Maintaining the calm during the holidays

holiday_glass_peace250Although the holidays are supposed to be filled with love, family time and joy, this time of year can be very challenging for couples on the verge of separating. It’s a well-known fact that more separations happen in January than any other month of the year. Since it’s rare that the decision to separate is made on the spur of the moment, this means most couples who separate in the new year are just hanging on until the holidays are over. Many couples with children express that they want to wait until after the holidays before separating in order to protect their children. Christmas is supposed to be a festive time and they don’t want to ruin it for their kids. This is certainly a personal decision that can make a lot of sense, but sometimes just ‘knowing’ this decision can be challenging as you look to survive this busy period of being ‘together’.

How to give the gift of ‘hanging in there’, while you are hanging on

Safety first: You should make sure there are no concerns around safety, the possibility of violence or intense conflict. If you have these concerns – then you should seek professional help immediately.

Know your limits: Knowing that you are both putting on a false front, limiting your engagements might be a good idea. Sit down with your spouse and look at all of your obligations/commitments. Maybe this is the year to cut back on some of the extra visits and parties. With everyone putting on a shield to ‘pretend’, recognize that you may only have so much energy in your shield to face relatives. Give yourselves permission not to attend some events.

To tell or not tell: So should you tell the children? While this is an individual choice for parents to make together, most parents tell us that they don’t want to spoil the holidays for the kids. Their concern is that the kids will forever remember the separation and associate it with the holiday season. It’s ok to postpone telling the kids until the time is right. Seek professional help from a counselor or divorce mediator in order to ensure you use the right language when telling the kids. There are quite a number of books and recommended readings for parents facing separation.

Curtail the urge to over spend: Sit down with and take a hard look at your finances. It is tempting to over indulge the kids out of a feeling of guilt. But if you are carrying credit card and line of credit balances, now is not the time to add more debt. Financial changes are on the horizon; so it’s key to keep the spending within affordable limits. Be creative with gift giving. Remember that children are more likely to appreciate honesty. “I don’t think we are going to be able to swing it this year”.

Make time off the gift of ‘presence’: You’re about to spend 4 or 5 days off work – together. Try to plan child-focused activities. Let’s face it – if you know this is going to be the last Christmas together, you can approach that with a sense of dread, or make the most of it with a positive attitude. Giving your children the gift of your time, whether it’s tobogganing, skating, games will create some positive, long lasting memories.

No fight zone: If you’ve already decided to wait until next month, make a pact NOT to talk about it during the holidays. Limbo is the most difficult part of change and most people want to ease this pain by digging into the research, the planning and the financial calculating of what will happen next. Since you are not going to be able to actually solve any of these problems during the holidays, agree that you won’t talk about the house, the finances, the children’s parenting schedule until the new year. You certainly don’t want your kids to remember this Christmas as the year mom and dad were fighting all the time.

Peace of mind: Preparing is good, we all want certainty about our future. But stressful emotions can cloud our ability to think clearly. And it can get worse by working with the wrong information or hearsay. So here’s an idea. Give yourself an early Christmas present by seeking professional help and guidance from a divorce mediation coach on the pending financial and parenting questions, to help you and your family with a smooth transition through this difficult time.

For couples contemplating a separation, the holidays can be a very difficult time. ‘Faking it’ can be difficult, but if you’ve decided it’s best to wait, you can make it through. Knowing in your heart that you did your best for your children is a good spot to be in. And a great place to find peace and joy this season.

Peace

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Divorce is Not a Four-Letter Word

We’ve all done it at one point or another. Standing at the cocktail party, or the water cooler at the office, talking about whose relationship has ended. And then the speculation of how, why, and was there another person involved. Somehow maybe it makes us feel safer in our own relationships if we can package up the ‘why’ of someone else’s relationship ending. Since that could never happen to us, we feel safer when we can find a ‘cause’. Maybe if the cause of divorce can’t be found, then it might just happen to us?

But with divorce rates now ranging from 35-40% across Canada (higher if you count common-law breakups), how can something that is now fairly common and accepted, still leave people feeling ashamed and embarrassed? Why does it still carry with it a stigma of failure?

Let’s face it – no one gets married thinking it won’t last. Everyone has the intention of spending the rest of their lives with the person they chose to marry. But sometimes things change, people change, circumstances happen and people grow apart. Who are we to cast judgment on others? Can’t it just be ‘what is’, without judgment, blame or shame?

Does divorce have to be ‘bad’?  As long as we perceive divorce in a negative light, people will likely continue to lay blame on who, what or how the relationship ended. And as long as we are in the business of blaming, how can people move through this event with dignity and grace?

When you stop and think about it; divorce touches most people’s lives in one way or another. Whether it’s a personal experience, a colleague, family member or neighbour, everyone knows someone who has gone through or who is going through divorce. It’s become pretty common in our society, so maybe it’s time we started to change the way we think and feel about divorce.

Let’s redefine divorce as an event, albeit difficult and at times very sad; but still, just an event that happens – period.  By removing the labels, people might be able to get through divorce a little easier, with a little more dignity.  If we eliminate the blame game, maybe people could move through it in a pragmatic way and focus on building a more positive future. And children wouldn’t feel so different or ashamed.

Let’s not let divorce define us, or our loved ones. D-i-v-o-r-c-e – it’s 7 letters. Just like R-e-s-p-e-c-t and D-i-g-n-i-t-y

Peace

Stop Pushing my Buttons!

How can someone instantly go from being an intelligent, rational individual to a crying, yelling, angry lunatic? In my divorce mediation practice, I hear people tell me all the time: “I’m not normally like this”, or he/she “just brings out the worst in me. I just wish he/she would stop making me crazy. I really hate being this way.”

So why is it that your ex pushes your buttons so easily?

It might have something to do with control – or lack of it. Let’s be honest, we all love to be in control. It makes us feel safe. We have a natural desire to want life to be smooth and predictable. So when those unexpected ‘ex’ curve balls come at us, we react. It’s natural to react to these unexpected stressors in life; after all they wreak havoc on our plans, our dreams and desires. And especially in divorce, control is something we often feel we lose. And that is why those trigger buttons feel like they are getting pushed way too frequently.

Chances are you hate feeling this way. So what are you going to do about it? Your friends might tell you just ignore it, you’re being too sensitive, or worse yet, play into your rage with pearls of wisdom like ‘your ex is such a jerk I can’t believe he/she is treating you that way”. But these statements neither help nor make us feel any better. On the one hand I am a loser for being so sensitive, on the other hand I am a loser for letting him/her take advantage of me. So I’m stuck because if he/she would just stop than all would be ok. But it’s not likely to stop – and if you have children from the marriage, you have a lifetime ahead of some sort of relationship with this button-pusher.

Regaining control in your divorce.

We’ve all heard coaches, psychologists even our parents say; people can’t push your buttons unless you allow them to. Turns out that advice isn’t far from the truth. So if you allow it to happen, how do you make it stop? The key is in the YOU, not them. It is YOU that is in control of those emotional reactions, not your spouse. Take a moment and reflect on WHY you feel this way? What is it about this moment or event that is making me crazy?

Stepping out of the conflict to understand why you feel the way you do is the first step to gaining control of the situation. So if your spouse is ½ hour late for picking up the kids, or has cancelled a weekend away with them; instead of reacting in anger, frustration which often results in lashing out, ask yourself: WHY is it that I feel this way? It is rarely about the incident. The real issue will likely be about feeling valued, that your time is important to, or it may be about being respected, that you want to be asked instead of told.

No matter the cause, there is always a reason for emotional reactions. And that is both the gift and the opportunity. It isn’t easy to step out of reaction mode, but if you take the time and practice you’ll soon realize that you can gain control again and that you will gain understanding of why your buttons get pushed and how to deal with it.

Some practical tips to stop the instant reaction: Breathe – just tell yourself you won’t do or say anything until you breathe for 10 seconds. Never underestimate the power of ‘pause’ time. You’ve done it when you enter the bathroom and see that your four year old has dumped all the shampoo products on the floor and says: “look I’m skating!” Wait – before you respond. How many times have we sent text messages or emails in the heat of the moment only to regret it the second we’ve hit ‘send’. Make a pact with yourself that you won’t respond to messages for 1 hour or better yet if it’s not urgent – a day. Who said answers have to be instantaneous? When your teenager asks if he can go to a concert out of town with his friends, you’ve often said I need time to think about this. You’ve witnessed how effective that strategy can be in thinking through issues. So claim the time you need. Tell your ex you’ll get back to them tomorrow. Vent – in a productive way – not in front of your children, not on the phone with your ex spouse but in a way that does not inflict damage to others. Acknowledge that you are hurt. Give yourself permission to be angry, but own it. These are YOUR feelings and that’s ok.

Ask – what is this REALLY about? What part of ‘control’ do I feel I am losing and how is this event affecting that. Will this really matter a year from now? Do I need to hold on to this or can I just let it go.

It’s not easy work but with a little practice you can tame the reactive lion that lashes out at your ex spouse. And when you begin to experience the calm within, that is where the true power of control lies.

PEACE!

Helping your children cope with changes during divorce – Part Three: A new school

 

 

So the move is complete and now it’s time to prepare the kids for a new school.

Changing schools can be easy for some and very difficult for others. Try to reassure your children that it’s ok to be sad and nervous. If you have older kids, ensure that they have the opportunity to stay connected to their friends at the old school. When it comes to new schools, it can be an opportunity to make new friends and experience new environments. Children are usually very resilient and adapt quickly to new situations. The key is that you frame the change in a positive way.

One way to help kids adjust to a new school is to talk them through that first day. Discuss with them what to expect and remind them that the ‘newness’ of it won’t last forever. Usually teachers assign a buddy to a new student so it might not be as scary as they think. If your child is nervous about what to tell people about why they moved, help them by preparing a bit of a script. “My mom got a new job so we moved to be closer to it” or “my parents are living in different houses and our old house was too big” are both safe ways to explain, without having to share all the details.

Be sure to tell the teacher a little bit about your circumstance so he/she can keep an extra close eye on your child.

Even though inside you may be stressing about how they will do on that first day, don’t let that angst show. Give them empathy but then keep them focused on the positive: “I know this isn’t easy but remember when you went to camp and you were really nervous? By the end of the week, you didn’t want to come home.” Remind your child of a time they dealt with a new challenge or situation. That will give them more confidence to face a new school. The bottom line is that when parents demonstrate confidence in their children, children often model or ‘rise up’ to that very behaviour.

Is moving schools easy? No.

But at the end of the day, life is always changing and you can help your kids grow and develop by fostering and modeling a positive outlook. When you tell your children that you believe in them, that’s a life lesson they’ll keep with them forever.

Peace

Helping your children cope with changes during divorce – Part Two: Downsizing can be difficult

 

When facing a downsize of living arrangements or a reduction in income, remember that kids will role model our attitudes about money and things. A friend of mine once said: “are you a stuff person or an experience person?”

From 20 yrs in the classroom, my experience is that although kids may seem to be attached to material things, what they really love and crave is your time. And that doesn’t cost anything. Sure you may not be able to offer all the newest toys and gadgets; and dinners out might be few and far between during this transition phase; but believe me, your children will remember the time you spend with them and the things you do with them more than any new iToy. You only have to reflect on your own childhood to know that it’s the special connection time you had with family that you remember most, not the Christmas gift when you were 12.

How can you prepare children for ‘two homes’? You can help your children sort out their things, so they can decide what will go to each parent’s home. Try not to make them feel guilty if they want a certain item at the other parent’s house. Remember these toys, decorations, teddy bears belong to the ‘children’- not you. A general rule is that if it was given by grandpa on dad’s side, it might be best to take it to dad’s house. But remember nobody wants a gift that comes with strings.

When the move happens – help your children through the transition by giving them the confidence that you believe they will be ok. This is not to say that the financial adjustments that often accompany the early days of divorce are easy, but with the right frame of mind and positive outcome, it doesn’t have to have a long-term emotional impact on your kids. A new home can be an opportunity for a fresh start.

Teaching our children to be resilient and to be able to adapt to life’s changing situations – that’s a life lesson they’ll keep with them forever.

Peace

Helping your children cope with changes during divorce – Part One: Dealing with change

Divorce can bring about many changes in the family unit. This can include new housing arrangements, new parenting routines and responsibilities, perhaps new schools for the kids, and quite likely a reduction in family’s disposable income. Let’s face it, this change can be very difficult for adults let alone the children.

In the busyness of changing circumstances, we sometimes forget about the children. They can often feel a little bit lost as their parents sort out the many issues that need to be resolved. Plus they may get caught up in the emotional ups and downs that parents face themselves when ending their relationship.

So how do we help our children deal with all these changes?

Even though this time can be filled with uncertainty, it is possible to frame these changes in a positive way for children.

First of all, children need to know that even though mom and dad are now living in different houses, they still have two parents who love them. Change can be difficult but recognize that it can also be a chance for new bonding opportunities.

Secondly, help your children find that balance of feelings. It’s important to validate the sadness or grief your children might be feeling, just be careful not to dwell only on the negative aspects of divorce. By finding some positive aspects to a move will help children cope with this change and find that balance. The best way to ensure children move through this major change in their lives is for them to focus on the positive aspects.

And third, be positive yourself and sometimes that means swallowing hard. Even though you may be feeling hurt, afraid, or angry with your ex-spouse, never blame the ‘change of circumstances’ on the other parent, or the divorce. If you need time to ‘vent’ about your ex-spouse, call a friend and go out with them. Even if it really feels good at the time, venting in front of the children is always extremely unhealthy for everyone. Remember when you criticize the other parent, you are criticizing ½ of your child.

Optimism helps everyone deal with whatever challenges lie ahead. No matter what your circumstance, teach your children to look at the positive side. That’s a life lesson they’ll keep with them forever.

Peace

The truth about divorce is, we’re right

We’ve all heard or likely said it before: ‘if only they would see things my way’, or ‘of course I’m right, it’s the truth’.

Ask two people who attended the same concert to tell you what they thought, and they will very well tell you two very different versions of the same event. How can that be? Does a person’s perceptions influence their concept of what is ‘truth’?

Can there really be only ONE single truth when it comes to the breakdown of a relationship?

If our ‘truth’ is shaped by our perceptions and how we experience events in our lives, then clearly the answer is no. Each person brings with them their history, their story, fears, hopes, ideas, expectations and opinions on how things should be.

So if there is no one single truth when it comes to relationships, maybe we could put an end to the conflict that often accompanies divorce. What if we could just accept that each person has his/her own ‘truth’ about how/what happened during the relationship? By accepting the end as something that happens, without fault or blame, people may be able to move through this difficult time with less pain and heartache.

Imagine seeing divorce as an opportunity and not a failure. Or a new beginning, rather than just an end. What if it was an opportunity to grow and to learn about one’s self?

In talking with people these past few months– I have often heard things like: “there’s no point in getting mad”; “I worry about him being able to take care of himself”; and “just because our relationship ended doesn’t mean I don’t care about her”. One couple, weeks away from separating their lives, were walking out of my office talking about what they were going to have for dinner that night!

I am constantly amazed at how caring and appreciative some people are about each other and how they wish to protect one another. These people really ‘get it’.

It is possible to honour the history that our partner played in our lives by allowing two truths to be in the same place. Just because you allow someone’s truth to exist, doesn’t mean you have to agree to it or understand it. Just accept it as their truth.

In her book “The Triangle of Truth” Lisa Earle McLeod writes, “we are usually trying to pretend we’re perfect or we’re beating ourselves up because we’re not. We’re either trying to prove we are right, or we are terrified that we are wrong.” Maybe that’s why we cling so strongly to ‘our truth’. We are afraid that if we allow someone else’s truth to exist, that somehow that will minimize our story.

Let go, let truths exist.

Divorce is not a Four Letter Word

 

We’ve all done it at one point or another. Standing at the cocktail party, or the water machine at the office, talking about who’s relationship has ended. And then the speculation of how, why, and was there another person involved. Somehow maybe it makes us feel safer in our own relationships if we can package up the ‘why’ of someone else’s relationship ending. Since that could never happen to us, we feel safer when we can find a ‘cause’. Maybe if the cause of divorce can’t be found, then it might just happen to us?

But with divorce rates now ranging from 35-40% across Canada (higher if you count common-law breakups), how can something that is now fairly common and accepted, still leave people feeling ashamed and embarrassed? Why does it still carry with it a stigma of failure?

Let’s face it – no one gets married thinking it won’t last. Everyone has the intention of spending the rest of their lives with the person they chose to marry. But sometimes things change, people change, circumstances happen and people grow apart. Who are we to cast judgment on others? Can’t it just be ‘what is’, without judgment, blame or shame?

Does divorce have to be ‘bad’? As long as we perceive divorce in a negative light, people will likely continue to lay blame on who, what or how the relationship ended. And as long as we are in the business of blaming, how can people move through this event with dignity and grace?

When you stop and think about it; divorce touches most people’s lives in one-way or another. Whether it’s a personal experience, a colleague, family member or neighbour, everyone knows someone who has gone through or who is going through divorce. It’s become pretty common in our society, so maybe it’s time we started to change the way we think and feel about divorce.

Let’s redefine divorce as an event, albeit difficult and at times very sad; but still, just an event that happens – period. By removing the labels, people might be able to get through divorce a little easier, with a little more dignity. If we eliminate the blame game, maybe people could move through in a pragmatic way and focus on building a more positive future. And children wouldn’t feel so different or ashamed.

Let’s not let divorce define us, or our loved ones. D-i-v-o-r-c-e – it’s 7 letters. Just like R-e-s-p-e-c-t and D-i-g-n-i-t-y.

Peace

Colette

How can all this text messaging be a bridge to better communication in divorce?

Posted by:  Larissa Stone

Technological advances have certainly changed the way we communicate in our relationships. A new study from the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (www.cwta) reports that on average, Canadians sent almost 2,500 text messages every second last year. That’s a total of 78 billion messages annually; a 40% increase over 2010. Over 103 million photos, videos and pictures were also sent during that same time period. While many social scientists wonder how these new methods of communication will affect future relationships and people’s abilities to relate to one another, it’s already having an impact on communication around divorce.

There’s no doubt that separation and divorce are now played out in the social media world. Status updates, relationship breakups, new relationships; personal lives are on full public display. Sometimes this social messaging can lead to the actual break up or shockingly, can be the way someone finds out that the relationship has ended. This certainly can be a negative aspect to social media. Finding out that a marriage is over by seeing the status change on Facebook certainly can set the stage for rocky post-separation communication. However, the use of text messaging can have some surprising benefits, particularly when communicating with your former spouse.

Although there are many questions being asked about the negative impact of social media on the human dynamics; in my experience in dealing with divorcing couples, I’ve seen first hand how these new ways to communicate can actually be helpful when dealing with relationships severed by separation and divorce.

For example, in higher conflict situations, I now see couples that don’t have to talk face-to-face or on the phone with their formal spouse nearly as much. Using text messaging can allow people to stick to the business at hand, without getting into the emotion. They can also choose ‘when’ to respond to messages. Where telephone conversations can sometimes lead to heated arguments; by using text messaging or email, one has a chance to think through their response, thus minimizing the escalation of conflict.

In the past, many arguments have been played out on the driveway or at the front door when parents drop off or pick up children. Now with many other sources of communications, there is little need to have this damaging dialogue in front of the children.

SMS and email are also making it easier for divorced parents to stay connected with the day-to-day happenings with their children. More and more parents are relying on regular text messages to update one another on schedules, drop offs, school events, homework, and even the helpful reminder that “today is the field trip and Jimmy needs to bring his skates to school”. These messages can be very effective in co-parenting though the years of their children’s busiest schedules.

And children themselves are using more technology to stay connected to their parents. Today’s family-bundled smartphone plans allow kids to stay connected to mom even when they are at dad’s house and vice versa. When one parent travels with children, technology allows them to stay better connected to their other parent. There is less risk of ‘losing’ touch when communication can happen anywhere. For example, using SKYPE can help younger children be close to their other parent when travelling and this can significantly reduce stress for younger children. Sending video or posting pictures can also be effective ways for kids to stay in touch with parents if one parent travels a lot or lives far away. You may have missed the graduation because you live 3,000 miles away, but you don’t have to wait for the annual summer visit to catch up.

There’s no doubt our society has become pretty comfortable with being ‘on-line’. Time will tell whether all this ‘chatter’ is actually improving our ability to communicate and understand each other. But when used effectively, text messaging and other social media can actually improve post-separation/divorce communication. They certainly have given new meaning to our ability to ‘keep in touch’ while building our new separate lives apart.

‘Tis the season to be jolly…maintaining your calm before the storm

Although the holidays are supposed to be filled with love, family time and joy, this time of year can be very challenging for couples on the verge of separating. It’s a well-known fact that more divorces get started in January than any other month of the year. Since it’s rare that the decision to separate is made on the spur of the moment, this means most couples who are struggling in their relationships have already discussed separating and are just ‘hanging on’ until the holidays are over.

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Many couples with children express that they want to wait until after the holidays before separating in order to protect their children. Christmas is supposed to be a festive time and they don’t want to ruin it for their kids. This is certainly a personal decision that can make a lot of sense, but sometimes just ‘knowing’ this decision can be challenging as you look to survive this busy period of being ‘together’.

How to give the gift of ‘hanging in there’, while you are hanging on

Safety first: You should make sure there are no concerns around safety, the possibility of violence or intense conflict. If you have these concerns – then you should seek professional help immediately.

Know your limits: Knowing that you are both putting on a false front, limiting your engagements might be a good idea. Sit down with your spouse and look at all of your obligations/commitments. Maybe this is the year to cut back on some of the extra visits and parties. With everyone putting on a shield to ‘pretend’, recognize that you may only have so much energy in your shield to face relatives. Most people feel totally stretched during the holidays already, so give yourselves permission to make excuses not to attend some gatherings.

To tell or not tell: So should you tell the children? While this is an individual choice for parents to make together, most parents tell us that they don’t want to spoil the holidays for the kids. Their concern is that the kids will forever remember the separation and associate it with the holiday season. It’s ok to postpone telling the kids until the time is right. Seek professional help from a counselor or divorce mediator in order to ensure you use the right language when telling the kids. There are quite a number of books and recommending readings for parents facing separation. Even if you’ve already made the difficult decision that you are going to separate next year, you can seek professional advice now in order to help you with preparing for that difficult conversation.

Curtail the urge to over spend: Sit down with one another and take a hard look at your financial situation. It is tempting to over indulge the kids out of a feeling of guilt. But if you are carrying credit card and line of credit balances, now is not the time to add more stress to your life. Dramatic financial changes are on the horizon; so it’s key to keep the spending within the limits of what you can afford. Be creative with gift giving. Remember that children are more likely to appreciate honesty. “Look, I know you really want this item, but I don’t think we are going to be able to swing it this year”.

Make time off the gift of ‘presence’: You’re about to spend 4 or 5 days off work – together. Try to plan child-focused activities. Let’s face it – if you know this is going to be the last Christmas together, you can approach that with a sense of dread, or make the most of it with a positive attitude. Giving your children the gift of your time, whether it’s tobogganing, skating, games, movie nights; will create some positive, long lasting memories.

No fight zone: If you’ve already decided to separate next month, make a pact NOT to talk about it during the holidays. Limbo is the most difficult part of change and most people want to ease this pain by digging into the research, the planning and the financial calculating of what will happen next. Since you are not going to be able to actually solve any of these problems during the holidays, agree that you won’t talk about the house, the finances, the children’s parenting schedule until the new year. You certainly don’t want your kids to remember this Christmas as the year mom and dad were fighting all the time.

Peace of mind: Preparing is good, we all want certainty about our future. But stressful emotions can cloud our ability to think clearly. And it can get worse by working with the wrong information or hearsay. So here’s an idea. Give yourself an early Christmas present by seeking professional help and guidance on the pending financial and parenting questions, to help you and your family with a smooth transition through this difficult time.

For couples contemplating a separation, the holidays can be a very difficult time. ‘Faking it’ can be difficult, but if you’ve decided it’s best to wait, you can make it through. Knowing in your heart that you did your best for your children is a good spot to be in. And a great place to find peace and joy this season.

Peace