Saturday, May 22, 2010

Expecting Too Much

Expecting Too Much

By Kirsten

Being that my last blog entry could easily be seen as an indictment of John (see Two to Tango), I think it only fair for me to paint at least part of the other side of the story. Namely, how did I, Kirsten Joy Cronlund, contribute to the inner crumbling of my marriage to John.

I just finished reading the book Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I highly recommend. It chronicles the soul-searching and research, both academic and informal interviewing, that the author undertook during the time leading up to her “shotgun” wedding.

One segment in Gilbert’s book really got me thinking about myself and relationships:

Maybe it would be useful for me to at least acknowledge to myself now, on the eve of my second marriage, that I, too, ask for an awful lot. Of course I do. It’s the emblem of our times. I have been allowed to expect great things in life. I have been permitted to expect far more out of the experience of love and living than most other women in history were ever permitted to ask. When it comes to questions of intimacy, I want many things from any man, and I want them all simultaneously. It reminds me of a story my sister once told me, about an Englishwoman who visited the United States in the winter of 1919 and who, scandalized, reported back home in a letter that there were people in this curious country of America who actually lived with the expectation that every part of their bodies should be warm at the same time! My afternoon spent discussing marriage with the Hmong made me wonder if I, in matters of the heart, had also become such a person – a woman who believed that my lover should magically be able to keep every part of my emotional being warm at the same time.

Bingo!

This passage sums up the way that I feel that I most profoundly failed John in our marriage. I expected him to be my best friend, to be a successful businessman, to be a patient, devoted father, and to do it all on my time schedule. And worst of all – I took meticulous notes about all the ways in which he fell short of the mark. And I’d remind him of those “failings” at such opportune times as when we were fighting about something completely unrelated.

Put simply, I was mean to John. This point was driven home to me like a smack in the face about halfway through my one year Positive Psychology masters program at Penn. I’ll never forget the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I learned of an amazing research finding by psychologist Shelly Gable about an important way that really healthy couples interact with one another.

In short, Gable outlines a pattern of interaction that she calls Active Constructive Responding. This involves a genuinely positive (i.e. interested, curious, supportive – not necessarily cheerleaderish) response by one partner when the other shares good news.

Contrast the active constructive response to the active destructive (“Oh, honey – that idea you have for curing cancer is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”); the passive destructive (“That’s nice that you lost 5 pounds, but guess how much Susie’s husband lost?”); and the passive constructive (“That’s nice, dear.”) An active constructive response would look more like this: “Wow, Sweetie. I know you’ve been working really hard for this promotion! I’m so happy for you that your boss saw what you have to offer. What’s the most meaningful part about this for you?”

Not surprisingly, Gable’s studies show that active destructive and passive destructive styles of interaction are not healthy for relationships. But what’s less intuitive is that the passive constructive style is negligibly better than the two destructive styles. In other words, the only style that contributes to the health of a relationship is active constructive.

Now, that’s worth noting.

If I were being really generous I would console myself with the fact that while I was married I didn’t know anything about positive psychology, let alone the work of Shelly Gable. But I can’t let myself off the hook that easily. Honestly, I can remember the deflated look on John’s face many times over when he tried to share something fun or exciting with me and I ignored him or stomped on his ideas. If I had taken just a moment to put myself in his place I would have seen that what he really needed and wanted from me was enjoyment and support.

The slap in the face of Active Constructive Responding still makes me squirm a little (even as I’m typing this), but the part that makes me downright sad is the fact that not only was I not able to share in John’s joys and dreams, but – perhaps more importantly – I had cut off many of the parts of myself that included unabashed joy and celebration.

To me, life was serious business, and if I behaved irresponsibly on my watch by dancing and celebrating then all hell might break loose. I was a rule follower and a responsible citizen, and as a result people knew they could count on me… but I sure could be a drag. And the way this played out in my marriage is that – I suspect – John learned through experience that I was not the one to turn to in good times. And that’s a problem.

And, going back to the recognition of my too high expectations and my internal spreadsheet of John’s successes and failures at meeting those demands, perhaps living with me became no-win situation, in which there were few fun respites.

The reason why I write all this is not to chastise myself or to suggest that I was a horrible wife and that I deserved the end of my marriage. That’s not really my style. I write it, instead, for two main reasons: 1) It is a reminder to me that I choose who I am in every relationship I’m in, and if I want to be miserable then I can dwell in negativity and seriousness at all times. Or, if I want to have joyful, playful relationships, then I can choose to celebrate what goes right in them and to focus my attention primarily there. 2) I also want to send a message to everyone who reads this blog that your words and actions in your relationships are vitally important to the people you love. I think I really didn’t understand this for many, many years, and through conversations with people in the last 6 years, I notice that there are lots of other people in my same situation. Choose your words carefully; they matter.

So now I’m a little better than I used to be - in my relationships with my kids, in my friendships, in my relationship with John, in my work relationships, and in romantic relationships I pursue. I try now, when I feel that I have been wronged, to take a step back and to analyze my feelings to figure out why I’m feeling that way. Then I remind myself of all the wonderful parts of my relationship with that person. And then, if I decide it’s important enough for me to communicate my feelings to the other person, I think carefully about how I will say what I want to say. I remind myself that the other person is not trying to hurt me, and that my words have the power to either inspire or to deflate them, depending on how I phrase things.

Living fully in the moment, open to what’s good in that moment, remaining curious about what might unfold. That’s the stance I wish I could have taken in my marriage. Who knows if it would have meant that John and I would still be together, but I sure would feel better about how I had showed up there. And, either way, I have the opportunity moving forward to act on the insights I have gained through my mistakes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two to Tango

Two to Tango

By Kirsten

It seems like whenever the topic of divorce comes up, the phrase, “It takes two to tango” is somehow woven into whatever conversation follows. Sometimes I even say it myself.

But I’ll tell you – when I was in the early stages of the breakup of my marriage, I used to literally feel like throwing up when people would say that to me. This is because I didn’t want my divorce, and I knew that if John met me halfway, we could piece things together and grow together. But he checked out, telling me outright that he would never work on our marriage again and that as far as he was concerned our marriage was over. He suggested that we stay together for the sake of the kids, but he was clear that he planned to divorce me when they grew up.

This was not only one of the most painful messages I have ever heard in my life, but it also left me with few options. Some friends suggested that I wait it out, that he was bound to turn around if I just hung in there and kept my heart open to possibility. I don’t know if I could have done that. Maybe. But I’ll never know because I ended up filing for divorce within a couple months of his declaration.

I did this because all the rules changed in our relationship at the time John made this declaration, and I ended up with no power. John had control over our finances, and he began to tell me that I now needed to get a job to support myself and the kids. He would not kick us out of the house, but he would no longer pay for many of the things required to keep a household running. Meanwhile, he began making major purchases without consulting me.

And the emotional rules of the game had also changed dramatically. John spent significant amounts of time with another woman, and while he and she both claimed that they were just friends, warning sirens were screaming in my ears. And John quickly lost any interest in hearing about my feelings on the topic. It got to the point where he couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with me. He told me he felt like he was suffocating.

I say all this not to villainize John, but to explain why I had such a visceral reaction when people would tell me, in what struck me as a very pompous manner, that it takes two to tango. Their implied (and sometimes explicit) message was that I had played as much a role in my marriage getting to the place it was as John had, so I had no right to complain or point fingers.

Of course, this was as my heart was bleeding from the pain of it all…

From my current vantage point, I totally see what people were telling me. And I have done enough soul-searching to see many, many ways in which I made life unbearable for John while we were together. Yes, every relationship is a dance, and if both parties aren’t doing their best to stay attuned to one another, to satisfy the emotional and physical needs of the other, then the whole thing will fall apart. I’m as guilty as the next guy. But…

When one person really wants to take dance lessons, or to throw herself into the rhythm, and the other person won’t even join her on the dance floor, then what can she do?

I say all this because I recently had a conversation with a friend about this blog, and her feedback for me is that it’s great and inspirational, but it’s also a little painful for those who want to have a functioning relationship with their ex, but the ex won’t participate.

Wow. Really good point.

I’m so glad she brought this up because the aim of this blog is not to showcase John and me as having it all together, and it is certainly not to suggest that somehow we have all the answers and that if you don’t have a great working relationship with your ex then you must be doing something wrong. No, no, no…

Our story is one way, a way that has worked for us. That’s all. The tango dance continues, and if one person chooses not to participate, even ongoing as exes, then the individual on the dance floor cannot be held responsible for that choice. Or be punished for it. Or be righteous about it.

It simply provides an opportunity for a different kind of dance. A solo dance. One which celebrates what is possible and good in that moment for the dancer.

Ultimately, this is the tack I took when my marriage began to crumble and when John expressed his unwillingness to participate in the dance that was our marriage. I could have raged, I could have begged and pleaded, I could have laid down in a mess on the floor (I did do that quite a few times), but at the end of the day I knew that I could only be in charge of me. And my best choice was to practice and enjoy the solo dance that I would create for myself from this point on.

So that’s what I would say to all readers of this blog. There is no magic formula. John and I happened to luck into this ongoing relationship that works for us and for our kids. If you have an ex who won’t meet you halfway, then seize the opportunity to be the best person you can be. Your kids will see it, the world will see it, and – maybe most importantly – you will feel it. You will be filled with energy and joy, and your unique dance will make the world a more beautiful place.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blame

Blame
by Kirsten

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about blame, and how easy it is to slip into… and how un-useful it is. I mean, I guess there are times when you need to assign blame, i.e. in the case of a car accident. Determination of which insurance needs to pay for the damage to both vehicles should rightly be dictated by who was acting negligently, right?

But in the case of so many situations, we rush to assign blame when there is really no purpose and when only harm is done by doing so. Divorce is ripe for this pitfall. When people hear about a couple that is splitting up, isn’t the first questions out of their mouth: What happened? Was there an affair? We want to get the facts so that we know which side to land on and whom to support. Otherwise, the muddiness of the crash-and-burn is too chaotic for our brains and our hearts to deal with. We have a need to make sense of things, to place things into neat boxes. “He was the wronged party because she bailed after 15 years.”

To the extent that we do this when other people split up, we do it a hundred times more when it’s our own breakup. The ground shakes beneath us as the life we have created with our spouse starts to crumble, and we’re afraid. More afraid than we’ve ever been in our whole lives, probably. The fear has to do with financial instability (how will I pay the mortgage this month, or next?) and insecurity about changing relationships with the kids (will my ex turn the kids against me?). But the fear runs much deeper than this.

I’m reading a book right now, called The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, in which he talks about the fear that teachers unconsciously face when they walk into a classroom of young folks. The fear has to do with feeling exposed, and being revealed as a fraud, similar to the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls the curtain away. Teachers protect themselves by portraying themselves as “experts” as a way of mitigating their fear, but what this ends up doing is building an impenetrable wall between them and their students – a wall which cuts off curiosity and excitement for learning and intrinsic motivation.

True communion with others, on the other hand – whether in a classroom, in a long-term relationship, or even with a stranger on a bus – requires that we expose ourselves. That we show our vulnerabilities. That we admit to not having all the answers.

Have you ever met someone who was so incredibly refreshing because of their guilelessness? I have an image of a young woman I knew in college who still serves as my role model for how I want to interact with the world. At the time she was carefree, laughed easily at herself and the world around her, and sought adventure as if there were no other way. Her approach to life scared the living daylights out of me, since I was about as diametrically opposite to her as could be, but I was also enthralled. I was attracted to her attitude and her stories of adventure, and although I didn’t admit it consciously to myself at the time, I know now that I longed to be like her.

I was serious and studious and responsible. People knew they could “count on me.” I felt dull and lifeless, like a worn old kitchen utensil, and I longed to shine like my friend. But I didn’t believe I had it in me, and I was also afraid to throw off the rules that bound me in. These rules kept me safe, and they kept others safe, and safety, ultimately, was more important to me than exploration.

I sacrificed so much by clinging to the safety of the rules. I rarely laughed, I didn’t talk to people who weren’t in my inner circle of friends, and worst of all, I thought I had the answers.

What I know now is that having the answers is the best way to kill a genuine human connection. As soon as I’m sure about the motives of another, or I want to tell them “the way it is,” I leave no room for the humanity of that Other to be revealed to me in trust.

My divorce forced me to question all my rules and assumptions about myself, others, and the way the world should operate. I didn’t throw them all out, but what I did throw out was the conviction that I had held so dearly and for so long that if I just kept everything tied up neatly then things wouldn’t fall apart. Relationships would remain steady, my loved ones would be safe from harm, and I could count on a stable future.

Of course, what I had to learn the hard way is that 1) No one can hold things together, no matter how hard they try, 2) The more you try to hold things together, the more they crumble from within, and 3) When things fall apart, they’re actually okay despite your greatest fears.

These three realizations, recognized over the long period of my divorce process, have freed me in many ways. I am free of the notion that I can tell another person what to do or how to be (and I can’t even think it); I am free of the certainty that if I “figure it out” and “make the right decision” then there will be no heartache; I am free of the idea that there are even answers to most of life’s baffling questions; and I am free to laugh uproariously at myself, others, and the wonderful complexity of the world around me. I don’t always laugh – sometimes I weep from a place deep in my soul – but that’s the way I want it. I want to live in the highs and lows, knowing that closing myself off to any of it means closing off the connection to others.

So, bringing this back to blame and - since this blog is about divorce - blame during and after divorce, I am struck by how fear leads to years of bitterness between divorced folks, and how that bitterness negatively impacts the people who are at all connected to the divorced individuals. Talk to most people going through divorce, and they can give you a mile-long laundry list of how they have been wronged by their ex. I’ve heard some pretty compelling stories, and empathy naturally swells in my heart when I hear these tales, but I also think to myself and sometimes say out loud, “So how is it serving you to hold onto these stories?”

I’m not suggesting that we should turn a blind eye to situations where emotional or physical abuse is occurring, but once you have removed yourself from harm’s way, why not let go of the need to be justified? It might feel good in the moment to prove to someone or to yourself that you are the injured party, but that negative energy you’re inviting into your world by hanging on actually holds you back from embracing happiness that could be yours right now.

You could be laughing! You could be exploring. You could be meeting new and interesting people, and pursuing a path that you never allowed yourself to pursue before. I went to grad school (actually about to graduate from my second grad program in three years) and launched a new career for myself.

Mindfulness is the ability to remain open to the experience of reality as it’s occurring right now. It encompasses flexibility of thought and action, and it definitely requires the surrendering of the notion that you control what’s happening or that you have the answers. It leads to tremendous heartfelt joy, as well as gut-wrenching sorrow, but in the end it leaves open possibilities that are life-giving. And blame certainly cuts off the ability to be mindful.

One final thought for today. You know the college friend I talked about earlier? The one who was filled with life and adventure? Well, sadly, I ran into her about 10 years ago and was crushed to discover that she had become cynical and closed off to exploration. Life had dealt her some hard blows, and she showed scars from her experiences. I haven’t seen her since that time, so maybe she has been able to regain some of her joy of life. But the good news for me is this: I don’t need to depend on her to show me an adventurous spirit. I have come to embrace that for myself, and I’m light years closer to the person I want to be than I was in college, and I don’t ever have to go back!

Monday, April 26, 2010

John's reply to: Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

John's reply to: Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

I originally had this posted as a comment to Kirsten's post "Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right" but it was too long so I decided to just create a new entry in the blog. Here goes ...

Wow! Reading this does really bring it all back again! Here are just a couple of notes from my perspective ...

First of all let me say that Jordan is a pretty smart kid ... in many ways. He has the ability to do very well in all of his subjects in school. But he does indeed have some motivational issues. The problem for me is that when I see him struggling it reminds me so much of the struggles I had in school at that age that it sometimes freaks me out just a little. If I have my Zen on I can deal much better with this type of situation. But this week I had some anxiety or mildly unsettling emotional noise going on under the surface. So when he showed me the test I did not handle it well ....

So here is what happened. Jordan comes into my office and tells me that he needs to have something signed (this means he has done something wrong either behaviorally or academically) . He is quick to point out that he got (2) 100's and a 64 or 61 (I can't remember for sure, not that it actually matters). I brush over the 100's to get to the failing grade. I ask him what test it was. He tells me it was the open note history test.

When he says "open note" I could barely restrain myself. A few days earlier before the test he assured me he would not need to study because, well, it is open note! I suggested that it never really hurts to go over the notes a little anyway. Well he would have none of that. No way he will put any effort into the open note test!

So not being in the best of emotional places myself I rant and rave. And I am pretty sure there was nothing of value said. While ranting and raving I am also signing the form acknowledging the poor grade and writing a fairly scathing note to Jordan's teacher suggesting, among other things, that it would be fine with me if he gave Jordan a detention for failing an open note test. At one point Jordan has the wherewithal to point out that he did bring home (2) tests with 100's. And I was able to pause and congratulate him on those. Of course, after all that ranting and raving I am sure the few kinds words I said about the (2) 100's were meaningless to him. (Sorry about that little buddy ... :-( ...).

So now I am frustrated and trying to work in my office. And Jordan is feeling hurt and unheard and is not working on his homework in the living room....

I get this text from Kirsten:

"Just got this from Jordan. He's feeling very misunderstood. I told him to talk to you from his heart and this is what he said. I'm not going to respond to him anymore. It's up to you two."

and then she pasted in Jordan's text to her:

"No fricken way! Hell litteraly freak out at me!! Ugh!! U really need to do something NOW before he starts like hitting me"

So I read this and know immediately that I need to take a couple of breaths, re-assess my mental state and try a fresh approach. After a moment to collect myself I give Kirsten a call. We chat for a bit about the scathing note I wrote on the form and that it may be misunderstood by the teacher and that Jordan is feeling bummed out himself. We get off the phone and I reflect for a few more moments before I go speak to Jordan again.

So by now I am fully aware that I have overreacted. The diatribe that I wrote on the form he had to take back to the school was over the top and out of line (both to Jordan and his teacher). And my reaction to Jordan did nothing to help him grow and learn from the situation and everything to help him shut down emotionally. *big sigh*

So I tear the bottom half of the form off (the part with my diatribe) and take it into the other room to talk to Jordan. I say, "Hey buddy can we talk for a minute?" He says, "Sure." I show him the form with my diatribe. I tell him that I am sorry I overreacted, I crumple it up and tell him I am throwing it away. This opens the door for a conversation with him where we talk about what went wrong with the test, and how to correct that for the future. It gives him an opportunity to speak and me an opportunity to really listen. He no longer feels misunderstood. And I get to throw a little genuine praise at him for the (2) excellent grades that he also brought home.

Gift Giving

Gift Giving

By Kirsten

It’s birthday time in our family. John’s birthday is on April 28th and mine is on May 7th. And so that brings up the question of gift giving after separation and divorce. John and I first confronted this issue shortly after he moved out of the house, since it was October and we were heading into the holiday season. At that time we were hardly speaking to each other, except to make arrangements for handing the kids off from household to household, and money was very much an issue, since we were in the thick of divorce negotiations. I’m not sure how he summoned the emotional reserves, but John approached me a few weeks before Christmas with the suggestion that we each help the kids get Christmas gifts for each other. In other words, I take the kids shopping for a gift for John and he take the kids shopping for a gift for me.

I was surprised that John came up with this idea, since it seemed that he had nothing but animosity for me at the time, but he explained that he thought it would be good for the kids, and I couldn’t argue with that idea. My own parents were divorced, and I remember many Christmases and birthdays when my siblings and I scrambled at the last minute to do something nice for my mother. We often felt guilty because we didn’t have much of our own money to spend, and we often didn’t really know what to get her. So the idea of making sure our kids didn’t have to go through that, regardless of our feelings for one another, was very appealing to me.

In fact, I had already made arrangements with a friend to take them out to shop for me. As I recall, she had already taken them, and they were very clear about what they wanted to get me. She told me the amount that the gift cost, and I reimbursed her. And she even helped them wrap the gift. I didn’t mention to John that this had already occurred because I didn’t want to dissuade him from what I thought was a better long-term solution to the question of ongoing gift-giving. We decided on a budget for each other, and then helped the kids figure out a suitable gift within that range. As it turned out, that was the Christmas of The Blender. I think the kids were really into smoothies, and they had blenders on the brain, so they got one for John, and they ended up getting two for me – one with my friend and one with John. It was sweet, and the kids seemed happy.

Since that time, John and I have continued this tradition. We have a basic set amount that we earmark for Christmas and birthdays, but we have been flexible with that amount as life circumstances have dictated. There have been times when money has been particularly tight, and so the gifts have been less expensive, and there have been other times when we have had more money to spend. The best gift I have ever received was actually during a time when John was particularly tight on money. He told the kids before Christmas that he didn’t have any money to spend on a gift for me, but he helped them come up with a creative idea. Jordan plays the guitar, and James plays the bass, so John suggested to them that they practice a song to perform for me. I don’t know how long it took them to decide on the song, but they chose one of my favorites – Blackbird by the Beatles – and they must have spent quite a while practicing because the end result was impressive. I’ll never forget Christmas morning that year. We had opened all the gifts under the tree, and then the kids said to me, “Mom, you go upstairs and entertain yourself for a while. We need to get ready to give you your gift.” Truthfully, I sort of suspected that they were going to play something for me, and I even suspected which song because I had overheard Jordan picking the tune on his guitar in the previous few weeks, but when they called me downstairs and they were all lined up with their instruments, looking expectantly at me, I was already blown away. They told me to sit on the couch, and as soon as Jordan started playing the first notes of the song, I was in tears. They were so sweet, singing and playing, and hearing the lyrics of the song, which speak to me of resilience and hope, just took my breath away. I wept and wept. Here is a link to a YouTube clip of them performing the song (during a practice session). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jdi4uXFabE Incidentally, I discovered a little later that day that the kids had placed bets on how long it would take me to cry.

So I guess the takeaway here is that, regardless of how you feel about your ex, remember that your kids love that person and they want to show them their love through gift-giving at special times of the year. If you have it in you to support them in their desire to honor their relationship with their father or their mother, you will actually strengthen your relationship with them – because you are supporting their expression of love. It’s worth the effort.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

By Kirsten

Co-parenting is not always easy, even in the most ideal circumstances. Kids try to play one parent against the other, and unless the mom and the dad have spent a lot of time working out their joint parenting strategy, often the kids end up running the show. Well, for those of you who are divorced and parenting, you well know the many complications that divorce heaps on the already-challenging job of parenting. In this entry I’ll be sharing a recent success story, but rest assured that we don’t think we have all the answers. In the coming months we will also be sharing many of our less stellar parenting moments (in fact, they would probably qualify as flops). Our philosophy is that if we get more moves right than we get wrong, then we’re doing okay. And okay is fine with us.

This past Tuesday I had a date. I asked John if he would be willing to have the kids so that I could cook dinner at home, and – being the nice guy he is – John said sure. Even though he had had the kids for almost 2 weeks while I was away on business earlier in the month. The kids normally go to John’s after school on Tuesday while I work anyway, so we just planned for them to stay through dinner with him this week. So far, so good.

The trouble began when I was at work. I received a text from Jordan (13) that said, “CAN U TELL DAD TO COOL IT?!”

Since I was in the middle of tutoring, I ignored the text, intending to respond when I was finished work. But after about 2 minutes I received another text from Jordan that said, simply, “MOM!!”

At this point I was getting a little distracted from what I was doing, wondering what in the world was going on, but I knew that if I responded to the texts the floodgates would open and I would get sucked into a conversation that I wasn’t ready to have yet. So I maintained my no-response posture, and I didn’t receive any more texts until I was leaving my tutoring job at 5:15. At this point I got another text that said, “Mom.”

Good, I thought to myself, He seems to have calmed down a bit.

I decided I needed to know what was going on from John’s perspective before responding to Jordan, so I gave John a quick call on my way home. What’s important to keep in mind is that I was feeling guilty for having asked John to have the kids, wondering if he needed more of a break after my long absence. And I was also feeling anxious about my upcoming date, wanting things to go well on that front.

John was clearly frustrated, explaining to me that Jordan had brought home a failed open book history test. We have been trying to help Jordan to become a better student this year. He has the ability to do very well, but often lets things slide. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for John. John had written a diatribe on the note he was supposed to return to Jordan’s homeroom teacher, indicating that he had seen the failing grade. His rant expressed his frustration with Jordan and with the teacher, and John invited Jordan’s teacher to give Jordan a detention for the failing grade. Needless to say, when Jordan saw this note he was not motivated to dig in to his homework. L

Knowing that the way I phrased my next comments could mean the difference between escalating or defusing the situation, I spoke slowly and deliberately. I first acknowledged John’s frustration, and then I reminded him that he should be careful in his phrasing to the teacher (who would take very seriously the irritation expressed by John). I then reminded him that the problem we are facing with Jordan is a motivational issue, and my guess is that he isn’t likely to be motivated by a tongue-lashing. I knew I was on the right track when John chuckled at that. My parting comments to him were to remind him to take several deep breaths (he practices rhythmic breathing and gets a lot out of it), and to paint the big picture: Jordan will be fine, and as much as we need to take this overall issue seriously, one failed history test is not going to be the end of Jordan’s academic career. John thanked me for the perspective. I hung up from the call feeling greatly relieved that all would be well.

At this point I texted Jordan back. In the next few lines I will quote, verbatim, the entire text conversation I had with Jordan.

Me: Yes?

Jordan: Can u take me home or get me away from dad or something? Please!

Me: I have faith that you two will work it out…

Jordan: There is no flippin way! I cant take it anymore, hes basically asking mr **** to give me a detention, u HAVE to do something… This is what happens when HE signs my test!

Me: Take some deep breaths and know that you’ll figure it out. You really will. I have faith in you both. Talk to him from your heart.

Jordan: No fricken way! Hell litteraly freak out at me!! Ugh!! U really need to do something NOW before he starts like hitting me (Kirsten’s note here: I have no worry that John will actually hit Jordan)… I mean from my heart? Really mom? Thatl get me killed… Dont leave mom

I decided that my continued involvement in this discussion was probably counterproductive, so, although it was difficult to do, I ignored his final plea, knowing that the best thing I could do was to display my confidence in their ability to work things out.

After getting out of the shower I received this text from Jordan: Thank u so much

Me: Are you guys in a better place?

Jordan: Haha yeah kinda

Me: Good. I love you.

Jordan: I love u too

Win, win, win. John and Jordan were able to move on with a productive and enjoyable evening, their relationship intact, and I was able to turn my attention to my date without the worry that there was strife occurring in my children’s other home.

One final note: I really did have faith that John and Jordan would work out their issues, and so I didn’t feel the need to follow up with detail about what occurred between the two of them. I did check in briefly with each of them the following day, and they both reported a positive outcome. It was wonderful to see them be able to work through their difficulties. The role I provided, as I see it, was simply to be a nonanxious presence – to listen with empathy to each position and to offer the perspective that the problem was manageable. John has certainly provided this same perspective for me at times, and, as long as you don’t have good reason to fear that your ex-spouse will hurt the kids, providing that vote of confidence and the empathy goes a very long way.

John had a few things to add to this which you can read here: johns-reply-to-co-parenting-in-divorce

Friday, April 23, 2010

Build a Bridge and Get Over It


Divorce stinks. We have heard of people who have gone through it painlessly, but we have yet to meet such a person. All the people we know (ourselves included) would say it’s pure hell. You’re unsure about your financial stability, you’re worried about what this will mean for the kids, you’re angry about how your spouse has wronged you, and you’re mourning the loss of a life together (even if you no longer want your spouse anymore). Not a pretty picture.

So we are here, as exes who have gone through the hell you’re experiencing, not to tell you that life is peachy or to encourage you to look on the bright side, but to say this:

You may have every right to be angry. You may have every reason to grab every little piece of the financial pie that you are entitled to. And you may be scared enough about losing time with your children that you’re prepared to fight in court over custody or to badmouth your spouse to your children. But ask yourself – honestly ask yourself – will you end up a winner in the long run if you lash out now? What will really be gained? You may win the battle, but you’re going to lose the war. And the war is not against your divorcing spouse; it’s against insanity, resentment, and fractured relationships with your children, friends, and family members.

We’re here to be the stiff slap in the face that may be required to jolt you out of your temporarily chaotic life, to say, Get over it. No one wants to hear you retell (for the 50th time) how you’ve been wronged. Your moaning and whining sucks the life out of those around you – your family, children, coworkers, even your divorce attorney – and it’s simply unattractive. Not only that, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Nothing will change as long as you’re stuck in a victim mentality. We’re here to offer you suggestions that will help you move forward – with your children, in your work, with your finances, with your friends, and even (God forbid) with your ex!

If our message seems a bit shocking, and perhaps a little heartless, please remember that we’ve been through it. And our divorce was as ugly as the next. We remember how painful the process was, and we will fully acknowledge and allow room for that pain. There are times when you must experience the anger, the hurt, the sense of betrayal, etc. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have strong emotions at this time. But we wouldn’t be helping you if we encouraged you to stay stuck in those negative emotions. So we won’t allow it, for your sake, for your children’s sakes, and for the sake of minimizing the GSI (global suffering index). Because when you are overwhelmed with negativity, that influences everyone you come into contact with, and that’s not okay.

So build a bridge and get over it. Feel the pain, make the tough decisions that are required in the divorce process, and move on. We’ll be here cheering you on (and giving you a swift kick in the pants when you need it).

Sincerely,

Kirsten and John