How Do I Repair My Wound With My Father?

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Dear Terry,

My parents divorced when I was nine years old. When I was young, I was Daddy’s Little Girl, and never far from his side. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to the park, helping me with homework, and coming to my soccer games. The saddest day of my life was Christmas Day of 1991, when my dad left suddenly due to an argument with my mom over where they were going to put the Christmas tree. I know now that they didn’t breakup because of the tree, but since that day I’ve always hated Christmas.

After my dad moved out, he’d pick me up every Wednesday night and we’d go out for fish and chips at his favorite diner, but things were never the same between us. Occasionally he’d come to my games, and he never forgot my birthday, but our time together felt awkward. We rarely spent time together at his apartment because of my stepmother and her two kids. I never felt welcome when my stepmother was around. For some reason, he picked them over me and I’ll never forgive him for that. As I got older, I wanted my dad to become part of my life – meet my friends and boyfriends – but it just didn’t work out. He always had a reason why he couldn’t come to a soccer game or drive me to an event at school.

I’ve been dating the same guy for two years now and we’re starting to have problems. Jake says that I’m too needy and that my trust issues are driving him away. Believe me that’s the last thing I want because he’s the best boyfriend that I’ve ever had. He’s loyal, honest, and caring yet I go crazy when he’s ten minutes late meeting me somewhere or coming over to my apartment to hang out. I’m beginning to wonder if our problems have anything to do with my relationship with my father.

Now that I’m an adult I crave time with my dad but I don’t know where to start. He has my cell phone number but he doesn’t call. I don’t want to just show up at his apartment because his wife or one of my stepsisters might be there. Is it normal for me to want to spend time with my dad at my age? I still love him and I know he loves me but I’ve felt rejected by him for a long time.

Lauren, age 29

Lauren,

Like you, I had a close bond with my father before my parents’ divorce, and our relationship suffered drastically after he remarried. First of all, it’s important for you to realize that you are not alone and that it’s not too late to heal your father-daughter wound. In a divorced family, there are many ways that a father-daughter relationship can suffer. After a divorce, only 10-15% of fathers get to enjoy the benefits of shared parenting. All girls need a loving, predictable father figure to establish a positive identity as a female and feelings of self-worth. Many remarried dads become preoccupied with their new lives or may lack the financial resources to support two families. Consequently, most daughters of divorce have damaged relationships with their fathers. If the damage is severe, a girl can grow into adulthood with low self-esteem and troubled relationships with men.

In terms of how your “Daddy Hunger” affects your relationship with Jake, you are insightful and wise to see a connection. Keep in mind that your father left suddenly when you were nine years old, too young to understand the complexity of divorce. Girls are particularly vulnerable to the loss of an intact family, because they tend to define themselves through relationships and often have a delayed reaction to the powerful effects of parental divorce. Many daughters of divorce have trust and abandonment issues that surface as they emerge into young adulthood. Hopefully, your feelings of mistrust towards Jake will lessen if he continues to show you in word and deed that he is trustworthy. Establishing a healthy level of trust is possible but takes time and effort.

Based on my research, your father fits the description of a passive dad – one who loves you but is mute of passion. He seems to lack confidence in parenting and avoids conflicts at all costs. Passive dads tend to marry controlling women who make decisions for them. In my experience, daughters of divorce who grow up with a distant or passive father tend to grow into adulthood with a diminished sense of trust in men and faith that relationships will last. After all, a father’s presence (or lack of presence) in his daughter’s life will affect how she relates to all men who come after him.

In order to repair your relationship with your father, you need to examine the beliefs that you have about your father and his ability to restore his connection with you. The following are a list of self-defeating beliefs that may be obstacles to healing your father-daughter wound:

  • My father isn’t capable of changing. It might be true that your dad is resistant or isn’t showing much initiative, but maybe you haven’t tried the right approach. For example, calling him would give you more control than simply waiting for him to call you. He might respond in kind.
  • There’s nothing he can do to improve our relationship. The first question should be: have you identified what you want to change about your relationship? Be specific and come up with a plan of action.
  • Rigid thinking such as “If I try something different it might make things worse.” For daughters of divorce, this usually means, it hurts too much and I’d rather be numb than feel the pain.

Once you’ve examined your beliefs about your father’s ability to change, you are ready to begin changing your relationship with him. The following are guidelines for forgiving your father:

  • Give up a dream of a perfect connection with your father and accept that tension may exist and must be worked through. All relationships go through rough patches.
  • Expect resistance and be patient. It may take time to iron out the kinks in your relationship.
  • Explore your intentions and desires. Counseling and talking with close friends can help you to come up with realistic goals.
  • Request a change and be creative. Try one request at a time and lower your expectations.
  • Create healthy boundaries. It’s not necessary to throw in the kitchen sink and dredge up past hurt every time you meet. Asking questions about the past can promote healing but be patient.

In closing, it’s possible to repair your wound with your father so that your past hurt doesn’t have an impact on your present relationships. For the most part, I have noticed that with work and patience relationships between fathers and daughters can and do improve. Examining your parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and practicing forgiveness will allow you to create a new story for your life.

Best Regards,

Terry

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Do you ever wish that you could have a closer relationship with your father? If so, please share your comments or questions with us. 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 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.

 



Don’t Let Fear of Commitment Stop You From Achieving Lasting Love

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Do you fear that if you tie the knot, your marriage will end in divorce like many others? It’s not uncommon for people to experience anxiety about making a commitment because most of us were either raised in a divorced home or know someone who was. Americans have a strong tradition of divorce. The divorce epidemic reached its peak in the late 1970’s. Since then, the divorce rate has remained high – over 45% of first marriages end in divorce and more than 60% of second marriages.

In the twenty-first century, many people see divorce as a viable option to the inevitable hard times of marriage. Stable and healthy marriages seem to be in short supply. If you lacked healthy role models for a successful marriage, you may view marriage as disposable and not as essential to your life goals.

Let’s look at Teresa, whose parents divorced when she was thirteen after many years of conflict and unhappiness. She is an example of a young woman who hedges her bets against failure by withholding a commitment to marriage. Brushing her brown hair from her brow, she says “My relationships are usually short term, and I take long breaks between relationships. I want a healthy relationship, but I have a tendency to go for the guy who I know isn’t right for me so I won’t be tempted to make a commitment.”

Adult children of divorce, like Teresa, have good reason to feel that their marriages are doomed to end badly.  According to sociologist Paul Amato, experiencing parental divorce approximately doubles your chances of seeing your own marriage fail. In fact, daughters of divorce are even more divorce prone than sons, and women initiate and file for divorce 2/3 of the time.

According to relationship expert, Scott Carroll, MD, having divorced parents often makes people either cynical about marriage or excessively cautious, but they sometimes throw caution to the wind and fall head-over-heals for someone they have intense chemistry with. Then this strong chemistry can lead to explosive arguments and an eventual break-up. This is especially true for individuals who have a non-secure attachment style. However, awareness is the first step in breaking this self-defeating cycle,

If you are an adult children of divorce, it’s important to keep  partnerships in perspective. The truth is that all relationships end, either through breakup or death. But many people raised in divorced homes are preoccupied with the fear of a relationship ending. They fear that no matter what they do, their marriage will suffer the same fate as their parents did. Even if they do decide to marry, they may go into marriage with a lingering thought in the back of their heads that tells them it won’t work out.

This skeptical attitude can contribute to the high divorce rate. Don’t let fear stop you from achieving the true intimacy that comes with commitment. Many people hedge their bets against failure and avoid making a full commitment to a romantic partner. By doing this, they miss out on the level of intimacy that comes with making a complete commitment to their partner.

Whether your parents divorced or stayed together in an unhappy marriage, examining your attitudes about love and commitment can help you to explore options that are right for you. As you let go of fears of your relationship failing, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to love fully and make a long-term commitment.

For instance, Becca’s parents stayed together but she has a tendency to fear abandonment because her she has an non-secure personality style. Because her parents argued a lot and were rarely home, she experienced a lot of loneliness as an only child. As a result, she clings to relationships even when her needs aren’t being met. Becca blamed herself when Kevin was distant and unwilling to work on their marriage, saying, “Is there something wrong with me?” She wonders out loud, “Am I flawed in some way – not woman enough, sexy enough?”

Becca is an attractive, educated woman, but her adult intimate relationships have been unpredictable and disappointing. Her craving for a failsafe relationship will always be unsatisfied, because such a relationship doesn’t exist. In addition, she has a tendency to pick partners who are emotionally withdrawn and a poor fit for her since she needs a lot of reassurance and an opportunity to build trust and confidence in herself.

If you have fear of commitment, think about this reality: even people from intact or happy homes are faced with this reality – relationships, even marriages, provide no guarantees.

Examining your attitudes about love and commitment can help you to explore options that are right for you. As you let go of fears of your relationship failing, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to love fully and make a long-term commitment.

The task then, is to learn from your parents’ failed or unhappy marriage and your own past – creating loving relationships that are healthy and lasting. The following tips may help you on your journey for love and moving toward commitment:

  • Go slowly and allow your relationship to develop over time. Expect rough patches and practice the art of patience and forgiveness.
  • Avoid making a long-term commitment before the age of twenty-five. You’ll enhance your chances of finding lasting love if you know yourself and have established a solid identity.
  • Attempt to pick a partner with a similar background and interests. Couples who have vast differences in these two areas have an increased risk of divorce.
  • Stick with a committed relationship for at least ten years. Most marriages dissolve in the first ten years – especially the first five years. Hang in there unless your partner is abusive.

With greater awareness, you can enhance the probability of experiencing long-lasting partnerships. If you are in a relationship do your best to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and stop and examine your part in a disagreement, rather that automatically assuming that they are to blame or are trying to deceive or hurt you.

If you recognize the forces that shape you, and visualize the type of relationship that helps you to flourish, you’ll be on your way to creating a new story for your life.

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

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

 



8 Key Ways We Sabotage Love

Although we seek love, we may unwittingly damage or derail it. Surprisingly, our fear of not being loved, which includes fear of abandonment, loneliness, and rejection, can lead to eight common behaviors that sabotage love and relationships.

When we lack self-love, although we may have relationships, generally they’re unfulfilling or don’t last.  We won’t find real love if we don’t believe we’re lovable. How this unconscious belief affects us is explained in “The Startling Reason We Sabotage Love.”

This article focuses on behavior that sabotages love. For example, we’ll find fault with intimate partners who love us or we’ll attract someone unavailable or who doesn’t show us love. We allow people to treat us as we treat ourselves. We might even tolerate abuse, believing we can’t do better or because we’re afraid of being abandoned or alone. Here are common ways in which our fears and insecurities derail love.

Conflict

Most relationships deteriorate because of conflict. Conflict usually stems from feeling undervalued or rejected in some way. Our needs aren’t being met, nor communicated effectively.  Healthy communication is the bedrock of fulfilling relationships. Dysfunctional communication leads to conflict or shuts down communication altogether. Researcher John Gottman identified four predictors of divorce: Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Partners are either silently resentful or complain or attack in ways that make their partner feel criticized. In either case, both feel hurt and unloved, yet want to be loved and not abandoned. When we feel vulnerable, we usually attack or withdraw, thereby triggering each other in endless, painful cycles of conflict. Often our reactions are caused or intensified by events long ago, when emotional abandonment by a parent would have felt life-threatening. (These dynamics are explained on Conquering Shame and Codependency.)

“We want love,

but sabotage it, because

we fear not having it.”

Dysfunctional Communication

Dysfunctional communication is a relationship killer. It derives from feeling insecure about ourselves and our acceptability. We won’t express our needs and feelings, but instead harbor hidden expectations and resentments. We blame and complain, manipulate, or are defensive and don’t take responsibility for our behavior and mistakes. Due to fear of rejection, rather than be vulnerable and openly admit our errors and hurt or ask for what we want and need (including boundaries), we withdraw or attack or expect their partner to read our mind. We can’t collaborate causing further resentment, and problems go unresolved. Stockpiled hurts and the lack of assertiveness can diminish sexual satisfaction.

Jealousy

Whether or not warranted, jealousy stems from fear of abandonment and feeling not enough―shame. Jealous accusations and suspicion hurt an innocent partner, ruining a relationship.

Dishonesty

Trust is essential to fulfilling relationships. It takes time to build, but is easily destroyed. Partners sabotage love when they don’t consider the damage of deception. They hide information they fear will lead to judgment and abandonment. Once trust is damaged, it is difficult to rebuild.

Choosing the Wrong Person

Instead of finding a suitable partner, we may be drawn to someone who needs us or is a “diamond in the rough.” Then we try to change the person into a partner we want. Because we feel inadequate, fear commitment or fear being abandoned or alone, we attach to someone who is emotionally unavailable, or who is dependent, needs us, and who we know won’t leave.  An addict is an example. These codependent relationships fuel resentment and disappointment. They’re doomed from the outset. If we stay because we’re afraid to be alone or start over again, or we expect our partner to change, we block the possibility of finding love.

Boredom

Inauthenticity leads to boredom and deadness. Eventually, the excitement of romance fades. Real intimacy and true love don’t develop when we’re afraid to be vulnerable (because we fear rejection). Walls slowly build, and the relationship becomes cold, conflictual, or superficial. Partners blame each other for the loss of closeness and aliveness that drew first them together.

Distancing behavior

Even if we claim to not want a relationship, most of us still want closeness and love. Underneath we’re afraid of being judged, controlled, or abandoned. Perhaps we’ve suffered many losses. By not getting too close, we ensure that we won’t get too invested and be hurt or abandoned. We may sabotage a relationship by having more than one partner at a time, by cheating, or by ending it before we’re rejected. We might push love away by fault finding or withdrawing emotionally. Narcissists do this. They want love, but destroy it by belittling their partner. As a result, they lose interest, get bored, and look for a fresh narcissistic supply of excitement and admiration.

Pursuing behavior

When we’re uncomfortable being alone and desperate for love, it’s because we don’t love and nurture ourselves enough. We can’t tolerate our discomfort. Our unconscious belief is, “I’m lovable if I’m loved.” As pursuers, we need steady proof that we’re loved and are easily prone to anxiety that we’re not. Our anxiety about abandonment is usually conscious. However, our behavior can actually push our partner further away, creating our worst fear.

Our hope, impatience, and excitement can easily camouflage our desperation. It can induce us to mistake limerance and romance for love and ignore our intuition and red flags. We may find people who confirm our negative fears and beliefs – who don’t or can’t love us. We may also be drawn to unavailable partners, whose fear of intimacy may initially be concealed in their pursuit of pleasure. Consciously, we miss and yearn for closeness, but secretly we fear it. We can get stuck in a dance that perpetuates a cycle abandonment, which we may come to both fear and expect.

The solution is to become familiar with and embrace our wounds and our deepest fears and yearnings. The path to wholeness and self-love is not easy or pain free. We need support to get there – the emotional support we missed in our childhood. But as we look within, we gain peace, self-respect, and find the divinity that is our birthright. Watch for my next article on cultivating love.

Raise your Self-Esteem and change your attachment style. Improve your communication by learning to be assertive (ebook and webinar).

© 2019 Darlene Lancer     



Surefire Ways Stepfamilies Can Navigate Holiday Stress

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

It’s no secret that the holiday season can be difficult for families following a divorce. However, this stress is readily compounded when divorced parents decide to blend families through a new marriage. Stepfamilies are particularly prone to emotional turmoil at this time of year, especially due to the unrealistic expectations that too often get in the way.

Even though stepfamilies now outnumber first families in the United States, equilibrium can easily be upset by past memories or former traditions that are no longer part of the plan. This leads to feelings of being second best or not a “real” family. Accusations, guilt, blame and a sense of inadequacy easily fuels conflict that will undermine even the most festive occasions or well-meant plans.

Step Out Of The Past

In most cases, family members set themselves up for disappointment by making comparisons with the past. Stepparents and stepchildren can erroneously expect the newly formed stepfamily to replicate the close bonds and sense of security within their original family.

It’s important to talk to one another. Own and address your new realities. Share your expectations and understanding that this new family dynamic is unique and different from the original family. Be receptive to questions and suggestions about how to move ahead. Candid communication releases a lot of pressure within both parents and children. It can also open the door to new traditions, new activities and new ways to spend time together as a blended family.

Expect And Accept Tension

Tensions within a blended family are normal. They’re a natural part of exploring boundaries and interacting closely with new personalities. For this reason, it’s wise to plan holiday activities in advance — with a strategy. Limit everyone-together time for those who don’t get along. Plan lots of alone time with your own children as well as with your stepchildren. Remember stepchildren value time with their biological parents above all else, and can jealously make comparisons when you give attention to others.

Don’t forget to include special parent-only alone time during your holiday plans. If you let go of the Norman Rockwell images of Christmas past it will be easier to design a new present with reasonable schedules and realistic expectations as you move into the New Year!
* * *
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books and e-courses 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

© Rosalind Sedacca All rights reserved.



Surviving the Holidays Without the Kids

One of the toughest times of year for family members following divorce is the holiday season. The first year after my divorce was hard for many reasons, but the main one was that I wasn’t able to spend the entire holiday with my children.

Since my ex-husband and I shared custody of my children, they navigated their time between two houses and I missed them. Over time, it became easier as we carved out our own traditions such as going out to brunch on the days that they had dinner with their father.

Nonetheless, we needed to be creative and cease the time that we had and enjoy each moment. While shared parenting provides children the opportunity to spend time with both of their parents and can enhance a child’s feeling of being loved and sense of security, holiday time presents unique challenges. Another situation that impacts divorced families, is when one or both parents live in different states and their children rotate holidays with them.

Let’s face it, it’s a challenge for parents to create new traditions and to let go of grudges and bad memories of past holidays. For the recently divorced parent, the holidays can be an emotional, stressful, and perhaps a lonely time of year – especially if they don’t have new traditions and support systems in place.

Kara, a single mom in her late forties put it like this: “My house felt empty and entirely too quiet. I’d put music on loud and try to drown out the silence, but remember crying myself to sleep my first Christmas Eve without my kids.”

Many divorced parents who share custody with their ex-partner or don’t have visitation with their kids, experience anguish and an intense sense of loss around the holiday season. However, there are ways you can cope with these feelings and get through it with a sense of integrity and solace.

Knowing that you did the right thing by encouraging your kids to spend time with their other parent and you wished them well, can help you survive the holiday season.

John, a fifty-year old newly divorced dad with three teenage boys reflects: “Sure I missed my boys when they had to wake up super early Christmas Day and race over to their moms to open gifts, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They love their mom and she’s an important part of their lives.”

Here are 5 ways to survive the holidays when you’re alone:

1. Don’t play the role of victim and accept that while it can be hard to be without your kids around the holidays, it will get easier over time. Further, you can control your reactions to loss by substituting positive self-talk for negative. For instance, rather than telling yourself that life has dealt you a bad hand you can tell yourself “I am getting better at coping with my loss every day and can face the challenges that come my way.”
2. Practice self-compassion as you explore new traditions over the holidays for yourself. For instance, volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit a friend who you have not seen for a while, cook a special meal, exercise, or binge watch your favorite holidays movies.
3. Adopt a positive mindset and attitude about the holidays. Remember that spending time with your extended family and friends doing enjoyable activities can be rewarding during the holiday season. Light a fire in your fireplace, go for a fast walk, or visit a coffee shop and enjoy a steaming cup of coffee or hot cocoa by yourself or with a friend.
4. Remember that your children are not possessions and that they have their own tender feelings to deal with during the holiday season. Do your best not to put them in the middle by making them a messenger between their parents or asking them too many questions about their time with their other parent. Be sure to never bad-mouth their other parent.
5. Remember to laugh. Laughter is one of the best ways to change a negative mood to a positive one. Take time out of every day to de-stress by doing things that you all enjoy – listen to music, work on a puzzle, or participate in other fun activities.

Creating new holiday memories isn’t easy but it’s well worth the effort. You can build new traditions and memories of the holidays that will endure the test of time and nourish yourself. The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of stress overload. Don’t forget to communicate with your children in creative ways such as skype or text. Most of all, remember to keep the focus on what is most important – sustaining a positive relationship with your children.

Truth be told, a divorce can shake your foundation and make you question your own judgment. You might find yourself second-guessing yourself and feeling blue over the holidays if you’re separated from your children, even for a short period of time. The world as you have come to know and experience it is suddenly turned upside down and it’s important to focus on positive things and let go of the negative thoughts that keep you from enjoying life.

Rebecca Solnit, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, said this about letting go: “When everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” In fact, your heartbreaks can teach you many things. Losing those things you love, can give you depth and substance to my life. As you accept your losses, you will be better able to face being alone and to make it another meaningful chapter in my life.

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



Co-parenting After Divorce – What NOT to Do!

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

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

But What in the World is Co-Parenting?

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

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

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

Children of Divorced Parents Need Their Parents To Co-Parent

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

AVOID THIS – Harboring Ill Will Toward Your Ex

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

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

But What If My Child Already Dislikes My Ex?

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

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

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

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

Successful co-parents also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



My Shame Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Avoid Name-Calling And Blameful Comments

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

  1. Resolve Conflicts In A Positive Way

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

  1. Keep Your Children Out Of The Middle

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

  1. Develop A Parenting Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published at HuffingtonPostDivorce and YourTango.com

 



5 Ways to Strengthen Your Bond with Your Teen After Divorce

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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



Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Prenups

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the limitations of a prenup?

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

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

Prenups and Remarriage

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

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

Discuss Money Issues Prior to Hiring a Lawyer

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

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

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

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

Transparency Often Prevents Divorce

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

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

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

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