Who Can I Talk to About My Divorce?

divorce talk

I talked to everyone about my divorce.

No, really.

The abruptness and the shock of it all seemed to manifest itself in an overabundance of thoughts and an inability to keep them to myself.

The clerk at the gas station learned why I trembled with anxiety every time I ran my debit card (because I was still afraid that my ex would somehow manage to drain my personal account). My coworkers heard about the latest information I gleaned from my still-legal-husband’s other wife’s blog (the description of them showering with monkeys in Uganda was a crowd favorite; you can’t make this stuff up). And my poor parents and the friend I lived with were subjected to pretty much every thought that pinball through my spinning mind.

I don’t recommend that approach.

In my case, the fallout from the verbal explosion was minimal. The mutual friends either jettisoned my ex immediately or I decided that they were not worth the effort. There were no children to get caught up in the web of oversharing. I didn’t join Facebook until after I had learned to keep my mouth shut. And, thanks to the wise encouragement of those around me, I never revealed his identity to those that didn’t already know him.

Many people react like I did and talk about their divorces too often, too openly or with the wrong people. Others decide that it’s all too personal and elect to clam up and hold it all in.

The best response is one in between, where you deliberately choose who to talk to about your divorce so that you get the support you need without the risk of additional drama or negative consequences.

Talk About Your Divorce With Impunity

 

Your journal – The absolute safest place to share all of your thoughts about your divorce is in a private journal. This is the one place where you can say anything (even the darkest thoughts and fears) without worrying about facing judgment. Just make sure that your journal is password-protected or locked if there are others around.

Your counselor, clergy or physician – These people are all professionals whose job is to help you. They are trained to be non-judgmental and required to keep your information confidential. Keep in mind that you may have to hunt around a bit to find people that seem like a good fit for you. But once you find them, don’t hold back. The more they know, the more they can assist you.

Supportive friends and family – You may have to test the waters a little bit to see who can listen sympathetically, offer the necessary guidance and keep your conversations private. Once you find these confidants, talk openly. They’re your cheerleaders and often your motivators.

 

Talk About Your Divorce With Some Caveats

 

Intimate strangers – I know it seems like an oxymoron, but it’s not. These are those people that you connect with briefly but deeply. You may meet on a plane, at an out-of-town bar or sitting in adjacent seats in a waiting room. You never exchange names or identifying details, yet the anonymity allows for a certain reckless vulnerability. In these situations, share as much as you wish about the emotional impact but withhold the particulars. Throughout, be mindful of the other person’s reaction. If they are asking questions or sharing their own circumstances, they are receptive. If they seem uncomfortable with the exchange, it’s time to move on.

Blogs and internet support groups – These can be a lifesaver when you don’t have an in-person support group or you are looking for others who have experienced similar situations to your own. These are similar to the intimate strangers in that you get to know them very well in some ways and not at all in others. Again, refrain from sharing identifying details or names of others involved (it’s up to you if you want to share your real name). In addition, be mindful of the tone of any groups that you’re joining and strive to stay within their cultural norms.

More judgmental friends and family – These are the people that love you and want the best for you, but they don’t necessarily “get” you. They may respond to your cries with, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Your frustrations with your ex might be met with, “I never did like them. What did you expect?” They mean well, but their perspectives and responses can hurt more than help in the short term. Feel free to censor what you share with them to avoid unnecessary grief.

Attorneys – Obviously, when it comes to the legal aspects, tell your lawyer everything. But the emotional? It’s best to keep it to a minimum. Oh, they’ll listen. But you’ll end up paying. Literally.

 

Talk About Your Divorce With Caution

 

Social media – If it’s online, assume it can and will be read by everyone. If you’re still in the process of divorcing, err on the side of caution and say nothing. Social media excerpts are quite commonly used now in divorce and custody cases. After the legal proceedings are finalized, you can share some information. But be careful to avoid creating drama.

New dates – Once you’re dating, it’s natural to talk about what brought you to dating. If you can’t discuss your divorce or your ex without becoming emotional or going into the whole saga, it’s best to steer clear. If you do decide to talk about your divorce, focus more on what you’ve learned from it than on how much you despise your ex.

Children – Obviously, you will have to talk with your kids about your divorce. Repeatedly. As you do, remember that these conversations are for them, not for you. They need to hear that it’s not their fault, that both parents love them and that there will be some stability in their lives. Allow their questions to guide the conversation. It’s okay to let them know that you’re sad or scared, but you also need to show them how to move through those feelings.

Mutual friends – These poor folks are caught in the middle. If you want to keep them as friends, it’s best to keep the divorce talk to minimum.

 

Talk About Your Divorce With Abridgment

 

Professionals on the periphery – Your accountant, insurance adjuster and maybe even your child’s teacher will need to know something about your change in marital status. Share only what is necessary and only when necessary.

Coworkers – If you’re friends with any coworkers and trust their restraint, feel free to share more. Otherwise, it’s best to stick with an elevator-speech divorce announcement just to keep them in the know and to alert them that you may be having a harder time than usual at work.

Acquaintances and neighbors – Keep it short. Keep it simple. And keep any salacious details out of it. These are often the folks that like to create drama.

 

And When Not to Talk About Your Divorce

 

It’s okay to respond to questions that feel intrusive or that come at inopportune times with, “I’m not wanting to talk about that right now.” You are not required to tell anyone about what you’re going through and when and if you do share, you get to decide how much. However, be careful about being overly private and cautious. When we bottle too much up, the pressure has a tendency to build. When we share our stories, we also share the burden. Allow others to help lighten your load.

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What Are You Fighting For?

The streets and public gathering areas were filled yesterday as people came together to speak out about gun violence in our schools. The messages –  both printed and spoken aloud – were powerful, imbued with the energy that only honest emotion can convey. Instead of quietly cowering behind desks in the case of an active shooter, these determined voices are refusing to sit silently while life happens to them.

All of those who participated yesterday, either in-person or in-spirit, know what they’re fighting for. They are passionate, dedicated and motivated by their beliefs. They refuse to be passive in the face of adversity and instead of focusing on what they cannot do, they choose to concentrate on what influence they do have.

_ _ _ _ _

Nine years ago, I felt like I was in hiding from an attacker. Even though the assault was emotional and financial, my body spent much of the time curled into a protective fetal curve, quaking with the fear of anticipation over the next offensive volley.  I felt helpless, a ping-pong ball caught in the crushing turmoil as the brutal waves of reality crashed upon my unprotected shore.

I trembled. I questioned. I cried. I cursed the universe for the unfairness and I cursed the perpetrator for his selfishness.

He controlled me through the divorce, just as he controlled me through the marriage. As he attacked, I ducked. He accused, I defended. He stonewalled, I grew frustrated.

I was fighting, but I still felt powerless. Hopeless.

Because I was fighting for the wrong reasons.

I was battling against him instead of fighting for something that I believed in.

And as long as I allowed him to dictate the terms of the engagement, I would remain stuck and feeling victimized by my circumstances.

So I shoved him out of my mental space and instead I listened to my voice. My own convictions and guiding principles. And I changed the nature of my fight.

I vowed to fight for others who had experienced covert abuse, offering whatever I could through my own brush with gaslighting and manipulation. I had to make it through so that I could help others find their own way. As my focus shifted away from my own pains and my own struggles, I found more energy and fortitude than I realized I had. When I didn’t feel like I had the strength to climb each hurdle, I reminded myself why it was necessary. And that conviction made it possible.

_ _ _ _ _

When we have something to fight for, determination replaces the immobility of fear. Hopelessness is exchanged for motivation as the internal dialog changes from one of defeat to one of purpose. When you know what you’re fighting for, your focus narrows and your strength intensifies.

My challenge for you today is to identify what it is that you’re fighting for. Maybe you want to create a better life for children. Or perhaps you’re motivated to support your community or to create something new that meets a need.

Don’t stop with just the outline of an idea, flesh it out. Make it real. What form does this purpose take? What does it look like as you activate this purpose? See what you’re fighting for as your target, your focus.

And rather than fighting against what has already happened, fight for what you believe.

 

 

 

Marriage: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

marriage: should I stay or go

From time to time, I have people contact me with a description of their marriage or their thoughts about filing for divorce. After describing the situation, they often conclude with the following question: should I stay or should I go?

I have yet to encounter an email which prompts me to answer that question directly with the advice to divorce or to stay in the marriage. After all, barring the extreme cases of physical threats and violence, that is not an outside observer’s call to make. Instead of offering a verdict, I instead pose questions gathered from the shared information.

I have found that often the inclination to stay in a marriage or to leave via divorce is often rooted in some assumptions or thoughts that have not been fully explored. These are common statements that I receive and some of the questions that I pose in response –

 

The following are not always a good reason to leave a marriage:

 

I miss or crave the independence and freedom that comes with being single.

Specifically, what does freedom look like to you? Feel like? How would being independent change how you move through life and alter the decisions you make? Are there ways to find more space and agency within your marriage?

What are some of the downsides that come with the freedoms of single hood? What are some of the positives you only gain from a long-term relationship? Is the grass actually greener, or is it because of your current perspective? Are you putting energy into watering your own grass?

How much of this feeling of being tied down can be attributed to your marriage and how much is because you’re feeling the pressure of being an adult (and maybe missing the freedoms of your youth)?

 

I have a crush on somebody and it makes me feel so alive.

Isn’t that feeling of early infatuation so powerful? What do you like about yourself when you’re with this person? What do they see in you that makes you feel desired? How are you different with them than you are with your spouse?

Are you seeing this crush in their entirety, or are they only presenting their best selves? Does the crush have the traits that would make them a good long-term partner or possible parent?

What was it like when you first met your spouse? Do you put as much energy and intention into the relationship now as you did then? Are there times when you still see your spouse through that lens of infatuation, excitement or curiosity? Do you struggle to see them apart from their role as parent or caretaker or are you taking on a “parental” role with them?

When are other times or situations that also make you feel alive?

 

I’m bored in my marriage; it’s just not exciting anymore.

Are you bored or are you boring? What are you bringing to the marital table to bring excitement or interest? Do you tend to respond with “yes” or with “no”? Are you curious about your spouse?

When was the last time you and your partner did something new together? Do you ever ask your spouse questions that you do not know the answer to?

What do you do as an individual to keep from becoming stagnant? When was the last time you did something that scares you or that you struggle with? Are you taking responsibility for your own stuff?

 

I’m feeling restless. I want to make some major changes in my life.

Have you brainstormed areas of possible change? Have you approached your spouse with some of your ideas? Are you assuming that they aren’t interested in your propositions before you’ve asked?

Are you living a life that feels purposeful? Do you have any feelings of emptiness? Do you feel like you can be yourself around others? Have you been living the life you want, or the one that someone else decided for you?

Are you uncomfortable with some area(s) of your life and you’re hoping to leave them behind? How do you envision life being different after you make these major changes?

 

I feel like my life has gone off course. This isn’t what I imagined.

Has your destination changed or is it more that the path isn’t as straightforward as you pictured? What adventures and sights have you enjoyed that you wouldn’t have if your life took the expected course?

What role did you expect your spouse to play in your life? How did you think marriage would look? Do you struggle with the contrast between the partner you imagined and the one you have?

Have you strayed from your core values and beliefs? If so, what can you do to recommit to your guiding principles?

 

My partner has changed. They are no longer the person I married.

What are some of the life events that have impacted your partner or your marriage since you met?  In what ways has your partner changed for the better? Can you find a way to reframe the other changes in a more compassionate or understanding light?

Can you respond to these changes with curiosity? Have you tried to get to know your “new” spouse? Have you talked to someone who likes your spouse as they are to gain their perspective?

Would you be upset with a child for not being the same person at high school graduation as they were in preschool? How have you changed since the beginning of the relationship? How have these changes in your partner challenged you to grow?

 

The following are not always a good reason to stay in a marriage:

 

Leaving would break my spouse’s heart.

Do you feel like it’s your role to protect your partner’s feelings and/or to take care of them? Is it fair to your spouse for you to withhold important information from them? How might they feel if they find out later that you wanted to leave?

Are you underestimating your spouse’s strength? Have you explored this thought with them? Do you know with certainty that your partner wants to stay in the marriage? How can you broach this topic with them in a kind and compassionate manner?

 

It’s easier just to stay.

If your friend described this same situation, what advice would you give them? Have you ever gone through something difficult that was worth it in the end? Is there energy required to stay?

Do you feel like you have a realistic idea of the effort needed to divorce and start a new life? Have you talked to somebody who is a year or more out of divorce to gain insight into the process? How do you think you will feel about this decision ten years down the road? Twenty?

 

I’m scared to leave. I am intimidated by starting over. I’m worried that I’ll be alone forever.

Fear can be so convincing, can’t it? What scares you the most about leaving or starting over? Are you trying to look at the whole big picture at once? Have you broken it down into smaller, more manageable steps?

What is a time in your life when you overcame a fear? How did you feel leading up to your action? How did you feel after?

Which is worse for you – the idea of feeling alone in your marriage or the idea of being alone? Is it possible that your fear is lying to you?

 

I’m staying for the kids.

Are you and your spouse able to maintain a loving and peaceful environment for the kids? Do your marital tensions impact how you interact with your children? Have you seen changes in the kids that may be indicative of their stress at home?

Will you stay after the kids leave home? How might their parent’s divorce impact them when they are older?

Have you talked to divorced parents and/or adults of divorced parents to learn more about what it’s like from someone who has experienced it? Did you have a traumatic experience from your own parents’ divorce? How could you make divorce less harmful for your children?

 

I’m hoping it will improve.

If you know for certain that your spouse and/or marriage would be the same in five years, would you decide to stay? Have you communicated your wants and needs with your partner in a way that they can understand?

Are you putting up with abusive or cruel behavior? Would you want your child to be in a marriage with somebody like your spouse?

Are you in love with your partner’s potential? Have they promised to change? Have they made any efforts? How long are you willing to wait for promised change?

 

I’m staying out of obligation.

Do you feel trapped by your marriage? Do you feel contempt and/or frustration for your partner? If so, how might that impact the energy in your home? If your spouse gave you permission to back out of your vows, how do you think you would respond?

Are there situations when it is okay to change your mind? Are there any “dealbreakers” in marriage for you? What are they?

If you discovered that your spouse was only staying out of a sense of obligation, how would you feel? Does divorce feel like failure to you?

 

And for those of you seriously considering divorce, here are twelve questions you MUST ask yourself first.

8 Years Ago Today

8 years ago today

There’s something about the tangible signs of the passage of time that makes it all the more real.

I had a precious visit with my dear friend and her daughter last Sunday. This was the friend who took me in during that awful year between the tsunami and the legal cessation of the marriage. And she welcomed her daughter into her home only months before she also welcomed me in.

Her first birthday corresponded with my court date. And when I saw her, now nine and quickly catching up with me on height, I remembered that Sunday was the anniversary of my divorce.

I took a moment, took her in, and reflected on all of the growth we have both experienced these past eight years…

 

Eight years ago today, I awoke afraid of seeing the man who had abandoned me eight months before. And when he passed me in the courthouse hall, I didn’t even recognize him.

Eight years ago today, I was ready for the divorce I never wanted from the man I thought I knew.

Eight years ago today, I sat in a courtroom with the man I had spent half of my life with. A man I once considered my best friend. We never made eye contact.

Eight years ago today, I looked at his face for any sign of the man I had loved.  I saw none. After sixteen years, he was truly a stranger to me.

Eight years ago today, I sat alone in a hallway waiting for the attorneys to decide his fate and mine. Hoping that the judge saw through his lies and would not fall sway to him charms. She didn’t, even asking my husband’s attorney if he was “psycho.” The lawyer could only shrug.

Eight years ago today, I cried and shook with the realization that it was all over. It was a relief and yet the finality was jarring.

Eight years ago today, I felt a heaviness lift as I cut the dead weight of him from my burden. I believed I couldn’t begin to heal until his malignancy had been removed.

Eight years ago today, I laughed when I learned he hadn’t paid his attorney. I had warned the man my husband was a con. Maybe he believed me now.

Eight years ago today, I held tightly to that decree, still believing that its declarations had power. I felt relief that he would have to pay back some of what he stole from the marriage. The relief was short lived.

Eight years ago today, I took my first steps as a single woman. Steps I never expected to take. The first few were shaky. But I soon started to find my stride.

Eight years ago today, I sat around a restaurant table with friends and my mother. A table that had held my husband and I countless times over our marriage. We celebrated the end of the marriage that night. I had celebrated my anniversary there the year before.

Eight years ago today, I read my husband’s other wife’s blog for the last time, curious if she would mention anything about the court date. She did not. I erased the URL from my history. It no longer mattered.

Eight years ago today, I sealed the piles of paperwork from the divorce and the criminal proceedings into a large plastic tub. As the lid clicked in place, I felt like I was securing all of that anguish in my past.

Eight years ago today, I started to wean myself off of the medication that allowed me to sleep and eat through the ordeal. I was thankful it had been there, but I no longer wanted the help.

Eight years ago today, I fell asleep dreaming of hope for the future rather than experiencing nightmares of the past.

And now, eight years on, I could not be happier with where I am.

Not because of the divorce.

But because losing everything made me thankful for everything.

Because being blind made me learn how to see.

Because being vulnerable created new friendships and bonds.

Because being destroyed made me defiantly want to succeed.

And because losing love made me determined to find it again.

I am happier than I’ve ever been.

And I could not be where I am without eight years ago today.

 

Jumping to Conclusions

jumping to conclusions

My 8th graders are finishing up a unit on geometric proofs. This material has even my live-and-breathe-math kids questioning, “When will we ever have to use this?”

And I’m honest with them. I confess that they will never be asked to write a two-column proof justifying why two triangles are congruent in order to clinch a job interview. No romantic interest will ever look over their paragraph constructed to show that a quadrilateral is, in fact, a rectangle and criticize the fact that they failed to correctly use the slopes to show right angles. In fact, the only time that this exact skill will come in handy is if they happen to become math teachers. (In fact, I’m kicking myself now for making my way through 9th grade geometry in a zombie-like haze.)

But I don’t stop there.

“Forget the content for a moment,” I advise them. “What does this process, as painful as it may be, actually teach you?”

There are confused looks. A few random and half-hearted attempts to answer my question. And then I hear it from the back corner –

 

“It teaches us how to think. How to move from one fact to another and not jump to conclusions.”

 

When I was four, I had not yet had the benefit of geometric proofs to teach me how to think. At my grandmother’s house, I would spend hours sitting by her side as she narrated her way through countless family photos. Photos, that were for the most part, in black and white.

So I reached the obvious (well, to a four-year-old at least), conclusion: the world used to be in black and white.

That made sense. But I still struggled to understand how my grandmother, who sat next to me in full color, could have become pigmented as a young adult. I wrestled with this dilemma for a time until I finally solved the problem (and felt quite proud of myself for my powers of deduction) –  Rainbow Brite was responsible for bringing color to the world.

Well, it sure seemed reasonable then.

I had leaped from one fact – photos had transitioned from black and white to color over time – to a completely arbitrary conclusion that was based solely on the information generated within my own mind.

That particular assumption was harmless (and humorous). But that’s not always the case.

 

Once we believe something, even if we leapt recklessly to that opinion, we then proceed to ignore that which doesn’t support our conclusion. 

 

We become willfully blind. Feeding on an information diet filtered through confirmation bias. Conclusions, like habits, are much more difficult to shape once they’ve hardened into place. The time to be careful is when you’re laying down the initial layers. Jumping to conclusions has a tendency to keep you in one place.

And that’s what my students are learning. Just like you can’t claim that an angle is right because it “looks” like 90º, you can’t assume things in life just because it “feels” a certain way. 

It’s harder in life than in the classroom. After all, the stakes are higher when you’re you’re talking about real life instead of a poorly drawn polygon. Yet the lesson is still the same as we learn how to not carelessly jump to conclusions:

 

Base everything on the facts.

Move from one fact to another. No jumping.

Accept that there may be more than one correct way to link these facts and don’t be afraid to explore these options.

Ask for another person’s opinion. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes will see something you do not.

When you have enough facts, make a conclusion.

If you find other facts that refute your conclusion, be ready with the eraser.

In fact, actively look for ways that your reasoning may be wrong. That’s how you test its strength.

It’s okay to make temporary assumptions to test a theory, but refrain from putting it in writing until you can prove it using facts.

 

Here’s an example of how I put this into practice in my own life as it pertains to learning to trust again after betrayal.