Saturday, January 6, 2018

Divorce and Frequently Asked Questions

I'm not sure whether to leave my relationship or try to save it. Can you help?

Yes. Read "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: a Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay in or Get Out of Your Relationship" by Mira Kirshenbaum. She has over 30 factors that help people consider whether an issue is more likely to be changeable or unmoving and toxic.

What should I do if I think my marriage will not work?

At first signs of the flu, people know to expect that they'll be really sick. They prepare by stocking up with soup and cold medicine and comfort foods and making a cozy spot on the couch or bed. The same thing should happen when you're preparing for an emotionally rough time because half of it is perspective and outlook.

If you tell yourself unkind things like "I'm a failure" and "I can't keep a relationship" and "I'll never find love again," then it will make the suffering that much worse.

No, at this time you must split yourself in two and have one half of you hug the other half the way you would your best friend and say "this is going to be hard but I love you and I will take care of you."

And then prepare for the emotional flu: assemble a network of support. Get resourceful and creative about money, places to stay, and strategies for coping.

You'll be out of your comfort zone but that's just part of the process.

Write yourself a letter from your older, wiser self and feel the love from calmer times ahead. Visit a bookstore and spend some time in the self-help section. Take baths, indulge in music. Dance. Write. Read novels. Be very kind to yourself now.

A lot of what's scary is the unknown. Make an appointment for a 1-hour consultation with a lawyer who can explain to you the divorce laws in your state. Gathering this information does not mean you have decided for sure -- you're only learning and information is comforting. The more you know about the logistics, the less scary it will be if you decide to take this route. Ask people who have been there what to expect. It's like going for a colonoscopy, the more you know, the easier it is to bear!

I'm in the middle of getting a divorce, what can you say to help me through the process in court?

Be kind and fair no matter how you are feeling emotionally. Ten years from now you will want to live with the decisions you are making now and you don't want to feel like you've ruined someone, acted unfairly, or allowed yourself to be treated unfairly.

An advice columnist once said, "Do the right thing. Add in your feelings and 'the right thing' may hurt like hell, but it hasn't changed."

You'll know the right thing to do. Be motivated by that and not feelings.

Feelings of anger, guilt, remorse, sadness, grief, those are all normal and hurt incredibly intensely but should not influence your path. Your journey will involve making peace with your past and you won't be able to do this if driven by negativity.

Imagine the advice you would give your best friend; that will help guide you.

I'm reentering the dating world, help! What advice can you give me to make this less awkward and painful?

Know what you need.

If you know that you need a certain amount of connectedness in a relationship, then you're not going to be satisfied not getting it. Likewise if you know you need a certain amount of space, you won't be happy not having that. You must know what you need.

It is so crucial to know this (and turn away the wrong people) that it's worth keeping two lists: one of non-negotiables and another of nice-to-haves. For example, if you know you want children someday, and learn over coffee that your new date is profoundly against having a family, then it's not wise to dive in hoping they may change their minds.

Women are also biologically programmed to attach to people they are physical with. For this reason, it's good to be extremely selective. I know of almost no woman who enjoyed casual sex that stayed casual.

As you meet people, observe your feelings when you're with them. Do you feel uneasy? Do you feel like you're trying to prove yourself or "get" them to like you? If so, consider how exhausting a relationship with someone like that will be. The feeling of being with someone should be easy.

If you're drawn to people that bring up negative feelings inside, it's a sign that you're replaying stuff from childhood and may benefit from counseling. If you find that you're trying to connect with people who do not seem in a reciprocal place, read up on attachment theory (including this Q&A followup article) a discovery about the different types of connection different people prefer. You will be happiest with someone who wants the same levels of closeness you do.

While dating and getting to know your partner, if you're a woman, let the man set the pace. If the level of connection and contact leaves you questioning his interest, then he's not really that interested. You won't doubt it if he is because he'll send very clear signals.

 Politely and kindly move on if you're not getting your needs met but don't ask him to explain his behavior or change it. He'll not want to hurt your feelings by admitting he's not into you but it won't change the feelings that underlie his behavior. Only observe and move towards people and activities that fulfill your needs, not make you question whether your needs are valid. This is why knowing yourself is so important.

Understand that you will be raw. Let yourself mourn and feel your emotions. The more you suppress them, the stronger they will be. We are afraid of feeling but emotions act as a great internal navigation system. Anger tells you that you need to erect a boundary. Fear tells you to get distance. Sadness tells you that you need stillness. Emotions will ebb and flow and if you ride the waves without fighting them, you'll get through the storms faster.

At first, it may be easy to pick partners that end up reenacting some unhealthy patterns because you're raw and haven't yet gained the perspective, insight, confidence and strength to choose good people and walk away from those with red flags. Allow yourself lots of leeway to explore dating without making up conclusions on your self-worth. Just because something feels true ("no one loves me") does not mean it is.

Looking for a partner can be like looking for a job: it takes some energy to not get discouraged but you're far more likely to find it if you keep trying. It's a myth that love will find you when you stop trying.

Read: Love Factually by Duana Welch -- it discusses the biological reasons men and women act the way they do when dating and why certain strategies are more successful than others.

How can I stay connected with mutual friends and family after the divorce?

Understand that not everyone will be comfortable maintaining a relationship with you after you both split. Don't expect or ask people to take sides. Never speak poorly of your ex. Own responsibility for your role and contribution to the demise of the marriage. Even if there was an obvious transgression like infidelity, relationship dynamics are part of a partnership and both partners both play roles in the disconnection that can eventually lead to divorce. It doesn't have to be an exact 50/50 split but a union is not a sole enterprise. Accepting responsibility and understanding offers the gift of growth.

Always refer to your history with as much kindness and fairness as possible. The ex has a side too and they are not in the room to defend themselves so it isn't fair to speak negatively about them. You can be honest about the things that were hard for you and still be kind by acknowledging that your ex also struggled; pain is not under limited copyright and ownership. Even the person choosing to end things is in a significant amount of pain and it can be hard to remember that when you feel hurt. Someone you once loved will always hold a special place in your heart even if those times exist as memories.

How can I move past the anger, grief and negativity?

What will matter in 5 years? That you did the right thing, that you are proud of the actions you took and the person you were. You can't move past bad feelings, however, unless you let yourself feel them, so feel them. Mourn, grieve, be angry and get these feelings out however feels best: writing, walking, moving, counseling, etc.

Try to look at the experiences you have as having added to you. Even if a longterm marriage ended, you are who you are today as a result of the experiences you had in that relationship. Try and feel gratitude: appreciation is the antidote to negativity. Understand that complex emotions can encompass both positive and negative feelings and that is what it means to be human.

Like Neil Gaiman says, "Make good art." Take your pain and turn it into some form of creative expression.

How can I reconnect with myself after such a life-altering change?

Forgive yourself for being human, for failing, for feeling like you've let yourself or others down. You will worry about the impact on your kids but if you navigate the waters with mediators and coordinators, kids will learn resilience, a skill that will serve them the rest of their lives. Studies show resilience is more tied to success than whether you graduated from Harvard or dropped out of college. Hard times teach compassion and empathy. You'll be stronger, wiser and more understanding as a result of this someday and will be able to help others through hard times. Remember this so you can stay true to yourself and not succumb to bitterness.