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Why You’re Not Over Your Divorce And What To Do About It

I was filling out the required paperwork at a doctor’s office when I got to the question about marital status. Married? Divorced? Separated? Widowed? I’m definitely not separated and luckily not widowed, but which of the other two choices best describes my status? My answer: Both.

A young woman recently wrote this about the death of her first husband: “Even though I’m happily remarried, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a widow — and always will be.”

I totally get that. And I could say the same about divorce: Even though I’m happily remarried, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m divorced.

Divorce doesn’t go away when you ink those papers or go in front of a judge. Time itself doesn’t blot it out.  And, obvious technicalities aside, getting remarried has zero bearing on your divorce status. If you’re divorced, you’re divorced. It’s part of your life’s resume.

Divorce sticks. I know that because I married again — and I still couldn’t shake it. When you graduate high school, you’re still a graduate — doesn’t matter if you’re six months out or ten years. The experience shaped and informed you. It had an impact on the direction of your life. Same goes for divorce.

Divorce, always, is an ending that forces a new beginning and requires we find the energy to create it. It demands answers to two questions we need never have asked had we stayed married, which are, in a nutshell: How the f*ck did this happen? and Now what?

The Holmes-Rahe Life Stressor Inventory has divorce and marital separation taking up two of the top three spots for stressful life events. Number one? Death of a spouse. So, only the death of a spouse trumps a marriage going kaput. (Howboutdah, people?) Lesson? Give yourself a break. This is tough stuff.

One of the very hardest things about divorce is no one tells you where to put it, right? Where do we file something in our psyches that has shaken our lives to the very core? After divorce, everything looks and feels different. Yes, your family looks different and likely your bank account does, too. But even your kids look different when you see them through your new Divorced, Single Parent eyes. Even your job feels different when you realize it’s the only thing standing between take-out Chinese and food stamps.

Getting acclimated to all these changes takes work, it takes gumption. And most people don’t do it. Why? Divorce recovery work isn’t sexy. It doesn’t promise you Chrissy Teigen’s body or Kim Kardashian’s Instagram fame. Divorce recovery work is quiet, inside work. It’s not splashy or glam. It’s the work of yeomen when all we really long for is a quick fix. That, and many of us just want others to think we’re fine, we’re over it, we’ve moved on.

You can’t hide (or hide from) your divorce label, but you can choose to wear it as a badge of survival: an emblem worthy of someone who went through something catastrophically crappy and came out the other side smiling. Yes, you can choose this.

My most favorite-est and sexiest bra I’ve ever owned I got at Target. Yes, Target. It was black and the center front gore (space between the boobs) was a cool, crisscross of silky material. When I wore it, I felt sexy and pretty. Point is, it didn’t matter what the label said, it was how I chose to feel when I wore it.

Countless times, I’ve heard people say, “Divorce is/was the biggest failure of my life.” This blanket statement always drives me wild. One of my sons — at his unknowing peril — once used the word failure when talking about my divorce from his dad. My response? “I don’t consider a 20-plus year marriage and three amazing kids a failure!” And I don’t. I never will. And that’s how I’ve chosen to think about my first marriage.

Now, first things first. If you want to change the way you feel about your divorce, you need to change the way feel about divorce. If you’re still beating yourself up/embarrassed/ashamed/bitter about your divorce, it’s time to change that up. Time to claim your membership in the club and be okay with it.

Second, you need to rewrite the story of your divorce. And it’s no simple exercise. Like you, I have my own tied-up-with-a-bow story about my divorce. And, guess what? In it, I’m the good guy! Aren’t you, in yours? Reality is, there’s a better, more healing version. Ask yourself: Is my divorce story one that is allowing me the freedom to live my best, most peaceful life?

Join me at She Did It on May 17th. Divorce recover work may not be sexy, but it will never make promises it can’t keep. It can’t help you lose 30 pounds in 30 days, or get you 10,000 followers on Facebook, but it will help you tell a new divorce story that will make all the difference in the way you feel about yourself — while instilling lasting, positive change in your life. Actually, that is pretty sexy.

Whether you’re divorced one year or twenty, your better, post-divorce life begins with you. Let’s do this.

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Falling In Love? Don’t Ignore These 6 Red Flags

The first weeks of any new relationship are jam-packed with visceral and practical information about the person we’re considering getting involved with. Problem is, many of us plow through these early tidbits without giving them the credence they’re due. They may be vague doubts or huge, waving red flags. But because falling in love feels so damn good, we keep on.

A friend of mine — I’ll call her Lisa — recently reconnected with a high school boyfriend, Logan, at a mutual friend’s wedding — and the sparks between them reignited. Quickly, they pledged their commitment to one another, and started planning their new life together. They made a boatload of big promises in a matter of weeks.

But Logan had a pretty major tidbit: Though they had been separated for several years, he wasn’t divorced from his first wife. When Lisa pressed Logan on this, he assured her it would happen soon — explaining that his new relationship with her was the catalyst he finally needed to pull the trigger. But as weeks turned into months, Logan made many excuses as to why his divorce wasn’t moving forward.

Lisa was initially willing to ignore this very significant warning sign. As time went by, however,  Lisa grew increasingly frustrated by Logan’s inaction. During one argument about it, Logan dropped the mother of all excuses: “I’m afraid my wife will commit suicide if I push this divorce. I need more time.” Shocked by this revelation, Lisa decided to back off. After all, she didn’t want this woman’s blood on her hands.

Lisa spent many months waiting for Logan to divorce before she realized it was never going to happen. Their relationship ended when Logan decided to give his marriage a second chance. By ignoring this red flag, Lisa had bought herself a whole lot of heartache and disillusionment — and time she couldn’t get back.

Sadly, many warning signs may not be as obvious as Logan’s. That’s why it’s important we dig deeper. Here are five red flags to look for in the first weeks of a potentially serious relationship:

1. Baggage. Logan’s baggage was a complex, unresolved marital situation that prohibited him from moving forward with Lisa in a meaningful way.

If someone has significant baggage or strings attached elsewhere, it’s imperative you determine how significantly these issues will affect you and the relationship.

We all have baggage and we’re wise to accept that’s true for others, too. But be discerning. If that baggage is going to spell big trouble for your relationship, think twice.

2. Comfort. Nothing wrong with seeking comfort in a romantic relationship. But there’s a certain type of comfort — I call it dysfunctional comfort — we’re better off avoiding. Here’s how it works: You’re viscerally (and unconsciously) drawn to someone because they remind you of some dysfunction — or someone dysfunctional — in your family of origin. An obvious example is the daughter of an alcoholic who partners with an alcoholic. But, in many cases, it’s more complex than that. Did you feel unseen as a child and now you’re partnering with someone who doesn’t seem all that interested in what makes you tick? Was your childhood home chaotic and your new partner gamely brings chaos to your door? Ask yourself why this person feels like a perfect fit. It may not be for the right reasons.

3. Boundaries. My parents have friends who met and got married two weeks later. Sixty years later, they’re still together. This is a wonderful love story but, in general, marrying someone you just met isn’t highly recommended. It’s more important to really know this person before you integrate them into your life whole hog. If it seems your new partner is trying to monopolize your time and insert him/herself into every aspect of your life within a short time span, you may want to back up the truck. Love at first sight does exist, but that doesn’t always signal a healthy start or guarantee longevity. If your gut is telling you this person’s lack of personal boundaries feels intrusive, don’t ignore it.

4. Acceptance. Does your new, dreamy partner tell you how great you are, but has more than a few suggestions as to how you can improve your career, hairstyle, clothing choices, or weight? In fact, it may start to feel like he wants someone else entirely. Conversely, be aware if you’re doing the same. Do you want to change him/her to fit your ideal? A determination to change a person — along with specific ideas as to how they should go about it — is never the fairy tale ending to any relationship.

5. Requirements. Any hard and fast requirement in a relationship isn’t optimal. “I won’t get married anywhere but my parents’ church,” or “I’ll never move out of the neighborhood I grew up in,” or, “If we couldn’t have kids, I wouldn’t stay in the marriage,” are all examples of rigid requirements and/or ways of thinking. You’ll know one of these beauts when you hear it because the way it’s presented negates any possibility of negotiation. At first, you may not object to some of them — they may feel harmless enough. But someone who isn’t willing to negotiate or bend, promises to be a difficult partner.

6. What Others Say. Are your friends/family/coworkers as excited about your new relationship, or do they seem concerned? Have they noticed changes in your energy level, availability to them, or your mood? Certainly, we can’t let others determine what makes us happy. But if the people who care about you seem worried this new relationship may be taking a toll, you might want to consider why.

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Is Your Big Ego Stopping You From Finding A Healthy Relationship?

“Wow! That guy’s got an ego the size of Texas! Who does he think he is?”

Ever heard someone described that way? Sure you have. But throwing shade at someone by accusing them of having a big “ego” (not to be confused with egotism) isn’t really an accurate sentiment. In truth, someone who has a well-developed ego is more likely to be thoughtful and reasonable — not, as we’ve come to believe, a self-important asshat.

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of the ego — one of three separate but interacting systems that drive human behaviors. The other two are the id and the superego. Briefly, here’s how it all works:

Id: Your id is all impulse. It demands immediate gratification of your needs. According to Freud, all infants are born with an id which ensures our basic needs of food and comfort are met.

The id says: I want this candy bar and I will steal to have it.

Superego: Your superego is the “right or wrong” component of your personality. It’s in place to control the id’s impulses. The superego is often equated with your conscience.

The superego says: It is completely wrong to steal this candy bar.

Ego: Your ego is the decision-making part of your personality. Although it seeks pleasure, it does so with realistic strategies. It’s the part of you that drives conscious decision making.

The ego says: I’m tempted to steal this candy bar but that would be wrong. Instead, I will find a lawful way to get it.

So, how does all this fit in when it comes to selecting a mate?

Many clients come to therapy with this burning question: “Why do I keep choosing the wrong kind of partner?”

If you’re also stumped by this frustrating conundrum, there may be a simple(ish) reason for it: You may be picking these partners from a part of your personality that isn’t designed to make the best relationship choices. 

Here’s how it works:

Let’s take the prototype of the “bad boy.” Many folks are attracted to this type. He’s irreverent and incorrigible. He may also live his life slightly outside of the law. In essence, he’s exciting.

Bad boys light up our ids like Roman candles on the 4th of July. Our association with a bad boy may even allow us to flex our id muscle more freely than we normally would — even if it’s only vicariously. The bad boy says, “Life with me will be thrilling, wild, and unpredictable!” And, oh boy, does our id love the sound of that.

Unfortunately, the bad boy likely has an overdeveloped id (or underdeveloped ego) from which he makes his decisions. And, in the long (or short) run — you’re going to discover his impulsiveness and irresponsibility do not a solid, long-term relationship make.

So, if every partner you choose lives life driven by his id — and/or who activates yours — you’re going to be in for some repetitive relationship disappointments.

So, instead, why not choose a partner from your superego? After all, it clearly knows good from bad. At first blush, that might seem like a reasonable move. But our superego operates from an ideal of perfection — not one of true intimacy. You’ve heard the term, “He (or she) looks good on paper. The superego recognizes there are enough good qualities about this person to consider him/her as a potential partner. It confirms your standards are being met — especially during the falling in love stage.

There are a couple of red flags to watch out for here. The first is whether or not someone who “looks good on paper” is actually that terrific. Lots of folks hide behind good jobs, great educations, and social dexterity to belie the dysfunction within. And, hopefully, you’ll figure that out pretty darn quick. Second, if you’re simply checking the boxes — making your choice based on a person’s resume — how long do you think that relationship will be satisfying for you? A couple of years? Tops?

That’s why choosing a partner from our ego — the moderator of both our id and superego — is the healthiest approach. The best relationships will always be those with a functional balance of spark and practicality. A passionate friendship, if you will. When it comes to relationships, our ego will always steer us in the right direction. Why? Because it carefully takes into account the messages from both our id and superego.

The id says: I must be with this person no matter what.

The superego says: This relationship is a disaster waiting to happen.

The ego says: All this excitement feels good. But I need to carefully consider the pitfalls — and  if a relationship with this person would really be optimal for me.

I realize the title of this article is misleading. It’s not your ego that’s getting in the way of finding a healthy relationship, more likely it’s your id or superego. Because the bigger your ego, the better your chances of finding a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship.

Next time you’re choosing to partner with someone, stop and ask yourself where in your personality this decision is coming from. If it’s not from your trustworthy and well-developed ego, it may be wise to take a huge step back.