It is Saturday morning…the Saturday morning that David plans to tell his wife he wants a divorce. David has been thinking about divorce for at least six months, but has been afraid to approach the subject. Still apprehensive, he decides get up early, make a nice breakfast and set the stage for a civil conversation with his wife before the children wake. His wife rolls out of bed around 7:00 and greets him with a good morning kiss on the cheek as she grabs a cup of coffee. Their eyes lock and in that moment, she sees there is something wrong. His eyes look puffy and bloodshot, his forehead has those wrinkles he gets when he is worried about something, and his lips are pierced like they are when he has something important to say. Rather then sit in silence and wonder she says, “What’s up hunny?” He has already decided that the easiest way to tell her is to just ‘spit it out’. So, he says, “Jane, I would like to sit together over breakfast and talk about our relationship. I have decided that I want a divorce.”
Talking about divorce is an emotionally charged human experience that brings individual values and beliefs to the surface quickly. These may be grounded in a variety of things like personal experience, observations of others, spiritual beliefs, or feelings of fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Many have a mental picture of how divorce looks, and often it is different for men than women. Most common is the picture of a man transitioning through divorce largely untouched, and the woman struggling to support herself and her children. For many men this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
David, like many men is:
Experiencing a range of emotions: He feels guilty for breaking off the marriage. He already misses his wife and the way they used to love each other. He is grieving the loss of his friends, community, house, and daily routines. He is afraid that he will not get to see his kids as much. He doesn’t know where he is going to live, or how he is going to support himself while paying alimony and child support.
An active dad: David spends a lot of time with his kids. He wants to be involved in their lives and worries that he will have fewer and fewer opportunities. He is even afraid of being replaced by another man. He knows that his children will miss the stories he reads every night and the Saturday afternoon bike rides.
Worried about his future: He and his wife spent the last 10 years building a life together. He worries they will have nothing left by the time the divorce is final. He plans to let his wife stay in the house with the kids. But, he has no idea where he is going to go. The future in front of him is one of completely starting over.
Isolated: He has nobody to talk to about the divorce. He feels like it is his job to stand strong, work hard, and make sure that his ex-wife and children are provided for. Many of his friends are “their” friends and he knows that some will stop talking to him. He may not even know that he is going to need a new support system and he struggles to ask for help.
Are you a man or a woman experiencing divorce? Is somebody close to you going through this transition? Do you work with people who are trying to move on and rebuild their lives? Remember that every divorce is unique depending on the circumstances, resources, and personalities of the people involved. In today’s world, it is too complex to make generalizations about men and women. Regardless of gender, people can begin rebuilding their life by having compassion for themselves.
The Dalai Lama said, “If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.”
When you have compassion for yourself, you can have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner and a fulfilling connection with your children. How do you develop compassion for yourself?
- Allow yourself to have ALL your feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, without judging yourself for them. What you resist often persists. As strange as it sounds, allowing yourself to be angry is often the first step toward forgiveness.
- Find healthy outlets. You are going to have to replace old routines with new ones. If you find yourself doing something unhealthy when you are sad, worried, or angry, replace it with an activity you like or the company of a close friend.
- Treat yourself to something that makes you feel good. Maybe you like to read the paper in bed, take your dog to the dog park, or go to the movies.
- Give yourself a break! You may be ‘off your game’. Adjust your expectations of yourself and then communicate those adjustments to those who might be impacted. They will understand.
I would enjoy hearing your thoughts! What are your experiences with divorce or separation? What do you do to have compassion for yourself?
Shelly D. Mahon, Ph.D. Candidate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Program Director for Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create! You can sign up to take advantage of this free, online, multi-media program to help fathers adjust and parent after divorce or separation at www.DivorcedDadInstitute.com. Shelly also has 20 years experience working with youth and families. Follow her blog at shellydmahon.wordpress.com
I will never forget the day my eldest son was sharing a story with me about his past weekend at his Dad’s. Within the storytelling of all the activities they did, he said, “…then Mum and Dad….” at which point I stopped listening to him. His voice became like a muffled murmur in the background, and all I could hear was myself in my head saying, “What?! Did I hear correctly? Who is he calling ‘Mum’?” So, I asked him to repeat himself.
He said, “Oh, right, I call (step-Mom) Mum. But you, you’re Mom (emphasis on the “aw” of the “o”) Once again, I stopped listening to what he was saying and I could only hear my own internal voice trying to reconcile this new piece of information. “How am I about this?….Is this ok? Do I like this? I don’t know…. Am I losing my place as THE mother in this family?…” and on it went for what seemed like an hour but in reality was maybe about 2 or 3 seconds.
One of the principles in my coaching practice is “We are the Masters of our own emotions.” While any average day for many people can include emotion-charging situations, for parents when it comes to dealing with situations related to our own children and their lives – whether it’s their safety, well-being, health or how they are navigating through complex social matters – parents’ emotions can get ignited very easily, for the worse.
Why? Well, one reason is because we are reacting to what we perceive is a threat.
A threat to what? First, a perceived threat to our identity – our own belief about who we think we are. Second, we may react to a perceived threat to our belief about our ability to perform – questioning how well we are doing in the particular situation (in this case “the role of parent”) or in life in general. And, third, we may react to a perceived threat to what we believe to be true or right – we have pictures of what we think life should look like, in our ideal mind. When something is happening that doesn’t seem to match that picture in our mind, it could cause us to react with a concern that we will not be able to protect or preserve that picture in the future.
So, back to my story, there I was faced with a moment of truth for myself. Was I going to have this situation of my son’s step-mother being granted the name “Mum” be superior to my own sense of confidence in myself? Or was I going to let go of the perception of the threat, and ground myself in knowing who I am for myself and for my kids? Thankfully I chose to align my actions in that moment with my own principles! I am all the freer for it, I feel proud and I get to give my children my whole self as their Mother – so they win!
That was over 3 years ago. Today, my boys enjoy being big brothers to their half-brother who is now 3 years old. I have a 4 and half year old daughter and the two of them get along like a ‘house on fire!’ And we spend family occasions together, like holidays or Sunday morning breakfasts while we discuss family matters.
I am interested to hear your responses – do you have stories of letting go of your ego in favour of the greater good of the whole family? Are you challenged in letting go of your ego in a situation at hand? Please respond below.
Tallie Rabin-Claassen, M.Ed. is a coach with Peaceful Divorce & Family Life Coaching, committed to families working no matter what their circumstance. She works with individuals and couples as well as groups. Visit her Coaching site at http://www.peacefuldivorcecoach.com
Separation is not always the right next step for people who experience difficulty in their marriage. While that may seem like an obvious conclusion to make, in reality not all separating people live that way.
Based on my experience as a practitioner who coaches people considering separation and those who are already separated or divorced, as well as through my research,* many divorces are a result of a knee-jerk reaction to a problem or challenge in the marriage. That reaction is either immediate, such that when there is an incident that presents a challenge one party reacts with the decision to end the marriage. The knee-jerk reaction can also be after a period of time where there is a recurring issue or several issues that are not talked about openly, but rather harboured or hidden or simply not dealt with effectively, until one day it becomes “the last straw” resulting in a reaction to separate.
When people separate as a knee-jerk reaction it makes it difficult for the couple to pursue an amicable process. What many couples do not realize is that separating or divorcing doesn’t mean “getting rid of the other person.” It ultimately means altering their relationship. When the couple has children, they move from “married” to “co-parents.” Or if there are no children involved it may be a transition to “business partners” if they owned a business together. And, if it is not about the new relationship one is creating with the ex-partner, it is one’s future relationship that the past habits will affect.
So what is the alternative to the knee-jerk? Assuming there is no abuse involved where someone’s safety is at risk, stop and talk. Before you make your choice, talk to a trusted, objective person about the issues. This may also sound like an obvious conclusion but it is often forgotten when one is emotional about their situation, and in some cases they’ve made decisions in their mind and are already virtually out the door of the marriage. Having another perspective on the matter can provide a sense of ease and peace of mind while also opening up new ideas for how to deal with the issues at hand.
Who should one talk to for support? It could be a friend or a family member. While that can be a good start or even a full solution for some to gain clarity about what to do, even the most intelligent and rational friends or family members can be emotionally attached themselves, thus providing a skewed perspective. Another trusted person may be a therapist, counselor or Psychologist that one is already seeing or have seen in the past. A more recent approach to dealing with these matters is to speak to a Coach or Mentor who specializes in family matters. A Coach or Mentor is someone who is dedicated to their clients creating the ideal picture for their family life, and then guiding them to take the actions that will move them toward fulfilling that picture. Ultimately the ideal person to speak with would be the spouse or partner themself, and for many they need a support person to help them do that. Some people may be surprised that they discover a new passion in their current relationship.
How one deals with answering this question of whether to separate or not will set the foundation for their future relationship – either with their current partner or with a future partner.
Listen to my FREE One-hour Teleseminar where I offer my 4-step Process to make a choice with peace and ease.
Leave a comment or ask a question below…my pleasure to answer.
* Completed Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a focus on “Creating Peaceful Divorce & Family Forever,” 2010, Ontario Institute for the Studies of Education /UT