Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

July 28th, 2016

bigstock-Unhappy-Man-And-Angry-Woman-Le-52500604Darling, you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be there till the end of time
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

This classic song from the Clash resonates with everyone at some point in their lives. It is especially poignant and painful after infidelity. Many who have experienced the dark world of cheating may initially say goodbye, but actually most change their mind and decide to make it work. This is a tough decision to make.

Signs of cheating should be all taken into account before making an accusation. Unless you have proof in hand, it is better to address the already evident: less investment in the relationship and a much greater investment in other activities, personal changes to increase one’s own attractiveness, and evasiveness about spending time or money.

Cheating is sensational. It is guaranteed to sell the news. It is something that everyone can identify with but is easily judged as betrayal. What is not so easily judged is the small ways that we betray our partners. Gottman says in his book “What Makes Love Last?” that “Betrayal is the secret that lies at the heart of every failing relationship.” Not being there, not following through, putting the kids or career ahead of the marriage are examples.

John Gottman, a leading marital researcher, describes the deterioration of the marriage leading to an absorbing state of negativity called negative sentiment override. This is the stage in a relationship where one partner cannot do enough to make things right. Even positive  attempts fall short or are interpreted negatively. He compares it to a roach motel, where once you check in, it is hard to check out.

Add this to another critical element in the demise of a marriage: comparing your spouse unfavorably to others, even comparing to imaginary spouses that are better than your spouse. These are like nails in a coffin. These are usually kept to oneself, along with crossing boundaries. First comes secret-keeping, then comes cheating.

Deciding whether to stay or go depends on the ability to rebuild trust with someone who becomes trustworthy. Signs of someone who is changing a character trait is complete honesty (minus the brutal details which cause obsessions) with nothing to hide. Next, recovery depends on an ability to step outside the self and one’s own pain, and enter into your partner’s pain (without beating yourself up). It is the ability to feel what your partner is feeling, and on that basis fully regret your actions and betrayal. It involves making personal and relational changes that benefit both partners that stand the test of time. These changes are determined by essential relational skills: empathy instead of defensiveness, asking for what is needed instead of criticizing, and setting personal boundaries on what you are not willing to do, and at the same time what you are willing to do for your partner. Deciding whether or not your partner is being honest depends on these criteria, along with your own instinct about what your partner is like when he or she if faithful, and what he or she is like when she is not. Although this may be a confusing process, it can be used to decide if he or she is an acceptable risk. Verification of honesty may be required. Finally, there may be need for a clear consequence to future betrayals.

Is this painful process worth it? Are you able to overcome negative sentiment override? One idea involves writing down as many positive traits of your partner. Look back over your story. Is there regularity to the energy put into making the other feel loved? Are there examples of admiration for each other? Is it marked by “we” decisions or “me” decisions?  Is that enough to overcome the pain of recovery? Most people also consider the pain and effect of divorce, and realize that there is no guarantee that the next relationship will end up in a better place, and decide that because of shared history and children that it is better to stay together. Some researchers find that over time when all things are considered, the next relationship is not a huge jump in happiness. If trust is unable to be rebuilt though, there is little to sustain a relationship.

Everything You Need to Know About Divorce Mediation

March 16th, 2016

A Mediation Model for Christians

March 15th, 2015

Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, experiences and perspective of both God and man as mediator between the two. So for mediation to be successful, each has to identify with the experience and perspective of the other, overcome strong emotional states, and consider all options to bridge the gap. “Each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

Remember, neither side is without fault. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). God repeatedly commands his people to seek and pursue peace (Psalms 34:14; Jer. 29:7; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:15; 1 Thes.5:13; Heb. 12:14. He also promises to bless those who do so (Psalms 37:37; Prov. 12:20; Mat. 5:9; James 3:18).

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Ex. 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Psalms 71:20-22; Isaiah 45:5-7; Lam. 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; 1 Peter 3:17). The biblical examples of Joseph resisting the same temptation David failed to resist resulted in suffering for both, but God used both greatly. God will remain present in our suffering and accomplish good through our trust in Him (Isaiah 43:2-3).






Divorce and Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology by Rubel Shelly

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

Hope in the Face of Conflict by Ken C. Newberger

What Does the Bible Say about Divorce?

July 26th, 2014

By Dean Whitfield

I believe in the inspired inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts and all that implies; which includes that (1) Scripture does not contradict itself (Luke 16:11), (2) Christ fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17), (3) our God is a god of logic, not confusion (I Cor. 14:33), and (4) the truths of Scripture are available to everyone without prior need of special education or intellectual capabilities (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jas. 1:5).

Any discussion concerning the divorced and the church must of necessity begin with an understanding of God’s position on divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

Is My Marriage Over?

June 21st, 2014

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Couple Facing DivorceStatistics show that more and more Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s are divorcing. Why? Read the rest of this entry »

Anger Management During Divorce

April 26th, 2014

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

hOne person put it this way, “You know the feeling, the rush when you feel taller than a mountain and stronger than superman, every single muscle and nerve is on red alert, you tingle all over and you believe that you could take on the whole Green Bay Packers team and win!” (Carole J. Thompson). Adrenaline in your brain triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions and natural opioids in the brain. Adults and kids feel the rush and the power of a fight, either verbal or physical. In this state you can feel powerful, and justify anything. Someone else is always to blame. You may know you have a problem, but cannot resist it. In between binges of verbal or physical aggression you may apologize and promise it will never happen again, but it does.

Now that we can peer inside the activity of a brain we know a lot more how it works, though research is just scratching the surface. Without naming parts of the brain and their functions, I will quote one summary of the brain: “Think of the brain as a survival machine, and anger as a survival enhancing emotion” (Ron Potter-Efron, in a 2012 lecture). This means the brain uses emotions to enhance survival and prepare for threats. Fear and anger run along the same pathways in the brain, also known as the fight or flight autonomic nervous system, or sympathetic nervous system. Our brain can generate instant energy in 1/20th of a second, far before we can even realize it (at 1/2 of a second), sub-consciously pre-directing our behavior. Anger is an emotion it produces. Aggression, however is defined as a behavior.

Before you even feel anger, signals in your brain prepare your muscles for instant actions, and then a flood of stress hormones trigger instant responses in your body. Heart rate and blood pressure increases, airways in the lungs expand, and blood flows away from the digestive system. Fight or flight, the sympathetic nervous system is the opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the rest and digest system.

Furthermore, the process of an adrenaline rush instantly overrides the conscious part of our brain that is able to put on the brakes, see the impact of one’s behavior and words on others, switch gears, see options and other points of view, and accelerate toward appropriate course of action. It also disrupts short-term memory. Emotions are feedback, and emotions fueled by stress hormones are intensified leading to a perceived need for instant accelerated action.

Over time, the brain selects memories that are the most intense as a guide for future action. So, over time, events colored by anger distorts accurate recall and may inaccurately predict the future. You may think you are perceiving threat where there is no threat. Defensiveness becomes automatic. Over time your brain becomes wired for anger, both attack and defense.

Other causes of an angry brain include neurotransmitters, hormones, epigenetics, brain injury and family and cultural training (Ron Potter-Efron, 2012). Anger and stress hormones are related to lowered immunity, cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, cancer, pain, and substance use. Contributing factors can include ADHD, depression, anxiety, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, substance use, fatigue, low blood sugar, hyperthyroidism and other medical conditions.

Since anger is associated with perceived threat researchers have found that a sense of safety is the best anger inhibitor. Creating a sense of safety involves a number of strategies. The process of anger starts before we realize it, so we can’t stop it, but we can work on prevention, identifying and rethinking triggers and slowing down our reactions. If we can slow it down enough, we can “press pause” and engage the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain that allows us to “fast-forward” in our mind to foresee the outcome of our behavior and better options. We can’t do this unless we have already put on the brakes of our sympathetic nervous system and be able to switch gears. All of these actions can be attributed to different parts of the brain.

Starting with prevention, we can identify sources of stress and triggers. Sources of stress are too many to list, but often are associated with pressure and conflict at home, academic or work pressures, unknown medical, diet and sleep issues, sensory issues, history of trauma and abuse, loss, mood disorders, anxiety, attention-deficits, and substance use. Reducing these stressors and effective coping strategies may be the most important step in reducing anger and aggression. It is stabilizing for an individual to have their own sense of accomplishment, connection to others, enjoyment, and self-care, memorialized by the acronym “ACES.”

Next, once anger is triggered, we need something to slow it down. What calms you down? Each of the following ideas will not work at first and will take practice. When angry, practice refocusing each time your mind wanders away, to one or more of the following:
• Awareness of the feeling of anger in your body, before it is too late. Where do you feel it? Awareness includes mindfulness: awareness of one’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations without reacting or judging them. With practice, strong feelings, thoughts and sensations will not alarm you. This can bring peace of mind.
• Breathing Techniques. One example is breathing in the words “This too” and breathing out “shall pass.” Others use belly breathing, deep breathing using your diaphragm. Your stomach should extend, not your chest. Others breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, emphasizing the out breath. “Combat breathing” involves breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, breathing out for four counts, holding for four counts and repeating. For kids, you can also use balloons, bubbles, or “hot cocoa breathing” (pretending to smell hot chocolate and gently blowing it so that it cools).
• Calming Techniques employ the five senses to relax the body. Sounds include music or relaxing sounds. For sight, pictures, moving objects or toys can be used. Did you ever stare at something beautiful and became mesmerized by it? For touch, objects or toys of different textures can be used, or a shower or bath (with lavender). Tastes include favorite flavors and textures (sweet, crunchy, spicy, and sour). Even focusing on pleasurable scents can be relaxing.
• Distraction Techniques are anything that effectively holds your attention for some time until the adrenaline can metabolize. Walking or counting backwards seems especially helpful, drawing blood flow away from the brain’s alarm system.
• Expression Techniques is expressing anger appropriate to your desired outcome. One example may be to state “I feel ___ when you ___. Would you___?” Exercise or other activity can put the adrenaline to good use.

One way to test whether or not you are calm is the following “prefrontal cortex” test. This part of the brain helps put on the brakes, see options and select a new behavior. Becoming calm and thinking clearly can take up to a half hour, unless you are re-firing the anger and stress hormones by ruminating on the problem.
• Can I see the consequences of my actions?
• Can I challenge my thinking?
• Can I think of multiple ways to solve the problem or am I stuck on my way or no way?

In addition to prevention, triggers need to be identified. It may be possible just to avoid a trigger, but if not, new habitual thinking patterns need practice. Triggers are identified by an external event along with your interpretation of that event. Interpretations often have three components. Triggers are perceived as unexpected, preventable, and intentional. Events that run counter to our expectations turn into triggers. If you expect to be stalled by a traffic light, chances are you will not be triggered. However, if you do not expect to be cut off in traffic, you may be triggered. So adjusting expectations to ones that are more realistic may help reduce triggers. A second common component of triggers is that triggers are seen as preventable, therefore change can be demanded. This involves a belief about right or wrong, some form of a “should”. Right or wrong does exist, but if expectations are demanded they can create resistance in others and the point of view of others may be rejected. The last common feature of a trigger occurs in the perception of threat. This thinking process of turning events into triggers may be a magnification of threat, making it worse that it really is, or result in minimization of your ability to handle the threat without anger.

This thought-process needs attention. Our expectations, demands and perceptions of threat may need to be reconsidered. We can ask ourselves:
• Are my expectations realistic?
• Am I making demands?
• Am I making the threat worse than it is?
Triggered thoughts can be altered. We can change our expectations, we don’t have to make demands, and we can challenge the idea that we are doomed. If we are being threatened, we need to respond with strategy based on our desired outcomes. Write down your desired outcome, make sure it is realistic, and then list behavior and thoughts that contributes to the desired outcome and cross out behavior that detracts from it. If kids have the ability, they can do this.

Now, we can employ the “anterior cingulate cortex” test. This part of the brain uses mirror neurons to develop empathy, which is the antidote to selfishness. (Have you ever noticed that anger if often about your needs not being met?) Empathy is the ability to feel what another person feels. By developing the part of the brain that is able to integrate multiple points of view we are able to go on-line with other brains. Our brains are designed to be social. We can calm another brain with our calm brain. Empathy absorbs tension. (Of course, the opposite can also happen.) We can also use multiple points of view to solve problems instead of just trying focusing on our own needs. There is no cure for anger without empathy.

“Verbal Judo” is written by George J. Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins. It is written by a police officer to train police officers to use the power of empathy to move with an opponent instead of direct opposition (as in the use of arguments). It then redirects energy toward the benefits of positive behavior or costs of negative behavior.

The goal of verbal judo is to create an ease with confrontation, without triggering the fight or flight system. It depends on one’s ability to read an opponent and redirect aggression. It bends rather than breaks. Thompson writes, “If an opponent upsets you, he or she owns you.” “When you react, you’re being controlled.” “Never use words that rise steadily to your lips, or you’ll make the greatest speech you’ll ever live to regret.” “The inner voice is almost always negative.” As the Confucian philosopher Sun-tzu put it: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”

Verbal judo techniques do not personalize attacks. For example, “Man throws spear at head, move head.” They ignore insults and springboard over them, i. e. “I appreciate that . . .”, or “I understand that . . .” or “Let me be sure I heard what you just said.” An opponent listens most when someone is explaining his own point of view. Another tactic harnesses an opponent by asking questions. Respect means treating others how you want to be treated.

Examples include the following types of responses. Instead of saying, “Calm down!” try saying, “It’s going to be alright. Talk to me. What’s the trouble.” Instead of “What’s your problem?” try “ It’s not a problem. It’s just something we need to discuss. Can we talk?” Instead of “You always . . . “ or “You never . . . “ (which results in attempts to prove you wrong), respond with, “I often do . . . (or often don’t . . . ). Could we talk about it?”

To move up the ranks in verbal judo requires insight. Old samurai used to say that if you don’t know yourself, you lose 100 percent of the time. To be prepared, know your buttons. Arguing and appearing defensive will only make your opponent believe he or she is right. What you are saying is almost irrelevant to body language and voice tone: slower and lower.

Self-talk is required when first learning the techniques. Here are some examples:
• Keep your breathing even.
• Getting mad will cost me. I’ll lose control. Is making myself look tough worth it?
• The other person may want to provoke me but I’m staying cool.
• Don’t take the other’s behavior personally. Base your emotions on what you think, not what the other thinks.
• Will this make a difference in a week?
• Acknowledge the other’s point. Don’t focus on right/wrong. Focus on needs.
• Explore options. Ask for what you want instead of arguing for it. Set boundaries on what you are not willing to do followed by what you are willing to do.
• If there is nothing you can do now, don’t react to the adrenaline. Say that you will think about it and come back to it later.

“CPR” for Relationship-Building
Calm first before problem-solving.
• Increase the amount of calm time spent together.
• Create routine and warn about transitions ahead of time.
• Expectations should not be too high. Take it step by step.
Practice the Positive.
• Positive interactions need to outweigh negative interactions.
• Spend time, talk, and show affection.
• Describe their accomplishments throughout the day.
Reinforce for Long-Term Results
• Negative reactions are powerful reinforcers of negative behavior.
• Long-term disadvantages exist for using fear, threats, and isolation.
• Make the right behavior get better results for each person.

Two additional forms of anger that I did not directly address is resentment and rage. Resentment comes from a passive-aggressive wall of anger built brick by brick. Taking down the wall takes time proportionate to the time it took to build the wall. It involves understanding of the hurt behind the wall, expression of remorse and dedication to rebuilding trust and a sense of safety. Rage frequently accompanies acts of domestic violence. It involves a loss of conscious awareness of one’s behavior for a couple of minutes up to a couple of hours. That means there is an inability to explain what happened. One that rages is like an alcoholic. Too much alcohol and you “black out.” The key is to control the drinking at earlier stages in the game. So it is with rage.

In summary,
Prepare- reduce stress, know your triggers, use self-talk
Pause – increase ability to stop your own reaction
Paraphrase – feel what the other person is feeling
Propose – “We need to sound as if we care, keep our egos out of it, sound as if we care, and present options that will have a powerful influence” (George Thompson).

Further information can also be found in the book “What’s Good about Anger?” by Lynette J. Hoy and Ted Griffin.

Single and 50

December 28th, 2013


One of Robert Frost’s most beloved poems recounts the romance of taking the road less traveled. In recent years, newly divorced baby boomers have been heeding Frost’s words, traveling the relatively uncharted territory of single life after 50. Read the rest of this entry »

Family Restructuring Therapy for Co-Parenting

September 3rd, 2013

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Family Restructuring Therapy is based on the work by Dr. Stephen Carter and is an active and directive process used to address ongoing conflict between co-parents that seriously affect the children. It provides new ways to co-parent, and can be used to develop and refine parenting plans. It can be used to rebuild a working relationship between parents, and between parents and children. Parents are actively coached how to make agreements and adjust agreements based on follow-through. No one shall be pressured to make an agreement. Progress or lack of progress is documented by the therapist and may be reported to the Court. Read the rest of this entry »

Visitation Refusal

April 30th, 2013

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

“Do I have to go?” All parents hear this from their kids about not wanting to go somewhere from time to time. But during and after divorce, hearing this from your kids about spending time with the other parent causes concern for both parents. In conflictual divorces kids learn that the gap in parental expectations may widen. At some point, the child either aligns with the parent that holds the most power, or will find power in protecting a parent. Peter J. Favaro, an expert on custody, gives an example: “In one case, where two children protested so violently over having to see their father they would vomit repeatedly prior to visitation, I scheduled a surprise home visit and walked into the house to find the two girls hanging off their father’s back, behaving affectionately toward him and displaying none of the discomfort they displayed for the mother.” With one parent the kids learned how to behave and with the other parent they learn how to behave. Sometimes these expectations clash. It sure is tempting to back up your child when he or she resists time with the other parent, especially if the kids either get “sick” or have to get “sick” to make a point.

There are endless reasons to resist visitation that kids learn are effective. Maybe one will act “insulted” that he has to visit. Or maybe another will complain that “It’s boring.” The parent hearing these complaints may sympathize with their child, which reinforces the refusal. For sure, parents do not want their kids to not like them. It would be easier to think of excuses for not having to go, or provide a number of suggestions for dealing with how hard it is to be over at the other parent’s house. Kids also do not want to face the parent they are disappointing, so avoidance becomes preferred. The other parent pursues compliance by guilt and make statements like, “I’m your dad. How could you do this to your dad?” Or, “Look at all the things I’ve done for you.” Maybe “Remember these pictures? Remember all the good times we had?” Another factor reinforcing resistance may be the local family counselor or therapist who does a great job listening and validating the child’s point of view. The kids develop a script to be used with both parents and the therapist, and practice makes perfect, inadvertently reinforcing the refusal.

How often does this happen? Probably more than is reported, but studies show that 11-15% reject or resist contact with one parent while remaining aligned with the other parent (Johnston, 1993, 2003; Johnston, Walters, & Olesen, 2005b; Racusin & Copans 1994; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). In custody-disputing samples 20% reject a parent, and 6% are extreme examples like the one listed above (Kopetski, 1998a, 1998b; Johnston 1993, 2003; Johnston, Walters, & Olesen, 2005c). Boys and girls both refuse equally, and adolescents are more likely than younger children (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). Both moms and dads experience resistance. Research is also clear that children of divorce generally do better with good relationship with both parents (Kelly 2007). In retrospect, adult children wished they had spent more time with non-custodial parent (Fabricius & Hall, 2000; Finley & Schwartz 2007; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000). Both parents together are proven to play an important role in child development and adjustment (Parke, 2004; Schwartz & Finley, 2009). In spite of what we know about what is good for kids: “Visitation refusal is at what I believe to be an epidemic proportion, and sadly it often leads to long term estrangements between parents and children” (Peter J. Favaro, Ph,D.).

One’s instinct may be to find someone to blame, but there is not a simplistic target. Some want to blame one parent and call it alienation, and some want to blame the other parent and call it estrangement. Usually there are four contributing factors: situational factors, one parent, the other parent, and child factors. Situational factors are coincidental factors that affect parenting time. For younger kids, separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate for their age. For all kids there are also expected and typical regressive responses to the stress of divorce and separation. Also, mood, behavioral or other psychological disorders in the parent or child affect visitation resistance. Some children unconsciously want to care for a parent. Often, if allowed, kids feel sad for the parent that is alone without a partner. There are other causes at the place of visitation and child may not be aware or able to communicate. For example, maybe someone else who is there is concerning the child. Maybe there are fears, like at night. Or maybe the child does not care for the food, or sleeping arrangements. The child may also miss the other parent, friends or a pet. All situational factors should be explored.

Parental factors are patterned and not an isolated incident. Negative comparison to the other parent, either implied or stated by words, body language or even the parent’s emotions are deciphered by kids that one parent is better than the other parent. Particularly destructive are both obvious criticisms of the other parent to subtle negative attributions. Often comments are either exaggerations of the other parent’s flaws, or weak rationales that do not reflect a normal range of parenting differences. An example of a weak rationale would be “Your mom is controlling because she makes you brush your teeth after every meal.” Comments about the other parent are usually one-sided, lacking ambivalence or empathy. An obvious example would be a dad calling Mom “crazy” and the child begins to not respect her. Another example would be a mom justifying statements about her “daughter’s father” because “She needs to know what her father is really like.” Or perhaps, a child innocently or purposely is able to “overhear” Mom or Dad’s conversation with someone else.

On the other side of the coin is the parent who contributes to the problem anywhere from making common parenting mistakes to estrangement through domestic violence, abuse, and neglect. Some parents are strict or demanding, especially compared to the other parent. Some parents are more sensitive and responsive to needs. One mistake made by a parent of a child refusing visitation is to “give the child space.” This method becomes self-perpetuating. Another accusation by a parent is that their child has been “brainwashed.” This occurs even in the case where the child witnessed domestic violence; the parent may still believe the child’s statements were inculcated by the other parent. Even in the case where the child has been coached, pitting the parent’s perceptions against the child’s experience discounts the point of view and individuality of the child, thus reinforcing the influence of the competing parent. “It is easy to see how toxic parents can become in their ability to serve as a secure base or a haven of safety when they get so preoccupied with their own needs, pride, shame, or selfishness, or their anger at the other parent over betrayal or humiliation. How can I comfort my child when I myself am frightened? How can I tolerate my child having successes under your supervision if it is all about me, not about them?” (Everett Waters).

It is difficult to be fully aware of what is going on in your child’s head when you are so stressed and burdened in the aftermath of divorce. Child factors include thinking errors that make the child susceptible to influence. Thinking errors include dichotomous (black and white) thinking about past events that lead to overgeneralization in predicting the future. Essentially, the child without realizing it rejects the positive aspects about his or her experiences with the other parent and is more likely to jump to negative conclusions. Emotional reasoning is concluding that negative feelings mean the parent is to blame and feed fears leading to catastrophic thinking. The signs in the child have been identified by research. Again, these are patterns and not isolated incidents.

The child practices a critical stance until it becomes dogmatic. Rationales over time become weaker. For example, one reason a child wanted to live with Dad is that he has more trees in his yard. Borrowed scenarios become needed to justify the child’s stance so events he or she has heard about become evidence against a parent. If the child hears that a parent is an “alcoholic,” then when the child sees the parent with a drink, the evidence mounts against them. A marked quality of the rationales against a parent is the lack of ambivalence and empathy for the parent. The positive aspects of the parent are not seen. A child becomes defensive of his or her statements. In one instance, when asked about a picture of a child and her father at the park, the child commented, “I was just pretending to enjoy myself with you.” The child develops a clear alignment with one parent. Can you imagine a child say, “He buys me too many toys. He’s just trying to spoil me.” Visitation refusal spreads from one parent to family members of the parent. True to form, the child denies hope for reconciliation.

The effect on the child is the development of a phobic response, anticipatory anxiety, and avoidance. Research documents the effect of high conflict between parents lead to self-blame or over-inflated self-esteem leading to future relationship problems, depression, suicide, self-harm, anxiety, behavioral problems, academic and learning problems, substance use, lower career attainment, and future resentment of both parents.

Asking Mom, “Do I have to go to Dad’s tonight?” leads to a connection with Mom. A child may feel she already lost one parent in the divorce; she does not want to lose the connection to the other. Moreover, a child refusing visitation confirms what the parent believes about the other parent. Child and parent mutually reinforce the need for protection, concern, and approval. The child’s attitude and behavior becomes a test of loyalty and then it becomes impossible to love both parents. Visitation refusal and supervised visitation reinforces belief that it is justified.

Overcoming the barriers to visitation is formidable. The younger the child the easier it is. Infants to two years old can be fussy, have difficult temperaments and have developmentally appropriate separation anxiety. Experts recommend shorter, but more frequent visits along with education on parenting and co-parent communication. Keeping log books to be exchanged between parents can allay some fears that the child is properly cared for. Eating, sleeping, elimination, play and child care routines can be documented by both parents for effective co-parenting. Recruiting trusted family members to observe a parent’s care can also increase trust.

Age two to six can be described as fickle. When my youngest was three he would say he was full at a restaurant until we left, and then he would promptly announce he is hungry. Kids this age are easily influenced, which can be both positive and negative. They have an insufficient understanding of the concept of time, so stability and continuity means a predictable schedule. Stability and continuity does not mean spending nearly all the time at one parent’s house over the other. Two to three weeks of short daily visits can be scheduled to prepare for a normal schedule. If the parents cannot work together without tension, separation anxiety can be alleviated by the “drop and dash,” where one parent assures the child the he or she will be back, that Dad or Mom will take care of the child, say “goodbye,” and then leave to not prolong or reinforce the anxiety. Or, another family member or friend drop off. Transitional objects like familiar toys or pictures can also be used to reduce anxiety.

For older kids the “drop and dash” may not work. In addition, oppositional and defiant behavior may be more difficult to address for fear that kids will exaggerate the discipline used by the other parent. At this age it becomes more crucial that both parents must insist on parenting time. For teens that “know more” than parents, busy is normal. Offer flexible time, some non-negotiable time and some negotiable time. “Often the most insidious kind of visitation interference comes from parents who claim, ‘I tell him he can spend as much time as he wants with his (mother or father), but that it is his decision and I respect his decisions because he is a mature child. If my (ex-husband/ex-wife) is not skillful enough to provide an environment that my child wants to visit I really don’t see that as my problem. They are going to have to work that out between themselves.’ Those who cannot see the absolute destructiveness of statements such as these are usually lost causes” (Peter J. Favaro, Ph,D.). Kids then conclude that a relationship with the other parent is not important. After all, they do not have to do it, unlike going to school, homework, chores, eating your vegetables, going to the dentist, etc.

Interventions are listed here from most expensive to least. A guardian ad litem and custody evaluators can assess the capacity of each parent to prepare and promote parenting time. Parenting Coordination provides education, mediation and arbitration. Family Restructuring Therapy teaches co-parents how to cooperate in the best interest of the children. Reunification Therapy bolsters a new relationship between parent and child. Mediation can be used to develop parenting plans. Co-parenting educaiton is widely available, even online. The least expensive and least time-consuming option may be the most refused: “Removal of privileges and a clear show of support for visitation with the visiting parent can often completely eliminate visitation refusal problems” (Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.). Most kids know that if a parent means what they say, they will have consequences.

Supervised visits, which may be necessary, may mean to the child or parent that the supervised parent is bad and confirm parent’s and child’s fears. The transition to supervised visits is interesting, because it can encourage the child play it up versus act naturally. On the positive side, supervised visitation can also be used to jump-start a stalled relationship if the supervisor is friendly and the environment is conducive to building a positive relationship. Children who refuse to go in the room with the other parent while one parent is consoling, over time become comfortable and feel less of a need to show ambivalence. “Research performed in my office indicates that the easiest way to achieve reconciliation with a child who does not want to visit is to make small talk, and not talk about the ‘family situation'” (Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.).

References Carter, Stephen. (2011). Family Restructuring Therapy. Scottsdale, AZ: HCI Press. Fabricius, W. V., & Hall, J. A. (2000). Young adults’ perspectives on divorce: Living arrangements. Family & Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 446–461. Favaro, Peter J. Problem Solving In Cases Involving Poor Visitation Compliance in Parents and Visitation Refusal in Children. Fidler, B., & Bala, N. (2010). Children resisting post-separation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums. Family Court Review, 48, 10–47. Finley, G. E., & Schwartz, S. J. (2007). Father involvement and long-term young adult outcomes: The differential contributions of divorce and gender. Family Court Review, 45, 573–587 Johnston, J. R. (1993). Children of divorce who refuse visitation. In C. Depner & J. Bray (Eds.), Nonresidental parenting: New vistas in family living (pp. 109–135). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Johnston, J. R. (2003). Parental alignments and rejection: An empirical study of alienation in children of divorce. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 31, 158–170. Johnston, J. R., Walters, M. G., & Olesen, N. W. (2005a). Clinical ratings of parenting capacity and Rorschach protocols of custody-disputing parents: An exploratory study. Journal of Child Custody, 2(1/2), 159–178. Kelly, J. B. (2007). Children’s living arrangements following separation and divorce: Insights from empirical and clinical research. Family Process, 46, 35–52. Kelly, Joan B. & Johnston, Janet R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39, 249–266 Kopetski, L. (1998a). Identifying cases of parent alienation syndrome: Part I. The Colorado Lawyer, 29(2), 65–68. Kopetski, L. (1998b). Identifying cases of parent alienation syndrome: Part II. The Colorado Lawyer, 29(3), 63–66 Laumann-Billings, L., & Emery, R. E. (2000). Distress among young adults in divorced families. Journal of Family Psychology, 14, 671–687. Parke, R. D. (2004). Fathers, families and the future: A plethora of plausible predictions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50, 456–470. Racusin, R., & Copans, S. (1994). Characteristics of families of children who refuse post-divorce visits. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 792–801. Schwartz, S. J., & Finley, G. E. (2009). Mothering, fathering and divorce: The influence of divorce on reports of and desires for maternal and paternal involvement. Family Court Review, 47, 506–522. Wallerstein, J. S., & Kelly, J. B. (1980). Surviving the breakup: How children and parents cope with divorce.New York: Basic Books. Warshak, Richard A. (2010). Divorce Poison. New York: HarperCollins. Waters, E. and McIntosh, J. (2011). Are we asking the right questions about attachment? Family Court Review, 49, 474–482.

Coping with the Emotions of Divorce

November 2nd, 2012

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

While there is plenty to do to deal with unavoidable divorce, the emotions are usually avoided with thoughts of anger. Take some time each day to make room for the emotional side underneath the thoughts. Due to the transient nature of thoughts and emotions, the goal of mindfulness is to be aware but less reactive to your thoughts and emotions. It can help you make better decisions, albeit an uncomfortable process. It can lead to becoming less preoccupied. Here are some tips to be practiced 15-30 minutes a day: Read the rest of this entry »