Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tips for Post-Divorce Vacation Blues

The article I just read about summer depression and seasonal affective disorder triggered my thoughts about special post-divorce summer issues.  Specifically, how to handle your kids being gone with your ex.  Often summer visits are longer, sometimes as much as two months when geography is an issue.  Here are the tips for handling the special challenges:

1.  Try optimism.  Thinking about longer visits as vacations exudes optimism.  It’s a vacation from your kids.  Not that you don’t love them to death, but they don’t say absence makes the heart grow fonder for nothing.  If you’re kids are going on an actual vacation, perhaps one for which you done have the time, money or inclination, think about how positive this is for them.

2.  Make good use of the opportunity.  Everyone has things that pile up.  This is an opportunity to get some things done.  Whether at home or at work, it’s catch up time.  When the vacation is over, you’ll be able to give yourself a huge pat on the back for accomplishing something that’s been looming.

3.  HAVE FUN.  Even with all caps I cannot emphasize this enough.  Whatever fun is for you (and if you can’t remember, this is a great time to figure it out), whether reading novels, renting videos the kids would hate, going zip-lining, having dinner with friends, not cooking, cooking what you’d like to eat…whatever it is, do it.  A lot.  It’ll counteract the pain of the loss.

4.  Refresh and renew.  Fun refreshes and renews, but so do other things.  What refreshes and renews for you?  You probably have more time to get to the gym or your yoga class (that you’re about to sign up for), for a long bath, a solitary walk, a facial or a massage.  This is “me” time.

5.  Accept.  This is how things are going to be.  It may be difficult, but acceptance is key to moving forward and flourishing in your new circumstances.  Breathe, notice and use your strengths to brighten your days.  You can do this, and it gets easier.

And totally dating myself, as usual, for a blast of summer, Summer in the City, Lovin’ Spoonful

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dating and Your Kids: Be Smart

Of course you’re going to date.  Sometime.  The question of how to deal with the kids is common.  As usual in psychological matters, there are not hard and fast rules.  Every family is different.  Each relationship has its own challenges.

Be smart and think things through.  My suggestions for things to consider:

1.  What they need from you is going to be highly specific to your children, their ages, their maturity level, and how much they’re hurting.

2.  Consider your emotional resources.  New relationships are demanding.  Kids come first.  After the kids, your job and other people in your life, how much do you have left for new relationships?  Plan accordingly.

3.  Look for red flags in new relationship.  You know, the things that give you that oh no feeling, that trigger concerns, that you try to overlook because you feel needy.  With kids it’s especially important to pay attention to listen to your intuition and make decisions about new people accordingly.

4.  Everyone knows not to introduce children to new relationships too early.  There’s no point in allowing them to get attached when it’s not something you’re sure about.  There’s no point to have a revolving door of dates that your children consider as potential step-parents.  Of course, there are no guarantees, so you have to take a chance at some point.

5.  Be honest.  Don’t tell your kids that someone’s just a friend if they’re not.  Kids are smart.  Like adults, when they’re lied to, they have trouble trusting.  This doesn’t mean providing too much information when it’s not asked for.  But if asked, be honest and tell the truth.

6.  What if your kids reject your new person?  This is a highly individual decision as well.  Some people will not pursue a relationship if the kids are uncomfortable with it (see the movie Cyrus for an amusing, entertaining and extreme example).  You have to decide if your kids are being reasonable (perhaps picking up on one of the red flags you’re ignoring), or if they’re just not ready.  And if they’re not ready, then what?  You decide.  Taking it slower, limiting “family time” with the new person or ending the relationship are all possibilities.

There’s a lot to think about.  Being smart, or we might say, intentional, and being honest are my best recommendations.  And, of course, having fun is very important!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Little Post-Divorce Wisdom

It’s summer.  Maybe you have a little more time than usual to reflect.  Wisdom is something that comes from quiet reflection and involves “expertise in the conduct and meaning of life.” These are a few things I’ve been picking up on lately from my clients, who are often quite wise.

*No matter how well meaning we are, our ex-spouse may still perceive us as diabolically underhanded and destructive.
* Always take the high road.  You won’t regret it.
* When in doubt, whether with your ex-spouse, new “friend,” or suffering children, take five, consider the consequences and carefully plan how to act.
*What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.  That is to say, you may think that because your ex-spouse did something, it’s okay for you to do the same.  They will not necessarily think so.
*The likelihood that your ex-spouse is going to miraculously change into a better person is slim.  And neither will you, unless you work on it.
*If you didn’t communicate well when you were married, you probably won’t communicate well now that you’re divorced.  There are notable exceptions to this rule, but you’re probably not one of them (just probabilities).
*You can improve how you relate to people by learning from your mistakes, i.e., your marriage.
*If it’s difficult for you, know that it gets better.

Mighty words of wisdom:

Summer music:  Summertime, Janis Joplin

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Post-Divorce Optimism, or, Try to Love Again

What a gross oversight.  No blog entry on post-divorce optimism.  Faced with the sometimes devastating but always distressing aftermath of divorce, your optimism will be put to the test.  You know, optimism, that ability to see the bright side, to think positively and to have hope.  Where has it gone? 

Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism,  suggests a number of steps you can take to counter your pessimism, should it rear its ugly head.  The basic idea is to argue with yourself against the negative thinking.  There are several steps.

For example, to counter the pessimistic thought, I’ll never meet anyone I can love again:

What’s the evidence?  Well, I’ve met people before, and I don’t really have a tough time meeting people.  Or maybe I do have a hard time meeting people and this is something I might want to work on.  I know several people who’ve divorced and remarried or gotten involved with someone new so there’s nothing keeping the same from happening for me. 

What’s an alternative thought process?  It may be difficult, but if I really want to meet someone, I know there are steps I can take.

What are the implications of the belief?  To hold the belief that I’ll never love again is just going to keep me from moving ahead.  If I’m open to the possibility that I might love again, that gives me a direction to move in.

What’s the utility of the belief?  The negative belief keeps me stuck and feeling bad.  It makes me feel that I’m not lovable.  If I believe that I’m lovable then I might be able to meet someone I want to love.  Getting rid of the negative belief allows me to try to meet someone, try to be happy single or try to focus on other things in my life right now.

It all goes back to one of the basic premises of cognitive therapies, you can’t always believe what you think.  Likewise, in coaching, sometimes you have to find your optimism when it gets lost in the post-divorce miasma.  Identify one of your pessimistic thoughts and go through the steps.  Asking the tough questions can help you move ahead.