty or tell yourself that your ex really still loves you and that you’re special to him or her. Who wouldn’t want to think that? You’re vulnerable to forgetting all the pain you had and why you left. (See “Why and How Narcissists Play Games.”) If you resist their attention, it fuels their ambition. But once you fall into their trap and they feel in control, they’ll return to their old cold and abusive ways. Only consistent, firm boundaries will protect you and disincentivize them.

How to Leave

As long as you’re under their spell an abuser has control over you. In order to become empowered, you need to educate yourself. Come out of denial to see reality for what it is. Information is power. Read up on narcissism and abuse on my website. If you’re unsure whether you want to leave, take the steps in Dealing with a Narcissist to improve your relationship and evaluate whether it’s salvageable. Regardless of your decision, it’s important for your own mental health to redeem your autonomy and self-esteem. Take these steps:

  1. Find a support group, including a therapist, 12-Step group, like Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), and sympathetic friends―not ones who bash your spouse or judge you for staying.
  2. Become more autonomous. Create a life aside from your relationship that includes friends, hobbies, work, and other interests. Whether you stay or leave, you need a fulfilling life to supplement or replace your relationship.
  3. Build your Self-Esteem. Learn to value yourself and honor your needs and feelings. Develop trust in your perceptions and overcome self-doubt and guilt.
  4. Learn How to be Assertive and set boundaries.
  1. Learn how to nurture yourself. This is a life skill and also insulates you from abuse. See “12 Tips to Self-Love and Compassion.” Get the Self-Love Meditation.
  1. Identify the abuser’s defenses and your triggers. Detach from them. On my website, get “14 Tips for Letting Go.”
  2. If you’re physically threatened or harmed, immediately seek shelter. Physical abuse repeats itself. Read about the cycle of violence and actions to take.
  3. Don’t make empty threats. When you decide to leave, be certain you’re ready to end the relationship and not be lured back.
  4. If you decide to leave, find an experienced lawyer who is a family law specialist. Mediation is not a good option when there is a history of abuse. See “Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce.”
  5. Whether you leave or are left, allow yourself time to grieve, build resilience, and recover from the breakup.
  6. Maintain strict no contact, or only minimally necessary, impersonal contact that’s required for co-parenting in accordance with a formal custody-visitation agreement.

© Darlene Lancer 2019


7 Steps to Forgiving Your Ex Once and For All

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Forgiving others and yourself is infinitely terrifying yet necessary for achieving healthy relationships. It’s about being willing to acknowledge that you are capable of being wounded and able to risk exposing yourself. It also means that you’re stepping out of the role of a victim and taking charge of your life.

Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts, yet people often express clichés such as “forgive and forget” as if it’s an easy process. However, the importance of forgiveness takes on a new meaning after divorce because no one marries with the intent of divorcing so hurt and shame can run deep.

At times people equate forgiveness with weakness and it’s also widely believed that if you forgive someone you’re condoning their behavior. In my case, I held a grudge against my ex for many years and was unable to forgive him for his part in our divorce because it made me feel vulnerable to being hurt again.

But once I understood that it takes courage to forgive someone who you believe wronged you, and that it’s not about accepting, condoning, or excusing someone’s behavior, I was free to forgive my ex and myself for the pain we caused each other during our marriage and divorce.

What does forgiveness mean?
What does forgiveness really mean? Forgiving is one way of letting go of your baggage so that you can heal and move forward with your life. It’s about giving yourself, your children, and perhaps even your new partner, the kind of future you and they deserve – unhampered by hurt and recycled anger. It’s about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment.

According to author Deborah Moskovitch, forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook. She writes: “Forgiveness is NOT the same as forgetting what happened, or condoning your ex-spouses actions, giving up claims to a fair settlement or reconciliation. While forgiveness may help others, it first and foremost can help you.”

What if I can’t forgive?
Many experts believe that forgiveness is a critical aspect of divorce recovery but that acceptance is a worthy option in cases where you’re not ready to forgive. In her groundbreaking book How Can I Forgive You? Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D. explains that acceptance is a responsible, authentic choice to an interpersonal injury when the offender won’t engage in the healing process by apologizing.

While Dr. Abrahams encourages readers to muster up the courage to forgive others who have wronged them, she also says that forgiveness that’s not genuine is “cheap” – so not worth much. She writes, “For those of you who have been wronged, I encourage you to take care of yourself, be fair, and seek life-serving ways to cleanse your wound.” She suggests that while genuine forgiveness is a worthwhile goal, acceptance is the middle ground between unforgivable hurt and cheap forgiveness.

There are many reasons why people have difficulty letting go of the past and reversing the painful consequences of their past, writes Dr. Fred Luskin in his acclaimed book Forgive For Good. He points out that people may take on the pain of others’ mistakes because they take their offenses personally.

Dr. Luskin believes that individuals heal best when they react as if the injury happened to a close friend. He posits that when people create a grievance story which focuses on their suffering and assigns blame, their suffering is magnified.

Luskin writes, “Forgiveness is not a focus on what happened in the past and neither is it remaining upset or holding onto grudges. You may have been hurt in the past, but you are upset today. Both forgiveness and grievances are experiences that you have in the present.”

One of the biggest problems with ongoing resentment in post-divorce relationships is that it often leads to withdrawal and poor communication. And if you’re bottling up feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment often, this can lead to feelings of resentment.

If your feelings of resentment toward your ex are persistent, it can cause you to hold a grudge which is usually deep seated and often the result of an injury or insult that has occurred. People hold grudges due to both real and fancied wrong doing. Either way, the bitterness that comes with a grudge – even if understandable – comes with a price. Studies show that letting hostility fester can lead to depression, anxiety, cardiovascular issues, immune system problems, and higher risk of stroke.

7 steps to forgiving your ex:

  1. Write down three ways your hurt feelings have impacted (or are still impacting) your life. Gain awareness of the emotions you experience about your past hurt. Talking to a close friend or therapist can help facilitate this process.
  2. Find a way to dislodge yourself from negative emotions. Examples include therapy, yoga, improving your physical health, and practicing expressing thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when people sweep things under the rug, so be vulnerable and don’t bury negative feelings.
  3. Take small steps to let go of grudges or grievances. Repair the damage by finding ways to soothe hurt feelings. This might include writing a letter or release to the person who injured you – even if you don’t mail it. Your letter might read something like: “I release you from the pain you caused me when we used to argue.”
  4. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.” Apologize to the other person when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness and allow you both to move on.
  5. Don’t let wounds fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding on to hurt feelings. Processing what happened briefly will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship. Keep the big picture in mind.
  6. Accept that people do the best they can and attempt to be more understanding. This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
  7. Practice forgiveness by thinking like a forgiving person. Avoid holding a grudge and declare you are free to stop playing the role of victim. After all, we are all imperfect. For some people, genuine forgiveness is not possible, but acceptance is a worthy goal.

Practicing forgiveness allows you to turn the corner from feeling like a victim to becoming a more empowered person. Experts believe that forgiving an ex can allow you to break the cycle of pain, move on with your life, and to embrace healthier relationships after divorce. However, forgiveness takes time and has a lot to do with letting go of those things you have no control over.

Follow Terry Gaspard 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 at many outlets and bookstores.

Terry’s new book “The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around” was published by Sounds True in February of 2010 and you can order here.

6 Ways To Conquer Your Single Parent Dating Challenges!

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Dating as a single parent comes with its own set of challenges.

Because you’re a parent you must never forget the child in your life, much as you may want to when out in the dating world. Parenting is a life-long responsibility. It doesn’t matter whether your child is with you full-time or you have a shared visitation schedule.

Either way, it’s crucial that you approach being single with the awareness that you are also parent. And that should influence all of your social and relationship decisions. Because your kids always count!

Here are 6 tips for smarter, healthier and more rewarding dating and relationships when you are a single parent:

  1. Be up front with new partners about your role as a parent. You don’t want to date people who don’t like or respect kids. Nor do you want to hide the fact that you’re a parent who loves and wants to protect your child. Never make parenting a surprise or after thought for the person you’re dating!
  2. Be cautious regarding sharing information about your child with strangers and new partners. Don’t provide their name, exact age, where they live and other details about your parenting arrangement. Speak in general terms such as my daughter is in elementary school or my son is a teenager.
  3. Depend on babysitters so new partners don’t meet your kids before it’s appropriate You want to get to know a partner well before introducing them to your child. It’s not fair to your kids or to your dates to meet a few times and then disappear from your life. Take your time getting to know, trust and deeply care about a partner before ever bringing them into your child’s life.
  4. Take baby steps in introducing new people to your child. Start with short meetings: a quick lunch, a picnic at the park, watching a movie together. Listen to your child’s feedback and never dismiss or admonish them if they don’t approve at first. This is a sensitive issue. Trust and respect builds over time both for adults and children.
  5. Be aware of jealousy issues. Kids need to feel safe with you and your new partner. When they don’t, they can make up stories, fake bellyaches or have a tantrum just to get attention. These are signs they are feeling insecure, perhaps jealous or threatened by your new partner. Seek our professional help if this is the case. Never force your friend on a child who is resistant.
  6. Always do the parenting and disciplining of your kids. Even when children like the new partner it’s important that they never take on the role of a substitute parent. Kids rebel when this happens. Your partner is a new friend for your children. Not a replacement for your former spouse who hopefully is still in their lives.

Remember, after divorce you aren’t just looking for someone to spend your time with. You are looking for someone to be an adult role model for your children, as well. This awareness is extremely important and should be a major factor in all of your future relationship decisions.

Your children will thank you for making a wise choice in partners – and for being a loving, caring parent they can depend on.

***     ***     ***

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, recognized as The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce. She is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, which provides valuable resources for parents who are facing, moving through or transitioning after a divorce. She is also a Dating & Relationship Coach and co-host of Divorce, Dating & Empowered Living Radio Show & Podcast. For more advice on dating after divorce visit her websites:,, and



Support System: How to Tell Your Loved Ones that You Are Getting a Divorce

When it comes to strong, personal emotions, how we feel inside and other people’s expectations for how we should feel inside don’t usually match up. The relationship you experience and the one that friends and family see at gatherings and other events can often lead friends and family to think that everything is ok, or that perhaps that you have worked it out.

But if you can’t reconcile with your partner and repair a damaged relationship, or if separating is the right path toward a happier and more satisfactory life, you’ll need to break the news eventually.

Before I write further, I must warn that there is a danger in searching for advice on how best to communicate sensitively or emotionally charged information with someone. An effective way for some might be a terrible idea for others to try. It would be unethical to try to convince you otherwise. That’s why this article won’t be a list of overgeneralized, feel-good tips. Instead, I aim to walk you through a clinically developed system for dealing with conflict and discussing complex or controversial things with others.

The D.E.A.R.M.A.N. Skill

I feel the DEARMAN skill is an excellent communication tool to guide these sensitive interactions with loved ones. However, I would consult with a child therapist before deciding on the best plan for telling your children about your divorce. Though elements of the DEARMAN approach will no doubt be useful, some specialists focus exclusively on divorce trauma for children, and you should absolutely consult with them and discuss the best approach for your child’s needs.

Clinical psychologists developed the DEARMAN skill as a mnemonic system to help a person remember seven words to keep in mind when trying to persuade another to do something without damaging your relationship or either party’s self-respect.

This skill helps you manage your own behavior when trying to get someone to accept or to do difficult things – like asking them to accept your divorce. Focusing on managing your behavior and not on the other person’s reaction allows you to stay on task and accomplish the conversation’s goal. No matter how the other person responds, you are calm, confident, and assertive.  If you adhere to these seven principles when telling your loved ones about your divorce, you’ll present a reasoned and articulate request to them.

You are not responsible for their reaction, which hopefully is sympathetic and supportive. The DEARMAN skill is beneficial for talking with people who might not react so well to the news but is effective for any interaction where you must express your needs and desires, which may counter the other person’s own needs and wishes. If you’ve followed the steps, you’ve ethically and responsibly done your part in relaying the news.

D for Describe

Describe the situation exactly as it is, free of judgment. In this case, you should cut right to the chase.

“Jon and I are getting a divorce.”

 Getting right to it keeps the conversation focused and doesn’t allow for conversation to distract you from accomplishing your communicative goals. It also doesn’t give you time to delay or procrastinate the delivery.

E for Express

Express how you feel and why using only “I” messages.

“I believe that this is the best path forward for me. Jon and I have talked it out in therapy, and we’ve decided this is what’s best for our mental health.”

 Accusatory language or attacking the person you are trying to communicate with will only get you further from your conversational goal. Express your position only.

A for Ask

Assert what you need from the other person. Specificity here is vital, especially when making requests that conflict with the other person’s interests.

“I need you to accept and understand that these changes are taking place.”

You should tailor how you say things based on who you are talking to and their relationship with you and your soon-to-be-ex partner. Precision is paramount! If you are telling close friends or in-laws you’ve grown close to, this part of the process can seem blunt, terse, and cold.

But, if you remember that there isn’t an easy way to talk about this and stress the importance of this conversation with your loved ones, they should understand that long-winded arguments will only make the conversation more painful.

R for Reinforce

Use positive reinforcement if they respond supportively and sympathetically by showing gratitude that they heard you out and were respectful of your needs.

If they don’t respond well, you should never play into their emotions. Always be anchored and calm. If the other person’s emotions begin to escalate, matching their emotional state will only agitate the situation.

M is for Mindfulness

Keep focused on your goal and dispel attempts to redirect the conversation. Also, be mindful of your own emotional response. This can be difficult because there is no way to avoid feeling strong emotions while discussing difficult things. Try some grounding exercises to keep you focused and attentive.

A grounding exercise is basically anything that redirects your attention from anxiety-inducing stressors. Focusing on your breathing and keeping it steady and calm is one of the easiest and most effective grounding exercises you can practice.

A is for Appear Confident

Even if you aren’t feeling confident, you need to be sitting or stand upright, with good posture and maintain eye contact. This lets the other person know that this is serious and sets the tone of the interaction. Body language is another tool for effective communication.

N is for Negotiate

Though you aren’t going to renegotiate your divorce, this part of the skill helps settle areas of conflict with inlaws and friends who will be affected by the split. Maybe skipping out on future gatherings involving friends and family might be an excellent conciliatory offer.

You can also apply this skill to negotiate different parameters of your request:

“I’m open to talking about this more in the future if you need some time to digest this information.”

Stick to Your Plan

The most challenging part of the conversation is dealing with the anxiety leading up to it. This is where your mind will try to come up with all the reasons why it’s not the right time. That is your own anxiety and fear attempting to sabotage a conversation you know has no better time than ASAP. Getting right to it is the best way to relieve the stress and get the difficult parts behind you.

Remember D.E.A.R.M.A.N., and I wish you the best of luck!

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant who writes for a Lee A. Schwartz, family law attorney in Philadelphia.

Mother’s Day Reflections: 7 Lessons I Learned from My Daughter

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Mother’s Day is a perfect time to reflect on how my divorce changed my relationship with my daughter. When I was a young teenager, I used to make lists of the things that I would teach a daughter – if I was lucky enough to have one. Since I’m a natural born coach, I’ve been thinking about what lessons I want to pass on to my daughter. In the meantime, it struck me recently how much my daughter has taught me about love, letting go, and resiliency.

Being a mom has always felt like an honor, a gift – something to feel proud of! However, no one prepared me for how much my relationship with my daughter would be altered by my divorce. Too much closeness, misunderstandings, love, and conflicts – there are many ways to describe this relationship and not a lot of research to draw from.

Since nearly one third of all daughters have parents who are divorced in America, and most of them reside with their mothers after the breakup, I was surprised to find so few studies on this topic. Perhaps it’s because we live in a culture psychologist Harriet Lerner refers to as mother-blaming rather than supportive of mothers. In The Dance of Connection Learner writes, “Mothers are held responsible not only for their own behavior (which is fair enough) but also for their children’s behavior, which they can influence but not control.”

Some studies posit that the mother-daughter relationship becomes more intense after divorce due to proximity and amount of time spent together. Psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington studied 1,400 divorced families over a period of thirty years. She considered the connection between mothers and daughters to be a protective factor after divorce. After extensive examination, Hetherington concluded that preadolescent girls develop close supportive relationships with their mothers but that this shifts during adolescence when there is more upheaval in their lives. In For Better or for Worse, she writes “In adolescence, there is a notable increase in conflict in these relationships, particularly between early maturing daughters and their mothers.” She concludes, “In addition, divorced mothers and their adult daughters are closer than divorced mothers and sons, and sons feel somewhat closer than daughters to their fathers.”

It makes sense that the mother-daughter bond would intensify after divorce since girls spend much less time with their fathers according to Dr. Linda Nielsen, author of Between Fathers and Daughters. She writes: “Sadly, only 10-15 percent of fathers and daughters get to enjoy the benefits of shared parenting.” Nielsen is a supporter of shared parenting, whenever possible, and recommends that parents encourage their daughter to spend close to equal time with both parents. Giving her messages such as “Both your dad and I made mistakes in our marriage, but we are good parents” will help your daughter to avoid loyalty conflicts and will strengthen her connection with both of her parents.

What are some concerns about the mother-daughter bond after divorce? Based on more than two decades of research on fathers and daughters, Linda Nielsen concludes that many mothers lean too heavily on their daughters for advice and caretaking and this can turn the daughter against her father. Another point made by Nielsen that I noted in my own research, is that daughters are more upset about and negatively impacted by parental conflict than sons post-divorce. Specifically, high parental conflict before and after divorce, was associated with lowered self-esteem for girls more so than sons in my study. Since girls tend to be more focused on relationships, and spend more time with their mothers post-divorce, it makes since that they would internalize feeling of low self-worth during times of conflict and take it personally when their father is absent or inconsistent in his contacts.

Some mothers may get too involved in their daughter’s lives after their divorce and have difficulty setting boundaries. An expert on parenting and gender issues, Dr. Peggy Drexler notes that many mothers want to feel connected to their daughters and, in many cases, their daughters’ friends. She writes, “At a time when there is so much societal pressure to stay young, this helps keep us feeling youthful. It also helps us feel appreciated long after our children stop “needing” us to survive. Dr. Drexler makes the point that many mothers seek validation through their daughters. In my opinion, this need could be exaggerated after divorce when the mother’s coping skills might be strained. In fact, the mother-daughter best friend idea doesn’t leave room for the more traditional role of mom and could even lead to a competitive edge between them.

Like many divorced Moms, Rita is a woman who craves closeness with her daughter, Shana, and this intensified after her divorce four years ago. During a recent counseling session, for instance, Shana talked about needing space from Rita: “I love my mom but sometimes things get a little stressful between us.” Rita described shopping trips with her seventeen-year-old daughter Shana and her friends. While they both enjoy many aspects of these outings, Shana admits that her mom may be living vicariously through her. Shana says, “My mom likes to go shopping with me and my friends and I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not cool.”

Boundaries are an important part of any relationship, but they are especially critical for mothers and daughters after the breakup of a family. As mothers, we want our daughters to grow up to be independent and self-confident. But when we are overly involved and encourage them to tell us all of their deep, dark secrets, this may make it problematic for them to break away and to establish their autonomy – a crucial developmental task of adolescent identity formation.

Another important aspect of raising a daughter after divorce is to transmit a message of optimism about relationships. Be careful not to bad-mouth her other parent or to make disparaging comments about love or marriage. Hopefully, the legacy you’ll pass on to your daughter will be one of resiliency and hope.

7 lessons I learned from my daughter:

• Learn to let her go and try not to lean on her too much. Give her space to grow and to develop her own identity – this will strengthen your bond.
• Be her mother and mentor but realize this isn’t the same as being a friend. Don’t confide in her (when it comes to personal information that doesn’t involve her). You can enjoy each other’s company and be connected, yet be autonomous individuals.
• Honor your daughter’s boundaries. Try not to take it personally if she doesn’t want to invite you to join her and/or her friends for social activities.
Be a strong and supportive role model. But in order to help her find her way, she’ll need to question your decisions and personality at times. Lead by example.
• Don’t ask too much of her. Keeping your expectations realistic will improve your relationship with your daughter. She can’t make up for what you didn’t get from other people.
• Have faith in your daughter. While it may be hard to let go, you can delight in watching her grow into a self-confident person.
• Send out a message of hope about relationships. Be careful not to pass on a pessimistic view of love or mistrust of partners. Encouraging her to spend close to equal time with you and her other parent will help to restore her faith in love!

In sum, respecting the differences between you and your daughter will strengthen your connection in the years to come. Letting go means accepting that your daughter is separate from you and that she has her own personality, interests, and choices to make. She needs to learn from her mistakes just like you did. You can’t live through her or save her from the pain that comes with growing into womanhood – but you can delight in her joys.

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome The Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

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