Category Archives: Interpersonal relationships

It’s no big deal

Have you ever said this about something that has frustrated you? We say this about our job, our friends, and our partners. Something happens, and though it frustrates us we say; “It’s no big deal”. We say this once or twice, with no worries. How many times can you say this before anger and resentment start to take over?

We all walk the fine line between managing relationships and managing our identity. We all have what we want to have happen. At times what we want and what others want are not the same thing. Many people, in an effort to keep the peace and avoid conflicts, will sacrifice what they want. They will do this thinking “It’s no big deal”. So imagine your best friend asks to borrow five dollars. And then every week following for 4 months asks to borrow five dollars. Without ever asking your friend to re-pay you, you give the money. At first it is willingly. Then after a month or so, as you have given $20, then $40, then $60, how long will it take before you become resentful? How many of you will continue to give week after week, slowing simmering, but never saying anything?

We tell ourselves it isn’t a big deal. Week after week, time after time, we say these words. We convince ourselves that this is true. And underneath we simmer. The resentment builds, until eventually it erupts. The eruption may or may not be at the person or people that have created the resentment. And often when the eruption comes and the person on the receiving end is confused and befuddled when they are covered in emotional lava. They had no idea that you were angry or resentful, because you never set the limit.

“The givers need to set limits because the takers never will”. Even the most well-intentioned of people will take advantage of someone that gives again and again without setting boundaries on it. It is just human nature. We want to believe that human nature will keep people from taking advantage, and often that just isn’t true. Even I, and I would like to believe I am a good person, have taken advantage of situations and people when I needed to. I would have been perfectly understanding had the people set boundaries, and at the same time I also used the resources around me.

You don’t have to be an ass to set a boundary. “Sure, I can give you $5, I need you to pay me back by the end of the week”. And then when they don’t pay you back “Hey, you didn’t pay me back from the last 2 times, I need you to pay me back before I can lend you any more money”. If your friend gives you resistance for this, maybe they aren’t the best of friends, or the best of people. You don’t have to be an ass to say out loud what you want to have happen. “I’m interested in pizza tonight”, even though you know your friend or partner may not have the same interest.

The thought “It isn’t a big deal” is the warning sign that you may be sacrificing yourself more than your identity and integrity can handle. You can be kind and still say out loud what you want or need to have happen. Make sure you know what you want to have happen, and then think how you would want someone to say the same thing to you. Remember, using criticism, contempt, or blaming will make people put up their own walls.  Setting limits and standing up for your identity is just as much a part of maintaining relationships as meeting in the middle, and letting go of the small things.

Setting limits in confusing situations

Life is not always clear.  We want to think that we will be able to quickly and easily see boundary lines, and be able to follow them.  The boss is always the boss.  The child is always the child. The teacher is always the teacher.  But what happens when the wife becomes the teacher?  When the child becomes the boss?  When the parent needs to be taken care of?  When the Boss becomes the friend?  Or better yet when the friend becomes the Boss?

Is your your employee a good friend?  Does this person some times take advantage of the friendship when it comes to work?   Is your parent older, and while they are asking you to take a larger role in caring for them, do they resist your care?  It can be difficult setting boundaries when there are two parts of a relationship that need to be considered.

The first thing to look at as an individual is the roll that you need as a person to be the primary / dominant roll.  For example, once you’re the boss, the primary roll is probably going to be your position as the boss.  It is one thing to lose a friend, it is another to lose a job because you weren’t able to step up and set limits.  When a parent becomes the one needing care, letting your desire to have a mom or a dad can compromise the care of the parent.

Having poor limits can also compromise the relationship.  When you have the friend that is also an underling, and boundaries are not firm, the friend taking advantage of the poor boundaries can create resentment and anger.  The parent that doesn’t have firm boundaries can wear a care-giving child out quickly.  Unfortunately, the one in the power position is the one that needs to be the one setting limits.  The givers need to set limits because the takers never will.

You will need to be OK not being liked all the time.  The one in charge will be required to make decisions those under them don’t like.  They will be required to set limits, delegate, and set tasks that will make people uncomfortable, resentful, and frustrated.  That is part of the job.  It ain’t easy being Queen.  Or King.

Work to create a container around the rolls.  When you are the friend / child / partner or friend don’t be the boss.  Set boundaries that when you in certain places and certain times whatever work you have that you are the boss is put aside.  For example, At lunch you are friends and you don’t talk about work, work frustrations, or work needs.  When you are at “work”, literally or metaphorically, personal and friendships are put on hold.  You create a container around the work, and around the relationships.  Work to keep them from bleeding in to each other.  Make it clear to the other party where the lines are, and be clear when the lines are crossed.

Life isn’t about nice clear lines and easily understandable boundaries.  We are sometimes required to set them for ourselves.  That means we have to figure out what boundaries we need for our own sanity. Creating these containers will not be easy, and will be uncomfortable for everyone.  It will also save relationships and sanity.

Redefining Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Rumi

Love is opening your heart to another person and trusting they won’t stomp all over your hurts and fears with cruelty and their own pain. The longer you live the more bruises your heart accumulates and the more protections you create. When we create more and more protections we keep not only the things that will bruise us out, but the things that are kind and loving as well. We put walls and cages around our heart, isolating it from everything and everyone. It becomes very lonely.

If we want to feel connected with others, if we want to be present with the beauty of the world, we have to be open to it. That means letting go of some of the walls, and creating healthy boundaries. Instead of steel reinforced concrete walls, brick walls with doors that we can open.

There is risk with an open heart. We see more of the pain of the world, and we sometimes misjudge and let people in that aren’t save and don’t deserve access. We also see the greatness and the beauty of the world and find the people who’s hearts shine with love and beauty.

Love isn’t about worth. There is not one person on this planet that is unworthy of love, and I say that knowing that there are some truly horrible people out there. There are some people that aren’t safe to open our hearts to, and at the same time every one is deserving of love. That includes you. It is up to you to be safe enough to be let in to someone’s heart and to believe in yourself enough to be vulnerable. Love will find you when you drop the barriers that you have created against love; loving yourself and others, and letting others love you.

 

There’s No Crying in Baseball!

For those of you that don’t watch a lot of movies, that is a line from A League of Their Own that Tom Hank’s character yells as on of his female ball-players starts to cry.  It is the common sign of a man that doesn’t know how to handle the very outward display of emotion in that moment.

Why do men have such a hard time with women crying?  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that.  Think of what men are taught about crying from the time they are very young.  They are taught that crying is weak.  They are told very often to “be a man” when they are hurting, which implies they need to take all of their emotions and push them down deep.  They aren’t allowed to move through, to hold space for themselves when they are hurting.  Instead of feeling the pain, learning that it is OK to hurt, be sad, or feel guilty they are required to withhold and ignore the feelings.  Push them down, push them away, and most of all don’t cry.

So when a woman, who hasn’t been told to shove them down and has been allowed to cry is present with her feelings it makes them uncomfortable.  They don’t know how to hold space for their own discomfort, let alone for the person next to them that is struggling.  They have also been told their entire lives, by family and culture, that a blatant display of emotion is a sign of weakness.

We as women also struggle to hold space for men when they are experiencing strong emotion (other than anger), and showing it.  We also have received the message from society that a man showing emotion is a sign of weakness.  It makes us almost as uncomfortable as men are when we cry.

Holding space for an emotion means experiencing the emotion.  It means feeling it in the moment, without shoving it away. It means acknowledging that whatever is happening is unpleasant and it is OK for it to be unpleasant.  Women are allowed some grace in this as we are allowed to cry and give outward demonstrations of our feelings. Men are taught to shut that down, and then that is reinforced on a daily basis through family, media, and partners. It isn’t surprising that when women cry they struggle with the display.

It is difficult for both men and women to allow someone else that they are close to be present with painful emotions. In general women say they want a man that is more in touch with his emotions, and yet there is discomfort when he does so. If we want men to be comfortable with women crying, we have to encourage everyone to be OK being present with their emotions. It is OK to let someone cry and not need to fix it. Crying releases endorphins that are often needed in tense and difficult moments. It is part of why women are so prone to tears during angry and tense moments, as well as sad difficult moments. It gives a release and helps move through the difficult time. As a society, we all need to become better at not only holding space for someone that is struggling, but tolerating our own discomfort when someone cries.

Crying is natural and healthy. Tears mean that a person cares about what is going on in that moment. We all need to work on holding space for difficult experiences, and being OK when the water-works are turned on.  Maybe there should be crying in baseball.

 

I was wrong

I was wrong. These are three of the most difficult words to string together in one sentence. Living in a blame filled society where being wrong is seen as being weak, or at times leaves us vulnerable to attack from the wronged makes it difficult to admit to our mistakes. It is also one of the best ways to resolve conflict.

We all make mistakes. We make mistakes in the way we act and the way we treat each other. Sometimes the mistakes we make dig deep holes. In order to dig out way out of these holes, most people want to hear one thing: “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that, and it wasn’t OK.” It takes a good deal of strength to say those words. It also begins a healing process.

Most of us want to hear the other person say that they were wrong when they have done something they shouldn’t have. It allows the forgiveness process to start, both with the wronged, and the person that committed the act. I know personally when I screw up I go through a guilt / shame cycle in which I work to forgive myself for behavior I did. The simple admission of being wrong lets me shift from shame (I am wrong) to guilt (I did wrong and am capable of doing better). It lets me shift from what a f$%k up I am to how I can do better next time.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. It is the part of the self that says “I can’t show weakness”. It is the part of the self that says “You suck, and always will”. Strangely enough, the ego is trying to help us fit in and make us be better people, but what it does is encourage us to either tear ourselves down, or tear others down to feel better. In reality, we all make mistakes. We all have the ability to change and the ability to do better next time. In order to do better next time though, we have to admit that we made a mistake.

Our ego will yell at us when we go to admit to our mistakes, especially out-loud to others. It is also the best way to start the healing process. It has been found that a Doctors or clinicians that apologize and admit when they have made mistakes are less likely to get sued. That is clear, definitive proof that we just want someone that has wronged us to admit that they were wrong. It starts a healing process, both within ourselves and with others. Three little words that can help so much, but are amazingly scary. “I was wrong”.

Asking for what you want

We all hit that point in a relationship where we want something that we aren’t sure our partner wants to give us.  Many of us have one of two difficulties.  The first one is the belief that if our partner loved us enough  they would know what we want and they would give it to us.  The second is not feeling comfortable asking for what we want because we aren’t good at expressing ourselves, or because we are afraid we aren’t going to get it.  Either way is a recipe for either silence or passive aggression.

For those that aren’t quite sure what passive aggression is, it is being subtle about saying insults, requests or wants.  Saying them in a way that can be played off.  If I am making requests in a way that can be ignored or played off, then they probably will.

Firstly, make sure you know what you want, and if it is possible for the other person to help.  If you have no idea what you want, then the person you are asking isn’t going to be able to give it to you.  If the want is something that the other person can’t help with, then they are going to be set up for failure.  If the desire is to feel love or losing the emptiness, asking someone to do it for us is destined for failure.  If someone loves us and we are unable to connect with that love, all of their love won’t help that.  If you feel empty, there is nothing anyone can do to fill you.  A partner can support and sponsor us while we work to let the love in, or to feel filled.

Do you want your partner to go on a walk with you today, or do you want them to spend more time with you overall?  Do you want them to do the dishes tonight?  Or o you want them to take more of an active roll in taking care of the household?  Are you asking for what you really want?

This goes for work and friendships as well.  If you are not articulating what you want, it is unlikely you will get it. No one can read your mind.

Once you know what you want find the words to clearly articulate it without criticism, contempt or blaming.  These three will get the person you are speaking to defensive, and unlikely to want to help you.  Stick to “I want”, “I would like”, or “I need”.  Avoid telling the other person what they need to do, as that also leads to defensiveness.  State what you want or need clearly and assertively.  Make eye contact, head up and shoulders back.  Speak in a clear voice working to avoid “ummmm” and “ahhhhh” as they steal the vision of confidence.
Finally, let the other person know how their help will be beneficial.  We are all more likely to help someone else if we are going to get something positive out of it.  How will their life be able to move more smoothly.

If you noticed, the majority of this blog was about you discovering what you truly want.  What do I want to have happen?  What is my goal, and what do I need?  Once you have these questions answered, you are better able to find the confidence to walk in and ask for what you want in a clear and concise way.  You aren’t always going to get what you want, but if you are able to be clear and calm in your approach, it increases the odds significantly.

I understand

There is a difference between understanding and condoning.  I can understand why people do things.  I can understand why people hurt other people, why people steal, why people beat their partners, and why people use drugs to escape from reality.  I understand.  It doesn’t mean I condone their behavior or agree with it.

One of the problems I see is that people don’t understand, and people think that understanding will mean condoning.  Understanding isn’t about making their behavior OK. Understanding is knowing that people have knowledge that people do things for reason, and it isn’t just because they are bad people.  Understanding is knowing that addiction isn’t about a lack of motivation, or bad will power. Addiction is about how the brain works and how people’s brain respond to chemicals in the brain, and that overcoming addiction isn’t having more will-power, it is about learning how to manage how the brain responds to situations and chemicals and fighting your own brain.

Understanding is knowing that the person that is abusing the kids in his neighborhood and his own kids has his own history, not necessarily of sexual abuse but of emotional abuse or trauma of some sort and isn’t because he or she is a sick perverted asshole with no soul.  It doesn’t make the behavior OK.  It just means that I understand how they got to where they are.

Understanding doesn’t mean that it makes what a person does OK.  Some people find a place and learn that their chemistry or their history or their shoe size affects who they are and how they act and figure out how to move around those facts.  I have ADD.  I didn’t know this as a child, and it affected how I moved through school and through life.  When I was in graduate school I learned about ADD, and I understood why when I was 7 I got bored completing standardized testing and created designs with the bubbles, and my parents had to fight a label of mentally retarded.  Because of the expectations around me and my desire to fit in I figured out how to manage with but never knew why I struggled so much to do what seemed to come easily to others.  Now I know that I learned how to work with a disability.  Sometimes well and sometimes not, but I learned.  It is something I won’t be able to change, It is something that I have to manage.  So when I look at others that struggle I understand.  I understand the struggle of managing something you can’t control.

Understanding doesn’t mean condoning unpleasant, hurtful, or inappropriate behavior.  In my situation I had to learn how to move around something that in some circumstances is helpful, but in our world isn’t.  I work with some people where understand why they are hateful, angry, and dangerous.  I also know that if they want to, they can learn to live with their brain chemistry, their trauma, or their past and manage.  It takes desire, will power, and a willingness to not only accept who they are but to find ways to work with who they are, and still be the best they can be.

It takes work.  It isn’t easy to watch the people that move through life easily and know that we have to fight.  We have to fight through abuse, through brain chemistry, and through life experience that makes life harder.  Some people either don’t have the same problems, or just move through life easier.  For whatever reason, they don’t have the same experiences, the same brain chemistry, or it is just easier for them to move through. We compare ourselves to them and think we aren’t enough.  We think that we should be better.  Ad that is BS.  I fight to make it through a text book.  It is torture, and I read 10 pages to realize that I stopped paying attention 8 pages ago.  It will take me and hour to do something that it will take a non ADD person 20 minutes to do.  It is a success for me when I make it through a book, or do the task and get it done; no matter how long it takes.  I know what is a success for me, and I celebrate it.  I also fight for my successes, and work to manage the shame that someone else wouldn’t have to fight nearly as hard as I do.  My successes are my successes, and I won’t let the fact that someone else doing them would have done them faster or better any less of a success for me.

I also won’t hesitate to protect myself from those that won’t fight to be the best they can be.  I can understand the kids that get pulled in to Neo- Nazi lifestyles. In general they feel outcast and unloved and they work to not only find people that at least act like they love them, but give them the chance to say that others are as horrible as they are.  I can understand them, that doesn’t mean I am going to let them run around wreaking havoc.  I can understand them and I still need to protect myself and my loved ones (and the world) from them.  I understand how they moved through life, through abuse, through trauma, or just through chemistry to get where they are.  I don’t condone their behavior and I will make damn sure that I do what I can to protect the world from them.

Understanding and compassion have nothing to do with condoning a behavior.  When you are able to clearly delineate between the two then you can make decisions.  You can make decisions about celebrating your victories when you accomplish something that is difficult for you instead of beating yourself up for not doing it as well as someone else would have.  You can decide what your values are, and work your darndest to stick to them even when chemistry or history makes it hard.  You can also let go of the judgement of others when you aren’t as awesome as they are, because they don’t have the roadblocks you have.

When you are able to clearly delineate between the two you can also have more compassion and understanding for those around you that struggle too.  You can see where and when they are fighting their best, and celebrate their successes when they find their successes.  You can also protect yourself when their best is still dangerous to you, your family, and the world in general.  You can let yourself move away and create boundaries without feeling guilt or shame.

Each of us has obstacles that keep us from being out best.  We all have our own individual battles that we fight on a daily basis. Some people, because of chemistry, trauma, or pain have more to struggle with than others. When they win their battles we celebrate with them.  Those that don’t win their battles, that continue to hurt others or lose themselves in the disease of addiction destroying everything around themselves, we have to protect ourselves from them even when we have compassion, love and possibly understand them.

Understanding isn’t condoning bad behavior.  Only you can decide what your values, beliefs, ethics and principles are, and only you can figure how to best live within them with your own stumbling-blocks.  When you live within your values successfully, celebrate.  Knowing that I can’t understand another person’s battle helps me let go of judgement and contempt, and I still protect myself from their behavior.  I understand, and I still expect that I do my best, and that you do your best.  And when I am with the best in me, and you are with the best in you, we can make a pretty awesome world.

Jealousy

“You can’t expect someone to love you when you can’t love yourself.” That’s the quote anyway. Well, there are times that I struggle to love me, and I’ve worked at it for years. But I have learned my value as a person and as a partner. I have learned that I am a pretty darn good catch, and anyone that doesn’t agree with that isn’t someone that I need to hang around. What knowing this, believing it in my heart, does for me is allows me to avoid jealousy.

Jealousy is the belief that you aren’t good enough. There is a fear that your partner will eventually see this, and start to look for the BBD. The Bigger Better Deal. Jealousy is the belief that everyone out there is better than you, and you aren’t enough to be faithful to. Jealousy has little to do with the other person, and a good deal with your belief that you aren’t good enough to be loved, let alone the other person. The way to kick jealousy is to find confidence. Letting go if insecurities and recognizing that everyone has crazy in them that needs to be worked on increases confidence. Learning to see that you aren’t the only person out there that doesn’t have their ducks in a row as much as they would like lets you be able to see your partner’s imperfections and not feel so bad about your own.

If you are confident in your worth, 3 things happen. First: you feel confident in your partner’s attraction to you, you feel confident in your ability to attract and pick a good person, and you have no fear that they will be looking elsewhere. Second: If they do happen to have a wandering eye, you recognize this as an indication of who they are, and not who you are. Third: you feel comfortable allowing yourself to shine through without trying to be someone you aren’t.

When you feel confident in your partner’s attraction to you, you don’t mind if they look. I know I like my car, and at the same time if a Ferrari or a decked out classic car goes by, I’m going to look and admire. It doesn’t mean that want to drive or own the car, I just want to admire it for the beauty it holds. The same is often true for people. We feel attraction on many levels. The areas of attraction are a person’s physical beauty, a person’s sexual beauty, emotional beauty, intellectual beauty, and humorous beauty.   My attraction to a Ferrari is attraction to it physical beauty (and maybe sexual. Yes, a car can have a sexual beauty / energy) with the knowledge that it is a high maintenance car. That makes it instantly overall less attractive on anything other than an artistic / physical level. For a relationship to be healthy and last there must be attraction on all levels. The least important is actually physical attraction, as a person becomes more physically attractive to a person as a deeper friendship is built through shared interests, humor, and life goals.

When I can recognize that a person’s wandering eye is an indication of who they are instead of who I am, I stop taking responsibility for the other person’s actions. People don’t cheat on their partner because of who their partner is, they cheat because of who they are. If someone is in a relationship they are unhappy in and they use that as an excuse to cheat, it is just that; and excuse. If you’re unhappy in your relationship do something about it; either try to fix it or leave, nothing gives you an excuse to cheat. When I recognize that the wandering eye is the other person, I become more discerning in the people I pick. I make sure that I’m not choosing people with a propensity to wander and then fear that they will do it to me, I pick people I know are good people, giving me more confidence in the relationship.

Someone once said “How I see you is none of your business”. When you let go of trying to impress other people and trying get them to see you as a certain way, and instead focus on being the person you want to see yourself as, you will instantaneously become more attractive to the people around you. It also means that you don’t have to contort yourself to be who you think the other person wants you to be. For example; You don’t have to lie about liking sports; if you don’t like sports, you don’t like sports. All you have to do is give your partner that does like sports the room to like them and you will be all set. Your partner will like you for you. If the only reason he likes you is because he thinks you like sports when you don’t, there is always going to be a fear that they will find out and stop liking you. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t in an effort to make yourself more attractive. Be you, if they aren’t attracted to that then you shouldn’t be with them anyway.

Jealousy is about fear and insecurity, not about the other person and their actions. If you are with a person that you legitimately need to watch all the time because they have cheated in the past or are known to have a wandering eye, then you should probably re-think your relationship. Otherwise it’s time to look deep and figure out what your fears and insecurities really are. Unless your partner is a complete and total ass (and they do exist), they are with you because you are just who they need. They are with you because they decided you are perfect for them. Work to keep from proving them wrong by turning on the crazy.

 

Taking I’m sorry back

Forgiveness is key in our lives.  One of the first things we teach kids is that they need to apologize for things they do.  “Say you’re sorry!”.  It has become insincere.  In working with violent and sexual offenders though, the first thing we do is tell them to stop saying “I’m Sorry”.  Offenders say it so many times without actually meaning it, the words actually start causing pain.  The expectation when the words “Im sorry” are uttered is to forgive, even condone.  This at times causes trauma and pain when we know that the words do not come from a place of sincerity and remorse.  The concept of forgiveness has changed to mean condoning the behavior.  I walk up to you and steal your pen.  When you catch me, I give it back and say “I’m sorry”.  When you say “That’s OK”, as is socially required it feels as though we are telling the person that what they did is OK, especially when we don’t believe they actually feel remorse.

We have tainted the concept of forgiveness.  Forgiveness today is letting the other person know that things are OK between us.  This is not the concept of true forgiveness.  We have forgotten that forgiveness is not for the offender.  Ultimately my forgiveness is not for you, but for me.  An article on globalone.tv does a wonderful job discussing the topic of forgiveness in depth.  Discussing the concept of forgiveness as not holding on to things that cause us pain, as opposed to letting the other person off the hook or telling them their behavior is OK.

I work daily to change concepts of forgiveness and “I’m sorry”.  I have actually stopped saying “I’m sorry”, because it has so little value any more.  I acknowledge what I did wrong, why it wasn’t OK, and what I will do to not do it again.  I find that “I shouldn’t have done that, it wasn’t OK” (along with displaying actual remorse) goes a lot farther than “I’m sorry” does.  I teach this concept to my offenders, reminding them that they actually  have to agree that they did something wrong and agree to not do it again to make “I’m sorry” work.

And I work to teach that forgiveness isn’t about the other person.  It is about the weight I choose to carry with me.  I can find many things in my life that I can carry if I choose; my divorce, getting laid off, not getting promotions, etc.  These are places in which I have been betrayed and hurt by someone else.  I could hold on to anger, resentment and pain.  Holding on to these only weigh my soul down without effecting the others involved in the situation. I personally want to loose weight, not gain it.

I have started saying “thank you” to someone that has apologized to me if they did something they should apologize for.  I have given up saying “it’s OK” if it wasn’t.  Try the two things mentioned here in the next week.  If you have something you have done to someone else that you regret, tell them what it was that you shouldn’t have done, and let them know that you know it wasn’t OK.  And when someone says “I’m sorry” for something they should truly be sorry for, instead of saying “It’s OK” tell them that you appreciate their apology.  It lets go of the requirement that I let someone off the hook and condone their behavior when I really don’t.  And by taking accountability for your actions you show that you truly feel bad for what you did, and you aren’t uttering a colloquialism just to smooth things over.

And finally, don’t apologize if you don’t need to!  Someone runs in to you on the sidewalk, and they are clearly at fault, and you apologize.  Why?  Because it is what you are supposed to do.  If you didn’t do anything wrong, and especially if you aren’t sorry, don’t continue to ruin the word.

Let’s take I’m sorry back.  Let’s make it mean something again.  Let’s make it mean true regret, an acknowledgement that you’ve done something wrong, and not a request to condone or ignore a behavior.  When you forgive do it for yourself not the other person, and not because it is expected or required.  When you say “I’m sorry” say it because you feel true regret, not because you feel true regret.  Say “Thank you” when someone else apologizes, instead of telling them their behavior was OK.  Stop letting I’m sorry be a requirement and and insincerity.

Divorce with children

Unfortunately we are divorcing each other at an amazing rate.  Though lately the saying “more marriages end in divorce” seems to not be holding up (the divorce rate has fallen in the last 2 years), there are still a good deal of families that are splitting up.    I was blessed that my divorce was “easy” with no bitterness or anger (notice I did not say painless) and my ex-husband and I maintain an easy friendship.  I work with clients and have friends who are not so lucky.

Divorce on its own is traumatic.  Even a divorce as “easy” as mine was still is a trauma.  There are always hurts, feelings of abandonment, loss, and at times betrayal.  Adding children to this mixture adds another layer of uncertainty, frustration, hurt and fear.  Even the best people are able to become monsters around their ex-partner at this time of in-stability. Unfortunately often the children are thrown in to the mix and the trauma can be devastating.

A divorce is traumatic to a child.  Children are at a stage in which they are learning if the world is to be trusted, and part of that is based on the stability of their family.  If the parents are stable and display consistency children learn that the world is stable and consistent and approach life with optimism.  If parents display instability they learn to fear the world and tend to be more pessimistic.  Realize, these are generalizations and do not apply in all cases, but overall these themes tend to play out. Divorce adds a new mix to the concept of instability. Childadvocate.net  gives a great deal of information on this topic, but generally children generally jump to the following questions :

·  What if they both leave me?
·
  What is it that I did wrong?

·
  Did I cause the divorce?

  • Now what’s going to happen to me?

Divorce is painful.  It is a severe trauma that strongly affects both parties in the divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce with children is like being sick with children.  The kids don’t care that you are hurting,  or don’t feel well, that you are angry and feel abandoned.  And it is not their responsibility to be your support through this trauma.  Let me repeat that, as it is amazingly important. Your children are not supports for your divorce!  Just as if you are sick, you need to to continue to be strong, stable, caring and loving.  The worst case scenario unfortunately is often the norm today.  Children are placed in the middle, asked to pick sides and used as leverage in the fight against the other person.  This has drastic results that are life long.

Basic rules to interacting with your children in relationship to your divorce:

Do not burden them with information about reasons for the split.  Children will want to know.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and they generally feel the same fear, powerlessness and panic that you feel and  they know that knowledge is power.  The problem  is that in the middle of the painful emotions we are unable to be unbiased and we give information based on our own perceptions.  I know through my divorce I actually placed more blame on myself than my ex, but often people do the opposite forgetting that it takes two to tango.  Children can feel responsible for getting the parents back together, they can be placed in a parent role for their parents, and take on more than necessary.  It also puts them in a position to pick sides. When they want to know, switch to a nurturing role.  “That’s not stuff you need to worry about, what you need to know is that Daddy / Mommy and I love you, will always love you, and will always be here for you”.

Do not ask them to pick sides.  In doing this you will imply that they will loose your love if they don’t pick you.  If both parents do this it will cause panic.  Children still think in fight or flight, survival and death. This doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but they are still very primitive in their emotions without the ability to rationalize.  There is a distinct fear that “If I don’t pick mom, she won’t love me, she will leave me, and I cannot survive without her.”  This is very subconscious, and they probably can’t verbalize these fears. We all want validation that we are good people and in divorce we want to know that the reason we are being rejected is because of the faults of the other instead of our own.  Using our children for our own validation and to resolve our feelings of loss or fears of being unloved, or just vilifying our past partner is not OK. It creates feelings of abandonment and panic and can lead to behavioral problems, drug use, school difficulties, anxiety and depression.

 

Do not manipulate the children emotionally. This technically falls under trying to make them pick sides but deserves its own section.  Telling kiddo that you can’t make the rent because daddy divorced you causes confusion and hurt.  Even if this is the case, kiddo doesn’t need to know until they are older.  The kids are struggling to see where they are going to be safe in the world.  What they need from both of you is knowledge that the world won’t end, that they will still be loved even with the divorce.  Manipulating them in an effort to sway them away from the other parent, or get them to try to manipulate the other parent creates an unsafe situation and will cause a great deal of anxiety.  It can actually rebound on you, and make the child resentful toward you.  We think kids won’t necessarily see through this behavior, but they aren’t stupid, just young.

Do not fight in front of your children.   If you do find yourself fighting in front of your kids, either work to find a resolution then and there (one of the great disservices we do to our children is we do not teach them how to resolve an argument, we fight in front of them, but we never resolve anything in front of them.) or end the discussion until a time when the kids aren’t present (not sent to their rooms, but not present all together).  It is too easy to drag the children in to the fight, and that will exacerbate all of their fears instead of reassuring them. Sending them to another room does no good, as yelling travels very well through houses.  It will also display that there are weaknesses that kids are amazingly apt at manipulating.

Do not use your children as a tool to manipulate your spouse. This is nothing more than emotional assault both on your children and your ex.  There is no excuse or justification for this.  Unless your ex is a danger to your child there is no reason to limit their access, and using your child as a manipulative tool is nothing less than child abuse.  You are turning your child in to an object to cause pain, while it is not criminal, it should be.  If you can’t tell, I feel rather strongly about this. Don’t buy your child the cell phone your ex told them they can’t have just to piss him/her off.  Don’t manipulate to get more child support just to hurt your ex.  Don’t make it excessively hard to do things like visitation and communication.  These behaviors are childish and unacceptable.  This hurts more than just your ex, it hurts your child and ultimately it hurts you too. Being a mean and spiteful person is  a poison that slowly kills you. But most of all it hurts your children.  They learn unhealthy patterns that they carry through their adult relationships.  Moral?  Do not use your children to get back at your ex.

Don’t tell stories about your ex to your kids.  Children don’t need to know who daddy is supposedly sleeping with or that he didn’t pay his child support on time.  The don’t need to know that mommy is throwing tantrums and not able to pay her bills.  They don’t need to know how horrible mommy is, or how bad her friends are.  This is transferring your frustrations and fears on to your children.  If your ex really is that horrible, let kiddo find that out on their own.

Do nurture, support and reassure your children.  If there is fighting in the home they frequently believe that the fights revolve around them not realizing that their parents are fighting because of their relationship, not them.  If that is the case and all of a sudden mom and dad are splitting, it is natural to believe that you are divorcing because you always fight over the kids.  Even if they are not aware of the conflict (which is relatively rare) they now know that their world is being thrown about and they are probably terrified. They need all of the support and reassurance you can get.  If possible, reassure them together as a team.  They need to know that even though you will not be together anymore  you still love them and you are still a solid team when it comes to parenting them. They need to know that even with the divorce they are safe. 

Do be a united front for your children. As they grow this will be more important than you realize. The one thing you can both still agree on is that your kids are amazing, that you love them, and they come first.  Well, put them first.  You have to put aside all of the anger, hurts and frustrations.You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids.  You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids!  If you do not the fallout is amazing.  You will see behavior problems as they seek structure and stability.  If you think they split and manipulate you now as a solid couple, wait to see what they can do when they know that you aren’t together in your parenting. Kids will feel unstructured and unsafe.   They will seek out their friends for their support instead of their parents.  They will resort to drug use, eating disorders, stealing among other things to resolve their hurts and frustrations.  It is a loosing battle.They will also turn in to little terrorists, manipulating and scheming to get their way, going to the parent from whom they know they can get want the easiest.  They will play you like a violin and turn in to brats that don’t mind either of you.

Do work to resolve your differences in a healthy manner. Just because you are splitting with your partner does not mean that you have to teach hate to your children.  I will cover how this effects you as a person in greater detail in another post, but even if you feel hurt and hate right now it is important to teach your children how to resolve hurts and frustrations in a healthy way.  This is going to be a difficult time for you.  If you hit a point where you don’t feel like you are in control, leave until you are in control again.   Remember to always think what you are teaching your children with your behavior.   

Being a parent means being responsible.  I know throughout my divorce there were days that just keeping myself going took all the energy I had.  I know that putting that aside that pain and going about with  my daily life was like swimming up a waterfall. I fully understand the hurt and the trauma that this is causing you.  I know first hand the feelings of abandonment, hurt, fear, loss and loneliness. Divorce with children is not the same as divorce without. When you have kids you don’t get sick days, you don’t get hurt days, and you don’t get bad divorce days.  Because you have children you have to put your big-girl / boy panties on and be a parent.  That means putting your child first and your hurts and angers second.  Hopefully in doing this you will be better able to pull yourself through your divorce as you force yourself to work with your partner, resolving your hurts and create a healthier world for you and your children.

Resources :

Helpguide.com;

divorceandchildren.com; 

Childrens books;

Cooperative Parenting