By Dan Blair, marriage counselor and family counselor
Going through a divorce is one of top stressors one can experience. You may be at your worst at a time that you may need to be at your best. Everyone deals with stress differently, but if you feel overwhelmed, add structure. Getting through your day may involve additional planning. Knowing how to to deal with negative emotions and knowing who to trust is part of the plan.
When planning your day, plan for time to release emotions and to put it bluntly, get used to the idea of having emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and guilt. Many report that when they let the emotions hit them like a wave, they come and then they go. The more it is resisted, the more painful. Staying present and caring about your emotions and needs is important. Over time the painful part gradually subsides in intensity, duration, and frequency. (This along with addressing thinking errors is the path toward acceptance). After such a release, it will be time to refocus. Refocus on one step at a time, according to your daily plan, (yes, have a daily plan to follow) which is based on your priorities and what you can realistically accomplish.
Moving through an alternating pattern of releasing emotion and refocusing on tasks may be a good template for getting through this. Obviously, the emotions are going to build and then you will need a release, and then you will need to refocus. Perhaps the release will be needed once an hour for a few minutes, or only on breaks. Go out for a walk or a change of scenery. Take deep breaths, and focus on each of your five senses and take it as much as you can. The need for release may come unexpectedly. Going to the bathroom, sitting still and act like you are working, and avoiding eye contact for a few minutes may be options at this time, but sometimes you have to suck it up and stay professional. During the time to refocus, stay active in either mental focus or physical movement. During lunch take time to list your questions that need to be answered, or read a self-help book. Set boundaries at work, like not taking calls about divorce, or from friends who are talking about divorce.
While it is important to remain professional, work productivity often suffers during this time. Work life balance is challenging. If your supervisor can be trusted, let him or her know to keep an eye on you. He or she is often willing to check in to see if you are okay, as long as it is not taking too much away from your responsibilities. Anyone you confide it needs to be safe (in other words, telling will not backfire on you), be willing to give you space, and support if you are checking out. In addition, choose one peer to do the same for you. Understand that you are not alone and that you should not be ashamed of your personal situation. Many go down this road.
When I went through an unexpected divorce, it took a long time to accept. Even though this occurred a long time ago, it propels my passion to provide marriage counseling to prevent divorce, and divorce mediation to make as many agreements as effectively as possible (still using attorney advice). Now, I am happily remarried. Much of my work that I do now is helping parents prevent divorce and helping kids affected by conflict. I like the advice that divorce is like a bad neighborhood, don’t go there alone.
Copyright © 2020 Dan Blair
Parenting after divorce presents new challenges. Each parent will have their own rules and approach. The kids have to learn that mom and dad’s house is different. The rule remains though that both parents will have better outcomes if they back each other up.
Often when one thinks of discipline, you think of angry exchanges ending with both you and your child feeling frustrated and misunderstood. When people, especially kids, are upset, they lose ability to reason. Kids, and parents, also like the feeling when angry. It gives them a sense of power due to the release of endorphins, which can be addictive.Understanding why your child gets angry is a first step. Then you can catch their anger sooner. Triggers are external (like during transitions) and internal (fatigue, dietary, and sensory issues).
You usually won’t get a positive response unless you and your child are calm, so make that the priority. Your child will not be able to internalize learning unless your child is out of the fight or flight response. When your child is responsive, which means ready to listen, he or she can practice a skill you are trying to teach, instead of just giving them a consequence. You can remember this approach as “CPR: Calm, Practice, and Reinforce.”
Calm first. Don’t argue. Discipline should not exhaust the parent. Perhaps start by giving choices and perhaps compromising. Stress and anger are contagious, so how you feel when you are with the kids has more impact than what you say. Take the time to ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” If needed, take a break and separate, as long as the child is safe. When you return, give them reassurance that you can work this out to slowly turn off their brain’s alarm system. At some point you can show them you understand (you do not have to agree), or ask them to find your eyes, and if appropriate use touch. Maybe, let them talk without you countering to lower their emotional intensity. Learning emotional regulation skills is often more important than anything else at this point.
Physical and verbal aggression, however, is designed to shock, upset, and control you. Don’t let it work. If your child is too disruptive, and the attempts to calm are making it worse, lead the child to a safe place in the house. Give them space as long as the child is safe. If the child is dwelling in anger, the adrenaline is still triggered and unless the child is unsafe you may need to wait until the adrenaline is metabolized.
After a time, come back and model breathing, calming, distraction techniques. Do not correct behavior yet. You can also try releasing endorphins appropriately through stretching, walking backward, exercises, jumping, or swinging or other outlets. When the child is calm and ready to listen, the time-out can be over.
- Increase the amount of calm time spent together in the home.
- Create routine and warn about transitions ahead of time.
- Expectations should not be too high. Take it step by step.
Practice improves behavior better than reasoning with your child. The ability to calm needs practice during times the child is not upset. To only attempt calming techniques when someone is upset is like playing for a professional sports team without any practice. Practice the wrong way first to reinforce the difference. Introduce the option of a redo.
Another way to practice regulation is to come back to your senses. One way is to imagine a place where you or the child feels happy and safe through all five senses. For the sense of hearing, perhaps music, nature or relaxing sounds can help. For sight, pictures, mesmerizing objects or toys can be used. For touch, objects or toys of different textures can be options, or a bath or shower. Tastes include favorite flavors and textures (crunchy, spicy or sour). Even focusing on pleasurable scents can be relaxing. All focus on the senses should be accompanied by awareness of breathing with an emphasis on the out breath. You can also slowly use balloons, bubbles, or “hot cocoa breathing” (pretending to smell hot chocolate and gently blowing it so that it cools). The goal is muscle relaxation. Movement can also be used. Stretching, walking (or counting) backward, exercises, jumping, or swinging are possibilities. Just being around calm people, helping others and laughter are positive endorphin-releasing activities.
When you and your child are at ease, you can practice problem-solving and other skills. For problem-solving, you can use the “Triangle Approach”. The bottom corners of the triangle represent both sides of an issue. Both sides can share their perception of what happened. Each side shows understanding of the other side. Surprisingly, there is no need to agree or disagree to teach effectively. Then, instead of focusing on who is right or who is wrong, focus on the top of the triangle, which represents multiple brainstormed solutions. Agree on a solution to try, hopefully built on the kid’s ideas.
- Practice positive interactions to outweigh negative interactions.
- Spend time, talk, and show affection.
- Describe their accomplishments throughout the day.
Reinforce with routine privileges, plus special privileges at unexpected times, after calming and practicing. Identify which privileges are motivating so that they can be used to help the child focus. Privileges can be traded for responsibilities. Or perhaps a designated light can be used to indicate the use of privileges, and when it is turned off, privileges are on hold until responsibilities are completed. Or, use an old clock where you can move the hands to track the number of minutes earned to spend on their favorite privileges. Stickers, checklists, or other tokens can be used.
Use consequences that are logically related to the behavior if the problem reoccurs. Positive consequences include praise, celebrations, kids doing their own research on a topic, volunteering, or providing restitution. Consequences can vary but be consistent by using consequences. Empathize before giving a consequence. For older kids, have them suggest the consequence ahead of time.
- 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 the child.
Using calm approaches, practicing skills, and positive reinforcers work in the long term, though punishment may be effective in the short term. The law of conflict means kids automatically oppose your position when they are upset, so adrenaline needs to be managed before teaching. The law of practice means that behavior is skill-based and requires repetition. Practice makes perfect, but practice can also make imperfect. Kids learn behavior more by watching than following instructions. The law of self-determination means that the more freedom is limited, the likelihood of a poor choice increases over time. Kids need to be able to make their own choices, and will learn best with consistent consequences.
The divorce rate for 50 and older has doubled in the last 25 years. For those 65 and older it has tripled since 1990, according to Pew Research.
By HILARY GOWINS – email@example.com
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.
New research presented in April by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University revealed an unprecedented trend of Americans 50 and older splitting up.
According to the pair’s research, in 2009, people ages 50 and older were twice as likely to divorce as their counterparts in 1990.
In McHenry, the number of divorces has remained fairly steady during the past 10 years. In 2001, 1,255 divorces were filed in McHenry County. There were 1,217 divorces filed in 2011. These numbers include all divorces filed, even if a couple ultimately decided not to follow their cases through to the end. The numbers do not represent, however, the ages of those divorcing.
That doesn’t mean the trend isn’t alive and well locally, according to area therapists and counselors.
“I’m seeing it happen in our practice quite often,” said Sara Brandt, licensed marriage and family therapist, Ph.D. and owner of Brandt Therapy Clinics Inc. in Crystal Lake. “You have to understand the baby boomers’ mentality. Back when we died at 60, people that age only had 10 years to live after they raised their kids. Because we’re living longer, the mentality is totally different today. Baby boomers believe they can still seize the day, and they don’t want to settle.
“If their spouse isn’t meeting their needs, they go out and do it on their own.”
Common reasons people over 50 are divorcing include anger issues, abuse, infidelity and addiction, said licensed clinical professional counselor Dan Blair, owner of Blair Counseling in Crystal Lake. Many already are divorced or have waited for the kids to be on their own before making changes.
These changes stem from a mid-life crisis, or from postponing personal happiness for so long people find it an appropriate time to divorce. Plus, life expectancies are longer, he added, reiterating Brandt’s point.
“The forties, fifties and sixties is a time to redefine yourself after raising kids, settling in a career, or to confront dissatisfaction in life,” Blair said. “Your marriage is often re-evaluated during this time – it sinks or swims.”
For 60-year-old Mike, one of Brandt’s clients, this re-evaluation had been a long time coming. Mike met his wife when they were both 24 – it was love at first sight, he said. Their relationship moved fast, and quickly became fraught with jealousy and distrust.
“I think at the time I was not in the best place when I met her, and I think we sensed a certain energy of need for one another,” he said.
After a week of dating, his future wife moved in with him. Seventeen years into their marriage, things deteriorated. He had an affair, which he said started because of a need for escape.
For a long time, Mike stayed in the marriage for the sake of his three daughters – the loves of his life. Eventually, however, he tried to leave. It didn’t stick, and he ultimately rejoined his family.
“She never really forgave me for the affair,” Mike said. “The anger kept resurfacing and putting us back in the same spot. We were doing the same dance all the time. All our conversations would somehow get back to what I did.”
In August, Mike said he decided he finally needed to choose happiness.
“I’ve lost about 40 pounds since leaving,” he said. “Losing that weight was very symbolic for me of shedding the weight of the marriage. I’m much happier. I have my integrity back. I am being true to myself, not having to behave a certain way to make things right.”
Financially, Mike said the divorce hurt. Lawyers cost money, keeping up separate households costs money, and the leftover debts from his married life didn’t just disappear.
As they approach retirement age, many divorcees Mike’s age are making the frugal decision to downsize, which helps moneywise. This means giving up homes for condos, but for many it’s worth it to have freedom and independence.
But divorce is often much less financially daunting for baby boomers than it is for younger couples, said David Cook, a licensed marriage and family therapist with NewLife Counseling Center.
“The dilemma for younger couples is, they can’t afford to get divorced, to sell their homes,” he said. “They’re underwater or close to being underwater on their mortgage and they can’t sell their home and make any money off it right now. They don’t have money to pay attorneys. So a lot of younger couples stick it out.
“Many couples moving toward retirement age think, ‘Well, we’ve spent all those years together, why not enjoy retirement together?’ But a lot of the time there’s more of a sense of financial stability during those final years of work. I think that might even be a contributor to divorce in that age. Actually, they might have the financial resources to get divorced where they didn’t earlier.”
Even if the dollars and cents add up, however, Brandt says it’s important to stay away from the either/or syndrome many spouses fall into.
“The most important thing to recognize is that you can have it both ways,” Brandt said. “But people think they can either be happy or they can be married. The first thing I say is, ‘you don’t have to choose one or the other.’ They’ve got to get out of their thinking that it’s got to be their marriage or what they want.”
They also need to recognize what skills they don’t have. Many people aren’t equipped to have a successful marriage, Brandt said, because they aren’t able to assess their relationship skills and relational skill sets honestly.
This lack of communication skills stems from a fairly universal theme among baby boomer marriage structures.
“Baby boomers grew up in the era of functional marriage,” she said. “If you were a man, you needed a woman to take care of the house and kids. The woman needed a man to put a house over their heads. It wasn’t about companionship.”
To make things work, couples from this era need to think outside the box.
“We often find that our clients end up staying in marriages if they can figure out how to make some changes that make their spouse happier while also figuring out how to get what they want out of their life.”
The best way to relieve marital strife, according to Blair? Treat your spouse like a best friend. Overlook irritations. Create excitement in your life and share it with your partner. Create rituals and traditions, and support each other’s dreams.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
- Mindfulness is awareness and acceptance of your perception of what is happening and what you feel about it. Negative feelings include anger (He or she is a _____.), fear (What am I going to do?), sadness (multiple losses) and guilt (Am I a failure?). It is a time of openness to your experience, a curiosity, and not judgment of yourself or spouse. Non-judgmental awareness allows more information versus triggering fear and avoidance. Awareness is valued, instead of being locked in to your usual responses in life and to your spouse.
- It uses awareness of breath. When feeling fear, rumination or avoidance of thoughts and emotions, refocus on awareness of your breathing to slowly change thought and behavior patterns. Learn to relax muscles. See what happens over time.
- It decreases unhealthy responses and slowly builds confidence.
- Mindfulness is a willingness to experience what you experience.
- You may find that experiences and emotions come and go, and that you can handle it.
- A judgmental approach, instead of acceptance, locks you into a fight or flight mode and decreases awareness.
- Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be practiced.
- It is not a technique to achieve a certain outcome. It is a way of being that does not make demands on outcome.
- Mindfulness is a way to connect with family, friends and God.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Would you say your “soon-to-be-ex” is reasonable? Can you talk to your “ex” about a problem and focus on solutions instead of blame? If so, especially at the earlier stages of divorce, you may be in the minority. Divorce magnifies communication problems in the relationship at the time of divorce due to the perception of threat and stress. Many rely on attorneys, and rightly so, to do their communication.
Divorce mediation, on the other hand, can work hand-in-hand with attorneys. Many times mediation can resolve issues that can be resolved without attorneys. Attorneys are recommended to review all agreements. Divorce mediation focuses on interest-based proposals and counter-proposals; attorneys also focus on protecting and arguing for legal rights. Litigation can be time-consuming and expensive, though may be necessary.
A skilled divorce mediator gives two people the chance to make agreements while the mediator serves as guardian of the communication process. While a mediator does not take sides, make decisions, or advise clients, a divorce mediator does not allow poor communication and problem-solving get in the way of potential agreements. Mediation values confidential self-determination based on full disclosure of all relevant information. Without these elements, one has to resort to the legal system.
How to Communicate
Arguing points and counter-points tend to generate more heat than light. Mediation involves each side stating the facts they believe are true, but debate is limited. Anticipating anger is important in controlling temper.
One or both sides can be exasperated by the other person’s position, and hearing unworkable proposals, but if the goal is not to change the other person’s position, and instead make counter-proposals based on the other’s interests, more solutions are possible. The response to a proposal is either “yes,” “I’ll think about it,” or a counter-proposal. Questions are welcome; personal attacks are not. Self-confidence is needed to reduce defensiveness. Patience is needed for a good outcome.
Other communication rules include “Refrain from blame,” and don’t interrupt, raise your voice, or point fingers. Avoid “You” statements, such as “You always…” or “You never…” Use “I” statements. Ask to take breaks, to feel refreshed or get advice.
Divorce mediation is associated with positive outcomes. It can reduce the negative effects of divorce on children. Children are most affected by parental unhappiness, conflict and anger. Making decisions in the best interest of children is a protective factor from the harm that can come from divorce.
Mediation is also helpful for the participants, and with agreements comes increased satisfaction with the outcome on both sides, compared to litigation alone. Mediation also reduces the chance of returning to court after divorce, and overall cost.
Mediation can be used for all or part of a dispute. Mediation may also be the most flexible way to customize agreements based on your unique situation.
Mediation sessions aim to resolve:
Child(ren)’s living arrangments
Parental decision-making process
Child(ren)’s activities and costs
Insurance and medical expenses and other child-related issues
Property Division (including house, cars, etc.)
Assets and Liabilities
Any other issues of concern
One of the primary decisions made in the best interest of the child involves sole or joint custody. A sole custodian means that the relationship between the parents is too conflicted to make decisions in the best interest of the children.
A joint custody arrangement means that co-parents can generally work together. Parents need to work together to determine the needs of the children, like appropriate medical care, child care, parenting time, use of holidays, vacations and other special times, location of the parent’s homes, and educational and religious training. Expenses need to be agreed upon like medical bills, child support, school fees and extracurricular activities, and saving for college.
Protecting the children from the harmful side of divorce is often neglected, sometimes unintentionally. The goal should under most circumstances should be consistent and calm involvement from each parent in each child’s life. Most children on some level wish for a relationship with both parents. Each parent can take part in not only providing financially but also providing influence on moral, social and educational development. Ideally, contact and affection would be unhampered and each parent would not get in the way of the child’s own developing sense of perception, and feelings about the other parent. Parents would not criticize each other within hearing range, or to put the kids in the middle by making them messengers (delivering positive or negative messages can feel like a burden to kids, when the responsibility to communicate belongs to the parents). Another rule to follow is to not tell the kids about future plans that will affect the other parent without talking to the other parent first.
The other area of importance is the financial side. Many decisions have to be made including the value and disposition of the marital residence, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stock options, bonuses and other investments. Each participant should gather information from an attorney or tax accountant specializing in divorce to understand the implications of one’s financial decisions, for example, on tax filing. Mediation is not a substitute for independent legal, financial or other professional advice and all parties are encouraged to be fully informed about the decisions for which they are ultimately responsible. All terms of a settlement are non-binding until they are put into a written agreement, usually by an attorney and entered by the court. One can go to the self-help office of the court and file pro se, but it is not usually advised. Divorce mediation allows for direct problem-solving with a neutral party, focuses on effective communication to make parenting and financial decisions that benefit both children and parents, and aims to reduce repeated visits to court.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
To say that a parent’s attachment to his or her kids is strong may be a negative statement. Attachment is described as secure and insecure, so it is possible to have a strong attachment that is insecure.
Insecure attachment descriptors reflect parental styles mentioned in the post What is Attachment? These parental styles are associated with the types of attachment: secure attachment with parental flexibility and stability, avoidant attachment with dismissive parenting, ambivalent attachment with preoccupied parents, and disorganized attachment with overwhelmed parents. Parental capacity is important to consider. Children build their nervous system and learn how to balance emotions, thoughts, and behavior through attachment. Parental capacity to attach to children can also change over time.
Avoidant attachment is reinforced from parental messages that emotions are not important in a child’s self-identity and in making decisions. Thus, the child (and as an adult) may feel like he or she does not really matter. An avoidant person may even believe that emotions steer one into danger or disaster and are not to be trusted. So emotions are left out of daily interactions. It may be hard to comfort or connect with an avoidant person. A second type of avoidant attachment seeks to please a significant other and downgrade one’s own needs because one can only accept emotions if they are not opposed by the significant other. This is a co-dependent relationship.
Ambivalent attachment patterns are derived from close connections that are not stable. The parent could be hot or cold. When cold, the parent may be preoccupied; it does not mean that the parent’s love wavers. So fear may develop associated with closeness and connection, because closeness and connection could be lost. The child or adult in this case may crave intimacy but not want to ask for it. If intimacy does happen, this person may eventually find it stifling. The child or adult may then experience anger and would distance from the significant other, but then fear would overtake from being feeling alone. The pattern then becomes hot pursuit, but then cold distancing.
Disorganized or dysregulated attachment patterns stem from parents who are ruled by the “fight or flight” autonomic nervous system. Parents tend to be aggressive or controlling, stemming from fear. On the other hand, parents could be overwhelmed or a victim, again stemming from fear.
Secure attachments are stable patterns but do not have to be perfect. They stem from a parent’s capacity at a particular place and time to recognize and value the emotions of a child, or to connect with what the child is doing. When the child comes to the parent, the parent in effect says to the child that the child is okay even when the child or parent is having negative emotions. The child is allowed to be separate from the parent, with the child’s own set of valid emotions and self-confidence.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Working with the Court in managing chaotic situations involving children and counseling is challenging and requires an additional set of skills. This article should help to evaluate court-involved counseling. It is important to know how counseling will affect the legal process and how the legal process will affect counseling.
Families are often referred to counseling or mediation because (1.) a child is distressed, or (2.) a parent is hoping for support in a court case, or (3.) counseling or mediation is court-ordered. Each of these scenarios differs in the nature of the information that is presented to the counselor or mediator, and in the expectations of the counselor or mediator. Each participant has an agenda that is influenced by the legal process. The clinician should be focused on the psychological health of the client, the mediator should be focused on communication and negotiation, and clinicians and mediators should respect the role of attorneys, forensic evaluators, parenting coordinators, and the Court. Clinicians and mediators should not mix roles without a waiver. If there is a court order, the role should be clearly defined.
Clinicians and mediators should be knowledgeable in child development, and obtain each parent’s perspective and maintain objectivity. The clinician should be careful with attitudes and beliefs of the children that reflect one of the parents. These attitudes and beliefs may be hiding true feelings and may be causing distress. Clinicians and mediators should also know characteristics of divorcing parents and children, family systems, best practice for high conflict, and understand relevant research and standards of practice. Clinicians and mediators should also have ongoing training, especially in domestic violence, parental alienation and estrangement, and special needs of the family and children. Clinicians and mediators should be understanding of expectations and processes of the legal system and work well with collateral contacts.
By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Aside from abuse, children generally benefit from a relationship with both mom and dad. Even if there are negative aspects of a parent, children benefit from interacting with one who “brought them into this world,” and can learn crucial coping skills and expand personal styles of problem-solving. Children usually benefit from all the resources of both homes. Also, as both parents and child age the opportunity for a more comfortable relationship develops. Research indicates that not only do children benefit from a relationship with both parents, but in retrospect, children wish they had more time with the non-custodial parent and that children can still feel rejected by estranged and alienated parents. In retrospect, adult children report that they wish someone helped them with their relationship with the “other” parent.
Parents especially in divorce can become estranged or alienated. Estranged parents generally involves the deterioration of the parent’s relationship with the child due to parental factors and child behavior. The child and parent both experience the disconnection. For children of alienated parents, the emphasis is more on what the child has been told about their experience with the other parent, which may include exaggerations and negative allegations. Even if the allegations are true about the other parent, it is difficult if not impossible to accurately measure the exact impact on the child. The child may be attracted to power, and the child may either be more aligned with the more powerful parent, or the child may find power in protecting the “victimized” parent. Some signs of alienation can be found in the post How One Parent Undermines the Other Parent and Visitation Refusal.
Reunification therapy is difficult because it requires not only the usual willingness to make personal changes but also the elusive ability to utilize (versus attack) someone else’s point of view. The earlier the intervention the better. The goal is to help kids past anxiety and avoidance to mastery and confidence. Therapeutic goals are based on each situation, but always involve the parent and child seeing the impact of their own behavior on the other, expressing remorse, the ability to refocus on a future relationship, and effective restriction on the other parent’s interference. Interventions include identifying thinking errors, improving communication, resolving attachment issues, and building self-esteem. Therapists should be active, directive and able to confront maladaptive interactions. Success is determined by the parents making agreements that stick.