Thursday, April 15, 2010

Looking Back After Divorce - Why You Chose Your Mate

Copyright by Merlene Bishop

One of the most significant things you can do after a divorce is to assess your reasons for choosing that person as your mate. There are conscious choices for which the reasons are clear, then there are more smarmy reasons not always evident for why you chose your spouse. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family (an estimated 80 % of us did) you carried unresolved issues with you into adulthood, issues connected to your relationship with your mother and father. Many people are not aware of these issues and how they affected their relationships with the opposite sex. It is very common for people from dysfunctional family backgrounds to choose a mate who in some way resembles their parent(s) from a psychological perspective.

For example, if your mother or father was emotionally unexpressive and not affectionate you may have married a person who was emotionally unavailable, i.e, who had some of the same characteristics. Other issues from your family of origin may be frequent criticism, shaming, embarrassement, emotional abandonment, family alcoholism or workaholism. Whatever they were, they had a profound impact on your choice of a mate, and a profound impact on the reasons for your divorce.

Your choices are not a real choice in the true sense of the word. We tend to drift into relationships with people that seem familiar and comfortable to us in a psychological sense. It is essential to your future happiness that you assess these issues in regard to your choice of a spouse. The best way to start is by doing a written assessment of the ways that your ex-spouse did not meet your needs. After you have done that, think about the ways that your needs were not met in childhood, and of the ways that your mother and father were not responsive to your needs. Was one of your parents overtly critical, or just subtly? Subtle criticism can be difficult to pin down. It usually ocurrs in the form of an absence of praise and encouragement.
Think back to a time when you were feeling proud of yourself for some accomplishment, and your mother or father didn't comment at all, or barely acknowledged it.

Let's assess some of the issues that are part of dysfunctional families:

*No open discussion of problems - whatever the problems, there is an attitude of "it's not that bad"
* Feelings are not expressed openly
*Triangulation - one person acting as a messenger between two others
*Unrealistic expectations for boys - be a man, don't cry, be strong, never let anyone see you upset or sad
*Unrealistic expectations for girls - be feminine, don't play with toy trucks or cars, don't get dirty, always be polite
*Don't be selfish -it's not OK to think about one's own needs
*Don't rock the boat - don't do anything that might upset the status quo

Regardless of the type of dysfunction, you were imbedded with the dysfunctional charactersitics early in life. By the time you were old enough to start dating, you made your choices based on your childhood conditioning. When you got married, it is nearly 80% likely that your spouse had some if not all of these characteristics. The following illustration is a classic example of a divorced spouse that carried these characterstics:

*A person who didn't communicate about important things. He/she just did what needed to be done without discussing it first with their spouse.
*A person who was rarely affectionate. Your sex life was inadequate since there was no open communication.
*There were rarely any open discussions about money. There was more conflict or disagreement than cooperation.
*Your spouse was inconsiderate of your needs.
*He or she frequently put work first, leaving little time for family activities.
*He or she was often preoccupied with "busy work" at home.
*He or she was never available for quality time with you as a couple.

Is this beginning to sound familiar ? If so, your next task will be to look at the relationship between you and your spouse before the divorce. It is a high probablility that he or she had some of those characteristics and you never made the connection to your family of origin. The problems in your marriage that led to divorce were likely intricately laced with the above mentioned issues, but you and your spouse operated on automatic pilot, emotionally speaking and never became aware of them as problems. It was just considered part of the way things were.

However, at some point, the complex issues of family life became too burdensome because neither you nor your spouse had adequate relationship and communication skills to draw from as a result of the conditioning from your dysfunctional family. In situations like this, one spouse may have intiated counseling at some point during the marriage, and began to dimly see that there were problems. These problems could have been resolved if both people had been willing and emotionally capable of working through them. The person who had the greatest extent of dysfunctionality was not able to see the problems - they perceived the problems to be non-existent or blamed the other person for them.

In other cases, one spouse began to grow and change for the better and began to realize that there was something missing in their marriage. Whatever the circumstances were, the one person who was dissatisfied ultimately filed for divorce. Now, for a moment, put yourself in this situation as the one who filed or the one who thought there were no problems. Regardless of which one you are, it is vital to your future happiness to learn about your family of origin and the dysfunctions that carried over into your marriage. A good source of help is Co-Dependents Anonymous, a 12-step support group that covers common issues of dysfunctional families. If the problems in your family of origin were alcohol-related, Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics are good sources, both 12 step support groups.

If you are willing to commit yourself to personal growth, you can recover from the psychological dents originating from your dysfunctional family and learn to make healthy choices in future relationships. Your success depends on YOU.

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Monday, April 5, 2010


If you are recently divorced, you are facing many challenges, even if the divorce was your idea. You have the financial adjustment, adjustment to single parenting, possible conflicts with your former spouse, helping your children adjust to the visitation schedule, and the list goes on. If you are not a religious person, what source of strength do you draw from during those challenges ? The answer may be something you have not considered before.

Spirituality and religion are two different things. Religion is a belief in something greater than you, outside yourself. Spirituality is a belief in a power within you. The most common concept of God is a transcendent power up there in the heavens. However, there is another belief system about God. God as immanent, as a power within you is a concept that many people have not been exposed to. Prior to my divorce, I was not a religious person, but I did believe in God although I never was a part of any church.

After the divorce a friend shared with me about a spiritual organization she had discovered that had very different beliefs. As I learned more about spirituality I gained new coping skills that were vital to my divorce recovery, which was mostly centered around financial challenges, visitation challenges, and the additional challenges of being a single parent while going to college full time.

I learned about God as a source of inner strength to draw from. I learned about a different approach to prayer that was not asking and beseeching God for help. It was called affirmative prayer. The true power of affirmative prayer lies in the concept that because we are one with God, can affirm the truth that can bring about positive changes in our lives through claiming what we want for ourselves. Affirmations are the foundation of this type of prayer. A good example of affirmative prayer is: God is my source for all that I need, or, I am free from limiting beliefs, and with God all things are possible.

By shifting the source of power to God immanent (that is, within you) rather than God out there, we can begin to recognize ourselves as creations of God. We can also begin to recognize that we are powerful spiritual beings and as such we are the master of our lives. This can be a tremendous source of coping skills for divorce recovery. Whatever challenges we face we can learn to turn within as a source to draw from. A good way to do this is through meditation. There are many, many methods of meditation and no one right way.

The best way to start is to sit in a comfortable, quiet place and with your eyes closed, begin deep breathing.You will feel yourself relaxing and your attention moving away from your surroundings. As you do, imagine a soft light in the center of your field of vision. Imagine it growing until it fills your upper body.

Now, imagine this light to be God's love. After about two weeks you will begin to recognize a source of power you can on call for any challenges you are going through. After you have spent about two weeks doing that, learn to write your own affirmations that you can take into meditation. The most important thing about this approach is that you will begin to FEEL the power of God within you.

We are now ready to begin learning affirmations. The following is a list that I have compiled for those facing the challenge of divorce:

*I am lovable, attractive and intelligent

*I am desirable by the opposite sex

*I have a lot to offer in relationships

* I am competent and confident about my ability to manage financially

*I am a capable, loving parent

*I am attuned to the emotional needs of my children, and I am there for them always

*My ex-spouse is a child of God and capable of change

*I am calm and poised in the face of conflict with my ex-spouse

The most important component of affirmations is stating what you want or need to happen in present-tense, positive terms. They are effective in bringing about the changes you want because you are drawing on the power of God within you as a spiritual being. Using this approach to divorce recovery can give you a tremendous advantage in brining about positive change if you are open to using it, and it can facilitate your recovery from divorce, possibly much sooner than not having an awareness of yourself as a spiritual being.

Divorce Adjustment for Men


Men have unique challenges after divorce. Unlike women, men are not big on social networking. Before the divorce men were likely to have worked more hours than women in order to support the family, and spent little time socializing. Consequently, they tend to have fewer social contacts and socializing was limited to other married couples and events involving the whole family. Men are likely to feel isolated and abandoned after divorce, especially if they don't have custody of their children. They have more time to be alone, mulling over the details of the marital problems and the separation.

Divorce is a painful loss that involves a grief process, and since men are not likely to be in touch with feelings the same way as women they are less likely to be aware of the stages of grief. When the initial stages of numbness from the shock of divorce wears off and the sadness begins to surface, men commonly don't reveal their distress to others. They are not inclined to reach out for support. They feel that they should be in control of their emotions, and that sadness is a sign of weakness. Men don't normally cope as well with sadness as women. It is more socially acceptable for men to be angry, and easier for them to deal with anger towards their former spouse, which allows them to blame her for the problems and the divorce.

Blaming, like anger, tends to keep us stuck in difficult emotions, keeping us from moving on with life. Divorced men are vulnerable to resorting to the bar scene after divorce, which can complicate things even more. Single women in bars who are looking for men are likely to have some of the same issues: recently divorced or recently out of a relationship. They are looking for a man to "make them feel better". As you can imagine this is a recipe for disaster.

Men, like women, commonly have a low self esteem after divorce, depending on the circumstances. Women are 50% more likely to have initiated divorce than women, leaving men with sour feelings about their former spouse that they often transfer over to women in general, which is understandable. It is easier for men to remain feeling angry and bitter as a result. More men than women are likely to be at risk for suicide after divorce because they don't handle the feelings of sadness and loneliness well, especially when they are adjusting to not seeing their children on a daily basis.

So, what is a guy to do after divorce when needing companionship and social activities ? Here are a few suggestions that will help men get back on track.

*Ask your married male friends and family members if they know any women who would be open to casual get-togethers. When you do get an introduction, suggest getting together for a movie or dinner. Think of it as making new friends rather than as a romantic connection.

*Arrange a home movie night with other guys and any single women you have met and their friends. Make it a casual non-couples event. Your guests will feel more comfortable and you can meet your needs in an emotionally healthy way.

*Join a divorce support group. It will be a good support system for you and you can get some exposure to women who are coping with divorce, which can help you understand the perspectives of your former spouse. This is the best way for you to learn more about the grief process and how you are coping with it.

*Join a singles group. It's a great opportunity to get to know women in a casual setting as friends, and an opportunity to make new male friends who are recently divorced.

*Focus on developing friendships with women. This will give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself when it's time for serious dating.

Men who make it a point to educate themselves about the grief process will make an easier adjustment to divorce. Additonally, men can ease this process by maintaining close contact with their children by phone between scheduled visits.The love you experience from your children is unconditional, and by expressing your love for them you will feel less sadness.

There are no shortcuts out of the grief process. When divorced men try to escape the sadness, pain and anger of divorce by getting involved in the bar scene, overworking, turning to alcohol or rebound relationships they are not helping themselves adjust. They are also making the process more difficult for their children since unresolved anger and pain can seep into your relationships with them. If you are a recently divorced man give yourself permission to feel sadness and hurt by talking to family members who can be supportive and following the suggestions mentioned here. If you can do that, your recovery will be easier and you will be more emotionally available to your children.