The holidays are behind us, the celebrations long gone and now that we are firmly entrenched in the new year, it is time to take stock in our primary relationship. Whether there are children involved or not, coming to the realization that your marriage isn’t working can be painful and is always life altering. The truth is that life is too short to remain in a relationship that can not be made to work. Ignoring the signs of your collapsing marriage can only lead to misery, or at the very least, complacent endurance.
Here are just a few signs that the marriage is well and truly over:
1. You are angry/sad/apathetic most of every day.
If the sight of your spouse’s face inspires ANY of these emotions whenever you see them, you need to seriously consider getting away from that person, and not just for your own sake, but for theirs and any kids involved. Momentary pique can be disguised, but long running negative emotions directed towards one person are impossible to hide. You begin to grouse and to gripe…to say little things to let that other person know they are not what you want. In the long run, it takes you away from the person you want to be, and makes the other person feel like trash. You can’t possible be happy or even content ALL the time, but you shouldn’t have to contemplate spending most of your waking hours unhappy.
2. One of you cheats and the marriage is unable to recover.
Many couples can get over infidelity, but it takes commitment, honesty, and a lot time for each party to come to terms with an act that many consider the ultimate betrayal. Naturally, it helps if husband and wife still love each other as it allows for the desire to seek and grant forgiveness between a couple that can at least agree there are parts of the marriage worth preserving. However, sometimes the act of forgiveness is beyond the wronged party, or the unfaithful spouse cheated simply as a way out of their marriage.
3. Sex is not sexy.
Many couples consider the waning of sex after marriage to be an acceptable side effect of the institution. If a couple goes from intimacy twice a week, to once a week, or a few times a month, that can be attributed to changing schedules and increased responsibilities. But if you look upon sex with your partner with dread or anxiety, but you still want sex to be a part of your life, either seek a licensed therapist (if you feel the rest or your marriage works), or if you feel this is part of a larger disconnection between you and the thought of seeking titillation outside the marriage is MORE appealing, its better to make a clean break without involving others if you want to minimize bitterness between you and your soon to be ex.
4. You can’t agree on anything (also known as fighting about EVERYTHING)
If you can’t solve simple day-to-day problems or find common ground from which to negotiate for important matters like child-rearing or religion, then the relationship may be beyond saving. To be clear, everyone argues, but most people in working relationship can attempt to see the other person’s point of view and/or acknowledge validity to different arguments, but once a relationship has soured to the point that you can only consider your spouse as an enemy, to be annihilated at all costs, there is really no point in that person even being in that relationship. Do yourself a favor and end it before you accuse them of illogical and untrue motivations-or before you are the one being accused.
5. Nobody says, or shows, the love.
According to the famous 1992 book, The Five Languages of Love: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, different people express their devotion in different ways, and how you demonstrate your love for your spouse becomes the accepted language by which to do so. These languages are : words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. By this logic, it may not be unusual for your spouse not to say I love you often, but to stop and get you your favorite coffee every morning or to warm up your car during the winter is how they show you their affection. If these actions suddenly stop, in conjunction with other signs of waning interest, your spouse may be showing you how they feel (or don’t feel) in the language of love that has been established by the history of your relationship. They may not even notice, but once you do it can be devastating.
These are just a few examples of signs your marriage may be beyond help. At the very least, they are warning signals that something is deeply wrong, and help is needed to get back on track.
As you are probably aware, the all-consuming “Holiday Season” is upon us, and for those of us struggling on the precipice of divorce, the pressure can be on to put on a happy face for the sake of the kids during what is supposed to be a time of joy. If all else fails, and divorce is an inevitability, is faking it for the holidays really the right way to go in order to preserve some sense of security for your soon to be broken home? Or is it better to be honest with your kids about the state of affairs, so that they can begin the new year with realistic idea about the future? The truth is there are no easy answers when it comes to the breakdown of familial relationships, and whether the news becomes before or after the holiday season, the kids are going to feel it the most. HOW you choose to break the news can be far more important than when you choose to do it.
First of all, give your kids some credit. Unless your children are very young, or otherwise impaired, they probably know something is up. If they have gone to a friend’s house where the parents are happy, they will know the difference between that situation and the relationship of their own parents. Also, if they have any friends at all that have experienced divorce, the idea is already floating around in their consciousness, because kids talk to each other. If mom and dad fight, or if one or both parents are seen trying to hide tears or signs of unhappiness, they wonder if divorce is being considered.
In these situations, it does the child no good to see their parents swallowing their unhappiness in favor of keeping the peace. This gives the negative impressions about marriage, relationships, and conflict resolution. Many experts agree that there are major psychological risks for children exposed to environments laden with anger, frustration, and pain. They see their parents making these poor relationship decisions and can be conditioned to repeat those choices in their own relationship dealings.
The other side effect of trying to preserve family unity for the sake of the children is that parents are often so consumed with their own inner turmoil that the very reason to do so is avoided and neglected, by which we mean those kids you love so much. If you are incapable of dealing with your soon to be ex in a way that is civil and/or respectful, your natural inclination will be to avoid situations where you will interact. If you are both avoiding those circumstances, who is addressing the physical and emotional needs of your children? Certainly not both of you at once, and maybe not either of you since you can’t communicate in a meaningful way. To your kids, this either indicates a problem with your relationship, or they will naturally infer that the problem is with THEM. That is one of the most common obstacles that impede healing and happiness for children after the divorce is final-their propensity to blame themselves for the breakdown of the primary adult relationships. Therefore, you must control the narrative by communicating ahead of time.
Get ahead of their inner dialogue, their doubts, and self-blame. Have that difficult conversation alone with your spouse in which hopefully you can agree that you want to make the separation as easy as possible on the children. Discuss what is appropriate to tell them and come up with some bullet points that you can agree on, such as that the kids are still loved, not at fault, and that both parents will still be a part of their lives. It is very important that you agree to these points before you meet with the kids, because they will look to you to make things ok. The more positive you are (or at least can sound), the better they will be able to handle the change.
When you finally do sit the kids down and tell them the news, make it as much in advance of the actual holidays as humanly possible, so as to disassociate that day from the memory of them finding out that their world is going to change forever. Be frank, be concise, be loving-stick to the talking points that were agreed upon by both of you, and if they ask a question you don’t feel comfortable answering honestly, be honest about the fact that you can’t answer because you too are sad…after all, you are losing the family you are accustomed to as well, and you are entitled to your own grief. This can give your children the message that it is ok to be sad, but that you are ALL feeling that way, and you will all weather the storm together.
One of the negative “side effects” of wanting to have a good holiday season is the pressure we put on ourselves to make those days live up to the idealized version we carry around in our heads from the past. Keeping a few things in mind when planning the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can ensure a better holiday for you and for any loved ones you may be responsible for.
We all want to bake the cookies, decorate the house, buy the perfect gifts, wrap them, meet your friends for Yuletide cheer, and prepare that magazine worthy holiday meal while hosting the entire family in a fashionable outfit. Even with the usual amount of time between the holidays, this can be an impossible goal, but this year has almost a whole week less time to do it all! Something has to give, and the sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you can come to grips with what needs to be done.
Think about what your demeanor is like when you stress about making these times perfect. Can you possibly have fun or enjoy your time with loved ones if you are mentally calculating all the tasks you still must do before the clock runs out? How much do you really need to put those lights up on the outside of your house, if you already have a lit and decorated tree inside to enjoy while snuggling with your family? Honestly, if you think the kids would rather have the lights up than watch a holiday movie together with you, maybe you should pose the question directly to them! Chances are pretty good that family time-where you are present and in the moment with them- is far preferable to impressing neighbors and passersby with your yearly inflatable snow globe on the front lawn.
The fact of the matter is the holidays (no matter which you celebrate) are about spending quality time with loved ones. The cookies and eggnog are great, but they are just trappings of the season. If you truly want to make the best memories for you and your loved ones, don’t put so much pressure on yourself and all those seemingly important tasks. Instead of making ten different kinds of cookies because you always have before, pick a couple that are fun to make and decorate while listening to music of the season.
Better yet, buy those premade logs to slice and bake while doing something else fun with your spouse or the kids or mom and dad! Instead of wrapping everything the night before and making yourself (and everyone around you nuts), invite some friends over for a wine and wrapping party! This will fit in those drinks you have been meaning to have with people you might not have time to see during this shortened season and get a necessary holiday task tackled in the most fun way possible. In doing so, you get to relieve some tension, catch up, provide a venue for all invited to perform said task, and pool resources so you all aren’t forced to use the same old wrapping supplies for another year while not having to break the bank buying new stuff.
The holidays have a reputation for being stressful and exhausting for a reason, but they really don’t have to be either if you keep one goal in mind -- enjoy yourself and the people you love. Be present. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t feel you need to prove anything to anyone. The people that know and love you want you to be happy for Christmas, and while it is always nice to receive elegantly wrapped gifts or have a fancy meal prepared for you, gifts bags and take-out may allow you to take it a bit easier and give everyone what they want, including you.
Just as the arrival of September signals the beginning of the new school year, with all the scheduling conflicts and custody arrangements to hammer out, so too does October herald in what is officially known, in this country, as the “Holiday Season”. This means that all those plans you and your ex so painfully made before the kids went to school are about to get blown away like so many Autumn leaves off a picnic table. Once again, communication is key, and flexibility is helpful during these super stressful holidays to come.
Surely it escapes no one that from now until January 2, there is one holiday after another to prepare for, both mentally and figuratively. For those of us with children, this can be a veritable minefield of extreme expectations and dramatic reactions to change…and then there is the children’s reactions. Seriously, these three months can be every bit as harrowing for parents as for the kids that may or may not be bickered over when it comes down to arranging their time.
It is difficult to say how kids will react to a change in schedule, or what memories they will carry with them when they are adults with families of their own. What we can all agree on is that making memories that aren’t about tears, arguing, and negativity should always be a good parent’s ultimate goal. This means having some frank conversations with your kids AND your ex about how things proceed.
The usual advice applies, in that nothing will get accomplished until both parties can put acrimony behind them – remember that the kids will take their emotional cues from you. If you and your ex are able to make and create an environment that seems respectful and treat the coming holidays without any visceral reactions clouding judgments, the children are less likely to freak out over changes. Ideally, this will mean not getting what YOU want 100 percent of the time, but it SHOULD mean you can have your way 50% of the time…but we aren’t living in an ideal world, so compromise is in order.
Compromise can be a tricky proposition when it comes to what you think is best. If your ex wants to take the kids on an out of the country vacation that you deem unsafe, then it’s advisable to contact your lawyer. However, if it’s your ex’s turn to have the kids for Christmas and he or she wants to visit his parents out of state for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, it may behoove you to allow for it this once if it means you get the kids for all of Thanksgiving AND Easter. Or maybe you can see the kids on Christmas Eve before they fly out and offer to drive everyone to the airport to get that extra time in. It may mean spending the actual Holiday away from them, but at least if this is agreed upon without strife, the kids will feel free to have a good time without feeling guilty or worried about you while they are gone
Naturally, all this is only a possibility if both parties can assure that they will behave objectively and with respect to each other. If all else fails and your ex is unable to keep a civil tongue, then it is always better to appear to be the reasonable one…they don’t call it the high road for nothing. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to show that you love your kids and want them to have a safe and happy holiday season. If that means slapping a fake smile on your face and making nice with a person you used to love, but now loathe, well you should do that—hopefully with the benefit of well-adjusted offspring.
Parents everywhere are rejoicing as they send their offspring back to school this fall. For some, this is a melancholy ritual because it means that all those custody agreements that have been relaxed during those warm summer months will have to be re-established and reinforced. While it can be tempting to commiserate with the kids that the good times are over, particularly if you are the parent whose time is being curtailed, resist that urge because a return to routine is every bit as important for mental and emotional well-being as it is to loosen the reins occasionally. This isn’t just true for the children, but also for you and your ex.
The second you begin preparing to return to “the schedule” you have hammered out, the sooner you can begin the process of returning to normalcy…and being able to rely on the plans that have been put into place by you both and/or the court. If this isn’t the first year you will be sending your child to school, it will be easier to navigate the drop offs and picks ups and all the minutiae and contingencies for things like parent teacher conferences and extracurricular activities. It will be considerably more complicated if this is the first time you are sending the kid(s) into the school system. Either way, parents should meet before the end of the summer to talk about the coming school year.
Technology has seemingly made the syncing of calendars and schedules so much easier, but we suggest getting identical paper calendars that you both can make notations on with details about your childcare schedule. You can both keep these calendars in the same place in your respective homes so that you and the kids will always know where to find it, and it becomes habit to consult it when making plans. Get into the habit of not finalizing schedule alterations, like play dates or after school activities, until you have both checked the schedule and, if the time in question is not YOUR allotted custody time, run it by your ex. This way, the kids will know to always check the calendar before they even ask you to go a friend’s house.
As we have mentioned many times before on this blog, when it comes to your kids, communication is key. The more effort you put into enforcing routine and stability, the more well adjusted your children, the less pushback you will get when their wishes can NOT be accommodated. This means, if you don’t get along with your child’s other parent, you still must make every effort to communicate with them, even if it means having your attorneys or mediators get involved. This is beneficial to you as well. After all, you are an adult with your own scheduling needs and it is important to hammer out a plan that you can rely on to see friends, take trips, go on dates, or even grocery shop in peace! You want to have time with the kids you love, but you also need to be able to realistically accommodate your life necessities as well.
By including your progeny in the discussions regarding the coming year-whether the whole family meets to go through the entire calendar week by week, or starting a texting chain between everyone concerned-once something is written on the both calendars, one and all can be held accountable for being aware of what the agenda is. Also, by having a physical account of where everyone is supposed to be and when, you will be more able to adjust that schedule in accordance with any hiccups or last-minute appointments that need to be added.
This should all be done before the summer ends. Waiting until the eleventh hour will only serve to cause chaos and confusion, which is the last thing you want associated with the beginning of school in your kids’ minds. The goal should always be to ease the transition from vacation to learning, giving your children the emotional confidence to begin each new chapter of education knowing that steps have been taken to ensure they will always be supervised, cared for, and loved no matter where they should find themselves. That is the beauty of the routine.
Losing a job is a life changing event and can be made even more upsetting if you are responsible for paying child support every month. Many parents automatically assume that the loss of income means child support payments will stop until a new one is found, but the truth is that just because your circumstances have changed, doesn’t mean your child’s needs are altered in any way. Bills still need to be paid, food and clothing still need to be provided for. It can be tempting to allow yourself to wallow a bit in depression before dealing with this loss of work and any repercussions there might be, but the truth is the sooner you deal with your legal financial obligations to your offspring, the better for everyone involved.
Start by openly communicating with your former partner about your change in circumstances. Instead of approaching that person with a tone of “Oh My Gosh, I lost my job, I can’t pay child support until I get a new one!”, begin the conversation from a place of advice-seeking, for example, “John! I was let go from my company. How can I make the money I do have work for us? Is there anything we can agree to let go or postpone during this leaner time?” Hopefully, you are in a good enough place with your ex to have that conversation. Remember, this is about the well being of the kids, so any efforts to demonstrate your willingness to contribute is important AND noticeable. Throwing up your hands in defeat without coming to some sort of alternative plans helps no one and puts you in the position of seeming selfish.
Of course, many couples can’t communicate well despite the interests of the children, in which case getting your documents in order is a must before seeking legal approval from a judge to officially modify child support. You will need to provide all bank statements, bills, and most importantly, proof of your loss of income. Many times, companies provide a letter or memo of job termination that you can show the court, but if they choose to fire or let you go orally, ask for documentation on letterhead. If they are unable or refuse to accommodate you, write all details down carefully. As with all legal matters, the more documentation you can provide to support your claims, the better the chances for you to have the outcome you desire. Keep in mind that all your assets are considered when evaluating child support, and that includes property, retirement funds, and trusts. A judge is unlikely to believe you are unable to keep up with child support if you own multiple properties or received a generous severance package. Un-employment benefits claimed are also considered to be a form of income and will be tallied with your overall estate to re-assess what you are able to afford to pay on a monthly basis.
You must also report your change in employment status to your local child support office if support is being enforced through their office. This is the office you may already be sending your check to every month, and you can’t simply stop sending those payments without informing them, or you can make your situation worse. In California, the majority of child support cases go through the Child Support Services department in the county or region of residence, which act in the public interest and do not represent either side of a child support case. By bringing your issue directly to them they can create a “record of all child support payments, provide a neutral go-between for parents, and can help both parents avoid court and assist with navigating the child support system.”
The final point of all of this is to prepare yourself BEFORE you lose your job, by getting your records and finances in order and by knowing what to ask for if the worst thing happens in your career, which is that you are unable to make money doing it for however long it takes until you find another job. This way your kids still get their needs met and you don’t have to add “failure to provide” to the list of negatives that inevitably pile up when you are out of a job.
Whether you have a parenting plan in place throughout the year, or a custody agreement mandated by the family court, the arrival of summer, and the prolonged period of school vacation that accompanies that change of season means that a new arrangement may be in the best interests of the children as well as former spouses. Kids out of school means more time needed for supervision, more activities to be planned and more stress in an already stressful family dynamic. What is a parent to do when the summer comes, and it’s time to decide plans for what to do with the kids?
Ideally, while you are first going through the divorce process, you and your ex should be hammering out a plan to cover the kids’ custody for extended vacations - including those for summer and the weeks here and there throughout the year when school is out. At THAT time, both parties should create the parenting plan that will include specific guidelines for family vacations - including length of visitation, geographic limitations, and minimum advance notice of any trips to be taken. A good idea is to have two identical calendars for each spouse to take home after that first planning meeting, to be added to by both at any subsequent meetings when discussing dates in the future, that way both parents are equally apprised of upcoming plans. Paper calendars are more permanent and allow kids to see that parents are on the same page when going from one house and another. Communication is always essential for successful co-parenting, and beginning on the right foot can make the transition easier on everyone involved.
Regardless of what your custody agreement during the year is, this huge amount of time when kids are out of school can be tricky for anyone that has a job that requires a nine to five regular work-week. It may be that the best thing for the kids is summer school or camp because it can lead to their further enrichment. Studies have shown that kids that fill the summer month between school years with enrichment opportunities like reading programs, scholastic clubs, or learning camps are far more likely to retain what they have learned and excel into the new year. Camp, in particular, can have a favorable impact on a child’s social development, and if that camp is specialized based on a particular pastime (for instance horse-back riding camp, band camp, or computer programming camp) the child in question may be provided with an advance in a field of interest that could lead to a career. Since many summer camps offer day and sleep away options, children may even be able to keep to the original physical custody agreement without interruption.
What if neither parent is able to take the time off or can afford to pay for a sitter, daycare, or camp to mind the children for almost three months? The financial strain of suddenly having to care for school-age children not in school can be overwhelming even if all you really want to do is spend more time with your kids. Particularly, when the divorce and family restructure is fresh, it can be important for your children not to feel isolated from either parent. If either set of grandparents is located near you, and they are in good health, consider utilizing them for childcare - if not full-time, then certainly as a free supplement towards pricey daycare. Grandparents are usually a loving, responsible alternative to introducing your kids to yet ANOTHER new variable. They can surround the grandkids with family, tradition, and the stability which can be so important to kids in these troubled times.
Another variable to consider is the age of your children. Family vacation is always an opportunity for family bonding and memory making. The littlest littles benefit from spending as much time with each parent as possible, with a 50/50 schedule being the goal. Older kids will tell you to your face that they would rather be with their friends, but still need quality time with mom and dad despite their protests to the contrary. Whether these ideal arrangements are possible, considering time and finances, the quality of the time spent with each parent is the key. Little kids want to DO things with you, even if it’s just stirring a pot over a stove or painting a picture in front of cartoons, as long as it’s together. The older kids can actually help with the creation of those family plans, taking into consideration their own interests so that are participate with YOU, as opposed to sulking because they miss their friends.
Nobody is saying that making these arrangements is always easy. Putting aside acrimonious feelings towards a former spouse is an emotional challenge, but one best overcome by keeping those communication lines open and a certain flexibility while maintaining a sense of civility for the sake of nurturing healthy, happy little humans
Conflicts between two people always include two sets of facts that may or may not resemble each other. In the case of divorce, those facts are almost always influenced by emotion and personal bias. Outside of the privileged circles of the celebrities who can ‘Consciously Uncouple” without bias or ill-will, those of us in the real world often contend with some dramatic feelings when it comes to our ex and/or the entire divorce process. Sometimes, your marriage ends because someone cheats, and there is no way to reconcile a trusting relationship, so divorce becomes the only option. Sometimes there really is a wronged party. What should you do if that person is you? It seems easy enough for outsiders to say “take the high road” or push it all aside for the kids. That advise can seem a bitter pill when confronted by the reality you are living. Additionally, what happens when your ex behaves badly, and you have every reason to want to retaliate?!
If you have been cheated on, you would be among the 53% of Americans who divorce due to infidelity, according to various statistical analysis sites. That betrayal can have irreparable damage to your emotions, mental state, and even your perception of reality, never mind the decision to divorce as a result. Particularly, if you are blindsided by the cheating, you can feel like your entire life was based on lies, and question everything your spouse ever told you, and every event will become stained by this new realization. The legal end to your marriage only furthers this reality shift….because of this other person’s actions, YOUR life is irrevocably changed.
It WILL be tempting to blame the person your ex cheated with. Many a car has been keyed in the name of “you shouldn’t have messed with my man!” Ultimately, though, it is your ex wife or husband that is responsible for breaking their legal and spiritual vows. The person that you loved has betrayed you…and that can mean the responding heart-break can only find its outlet as pure, unreasonable fury. And that is natural. At first.
The truth is that you need to get good and mad when such an upheaval occurs. Fury has the wonderful benefit of burning away that deep sadness that comes with being lied to and replaced with another. Too much anger, and you run the risk of burning away everything else that is good in your life, including healthy relationships with your children, friends, and any future romantic opportunities. When you let that rage take over, you become that bitter person that no one wants to be around.
But, but, but…you have been done wrong! This can be equally galling when you consider that California is a no-fault state, so your ex’s egregious actions against you won’t be punished during legal proceedings, where in other states, infidelity can be grounds for a larger settlement towards the wronged party. Where is the justice?!, you may ask yourself.
The truth is, there is no justice when it comes to a broken heart. Those questions that you ask as a result of this treachery will never be answered in such a way as to bring you peace-Why doesn’t he/she love me? How could they lie to me? Why wasn’t I enough? What does that other person or persons have that I don’t? Knowing those answers will just lead to more, equally painful ones. At the end of the day, what you really want to know is how you, the injured party can ever trust or love again.
Taking the “high road” is never about making things better for the other person. As with forgiveness (which may never come, but we hope for your sake it does), being the better person is always going to get you more in terms of a happy result than bitterness and retribution. In fact, getting even just prolongs the hold that despair has on your entire life.
It won’t be easy, because nothing having to do with the heart and the head ever is. It won’t be fast, either. There are supposedly algorithms that tell you how long it should take to get over relationships, but mostly that is wishful thinking and wellness magazine bunk. Be sad, be mad, be sad again…whatever it takes. Know that any action you take to exact revenge will most likely prolong your agony, give your ex their own opportunities for legal recourse, and continue to paint you the unwitting dupe. Control the story you want told! Instead of letting people see you as the beaten victim of emotional perfidy, envision yourself as the triumphant phoenix arising from the ashes of a toxic marriage based on lies. Leave that other person out of the narrative altogether. Their power is over now. Say to yourself that you will be ok, because eventually that will be true.
One of the most painful aspects of separation, after a marriage of any length, but particularly after one that’s lasted years, is the effect it has on the extended family. Through the course of marriage, all manner of holidays and celebrations are observed with the various aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandparents that comprise the expanding branches of the family tree. This includes milestone like births, weddings, graduations, and funerals. If you have children with your ex, many of these people have provided a trustworthy source of babysitting. When a couple says I do, they are agreeing to accept each other’s relatives as their own, so when a couple says, “I don’t”, what happens to those ties?
This can be a complicated situation for all. If the divorce is a bitter one, it can almost seem more cut and dried…if more painful. Most families tend to fall in line behind their blood relative, particularly if that person is “in the right” or is the wronged party. People generally have ideas about what is considered appropriate behavior and circling the wagons around a wounded loved one is a natural inclination.
More difficult to navigate are the waters of a mutual, cordial divorce. The parties may not hold any ill will towards each other, but naturally desire to keep their families to themselves. This can be hard on the in-laws, who hopefully have accepted their kin’s spouse as a member of the family and developed the emotional ties that come with that. After all, wedded couples spend years advocating for that very acceptance of their spouse into the fold. For a family then to be expected to cut off all contact with the ex is made even more difficult because they had nothing to do with that decision! While you and your ex may have had months or even years to adjust to the idea that the marriage simply isn’t working, your families are still seeing them at barbecues and special family events, including them in on those long established inside jokes and accepting gifts and casseroles during times of trouble.
Adding children to the equation can make this already complicated situation into a heart-breaker, because extended family can be the most comforting aspect of their stable existence. Going to Grandma’s house at Christmas or Thanksgiving, having their Aunt watch them after school…these are important aspects of a kid’s life if they have come to expect them. However, the existence of children can put all future arrangements after divorce into crystal clear perspective. By removing the emotional reaction either ex-spouse may feel about themselves from consideration, the needs of the children become priority.
More precisely, if you consider what is the best thing for the kids, OF COURSE having a relationship with a group of people bonded by blood, love, and history is a good idea. Putting aside any of your own misery or pain associated with divorce, consider that the more people who love and protect your kid, the better. If the former in-laws bear you no ill will, even better. Maybe you can keep the weekly coffee appointment with your former sister-in-law to “discuss your kids” or choose to attend the graduation of a former nephew-by-marriage so that the cousins can be a part of the celebration!
As usual, the key to getting through this will be communication. The extended family will and should take their cues from you. So first, as with a custody agreement between you and your soon-to-be ex, sit down and talk about what is and is not acceptable…can the kids spend one holiday with your parents and the next with hers? Will your ex be dropping off the kids or staying with them? What happens if either of you have a new love interest? You need to be aware that how you all choose to go forward will give a clear message to your offspring as to how families operate. The message being that families will change their structure during divorce but will remain family regardless.
If there are no kids, and your divorce was contentious it might seem more respectful to you if your family cuts all ties with your former spouse. Again, keep in mind that they had NOTHING to do with your decision to separate, and they may have strong feelings for their former son or daughter-in-law. The end of that relationship will require a period of mourning. However, unless you have never gotten along with your family, it would not be appropriate for them to continue regular association with your ex without your permission. You are perfectly within your rights to ask blood relatives to cease communications, particularly if you have been cheated on or the victim of abuse of any kind. If your extended family chooses your former partner despite your feelings being known, the problem then goes beyond the usual aftermath of divorce towards something wrong with that entire family unit-whether its mere insensitivity to outright rejection of your place and importance within it. At that point, you may want to reconsider whether or not YOU want to associate with THEM.
We in California are often bombarded with the latest celebrity divorce gossip, and it can sometimes influence how we perceive the entire divorce process to be, because it seems like the tabloids make every juicy morsel in the process seem far more (or less) dramatic and upsetting than it really is. With some of these famous couplings lasting mere months, to the ones that break our hearts because we though they would stand the test of time, many of these stories fascinate us. When it come to your own legal separation or divorce, though, how feasible a goal is it to try to model such a personal situation after the rich and famous? Back in 2014, when actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin announced their “Conscious Uncoupling”, the term inspired its share of satire and ridicule not because it seemed like a bad idea, but because it seems so out of touch for regular people with actual emotions and real-world grievances to achieve. Now that Ms. Paltrow is remarried and making the talk show circuits touting the happy state of her new marriage AND previous divorce along with a promised book on the subject, the American public is again forced to examine this complicated ideal.
If you ask the experts that commented on Paltrow’s Goop website, conscious uncoupling "brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognize each other as their teacher." While THAT may seem a bit esoteric for most of us, what it really means is that former partners put aside blame in favor of effective co-parenting and/or emotional well-being.
The term, coined by relationship expert Katherine Woodward Thomas, whose five-week program of the same name promises to "release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power, and reinvent your life." Where it differs from other break-up scenarios is that the couple believes that they have both tried to work through problems in their relationship without success. The decision to end the relationship, whether a marriage or long-term relationship, is made by both parties with an agreement to cause the least amount of damage to themselves, their personal integrity, and their offspring. Sounds like a sound concept, doesn’t it? And if both parties are equally financially solvent with substantial resources and neither is rubbing a new love interest in the other’s face, it also seems like a viable option. The problem with “Conscious Uncoupling” as cited by celebrity, is that most of us don’t live like that. Also, and this is the kicker, most of us have some sort of feelings of despair or anger that we are just too exhausted or busy to deal with because the realities of separating one life into two leaves little time for anything else. What the proponents of “Conscious Uncoupling” may not have to deal with is the practical matters of that split. Where am I going to live? Who is going to pay for daycare or school for the kids? What about clothes and groceries, and will I even be able to afford my weekly yoga class? EVERYTHING is going to change, therapy may not be an option at first because things are so up in the air. You want to take care of your kids, and it may seem more realistic to you to make it easier for them by pretending to table resentments because that is all you can manage right now. Finally, if there has been infidelity or abuse of any kind, this concept can be an impossible pill to swallow for the aggrieved party.
Sure, “Conscious Uncoupling” works out if you have multiple homes, and various sources of income is coming in to both parties. In these cases, many of the common stressors of the average separated couple can be bypassed in favor of immediate attention to emotional adjustment. When you are talking about giant sprawling properties with different housing structures situated across the landscape, it isn’t such a hardship to consider staying on that property with your ex to co-parent when the chances are slim that you will run into each other. The same can be said for those “family vacations” that former Hollywood couples like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner go on - new love interests in tow with the kids. Its difficult to imagine such a scenario involving regular folk who must worry about furnishing new apartments since they moved out of the joint home, much less enjoying tropical getaways in those first lean months/years of starting over.
Conscious Uncoupling is surely successful for the lucky few that have the time, finances, and lack of emotional distress. For everyone else, it’s probably best to call an experienced attorney…and they can hopefully recommend a good therapist.