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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Feels Like I’ve Been Here Before

I keep getting the strange sense of deja vu.

Feeling like I’ve been here before.

Which is crazy on the surface of things. After all, this is a global pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen for 100 years.

None of us have been here before.

Yet, for those of us who have been through one or more of those life-altering moments – the discovery of infidelity, abandonment, sudden and profound loss – this may feel strangely familiar. After all, we know what it’s like to wake one morning to discover that the world we knew, the world which we trusted to ground us, no longer exists.

We are familiar with the grief that sneaks up and tugs at our guts when we’re not paying attention. And we are no longer surprised when we grieve the small things as much as the big ones.

We’ve experienced that strange sense of disbelief, of thinking that somehow this is all just a tragic mistake and that the reality we knew simply needs to be recovered.

We know the fear that comes with the uncertainty and the deep craving to return to a sense of safety. And we know that over time the belief things will return to normal is replaced with an acceptance that a sense of peace only comes once we’ve adapted to the new situation.

We’ve lived through that life turned upside-down, where the normally innocuous things have become threats hidden around every corner.

We’ve endured those long nights wishing things could be different before we dry our tears and pledge to focus on what we can control. And we learn both how small our influence is and also how powerful it can be.

We’ve tried to run away from our pain in the hope that we can distract our way out of it only to find that it cannot be outrun.

We’ve been through those moments of utter defeat when we feel like we’re not strong enough to get through this, only somehow we manage to make it through that day. And then the next.

This may be new. You haven’t been through this challenge yet.

But you’ve made it through others.

You know what to do.

 

The Increased Urge to Check Up on Your Ex During Times of Crisis

I’ve had several people reach out to me recently stating that they’re struggling to stay away from contacting or virtually checking up on their ex.

It makes sense.

After all, when are we most tempted to reach out to the person that once was a source of comfort and stability? When we’re lonely, anxious or bored. And right now, I think everybody is feeling some combination of those things.

Sometimes it starts with an innocent-sounding thought. “I just need to check up on them,” you say to yourself. “I need to make sure they’re okay.”

Yet, as with so many thoughts when it comes to our exes, this one isn’t rational when examined further. After all, you ex isn’t alone. They have family, friends, maybe even a new significant other to look after their well-being. That’s a job you either quit or were fired from. So why are you still trying to carry out its responsibilities? Furthermore, you’ve gone for some time now without knowing how they are doing. And until the crisis, you managed this state of not-knowing just fine. Why do you need information now? Besides, they’re probably stuck at home just like the rest of us.

Maybe you’re curious if they’re thinking about you, wondering if this increase in thoughts of mortality and the importance of loved ones has made them miss you. After all, it seems like the plot of some 2022 romantic comedy – exes meet up again through Zoom while in quarantine and rekindle their relationship from a distance. And then once the country receives the “all-clear,” they reunite and its happily ever after. Except that’s Hollywood, not real life. In the real world, you broke up for a reason and even though some distance flirting seems harmless, it may be disastrous for your expectations.

Perhaps you’re in a situation like I was in post-divorce, where there was no contact and I looked him up online hoping to find evidence that he wasn’t happy with his other wife. After all, if you’re going to signs of discord in their current relationship, the stress of a pandemic seems like a good time. Yet, at least as far as my social media feeds are concerned, the accepted rules of curating and filtering your life into perfection before sharing still seem to hold true. In other words, don’t expect to see much truth there.

Many of you are feeling lonely right now. Isolated. And so you reach out hoping for a connection with somebody that has a shared history with you. Yet all so often, reaching out to an ex only leaves you feeling more alone as you sense the growing distance between you as your lives continue to diverge. Remember there’s a difference between missing them and missing the memory of them. No matter how many times you reach out, you won’t be able to connect with the past.

You may have been keeping it together before the pandemic, but now with so many of your normal coping strategies banned, you may be finding it harder to cope.

It makes sense.

Every emotion is amplified right now. Everybody has less bandwidth to cope. It’s normal that your willpower is reduced and you’re trying to keep your impulses restrained.

However, that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to check up on your ex. Unless you want to feel worse, that is.

I don’t have any magical advice for those of you struggling to maintain your distance. Nobody does. But I can tell you that you’ll do better if you mitigate your loneliness by staying in routine contact with friends and family. Anything you can do to interrupt the steps between the urge and the initiation of contact will be beneficial (ex. If you tend to look at their Instagram at night before you go to sleep, lock your phone in your car overnight.). Write down reminders why you don’t want to make contact or search them up (How does it make you feel afterwards?). Exercise within the current allowed parameters to work off some of the excess anxiety. And finally, find something that you can dive into that will occupy your brain space and fight off boredom.

In each moment, you have the choice to reach out or to resist the urge. Be honest with yourself which one will make you better, not just for the moment, but the long run. You may scratch the itch, but at what cost?

Breathe.

This too shall pass.

 

 

Why We Feel the Need to Fix Things

“I am so frustrated at work right now,” a woman vents to her husband. “My team just doesn’t pay attention to deadlines and it keeps impacting my work.”

“Why don’t you set up a shared calendar with your team to coordinate deadlines?” the husband suggests, as it seems like an easy and obvious fix to him. To his surprise, instead of his wife embracing the idea, she gets frustrated with his response.

 

I bet this dynamic is familiar to all of us. We’ve all been on the side of wanting to share, looking for someone else to be with us in our emotional state only to feel frustrated when we don’t receive the response we desire. And we’ve all been on the receiving end, listening to someone share their emotional state and wanting to volunteer a way to fix their distress.

Since we’re all familiar with both sides of this exchange, why does it so often go so poorly, leaving both parties feeling unheard and misunderstood?

 

From the Perspective of the Listener

 

Why We Try to Fix Things

 

We Are Uncomfortable With Discomfort

This is a core reason behind this drive – we don’t like to see people suffer. And so when we witness somebody’s distress, we want to alleviate it. Both for their sake, and for ours.

We Want to Help

Most people want to be helpful. This current pandemic with its “stay at home” mandate makes this clear. We don’t want to sit idle, we want to be able to DO something.

We Want to Be Needed

Many of us have a need to be needed and a fear of abandonment if we are needed. And one of the ways that this can manifest is by being the “fixer” for others.

 

 

The Problem With Trying to Fix Things

 

Not Everything Can Be Easily Fixed

Oftentimes, there isn’t a fix for what is causing distress. Or, at least not a feasible one or one that it is our control. In these cases, an attempt to fix becomes an endless source of frustration.

The Outside Perspective is Limited

Whenever advice comes from an outside source, it is operating from limited data and perspective. In the opening example, the husband may not know that a shared calendar already exists and that the coworkers never open the file. It’s easy for the fixer to offer up a solution to the wrong problem.

Sends the Message That the Person Isn’t Capable

One of the reason that I like the coaching process is that it operates from the belief that we know what we need to do, we sometimes need help uncovering and implementing that knowledge. When we try to fix other’s problems, we can be implying that they are not capable of solving them on their own.

 

 

What to Do Instead

 

Listen

Just be there. Acknowledge what they say and how they are feeling.

Ask if They Want Input

Before you offer up a solution, ask if they want input. If they don’t, bite your tongue, at least for now. When emotions are high, people are not in a space where they can hear and process ideas.

Separate Your Emotional Response From Theirs

Sometimes when we hear about somebody else’s situation, it brings up an emotional response of our own. This may be stronger or even in opposition to theirs. It’s important not to try to fix their situation from your impacted state.

 

How to Share For a Better Outcome

 

1 – Choose who you share with intentionally.

If I need to vent about the demands of teaching, I am going to find a more understanding ear in my mom, who was a teacher, than my husband, who hasn’t been in a classroom since he graduated. Be smart about who you choose to go to with certain things. Also, be mindful about what else they’re dealing with and your timing of unloading on them.

2 – Clarify what you’re looking for.

Do you want advice or do you just want to vent? You’re more likely to get out of it what you want if you begin by stating what you’re looking for.

3 – Be aware if you’re complaining endlessly about the same things.

Empathy has its limits. If you’re always discussing the same unchangeable situation or refusing to take reasonable action, people will tire of hearing your story.

4 – Be mindful of what emotions this may trigger in the other person.

Try not to take their response personally; they may be responding from their past.

5 – Try to be patient with the drive to fix.

Even though is can feel dismissive and like they’re not really listening to you, remember that they want to make things better for you because they care about you.

6 – Respond to suggestions with grace and boundaries.

“Thank you for your suggestion” and “That’s not going to work for me.” Repeat as needed.

When You Can No Longer Rely on Distractions

It’s my first day of spring break.

And I’m struggling.

For the other 18 years of my teaching career, I reached spring break both exhausted and relieved, ready for a break from the relentless and overly-structured schedule of teaching.

But this year?

I’m panicky, only now realizing how much I’ve relied on the need to be online and responsive to my students all day to keep me focused and how much the process of reinventing lessons for the digital realm has kept me occupied.

So now, with the next 9 days stretching out before me with no real purpose and no defined structure, I’m feeling a little crazy. A little unmoored. And a lot anxious.

We all have our preferred form of distraction, that thing we turn to in an excuse to avoid facing that which scares us. Many of us tell ourselves stories about our distractions, convincing ourselves and others that it needs attention, while fervently denying that we’re also trying to escape facing down that which scares us.

Like many of you I’m sure, being busy is my favored distraction. I find a strange comfort in my to-do lists that dictate my days. When I’m on the move, I don’t have too much to pause and just be with my thoughts and my feelings. And when I schedule in those times for mindfulness and reflection, I like knowing that there is a limited amount of time for stillness. I only have to “be” for so long.

Even with the current constraints, I could still manufacture busyness. I could create a rigid and demanding schedule to practice coding or work on writing. I could find some all-consuming household project to eat up all my daytime hours. I could escape for hours on end into books, barely taking the time to look from the page.

Yet even though those things call to me, they don’t quite feel right.

I’m panicky.

Reality is setting in.

And I think I just need to learn to be okay with it.

 

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