Divorce Spills Over On To Kids & the movie “What Maisie Knew”

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Divorce is an opportunity for people to indulge their intensity & hoarded resentments on to everyone. Normally sane people will shriek when they meet their spouse in the grocery store. They are past caring how it looks because they are fueled by self-righteousness.

Divorce is an invitation to be your worse self, even in front of your own children. All people with children in the process of divorce should be forced to watch this movie. The movie captures the ugliness of divorce and it is startling when viewed through the eyes of a six-year-old.

Watching you will wince with pain more than once because the movie is so authentic about divorce.

Kids in divorce cry in my office because they never get any time alone with a divorced parent because now time is too often shared with the new love interest. Kids cry because a parent reveals too much about their new dating life or just because they reveal too much. Kids cry because they don’t want to understand the new reality that money is split between two households.

Kids in divorce cry because they don’t want divorce to happen to them. Kids cry because it’s all so confusing and they desperately want to be allowed to love both parents & not choose one. Kids cry because they hate keeping track of their stuff in two places and it gets overwhelming to forget something important so many times.

Kids in divorce cry because they lock up their inside feelings and act ok and nobody asks or listens to them about what’s hard.

The parents in the movie are wealthy and find two people to chew up & spit out as sparkly new young lovers who will make it all better and prove they are quite lovable. It’s the contrast of watching the genuineness and whole-hearted care of the young lovers for the six-year-old, compared to the birth parents’ selfish, calculating “how much can I get away with?” that provides the meat of the story.

So anyone watching the movie can comfort themselves with “I’d never do that…” but the truth is that the level of desperateness that follows divorce easily twists people’s souls into a pretzel of certainty that it’s ok just this once. Julianna Moore’s character is jealous of her daughter’s new-found affection for “stepdad” and she is very angry she has to share custody with her husband. Indeed it’s the raw selfishness and stinginess that too often emerges in divorce.

In the New York Times movie review A.O.Scott said: “What Maisie Knew” lays waste to the comforting dogma that children are naturally resilient, and that our casual, unthinking cruelty to them can be answered by guilty and belated displays of affection.


Divorced? It’s Messy and Grief is a part of it

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Divorced means you are wrapped up in grief because the dream of the family is lost. Being divorced is really about having a whole new world view come into play. Just like grief, being divorced takes a good amount of time to recover.

It takes time to begin to think your way through all the feelings & to begin to care about life again after getting divorced.

If you are the one left behind in divorce, then  you are drowning in a whole lot of shock & surprise. Often the one who leaves hasn’t said enough about the why. This is complicated because the one who was dumped probably avoided dealing with the hard truths &  hasn’t been able to hear them. It almost always takes two, whether you want to believe that, or not.

Prior to being divorced, there is a lot of avoiding that is going on. This happens in divorces because someone is “afraid” to hurt the other person with the truth. Really they are deflecting their own responsibility to be authentic about the problems & struggles that are part of every long-term relationship.

Prior to getting divorced, one of the biggest betrayals that generally occurs; there were massive layers of resentments that have been stashed & hoarded over time so that any possibility of problem solving was extinguished.

Growing from dealing with this after being divorced means either 1. learning to be more direct with a new partner or 2. Don’t trust silence or never fighting in a relationship. Silence simply means someone is swallowing their differences which always bites you in the butt down the road.

Divorces are always caused by a lack of respect. Remember you will have a chance to live your life differently with this crucial ingredient in the future.

A second massive betrayal in being divorced, would be that you must now reenter the world alone, that buddy who acknowledged you & who really used to “get” who you are is gone. You must now reenter the world unacknowledged by someone else. Even if you have kids, your peer is absent now (& kids should not be your replacement buddy no matter how lonely it gets).

The loneliness can be very daunting when you are first getting used to being divorced.

What’s the growing opportunity here you may wonder? I once read “Solitude is the nurse of the soul”. I can’t remember where I read it & googling did not work. I do know this to be true. Being divorced can offer you an opportunity to remember who you are, separate from anyone else in the world.

Both before & after divorce take the time to grieve and balance this by not getting so lost in grief that you lose your inner ballast.

Being divorced is complicated, messy and may seem completely unbearable in the beginning. Know that you will find the strength to bear it with more time under your belt. In a year & a half it will be bearable and you will not only glimpse light at the end of the tunnel, but you will be certain the light is there.

Being divorced means you will need to take care of yourself with the basics; enough sleep, healthy eating & 150 minutes of exercise a week. Sleep requires going to bed at the same time & wake up at the same time & a minimum of 7 hours. Pick one of these three, to put in place for 90 days & then choose another.

Being divorced means that you need to build a larger support system. Try volunteering, join a church for the community it offers or try a meeting of Parents without Partners. You will also need to make some new friends who are single.

The Blame Game: Demonizing the Other

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Many of us find great comfort in demonizing our ex spouses or ex friends to make it easier to banish them from our world. This is a very 1 or 10, black or white, self serving point of view.

We call this either/or thinking which is always about the extremes. Psychotherapy is often about the grey, or the 4,5 or 6. Truth lies in the complexity of the situation. Very little in life is simply right or wrong.

This attitude serves me well in working with couples. It always takes two people to kill off a marriage. While one person may have a greater percentage of responsibility, it’s still very important to claim your 15-45%. Yet so many people love the simplicity of ignoring their part in the troubles.

When working with individuals it can be a challenge to interrupt the convenience of blaming the other person. There is also the delicious self righteousness that it’s all their fault. Who among us doesn’t love that?

It’s a whole lot harder to walk the plank & take responsibility for your part. Face the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach & then you actually will have a shot at not repeating the same relationship mistakes.

When my clients date, I recommend that they ask “What was your part in the demise of your last relationship?” It’s really a test of maturity & self awareness. Everyone should be able to answer that question in their late 30’s & up.

Truthful integrity requires that you look at yourself. Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying “When you point your finger at someone else there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.”

Blame can be very manipulative. It is a way to erase all other point of view that interfere with your own ideas. Your ex may have said some very ugly things in the process of the breakup. Unfortunately people do. Emotions run high & barriers are rapidly built.

Six to Nine months later try to be fair & ask yourself; Does your ex really lack character? Are they likely to be that destructive? Don’t use what was said to rob them & the children of time together. Try to reserve your protective instincts for situations where there truly is danger, not as an excuse to be selfish.

Demonizing & Blame can be very gratifying.

The novel by Russell Banks called The Sweet Hereafter is all about how human it is to blaming, blamed, blame it, I blame you, to blame, demonize, manipulation, blame forwant to assign blame. It is a wonderful book because the author understands that we sooo want things explained that are unexplainable….

It makes it easier to justify what you want or how you want to appear. Parents, kids, spouses & friends all fall into the trap of using their own sensitivity to avoid authentic dialogue. This ends up with you avoiding the opportunity to swallow your defenses & look at yourself which is also an invitation to grow.

It is truly classy to honestly face your own misdeeds. It’s not only one of the cornerstone of trust in all relationships but in believing in yourself.

Sharing your Kids with your Ex’s New Love

I’ve been through this process with many clients & it is not easy. First there is the jealousy that the new love may have something cool to offer your kids; like a swimming pool or they never seem to lose their temper. This is a very normal reaction because it’s hard to share your kids.divorce & kids, divorce and kids, divorce kids, divorce & children, children divorce

Because my kids are adopted I’ve been sharing my kids since they first arrived. Even though they’ve never met their birth parents I’ve never been one to pretend they don’t exist. The most important part of my life has always been shared & that reality matters for the well-being of my children.

When the family breaks up there is a new reality to endure that sharing your kids with people you don’t know will be part of the new deal.

I believe in the african proverb that “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe it’s important for children to experience different ways of doing things & different rules. Experience teaches children a lot. They can learn to roll with things & be more flexible. These are ideas with which to soothe yourself.

It’s important to reassure yourself that your relationship will always be unique because of who you are. In all likelihood there will be things that the other person is better at than you. Balance this hard truth by knowing there will also be things that you will do best. Try to give up your own competitiveness because it’s not useful in this situation.

The first time your kid says the other person’s name with a positive enthusiasm will hit you like a small earthquake tremor. You must learn to live with knowing that it hurts your own heart; without demanding that they reassure you about loving you more. That’s your job, not theirs.

Transitions are part of every major change & adjusting to someone you don’t choose & have no control over is tough to be generous about. It’s good practice for being a future in law, which is another relationship you have no choices about.

The goal is acceptance. You have to learn to live with it. It’s an opportunity to add an element of grace to your life.

Disappearing Love & the movie Blue Valentine

In this movie we watch the sparkly beginnings of love disintegrate over time. Blue Valentine captures one of the saddest aspects of life. The camera shuttles back & forth between the lovelyBlue Valentine, break up, when to break up, breaking up with someone you love past & tragic present. It seems so authentic it’s painful to watch.

Michelle Williams asks her grandmother “How can you trust your feelings when they disappear?” This is the question at the center of the movie.

Her character has clearly lost respect for Ryan Gosling. This is at the core of every divorce….the journey to the loss of respect. She announces “I’m done with this.” Though she offers not one single specific.

It is not only her silence that is tragic; it is also her giant stash of resentments all aimed at him. This is the path too many women follow. Just as Ryan’s character is surprised by the intensity of her giving up, so are many men.

Men are often willing to do a 360 & embrace change when their back is against the wall & they finally get it. It’s usually too late and they pay a huge price for their obliviousness. It’s easy for me to embrace their willingness to change because the long tired history is not bogging me down. Unfortunately, their wives have often reached the point of no return.

Ryan’s character had alcohol problems, though their duration is never stated. What’s poignant is the scene where he begs her “I’ll do anything. Give me a chance.” It’s a lost opportunity because she doesn’t care. She doesn’t say “Go to Rehab & AA, get a sponsor & work the steps.”

I wish women would break through their angry silence sooner & I wish men would not find it so easy to remain clueless for so long.

The initial rush of early love has to evolve into an US. It’s the third entity that has to grow beyond the you & I. The lovers in Blue Valentine never evolve. They are lonely with each other. Their loneliness leaks off the screen into your own heart.

You help each other grow when you evolve. You call the hard questions. You are honest with each other & solve problems together as a team. I see a lot of couples that haven’t figured out how to be a team.

Her silent seething anger is all about her. His drinking is all about him. When she says I don’t want to go to a cheap sex motel he doesn’t hear her, because he is desperate to remind her they love each other.

The US requires an enormous amount of work. There has to be an enormous amount of talking to soften the differences that love’s first blush ignores. Self awareness, taking turns, honesty & sacrifice create an infrastructure to with stand the test of time.

Evolve through hard work to an US or be a part of the terrible loss that is divorce.

Joseph Campbell puts it this way: “One of the things I have realized – and people who have been married a long time realize – is that marriage is not a love affair. A love affair has to do with immediate personal satisfaction. But marriage is an ordeal; it means yielding, time and again. That’s why it’s a sacrament: you give up your personal simplicity to participate in a relationship. And when you’re giving, you’re not giving to the other person: you’re giving to the relationship. And if you realize that you are in the relationship just as the other person is, then it becomes life building, a life fostering & enriching experience, NOT an impoverishment because you’re giving to someone else.”

Ambivalent About Your Relationship?

It can be very confusing about whether or not to stay or leave a relationship. I remember being so surprised in 1981 when a man admitted to me he’d been sleeping on the couch for 25 years. I could easily imagine how unhappy his spine was. It was not the reason he sought counseling.

Men don’t leave relationships nearly as often as women….it’s a 1 to 3 ratio. Men will maintain the status quo, whether they are sleeping on the couch, having an affair or solve their distress by being a workaholic.

Women are often hungry for more. Women want more intimacy and men are often unsure what that even means. Women struggle more with expectations in relationships. Women often have unfinished business that leads to resentments being stockpiled.

How do you decide whether or not to leave? How do you put your children at risk by turning their world upside down? How long can you live with depression that evolves from a bad relationship? If you’re a hetersexual woman over 40 then you know the odds are against you hitting it big in the dating lottery…….

It’s very messy to leave & it’s huge on the stress scale. It’s one of the hardest things that can happen. How do you decide if it’s worth it?

Mira Kirshenbaum has written a really helpful book for these circumstances called: Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay. She breaks things downAmbivalence in Relationships, Should I Stay, Should I Go? into 36 Steps, 36 Diagnostic Questions & 36 Guidelines. She’s set up a very thoughtful process.

A small sample of her wisdom:

Diagnostic Question #8 “Do you have a basic, recurring, never-completely-going-away feeling of humiliation or invisibility in your relationship?”

Guideline #24 “Quick Take: If someone is starting to cut your legs out from under you, you’ve got to walk out while you still have legs.”

Step #30 “The Ability to Negotiate Solutions”

It is my opinion that relationships are doomed when there is a lack of respect. Respect is a more important quality than love. Respect allows room for things you don’t like in the other person. Love often demands sameness.

The second most important quality for any relationship is the ability of both people to talk about hard things with each other, instead of avoiding & deflecting. Doing couples counseling I often feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz squeezing oil on the Tin Man’s jaw to help him speak.

Relationships require a lot of work so that individuals will turn towards each other instead of the easier turning away. An enormous amount of talking is necessary to soften the differences. Instead of figuring out honest dialogue, too often partners scream or are silent.

Feed the Truth Instead of the Distance to Find Out if Distance is What You Really Want.

Kids Coping with Complicated Sharing After Divorce & Why Truth Matters More

Kids share their parents with new boyfriends & girlfriends, parents share their kids with their ex’s new lovers, and kids learn to have new stepsisters and stepbrothers. It’s all a very complicated business that is often not done very well. There are too many assumptions about how easy this is all supposed to work. This post is part 2 of the previous blog post about kids and divorce.

There are also too many opportunities for guilt tripping and manipulation. Mom makes the kids feel bad if they like Daddy’s new girlfriend. Dads feel left out when Mom finds a new boyfriend and moves along. Parents want to hear certain things from their kids about whats ok. Kids figure out what parents want to hear. Kids are told to keep secrets and lie to the other parent.

When there is anger, vengeance, rejection, betrayal and pain flying around all over the place, it is very rare that it doesn’t spill over onto the kids.

The antidote to all of this crazyness is truthfulness. Short & sweet statements that do not add to the kid’s burden. Like: “It’s hard for me to share you with Daddy’s new girlfriend. I’m not my best self when I think about her and I’m sorry my feelings slop over on to you. That’s not right.” No details about why you’re justified to feel that way.

Truth is the only path to trust. Trust is often what is destroyed by divorce. So truth about how complicated things are really matters for kids.

This diagram shows only one example of the complicatedness. The slashed lines are new relationships that require some measure of difficulty.Complicatedness in Families of Divorce Acknowledge the truth, that it might be hard for your 6 year old to share Daddy with your girlfriends’  seven year old. Learning to share is important and it can be confusing: “Why did you buy her a stuffed animal?”

If you have a teen don’t assume she’s as excited as you are to see your new lover. Respect a slow introduction process that gives her time to adjust. Don’t stop having one on one time with your kid. Don’t hide out in letting the new female take over the reins of parenting.

Your kid has a history with you. That history needs to be continued with new attention to the details of what interests your kid. The history with your new partner is just beginning and it needs a lot of time to develop. Don’t force it.

Most importantly don’t pretend, don’t make your kid your best friend and dump on them, respect your kids need your ex just as much as you don’t.