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.



5 Things You Don’t Understand About Divorce Until You’ve Lived Through It

By Lisa Arends

I thought I knew about divorce. When I was in elementary school, I weathered my own parents’ divorce, observing their reactions from the sidelines. I felt the loss, the change in family structure. I experienced the strange vacancies of a split – the blank spots on the walls where my dad’s pictures once hung and the empty seat in the family camping van.

I thought I knew about divorce. I read my mom’s seemingly endless supply of self-help books, important resources for her career as a marriage and family therapist. I digested countless case studies and thumbed through endless nuggets of wisdom and advice for an enduring marriage.

I thought I knew about divorce. So I chose a husband that showed me copious amounts of affection and seemed at ease communicating about emotional matters. After we weathered various storms, I was convinced that divorce was something that could never happen to us. Until it did.

I thought I knew about divorce. Until it happened to me. And I realized how little I knew. Because there are some things you only learn about divorce once you’ve lived through it.

  1. Divorce Leaves No Stone Unturned

Before living it, I had always viewed divorce as analogous to a friend moving away – there’s the initial loss, the lingering loneliness and the need to fill the newly-formed void. What I neglected to understand is the sheer vastness of the impact of divorce.

It touches everything.

It’s the friend moving away, the home being destroyed by a rogue forest fire and the loss of health and sanity. A stranger jettisoned in a strange land, unable to speak the language. All while you’re losing your closest confidant and doubting your own decisions. And that’s not even addressing the shame of failure and the judgment of others.

Your family is fractured, perhaps alliances formed and relationships severed. Children are unsure and needy or defiant and acting out. Divorce changes your body as the signs of stress show on your face and your appetite is affected by the strain. Your routines alter as they reform around the missing person and even something as innocuous as an evening Netflix show takes on a greater meaning. Your job is impacted as your mind wanders and you have to spend your lunch break emailing your attorney. Your home, if you’re still in it, is at once sanctuary and mausoleum.

Divorce is far more than simply a change in family structure. It’s a reorganization of your entire life. Your entire self. It’s a massive transformation. A time when everything is called into question and nothing is certain.

It’s also an opportunity. A crack in the bedrock allowing a change in course, an alteration of spirit. You can stay at rock bottom. Or you can choose to build.

  1. Your Emotions Will Be in Conflict

Your spouse cheats, you’re angry. They leave, you’re sad. They move on with somebody else, you’re jealous. It all seemed so straightforward until I experienced it myself.

When I received the text that ended my first marriage, my first response was disbelief. Then shock. Then concern for him. Followed by blind rage. Then pragmatism took hold. Until the uncontrollable sobbing started.

And that was only the first ten minutes.

The reality of the emotional onslaught is much messier and much less predicable than anyone can imagine. Overwhelming loss enters the ring against an unspoken sense of relief. Blinding rage battles with compassion and a memory of love once shared. Moments of sheer joy rise unexpectedly like the opening of a shaken soda only to be trailed by a sudden jolt of reality.

The reality is that there is no one way you’re supposed to feel. All of these strong and conflicting emotions are normal when enduring divorce. And they’re all valid. It’s possible to hate someone and still miss them. We’re capable of feeling anger and empathy. It’s okay to have moments of bliss even while the tears are still drying on your face.

  1. You Cannot Prepare For or Control Everything

If you had asked me prior to my divorce how one should approach the process, I would have been full of pragmatic (and naïve) advice. It seemed pretty clear cut – talk things out with your ex and make decisions that are fair to both, limit the legal counsel sought and seek to be friendly throughout the entire ordeal.

Which is not how things happened.

Throughout the entire divorce process, I felt like a tennis shoe thrown into the washing machine, being tossed about at will and completely submerged in the process. I was accustomed to being in control of my life and my surroundings and the divorce was a rude awakening to how little influence I really had.

You can try to anticipate how you, your ex or your children will respond. You can make plans for how you think the process will proceed. You can spend months researching your options and making informed decisions.

But at the end of the day, you have no control over the outcome and limited skills in predicting the future. And that can be a difficult – yet freeing – truth to accept.

  1. Some Days You Will Feel Like a Failure

Even though my rational brain does not interpret divorce as a failure, my emotional self still experiences shame around the end of my own marriage. I find that I am quick to offer the extenuating circumstances that made divorce the only logical solution and absolve me of the bulk of the responsibility.

When I hear people claim that “divorce is not an option,” I feel both angry and foolish that I allowed myself to be put into a situation where it became the only option. Even though it became the best thing that ever happened to me.

No matter your circumstances and your larger feelings surrounding your divorce, there will be days where you feel like a failure, like you’ve been branded as someone who gives up too easily or perhaps doesn’t know how to compromise. Sometimes these feelings spontaneously arise from within and sometimes they’re compounded by external judgment.

Instead of allowing the guilt and shame to tell you you’re a failure, funnel them into learning how you can do better going forward. You’re not a failure for getting divorce; you’re only defeated if you allow it to get the better of you.

  1. It Will Be All-Consuming….Until It Isn’t

I kind of feel like I need to send an apology note to everyone I came in contact with during my divorce –

“I’m sorry that I told you way too much of my personal business and probably made you uncomfortable in the process.”

But at the same time, I’m not sorry. It was a brief period where all sense of political correctness and social niceties were shed and real, although brief, connections were formed over my shared intimacies.

For months, my divorce – and my ex’s shenanigans – were my defining characteristics. It was the first thing friends inquired about and the first thing on my mind when I awoke. Everything reminded me of him or what I had lost in the process.

And then a day came where I didn’t think about the divorce, my ex or my losses. And then another day followed shortly after. Instead of being the most important feature in my life, it became simply part of my backstory.

When you’re in the midst of it, divorce feels never ending. Yet eventually, its omnipresence wears thin as it overstays its welcome. New experiences and new people begin to layer new memories atop the old and the pain fades into the distance. Divorce will always be a part of your story, but it will no longer be your defining feature.

By Lisa Arends, Lessons from the End of the Marriage.com



How Do I Know If Collaborative Divorce Is a Good Option?

Have you been considering divorce and afraid how it can affect your children and finances? You may have been considering a more customized and respectful alternative to traditional adversarial divorce – which is collaborative divorce.

Well, there is no denying that collaborative divorce is a great option for the spouses contemplating divorce. But, just because it is better doesn’t necessarily mean it would work for you. Collaborative divorce is a settlement-focused and interest-based divorce option that requires you to address your own emotional and financial issues and later come to a settlement that satisfies both parties. Each party can hire their separate attorneys and other professionals such as therapists, financial advisors, etc. to facilitate the proceedings of divorce more smoothly.

However, with all of that said and done, you still need to make sure whether the collaborative divorce is the right choice for you or not. If, in any case, any of the parties contest the final settlement and don’t agree to the final outcome, the case must go to the courtroom and all of your money will go to a complete waste.

Therefore, here are some points that will help you determine if collaborative divorce is right for you or not:

1.    You Share A Respectful Communication

The first requirement of a collaborative divorce is that the spouses must be able to communicate respectfully with each other. You can never reach a fair settlement through collaborative divorce if you are divorcing a narcissist. Each spouse is supposed to listen and heard. Both the spouses will present different goals and expectations at the table. You should be able to talk it through and come to a settlement that’s fair to both. Conflicts are always going to be there, but both parties must be willing to resolve them through mutual understanding.

2.    Disclosure Of Assets

If you think your spouse can be hiding their assets and income, step back – because collaborative divorce requires a full disclosure of assets if you expect a reasonable and fair outcome. Being informed about your spouse’s finances and assets is within your legal rights and obligations. And therefore, both parties must exchange their relevant financial information. Further settlement options are generated based on that. The provided financial information is kept confidential even after the case ends. Some specific financial documents may be revealed which will be mentioned in the agreement.

3.    Participation Agreement

Each of the spouses and their entire team of professionals must sign an agreement before you start the collaborative divorce process. Your attorneys can help you prepare the agreement where you agree to work with your best interest to resolve all your conflicts without going to the court. At the same time, if the process is not working out for any reasons, any of the parties can voluntarily take an exit from the case and proceed in the court. The agreement also requires you to sign that all the information shared will remain confidential between the signees.

4.    The Parties Should Have Equal Dominance

If one of the spouses involved in the divorce is dominating and the other is submissive, the outcome may be very unfair. There are very high chances that the final settlement will be one-sided. Therefore, the role of an attorney is very important here. Nevertheless, you should also use your best judgement to help decide if the final settlement is fair to you and your spouse as well.

5.    Uncontestable Divorce

Altogether, both parties must be able to keep things more agreeable and less stressful because that’s the key reason why people choose collaborative divorce above all. If you try to contest the arguments or demands of another party, the divorce won’t come to a conclusion. So, whatever the issues are, you must be able to resolve them without contesting. There are going to be legit differences of opinions on things like business valuation and asset division – you must be able to work it out.

6.    Have Children Involved

Collaborative divorce has the potential to work in children’s best interest. Your attorneys, child specialists, therapists, and financial planners can team up together to identify and fulfil the unique needs of the family undergoing divorce. You can make the most out of a unique combination of advocacy (since both parties have their unique advocates), mediation, and mental health specialist to make well-coordinated decisions that will be helpful in maintaining a good family environment (especially for the children) post separation or divorce. In case you’re fighting over the full-custody of your children, you should move your case to the court.

Just keep in mind that a divorce changes a child’s family forever. It permanently changes the structure of a family for a child. Therefore, it is important for you that you maintain good parenting throughout no matter whether you’re doing it collaboratively or by traditional approach. As far as your children are involved, make them your priority and take decisions according to that.

Author

Ed Mathews

Ed is a legal writer with expertise in the divorce domain. He thoroughly researches and clearly communicates tough concepts. He has over six years of writing experience and a background in law.

 

 



How are Your Boundaries in the Pandemic?          

Maintaining boundaries is challenging for most of us. But the pandemic has made it even more difficult. People have been quarantined with a partner, housemate, or family for nearly a year. Normally, we could at least create physical boundaries by going to work, the gym, seeing friends, or even taking side trips.

All that has changed. People who have been alone and lonely realize how much they need others. Some couples are closer, while others are headed for divorce. Drug and alcohol abuse has risen, as well as mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

A recent UK study reveals some interesting statistics:

  1. The relationship of 36% of couples newly cohabiting has moved faster.
  2. Nearly 60% of new couples feel more committed, but 17% are unhappy.
  3. Stresses include children, finances, and disputes about pandemic rules.
  4. Loneliness impacts 40% of people, but 29% have found they’re happier alone.
  5. Of all couples 42% value more quality time together since the lockdown, but 14% want to separate. (San Francisco divorce attorneys say consults are up 50%.)
  6. 61% of women living with abusers report abuse has worsened.

We all have needs for independence and closeness. But when we’re close with our partner and family all the time, tensions rise. It’s no wonder that domestic violence is on the rise worldwide.

Too much togetherness can make intimacy and sex feel undesirable. On the flip side, many of us are home alone and miss closeness with family and friends that Zoom doesn’t fulfill. For some people in the pandemic, instead of entangled, enmeshed boundaries quarantining has created artificially rigid boundaries because we’re alone more than we want to be. It’s easier to find balance when we’re not isolated alone or with our family or partner 24/7.

However, boundaries include more than physical space. We can be thousands of miles away from someone and still be obsessed with them or we can be sleeping beside our spouse and feel a million miles apart. Hence, boundaries are emotional, too. These invisible boundaries are harder to recognize and to maintain.

Enmeshed Relationships

You may be wondering whether your relationship is codependent or interdependent. Without boundaries, it’s the former; the relationship is “enmeshed.” We don’t know where we end and the other person begins. We’re reactive. We project our feelings onto them or feel responsible for their feelings, needs, and sometimes even actions. We blame and become critical, irritable, and defensive. There are also material, sexual, mental, and spiritual boundaries. Read more about boundaries.

Boundaries and Relationships

Emotional boundaries are vital. Relationships don’t work without them. They blur when you don’t have a strong sense of yourself and then start reacting to and feeling responsible for other people’s needs and feelings. Couples become very reactive and have huge never-ending fights.

With healthy boundaries, you feel separate. This allows two whole selves to actually be closer. Other people’s feelings and words don’t confuse you or lower your self-esteem; otherwise, you risk losing yourself.

Boundaries tell someone how you want to be treated. They communicate the behavior you expect. Relationships suffer when your rights, needs, and space aren’t respected. You buildup resentments that lead to walls instead of flexible boundaries. Then, you lose the closeness you also need.

Physical boundaries can be helpful — like to recover from a disagreement and center yourself, but all the space in the world won’t prevent you from obsessing about someone else or reacting to a text.

Boundaries can get blurred when we function in multiple roles, such as being in business with our partner or friend. Working at home can create a problem with boundaries. For example, if we can’t focus on our work due to distractions, or if our work “personality” spills over into our relationships. Conversely, we might use work to create artificial boundaries—space from our partner. This can lead to a breakdown in communication.

Boundaries also build trust, because the other person knows they cannot take advantage of you and that you’re being real — authentic. Some people react to your boundaries with anger or hurt. That indicates relationship problems and communication need attention. Couples counseling can help.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is difficult. Codependents often feel caught between feeling resentment when they don’t set boundaries and guilt and anxiety when they do. Learning to set them is a process. First you must be able to identify your needs and feelings. Then you must value them and believe you have rights. Next develop the courage to express them. Take the time to learn to be assertive.

When we don’t nurture ourselves, we have nothing to give to family members. We burn out! Meditating, going outside, doing a hobby are ways you can make time and space to center yourself mentally and emotionally that are nourishing and rejuvenating.

Sometimes, especially with children and abusers, there must be a consequence to enforce a boundary. That requires more courage and the right words to say it respectfully and not punitively. See my ebook How To Speak Your Mind — Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar How to Be Assertive

When boundaries don’t work, there are reasons. For one, they must be are maintained with consistency. Like training a child or dog. When you let them violate your rules, you’re communicating that you’ve changed your mind or that the boundary wasn’t important in the first place.

When setting boundaries with someone who has a personality disorder, such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder, the guidelines in confronting abuse are somewhat different. Get professional help. Read Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.

© 2021 Darlene Lancer

 



Divorce and Estrangement: An Interview with Joshua Coleman, PhD

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

An interview of Joshua Coleman Ph.D., by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW on February 5, 2015

Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert in parenting, couples, families, and relationships. His advice has been featured in the New York Times and he has appeared on the Today show, 20/20, Good Morning America, Sesame Street and many other programs. He is the author of several critically acclaimed books, including The Marriage Makeover, When Parents Hurt, and The Lazy Husband. He has three grown children and lives with his wife in the San Francisco Bay area. His new book is: “Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties & How to Heal the Conflict.” You can order it here.

Terry: Why is estrangement so common in divorced families?

Joshua: Divorce greatly increases the risk of estrangement. It often creates a fundamental reshaping of alliances and can place parents at risk for greater distance from their children. Whether it’s a grey divorce or a breakup when the child is young, it often causes a child to see parents as winners and losers. Second, it can create the opportunity for parental alienation where one parent consciously or unconsciously (covertly or overtly) poisons the child against the other parent. Children, especially when they are young, are very vulnerable after divorce. Next, divorce can also bring new people into a child’s life (new sibling, half sibling, step-parent) and they may feel they have to compete for love, attention, or resources. Finally, in our culture, divorce can cause a child to see their parent as an individual with their own attributes and liabilities—and less of a family unit that they’re part of.

Terry: I talk to many parents that tell me their relationship with their children is greatly altered after their divorce. Can you explain why this happens?

Joshua: The parenting environment has become much more intense in the past half century. For instance, prior to the 1960’s, parents were more likely to be more disengaged or detached. However since that time, parents tend toward being too worried, too concerned. Many adult children reject their parents or become more irritable with them as a way to create a boundary with them or to develop immunity to their feelings. For single mothers who have custody, divorce may intensify an already intense relationship. You can’t really predict how a child will react to divorce, even if parents do a “good” job with the divorce. You never really know with any certainty how your divorce will shape your relationship with your child over the life course.

Terry: What can parents do to protect their relationship with their child from being estranged given all of the challenges you’ve just mentioned?

Joshua: The hardest thing for today’s parents is to accept that their adult child’s relationship with them is primarily going to be determined by whether or not that adult wants the relationship. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, divorce may create more ambivalence in the parent-child relationship. Adult children have a lot of power in relationships these days and parents may not get the same level of respect from them that they once did. The main tool that divorced parents have is to be empathetic and to take responsibility for their actions. They also need to get into a more egalitarian way of thinking about their relationship, one where their child has a lot more say about how they’re treated. The more defensive you get, and try to prove they’re wrong, or try to convince them of all the good things you’ve done, the more they’ll feel unheard. Strive to avoid confiding your feelings or opinions to your child about the divorce or the other parent. It can make them feel burdened with worry or responsibility for you, or the other parent, and place them in a loyalty bind.

Terry: Great points! What can a parent say to their adult child when they want to rebuild their relationship with them?

Joshua: First of all, stay committed and interested in improving your relationship with your child. Take responsibility for your actions when you speak to them. Definitely don’t get defensive when they complain. Try to show empathy by saying things like: “I recognize how my behavior may have been hard for you;” or “I understand how you could feel the way you do and I’m sorry our divorce put your life on a harder course.” This may be especially challenging if you weren’t the one who wanted the divorce.

Terry: Can you say more about this approach? It’s so easy for parents, including myself, to get defensive at times because we feel guilty.

Joshua: One of the most important tools you have to improve your relationship with your adult child is facilitating an open dialog. You want to make it clear to your adult child that you’re open and willing to listen to them. Be empathetic and realize things aren’t going to be or feel equal. Family therapy with the right therapist can help parents with this because it’s not easy. But if you strive to understand your child and prize their perspective, they’ll be more likely to remember the good times of their childhood than the bad.

Terry: What can parents do if their child shuts down or refuses to engage in a dialog with them?

Joshua: It’s important to realize that facilitating an open dialog doesn’t need to happen just once or twice – you may need to have versions of these conversations for many years to come. Some parents are completely estranged from their adult children and those children respond to the parent’s attempts at reconciliations with threats of restraining orders or calls to the police. In those cases, I recommend parents give things time to cool down, and discontinue reaching out for at least a year or so.

Terry: In your book “When Parents Hurt” and in your webinars, you talk about the importance of apologizing or writing a letter of amends. What is that?

Joshua: A letter of amends or an apology can be really helpful for parents who want to reconcile with their child. It’s a letter that shows you care and it contributes to clarifying what you’re responsible for and what you’re not. I offer samples in “When Parents Hurt” and on my Webinars. The key is to find the kernel of truth in the child’s complaints, show empathy, take responsibility for whatever ways that you did let them down, and offer a commitment to work on a healthier relationship going forward.

Terry: Are there any other kernels of wisdom that divorced parents need to keep in mind when fostering a positive relationship with their adult child or trying to reconcile with them?

Joshua: In addition to facilitating an open dialog and not getting defensive, don’t bad mouth your adult child’s other parent. The main thing that all parents need to recognize is that when you complain about your child’s other parent you’re putting them in an awful position because they love them. You may think that you’re protecting your child by telling them bad things about the other parent but you’re poisoning them. Their other parent is part of them and you can’t separate them from your child’s identity. Keep in mind that there are many people who are great parents, who are crappy spouses!

Terry: Thanks so much Joshua! What’s the best way for parents to reach you and learn more compassionate strategies to use when they don’t get along with their grown child? I just read your new book Rules of

Joshua: You are welcome Terry! Parents and adult children can reach me at www.drjoshuacoleman.com or email me at drjoshuacoleman@comcast.net

P.S. I just finished reading Joshua Coleman’s new book Rules of Estrangement and highly recommend it for families who are dealing with estrangement. It offers valuable insights and tools to parents and adult children alike. Don’t hesitate to order it here.



Unpacking Emotional Intimacy

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

One of the keys to long-term happiness in any relationship is emotional intimacy. After the “honeymoon phase” for a new couple wears off, the emotional bonds that hold partners together become a sustaining force beyond their physical attraction.

Experiencing emotional intimacy with a partner is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. For many couples, it’s almost as if they’re on a tightrope and balancing feelings of security with tension. This can cause them to experience anxiety when they are off balance but create a sense of calm when they are in harmony with each other.

In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Johnson explains: “To stay on the rope we must shift with each other’s moves, respond with each other’s emotions. As we connect, we balance each other. We’re in emotional equilibrium.” This may be especially true of couples who don’t share a long history of responding to bids for connection and learning to trust each other.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a tendency to turn toward your partner is the foundation of trust, love, and establishing intimacy. After studying thousands of couples over 40 years, he discovered that we have three ways of responding to our partner’s overtures and that turning towards your partner is an incredible way to deepen intimacy.

 Bid examples:

“Did you notice that I washed the cars when you came home?”

Turning Towards Response

This type of response enhances your emotional bond with your partner.

  • “I didn’t notice you washed my car. Thanks for telling me so I can check it out.”

Turning Against Responses

Another option is to turn against your partner’s bid for attention, be defensive, or shut them down.

  • Why do you always want credit for doing things around here?

Turning Away Responses

This last option can create disconnection and resentment between partners.

  • Turn on your computer when your partner makes a request or starts a conversation.

For instance, Tim, 43, and Jenny, 40, a remarried couple living in a stepfamily, are beginning to understand the importance of responding to each other’s bids for connection by “Turning Towards” each other. By sharing emotions and affection with one another, this couple became more intimate.

Tim reflects: When I’ve had a tough day at work and can look forward to spending time with Jenny unwinding at the end of the day, it helps lower my stress level. I used to feel that we were missing the mark, but lately we’re more in tune with each other’s day. I tell Jenny to let me know if she wants me to grab take-out on the way home so we can have more time to relax.”

Emotional intimacy can only occur when two people are devoted to taking total responsibility for their own feelings and needs. Couples must be aware of their personal experience in the moment and committed to working together as a team. It’s not possible to for a couple to do this without having a deep emotional connection. Ideally, both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they don’t need. Positive need is a recipe for success by the listener and the speaker because it conveys information and requests without criticism and blame.

In this example Jenny tells Tim what she needs without pointing out his faults or what he’s doing wrong. She put it like this: “I feel happier when you ask me what I have planned and give me a suggestion like “Can we eat dinner together and watch a movie Friday? This words much better for me that when you accuse me of being a workaholic or not spending enough time with you.”

When couples like Tim and Jenny can say what they need in a specific way, why they feel that way, and avoid being critical and making pointing their fingers at one another, this strengthens their bond.

In a recent article for The Good Men Project’s website, writer Raymond Michael, breakdowns the components of emotional intimacy and offers insight into how to maintain that closeness as couples grow together in a relationship.

Michael defines emotional intimacy as “more of a ‘feeling’ thing,” writing that “it involves a perception of being close to someone. This often creates feelings of being supported, comforted, and loved by that individual.” Building this quality for a couple requires sharing our “deepest vulnerabilities without the fear of judgement.” But beyond establishing trust, Michael lays out a roadmap to maintaining that closeness, and ensuring a successful, long-lasting union.

First, Michael argues that couples should be committed to sustaining “self-revealing behavior” — essentially, the “willingness to drop your defenses.” Next, couples should be mentally and emotionally present during their time together, or what Michael calls “positive interaction.”

Another tenet of fostering emotional intimacy is cultivating a “shared understanding” with your partner. In other words, developing a shared view of the world and a common experience, or as Michael puts it, “knowing or understanding aspects of the other spouse’s inner experiences… [and] knowledge of their private thoughts, feelings and beliefs.” According to Michael, this also “entails a knowledge of their characteristic rhythms, habits and routines.” Simply put, be there for each other, and be a part of each other’s inner world.

All told, practicing these behaviors will support emotional intimacy, and is a great predictor of relationship success. Couples will naturally start to develop shared feelings about their strengths and weaknesses, and these supportive behaviors will follow naturally, reinforcing and building upon an already strong bedrock. In the end, Michael sums up the effects of consciously nurturing emotional intimacy as the ability to “build a foundation from which new strengths can emerge.”

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. 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.

 



7 Signs Your Relationship is Healthy

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

I have often heard it said that the best partner will compliment you and bring out your finer qualities. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. However, in any relationship, you will face difficulties and your love will be tested.

That said, if your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you might be at risk for throwing in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord. Think of how many good relationships have been discarded before they matured, dismissing a life partner while searching for a soul mate.

The idea of a soul mate is romantic but also damaging because healthy relationships are developed and don’t just appear. Author Lisa Arends explains: “A fulfilling relationship occurs when both partners are open and vulnerable, creating an environment of mutual understanding, and intimacy. It takes time – often lots of time – and effort to reach this point.”

In Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson, explains that we all have raw spots (in our emotional skin) that are tender to the touch and deeply painful. Sue Johnson explains: “A responsive partner helps us work through our painful feelings.” It is natural to feel exposed as we allow ourselves to fall in love and it takes determination to work through each partner’s vulnerabilities and wounds.

Jena and Trevor, in their mid-thirties, have navigated many challenges together such as Jena’s trust issues and emotional baggage leftover from her ex-husband’s infidelity.

Jena put it like this: “I didn’t realize how fearful I was until I was with Trevor. Because he was worth me working on myself and being aware of my mistrustful feelings. Thankfully he has been very patient, the only patient person I have dealt with. And he’s helped me to be more trusting.”

Jena and Trevor’s successful ten-year marriage illustrates how a supportive partner can help you deal with the unpredictable, ever changing aspects of life as your vulnerabilities are exposed and you face challenges or disagree.

What is the secret of finding a healthy relationship? In his book The Relationship Cure, distinguished observer of marital relations, Dr. John Gottman writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

After all, there is no such thing as a perfect partner. Nonetheless, you might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that he or she treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in my relationship?

Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” offers a valuable model for looking at compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.

5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:

  1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
  2. You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of him/herself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly. You are comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
  3. It’s fun to be togetherKirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
  4. You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
  5.  You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.

Are you wondering if you are wasting your time in a relationship that is wrong for you? Here are seven signs that can help you decide if your relationship is worth pursuing.

7 signs your relationship is healthy:

  • You admire your partner for who he or she is as a person. You like and respect who they are and how they carry themselves through the world. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
  • Your partner is trustworthy. He or she calls when they say they will and follows through on promises. It’s impossible to build trust in someone who does not keep their agreements.
  • Your partner makes time for you on a regular basis. He/she makes you a priority because they value your relationship. Even when he/she is swamped, they stay in touch. This includes regular communication to show they’re thinking of you.
  • Your partner accepts you for who you are, doesn’t try to change you, and accepts responsibility for their actions. Life is messy at times. While it’s natural to assign blame when things go wrong, in a healthy relationship partners take responsibility for things they do to hurt each other, apologize, and make amends.
  • Your partner is your cheerleader and listens to you. He or she listens more than they speak. Your partner asks you questions about your hobbies, friends, and family. He/she doesn’t make you feel badly for being in a bad mood or having a tough day.
  • Your partner is affectionate. They’re comfortable holding hands and showing other signs of physical affection in private and in public.
  • Your partner talks about your future together so you can create a shared vision of your relationship. Don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t include you in his or her future plans. Author Howard J. Markman Ph.D. writes: “Couples can choose to protect their relationship by setting aside time to enjoy each other, renewing their sense of closeness and togetherness.”

 Foster Admiration and Friendship with Your Partner

There is recent evidence that happy, lasting relationships rely on a lot more than a marriage certificate and that the secret ingredient is friendship. Look for qualities you admire in your partner and remind yourself of these admirable qualities regularly.

When it comes to matters of the heart, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die.  Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him or her will give you the best chance of finding lasting love.

Follow Terry on Facebook, Twitter, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parent’s Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Relationship was published by Sourcebooks.

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 and can be pre-ordered here.

This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com

 



Why It’s Hard to Receive Love and How to Overcome Shame

Often many people, in particular codependents, find it hard to receive. Codependents are more comfortable giving or even self-sacrificing than receiving. Yet they wonder why they’re in relationships with “selfish” or narcissistic partners. They might fantasize receiving, but keep right on giving and not suspect that their predicament is not just due to their partners’ selfishness, but also due to their own difficulty in receiving.

It is a symptom of deeper issues that may be hidden in our unconscious. Until unresolved issues are dealt with, they can remain obstacles to receiving real love.

How do you feel when you receive a compliment or a gift? Do you ever ask for a favor or help, or would you rather do it yourself? These are just small examples compared to being in a relationship where you receive love, help, and cooperation daily. Here are a few of the obstacles and beliefs that prevent us from receiving:

Shame

A major reason we have trouble receiving is that we don’t feel worthy. We feel too flawed, undeserving, or unlovable. We might not trust people’s intentions or find it hard to believe they care enough about us to give or do something for us unless there is an equal exchange. We think, “Why would someone do that for me or say those nice things?”

Shame also makes us reluctant to reveal aspects of ourselves we disown (don’t know about) or disparage. Particularly when we’re in need of help we might feel ashamed of our limitations or feel “weak” and unlikable. If needs, wants, or dependency were shamed in childhood, then we learned to be self-sufficient and not ask or want anything from someone else—a far better solution than to experience shame when we’re vulnerable. As adults, we expect or attract other people to react as our parents did. If early shaming was chronic or severe, we might repress our needs and wants so much that they’re buried in our unconscious. It might never occur to us to ask for help.

Control and Safety

When we receive we’re in a more vulnerable position. Imagine someone listening to us talk long time, helping us physically, unilaterally sexually pleasuring us, or even driving us somewhere. Receiving requires that we trust to allow someone to have “power” over us. If we’ve been abused or controlled in the past, being in such a vulnerable position could make us feel unsafe. We don’t want to be judged or be controlled. We rather be in control than have someone control us. This is based on past dysfunctional experiences of being in relationships based on control, rather than respect and cooperation.

A corollary to this is the fear that we might owe the other person. We fear that we’re a burden or that we’ll be indebted to someone who now has our IOU. To avoid this, we might want to even the score and immediately give back in some way or pay for what we get. We don’t believe that we have a right to say “no” to any request they may make on us in the future.

Do you ever feel guilty receiving or feel you must return the favor? This is irrational, false guilt. Would you rather suffer than call your doctor after office hours? Giving for free is a novel concept when we grow up with parents who give with strings attached or parents who complain about or envy what they give and do for us.

Fear of Intimacy

Being vulnerable allows other people to see us and connect with us. Receiving opens up parts of ourselves that long to be loved, seen, and understood. It tenderizes us when we’re truly receiving. My heart melted when I received a tremendous outpouring of support on social media following a serious car accident I had. I felt gratitude and appreciation toward all the people who offered their kindness and caring. In an intimate relationship, this fosters love.

When we’re a “one-person show” and do everything for ourselves, we feel self-sufficient and in control, but the price is loneliness and isolation. We don’t realize that it’s human to need and that giving and receiving rewards both participants. It’s a natural flow of energy that permits love, closeness, and intimacy.

Training and Culture

Perhaps, we were trained to be self-reliant or learned that having our needs meant we were weak or needy. In some religions and cultures, it’s considered selfish or impolite to ask and receive. In the Persian culture, it’s considered proper to refuse compliments, to initially decline a gift and rude to ask for one.

Our natural need and requests for comfort, love, and support may have been ignored, rejected, or belittled. These false, shame-based beliefs can make us withdraw or behave in needy ways, rather than to directly ask for what we need and want.

You can change your beliefs. Ask yourself whether you give too much, and why. Analyze your beliefs around receiving. Read how to overcome guilt. Heal shame you carry from your childhood in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.

© Darlene Lancer 2020

 



3 Ways to Destress When Going Through a Divorce

Divorce is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things you can go through in life. It’s a harbinger of enormous change for you and your family. For many, it’s also fraught with hurt, anger, and sadness.

As such, divorce can be an extremely stressful experience. Studies show that 10-15% of people struggle substantially with the process, and that this struggle may lead to adverse health risks and even a higher mortality rate.

If you’re looking to lower your stress levels while going through a divorce, read on for our 3 favorite ways to destress.

1. Try to Sleep

One of the most common reactions to stress is sleeplessness. Racing thoughts and overwhelming feelings take control of the brain, keeping people up at all hours of the night.

One of the most challenging things about sleeplessness is that it can quickly turn into a cycle. Exhausted people resort to extra caffeine to stay alert throughout the day, or throw off their sleep schedule with naps. As such, the sleeplessness continues. In fact, over time people who are sleep deprived can develop a sleep debt and this makes it harder and harder for them to catch up on their sleep.

Unfortunately, the effects of lack of sleep can be dire. In the short term, sleeplessness can lead to memory loss, slower cognitive abilities, and slow reaction time. In the long term, sleeplessness can lead to high blood pressure and subsequent health issues.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are many steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. Turn all electronics off at least 30 minutes before bed. Consider incorporating a sleep supplement into your bedtime routine. A nighttime CBD supplement like CBD vape juice to help you sleep can be a lifesaver.

2. Practice Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice that dates back at least 7,000 years. While it originated as a part of religious life for many Eastern religions, it’s now a common practice in Western society.

In meditation, practitioners practice deep breathing while sitting in a relaxed position. Some choose to utter a single word, such as “Om”, while others opt for a guide to talk them to the process. During meditation, people learn to acknowledge their thoughts without getting carried away with them. Through this, they learn to let stress go and feel more relaxed while breathing deeply.

It’s no wonder that meditation has become such a critical part of so many people’s daily life. Meditation trains people to acknowledge stressful situations without getting consumed by them. In addition, the deep breathing techniques used trigger the body’s relaxation response, imparting a sense of calm.

Meditation seems intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple. All you need is a quiet space and a comfortable place to sit. Set a 5-minute timer and focus on your breath. If you’d prefer a guided meditation, you can find free guided meditations online or in the app store.

3. Find a Therapist

There are some things in life that you shouldn’t go through alone; divorce is one of those. Divorce can be a traumatic and emotional experience. If you’re feeling a high degree of stress from your divorce, it’s a sign that you could use help processing your divorce and learning coping skills such as developing a new support network.

There are a few different types of therapy that you may want to seek during divorce. For one, you can attend individual therapy to help with your stress, anxiety, and sadness. A therapist can also help you with goal setting and more.

If you have children, you may also want to seek family therapy. Divorce can cause emotional strain on the entire family. Children and teenagers may feel sadness, abandonment, confusion, and guilt. Family therapy can allow for an open forum in which children can share their feelings and alleviate the some of the pain associated with their parents’ split.

Lastly, couples therapy can be a huge help for a divorcing couple. It can be a safe place where you can set guidelines and learn how this new life will work. It can also lead to an easier and more amicable divorce.

If you’d like to find a therapist, there are a number of different ways to do so. You can ask your primary care physician for a referral to a therapist, or you can ask your child’s primary care physician for a referral if you’re seeking family therapy. You can also use online directories to find a reputable and reviewed therapist. If you’re seeking virtual therapy, you can also do so online or through a number of different apps in the app store.

While divorce is an experience that affects all aspects of your life,  it does not have to define you as a person in a negative way. In fact, you can recover more quickly if you use strategies such as seeking the help of a skilled therapist, practicing better sleep hygiene, and using methods such as meditation to relax and reduce stress.

By Alycia Coloma



4 Ways You Can Be The Parent Your Kids Need Post-Divorce

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Divorce can be devastating when you’re a parent. You can’t just crawl into a hole and grieve, rant or rage. You must still care for the well-being of your children. And sometimes this is a challenge that overwhelms, resulting in parents who can’t cope with the responsibilities of parenting. When this happens, your children pay a high price. And too often, the parents aren’t totally aware of how their kids are being affected.

It’s not always easy to remember that your children may be grieving as deeply as you are during and after divorce. Consider this: It may be even more frightening for them because they were not responsible for the decision. Nor do they understand the complex dynamics that led up to the split. Children’s fears are compounded by apprehension about whether either of their parents will ever divorce them. They also worry about what will happen to them and their family in the future.

As dramatically as your life has been altered, remember, so too has theirs.

Don’t let your kids confuse sadness for rejection!

In their innocence children often mistake their parent’s grief as rejection. They see changes in Mom and Dad’s behavior, attention and state of mind. But they don’t always understand the depth of pain their parents are experiencing and how it can affect their day-to-day parenting. Most kids can pick up on when you are sad. But they may not always comprehend that your emotional pain is keeping you from being with them in the warm ways you were in the past. When you’re not in the mood to play with them, prepare dinner or help with homework, they may simply feel rejected. Or they may believe you don’t love them anymore.

Due to their lack of sophistication, children often fail to understand that your being upset about the divorce may be affecting your parenting behavior. They may question why you’re not as attentive. Or wonder whether your sadness is their fault. Or worry that you’re angry with them for loving their other parent. This can create emotional instability and deep anxiety for some children who don’t have words to express their feelings.

Be the parent your kids know and need!

Here are some suggestions for helping children adjust to the complex emotional changes in family life due to the divorce.

  1. Be generous with your affection: Even if you can’t be “yourself” regarding activities you used to do with the kids, always offer a hug and a smile. A few minutes of cuddle time or kind words of affection will remind them that they’re still loved and important to you.
  2. Be discreet when you need to emote: There’s a time for raging, hitting pillows and venting to your friends. But it’s not when the kids are within earshot. When you need to express your grief, find a place away from the children. Remember, you don’t want to deprive them of their childhood nor make them your confidant or therapist!
  3. Be sincere about your feelings: When you’re overwhelmed with sadness around the kids, be honest. But also be clear that it’s not their fault. Say something like “I’m feeling sad and don’t feel like playing right now. It’s nothing you’ve done. I hope to be feeling better a little later, okay?”
  4. Be receptive to professional help: Having a trusted support system can make all the difference in helping you cope with your divorce. Find a therapist, divorce coach or support group specializing in coping skills for parents. Their insights will help you move through the transitions ahead while being there for your children. Also consider professional resources for your kids. Ask at their schools about programs and professionals who specialize in divorce recovery.

Free Divorce Resources for Parents in January!

January is International Child-Centered Divorce Month. Download free ebooks, coaching services and other free gifts for divorcing and divorced parents all month long. Learn more at https://www.childcentereddivorce.com/international-child-centered-divorce-month-2021/

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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: childcentereddivorce.com/book

 

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