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Co-parenting isn’t always the best choice or even possible after divorce.

Nearly everywhere you look online, you’ll find article after article extolling the virtues of co-parenting post-divorce. In fact, some even hint if not outright state that the only way to make sure your kids adjust well to the divorce is if you co-parent.

And many divorce professionals tell their clients that co-parenting is the best way to parent after divorce.

So if you’re divorced or separated and co-parenting isn’t working for you, it’s easy to understand why you might be feeling like a failure.

Yet, before you sink (deeper) into depression being afraid you’re screwing up your kids, you need to know there are some very valid and legitimate reasons why co-parenting doesn’t work for everyone.

But before getting into those reasons, it’s important to understand what it takes to successfully co-parent. Knowing what it takes will make it easier to accept and understand when and why co-parenting doesn’t work.

Successful co-parenting requires twelve things:
  1. Clear boundaries
  2. An open dialogue between both parents
  3. Consistency with rules and parenting styles in both households
  4. Pre-determined, predictable scheduling
  5. Willingness to be flexible when something comes up
  6. ZERO disrespectful talk about each other in front of or from the children
  7. Amicable interactions at school and extra-curricular activities
  8. Making plans with the other parent before making them with the children
  9. Frequently updating the other parent about the pertinent changes in your life
  10. Recognize and respect that each parent has a relationship with the children
  11. Basic agreement on things like healthcare, education, discipline and spiritual upbringing
  12. Your kids’ belief that you and their other parent get along pretty well

This list of requirements is fairly daunting – even if you had an amicable divorce or consciously uncoupled. But if your divorce was strained or even high-conflict, you can start to get an idea of why co-parenting doesn’t work for you.

So, why doesn’t co-parenting work for all couples post-divorce? Here are 13 really good reasons:
  1. At least one of the parents has an active issue with alcohol, drugs or other substance abuse.

    If a parent suffers from substance abuse, they are simply not able to be consistent in their parenting because their cognitive abilities are impaired and their behavior can be erratic. There’s just no way to predict when or if a parent with substance abuse issues will be able to behave in the ways necessary to successfully co-parent.

    If your child’s/children’s other parent has an active abuse problem, then there’s absolutely no way you can co-parent with them.

  2. One parent is incarcerated.

    If this is the case, it’s impossible to co-parent because one parent is unavailable to parent.

  3. A parent is violent or has threatened violence against and adult, child, pet or property.

    A violent parent is not a fit parent. They are not in control of their emotions or behavior. At a minimum, they are not capable of co-parenting. They may not be capable of parenting either.

  4. A parent has inappropriate sexual or other acting out behavior.

    To co-parent successfully, parents need to be on the same page. If one parent behaves inappropriately and could harm the child/children, then there’s no way to co-parent. And maybe there’s no safe way for this parent to parent either.

  5. One parent has a restraining order against the other.

    A restraining order reflects a high level of mistrust and/or fear. It also means that legally the parents aren’t to communicate. And this will prevent co-parenting.

  6. A parent neglects or has abandoned their child/children.

    If a parent is unfit or unwilling to parent, then co-parenting isn’t an option.

  7. A parent has a history of frequent, unexpected moves or plans to move out of the area.

    When a parent is prone to moving frequently or unexpectedly, they are not able to provide the stability children need for successful co-parenting.

    If a parent plans to move out of the area, their move will prevent co-parenting. They won’t be able to spend the time necessary to co-parenting their child/children.

  8. One parent is engaging in parental alienation and poisoning their children against the other parent.

    Parental alienation is a horrible thing because it denies children a safe relationship with either parent. The alienating parent is demanding allegiance from their children at the expense of any relationship with their other parent.

    When this type of dynamic exists, there’s no way to have the open communication necessary for co-parenting.

  9. A parent can’t rise above their anger at, resentment of and/or jealousy of the other parent.

    When a parent is stuck in strong, negative emotions about their child’s/children’s other parent, these feelings prevent consistent, collaborative communication. And co-parenting is impossible.

  10. The parents are incapable of collaboration.

    Co-parenting requires collaboration, but so does marriage. If a lack of collaboration was prevalent in the marriage, there’s no reason to expect that once the couple separates and divorces that they’ll suddenly be able to collaborate.

    Parents who have never been able to work together, won’t be able to co-parent either.

  11. At least one parent is trying to control the other.

    When there are power struggles between the parents, it’s not unusual that the children are used as pawns. These types of struggles prevent the collaboration and communication required for co-parenting. They also show that the controlling parent has a lack of respect for the other parent.

  12. A parent has a rare psychological disorder that prevents them from being able to co-parent (e.g., narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder).

    The term narcissist is thrown around quite casually these days. It’s actually a fairly rare condition, as are sociopathy and psychopathy.

    However, if a co-parent truly has one of these rare conditions, it is beyond their capabilities to co-parent. And it shouldn’t even be attempted.

  13. At least one parent is emotionally and/or mentally abusive of the other parent.

    Abuse is the ultimate sign of disrespect. And without respect, it’s impossible to co-parent.

If co-parenting isn’t working for you because it can’t (at least right now), that doesn’t mean that your children are destined to be screwed up. What it means is that you’re going to have to be the strong parent that they can always count on – even if it makes you unpopular at times.

It’s by parenting your children with consistency and structure post-divorce regardless of whether you’re able to successfully co-parent with your ex or not that your children will continue to grow, thrive and blossom into the wonderful people they’re capable of becoming.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce including why co-parenting doesn’t work for them. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.

Looking for more information about co-parenting with a difficult ex? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Co-Parenting.
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Knowing which marriages survive infidelity can help you find hope (or know it's over).

If your world has been thrown off its axis by an affair, you may wonder which marriages survive infidelity. You may wonder how it’s even possible to survive such a gutting of the intrinsic trust in a marriage.

And your doubt wouldn’t be unfounded. After all, nothing more completely undermines the most foundational premise of marriage than infidelity.

When your life has been turned inside out by betrayal, it’s only natural to feel confused, ungrounded, and unsure of your future. And that’s true for both the betrayed and the partner who strayed.

If you aren’t ready to sign divorce papers, knowing which marriages survive infidelity can help you assess the prognosis for your own marriage.

Simply knowing that marriages do survive infidelity -- and even come out stronger than ever -- can be a ray of hope.

Dr. Joe Kort, PhD believes that the frequency of infidelity is actually much higher than the numbers often cited. He also says that infidelity is the number-one reason people come to him for therapy. In his experience, these clients genuinely want to work through the trauma of infidelity and come out the other end together.

And he would be the first to say that, when these couples do reach the other side, their marriage is stronger than before the affair.

That may sound all well and good in the land of fairy tales. But if you’re in the throes of emotional trauma from an affair, you may not have the stomach for such in-a-nutshell positivity. You understandably want answers. You want to know which marriages survive infidelity. And you want to know if and how yours will be one of them.

Infidelity expert Dr. Shirley Glass emphasizes three qualities that are the strongest determiners of which marriages survive infidelity.
  1. Empathy from the unfaithful partner.

    Is the unfaithful partner able to be empathetic when the partner that s/he betrayed comes unglued emotionally? Can the unfaithful partner step into the woundedness of the betrayed and bear compassionate witness to the pain s/he caused? And how does the unfaithful partner express that empathy?

    It sounds like a no-brainer to expect a cheating spouse who wants to repair the marriage to tolerate the emotions of the one betrayed. But even the offending partner can have a breaking point. It takes a firmly staked commitment to healing the marriage to remain empathetic, especially if your spouse wants you to suffer.

    Even the most mutually resolved marriages will experience their share of unpredictable emotions, crying, obsessing, hypervigilance and flashbacks. The unfaithful partner has to exhibit tireless empathy while also not playing into a perpetrator-victim dynamic.

  2. Acceptance of responsibility by the unfaithful partner.

    How much responsibility does the unfaithful partner accept for the choice s/he made?

    There are multiple and mutual areas of responsibility that will have to be accepted and dealt with if the marriage is going to survive. What is unequivocally imperative, however, is that the unfaithful partner accepts full responsibility for the choice to have an affair.

    Problems that existed in the marriage prior to the affair matter and must be remedied. But they don’t absolve a spouse of cheating as a way of dealing with or avoiding them.

    There is no room for blaming the betrayed spouse for the affair. S/he may have accountability for behaviors and actions that weren’t in the marriage’s best interest. But s/he did not cause the affair to happen.

  3. Positive degree of understanding of vulnerabilities that made the affair possible.

    This component of healing is a great predictor of which marriages survive infidelity. It means that both partners are willing to examine where they left their marriage vulnerable and exposed.

    Consider a house that isn’t properly sealed. A roof tile is loose. There are cracks around the windows. Small holes punctuate the foundation. Now think about what can get in when the weather gets bad or a critter gets curious.

    Affairs happen in the context of opportunity. And the office is the most common breeding ground. Think about it. You show up in the morning showered, nicely dressed, ready to take on the world and reel in the profits. You’re focused, cooperative, and on your best behavior.

    Perhaps you have to travel for business, and an attractive business partner travels with you or is a client at your destination. Perhaps an old high school flame reaches out to you on social media after his/her divorce, and you form an emotional attachment. Perhaps you are getting too comfortable with your personal trainer at the gym.

    Part of taking responsibility for your marriage is “sealing up the house.” That doesn’t mean you hide from the world. It simply means you take control of what comes into your house.

    When you understand the vulnerabilities in your marriage, you can address them head-on. What will you do/not do, share/not share? How and where will you spend time with members of the opposite sex outside your marriage, even at work? How can you strengthen your spouse’s sense of security and trust by addressing and reducing vulnerabilities?

Aside from this “umbrella” of elements that are good indicators of which marriages survive infidelity, several others add to the chance of success. Here are a few more.

  • Commitment to honesty and rebuilding trust.

    Believe it or not, the responsibility for this doesn’t rest solely on the unfaithful partner.

    Yes, the nature of the honesty will be different for both partners, as will the roles in rebuilding trust. But both partners will have to be equally committed to transparency about their feelings and the affair.

    And the unfaithful partner will have to accept that his/her life will be lived in a fish bowl for some time. Being proactive in assuring the betrayed partner of trustworthiness is a huge sign of taking responsibility and of a commitment to healing the marriage.

  • Openness to counseling.

    Recovering from infidelity is difficult enough, even in the safest environment. It’s exceptionally difficult to do with only the polarized partners.

    Emotional safety is a non-negotiable if there is going to be honest disclosure of vulnerabilities and feelings.

    The unpredictability of flashbacks, painful feelings, and obsessions can make it difficult to put parameters around dealing with the affair. It needs to have boundaries in order to be safe and effective while leaving protected time to actually “live.”
  • Willingness to work through the perpetrator-victim mindset.

    It’s all but inevitable. The unfaithful partner will be seen as the guilty one who “did this” to his/her spouse. And the betrayed spouse will take on a “victim” stance.

    While this is understandable in the early stages after an affair has been discovered, it’s not conducive to a marriage coming out stronger. Healthy boundaries are incredibly important, especially during this delicate time of reconciliation and healing.

    There’s a difference between taking responsibility for a damaging choice and being punished as a perpetrator of intentional cruelty. And there’s a difference between expressing the pain of betrayal and playing the role of a victim who has no responsibility for the marriage.

    No matter who has done what before or during the affair, no one can build or heal a marriage alone.
  • Willingness to work together on a new marriage.

    When a couple enters therapy with the resolve to make their marriage better than it was before the affair, their marriage has great promise. They know that the marriage they once knew can’t exist anymore. And it probably shouldn’t.

    Will they still keep certain qualities of their “first” marriage? Of course. But in order for them to forgive one another and themselves, they have to feel the infusion of new life into what the infidelity destroyed.

The question of which marriages survive infidelity is best answered by the mutuality of determination in the partners. They both have to really want the reconciliation and healing of their marriage.

They also have to be willing to faithfully take on their respective responsibilities for making that happen.

Marriages riven by the betrayal of infidelity can come back together. And those with the greatest success are those in which both partners decide that their reconciliation won’t be in vain.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals navigate the repercussions of infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about repairing your marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
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No matter how bad things seem now, you can get through this.

The divorce devastated you. The affair that caused it all but destroyed you. Knowing how to get over a divorce and an affair seems all but impossible.

It’s a sobering reality that we just take for granted the “around 50%” divorce rate in the US. Even worse when you consider the higher rates for subsequent marriages, or the percentage of divorces prompted by infidelity.

But those are just statistics -- pragmatic pie charts of connubial destiny in America. They tell you nothing about the feelings, histories and struggles of the people who make up the numbers. And they show you nothing about how to get over a divorce and an affair.

The list of collateral damage from divorce will come as no surprise. There is the plummet into sadness, anger, confusion and all the stages of grief. There are the financial ramifications and the short- and long-term trauma to children.

Add to an already painful experience the rip-your-heart-out scourge of infidelity, and those consequences become amplified and even more complex.

Both the betrayed and the betrayer are left with heavy consequences. How to get over a divorce and an affair will look similar for them in some ways and vastly different in others.

If the betraying spouse has left the marriage for the affair partner, the betrayed spouse may have a much more difficult and lengthy journey recovering. (Click here to read Ruth Ritchie’s account of what that journey was like for her.)

Going through a divorce after an affair can cause you to lose your whole sense of self -- your home, friends, identity as a spouse, security and future. And you will have to overcome several major issues in order to move on and have a chance at a happy, connected life.

Some of those issues are:
  • Mistrust.

    Who can blame you for believing you will never trust love again? Infidelity naturally causes doubt in your own reality, your own judgment, other people and yourself.
  • Triggers.

    Divorce doesn’t remedy the problem of emotional flooding. If you don’t actively address and process your experience and emotions, you may be vulnerable to triggers for years to come. Simple things like a future partner or spouse coming home late from work can trigger a massive flood of memories and their connected feelings.
  • Hypervigilance.

    It only makes sense that you would have trouble trusting again. The danger is that your mistrust could lead you to fear the faithlessness of future partners and not give them the space to be themselves.
  • Risk aversion.

    In order to avoid the risk of future pain, you may stop short of true intimacy in future relationships.
  • Negative viewpoint.

    You may end up feeling bitterness toward and mistrust of the opposite sex.
Here are some guidelines for how to get over a divorce and an affair.
  • Accept that your marriage is over.

    You don’t have to reach the final-stage-of-grief level of acceptance to stop fighting for what’s not going to be part of your future.

    Letting go isn’t easy -- it will likely feel unnatural, even impossible. But if you can accept what is and stop investing in the past, you may find doors opening to even greater opportunities for love.
  • Remember that you didn’t cause the affair.

    Of all the inevitable feelings that you will have -- shame, embarrassment, confusion, loneliness, anger, fear -- guilt doesn’t need to be one of them.

    We all have choices as to how we communicate and behave in relationships. The responsibility for the affair belongs to the ones who chose it.
  • Consider your own role in the marriage.

    Assuming blame for the affair isn’t your responsibility. Doing so will only add to the weight of your confusion and pain.

    But courageously examining your own role in your marriage will actually be liberating. It will allow you to learn and grow, making your divorce a gifting experience that can lead you into a more mature, lasting love.

    It’s also the first step to forgiveness -- for your ex and for yourself.
  • Expect to grieve.

    Grief is inevitable. Embrace it as a reality of evolution. It’s a tunnel through the mountain of loss. And if you are willing to turn on your headlights and head into it, you will spare yourself the futile effort of climbing the mountain.
  • Fake a smile if you have to.

    This isn’t about denying your feelings. It’s about tricking your brain into lifting your mood and lowering your stress. Sometimes learning how to get over a divorce and an affair is made easier when you’re smiling. Try it!
  • Be grateful for every little thing.

    When you are drowning in the memories of all you have lost, finding reasons to feel grateful can seem ludicrous. But healing doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes just getting through the night comes down to whatever little things you can do to love yourself into tomorrow.

    Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Through thick and thin, it beats for you. Fluff your pillow and lay your head down. Think of that simple comfort. Eat your dinner with mindfulness and contemplate how God, the Universe, your Highest Self is sustaining you in the present...and will sustain you in the future.
  • Don’t drown in legalities.

    If you live in a “no fault” state, no amount of wishing for recourse is going to make your ex pay for having an affair. It’s important that you have wise representation and a fair divorce agreement. But letting go of ongoing court battles will give you a head start on healing.
  • Get tested.

    Yes, it’s insulting that you have to walk into your doctor’s office and ask for an STD test. But if your ex was having sex with you while also having sex with someone else, you need to protect yourself. Ask any future partner(s) to do the same, and be transparent with the results. This is about your health and safety.
  • Build your village.

    As old friends drift away (some will, and some will stick by you like Velcro), fill those open spots with new, supportive friends.

    Find a therapist, coach, support group, and/or online support system. Welcome into your life others who have been where you are and can assure you of the light at the end of the tunnel. They can help show you how to get over a divorce and an affair.

    Just don’t isolate yourself, no matter how alone your experience makes you feel.
  • Set long-term goals.

    You will know that you are at least on the road to healing when you start envisioning your life down the road.

    Short-term goals may be steeped in survival. But long-term goals require a vision of thriving. Go ahead and write them down. Dream a bit. You are always allowed to change your goals as your heart heals and your mind opens to new possibilities.
  • Forgive.

    You will never forget. But you can release the ball and chain of relentless anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is never about a disregard or diminishment of harm done. It’s about choosing to walk out of bondage into the light of hope. Remember to forgive yourself, as well.

  • Take good care of yourself.

    No matter what...Just. Be. Kind. To. You.

The key to getting over a divorce and an affair is strategically buried in the process of developing a positive, forward-moving mindset. But in the context of the wind being kicked out of your life, that positivity may sound dismissive.

Know that every little step you take -- first for mere survival, then for a little more -- is a courageous step into that mindset. Hanging on takes energy...and an inner voice that says you are worth the effort.

And you are most definitely worth it.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people learn how to get over a divorce and an affair. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about how to get over a getting over your divorce due to infidelity? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
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There’s the end and then there’s finality.

Divorce is often compared to death in terms of the experience of loss and grief. But despite their similarities, dealing with grief after divorce is different from grief over death.

When you’re suffering from any kind of pain or loss, the last thing you want is a comparison of your pain to others. “At least you still have (this),” “At least you didn’t lose (that),” “It could have been so much worse.”

Making comparisons, even with the best intentions, can minimize the sufferer’s feelings and reality. It can also lead the one making the comparisons to mete out compassion relative to the judgment made.

When comparing the ways that dealing with grief after divorce is different from grief after death, no such judgment is intended. Those who have experienced both divorce and the death of a spouse can best attest to the entanglement of their similarities and differences.

Some of the obvious ways that dealing with grief after divorce and dealing with grief after death of a spouse are similar include:
  • There is the painful loss of a spouse, and often the loss of self-identity as a partner.
  • Both divorce and death mark an end to your hopes, dreams, plans, routines and all things familiar.
  • You are left to navigate life without your partner -- emotionally, physically, financially, legally, parentally.
  • Both divorce and death can blindside you. Divorce may be rooted in betrayal, and death may be sudden or accidental.
  • Divorce can feel like a slow death when there is a slow deterioration of the marriage, even when there is a fight to keep it alive.
  • Both can make you feel that you have lost control of life and your purpose.

Some of the differences in dealing with grief after divorce and dealing with grief after death are obvious, and some lie in the stages of grief themselves. Both losses share the stages of grief -- in many ways similarly, in many ways differently, in all ways uniquely and profoundly.

Here are 10 ways that dealing with grief after divorce is different than dealing with grief after death.
  1. Death is permanent.

    There is no second-guessing, no going back to communicate regrets or even anger, no co-parenting the children. There are no accidental encounters, no showing up for major life events and feeling gratified that you have healed from what once shattered your world. You will never see, hear or touch this person again.
  1. Death isn’t a conscious choice.

    With the exception of suicide, which leaves the bereaved in a wake of psychological and physiological difficulties, death isn’t voluntary. We all die, and only God knows the moment.

    When a spouse dies, the relationship is left in its final state. Did you have an argument the same morning that your husband had a fatal heart attack at work? Did your wife discover your affair just minutes before driving off in her car and getting into a fatal accident?

    Death doesn’t leave an opportunity for reconciliation and healing in this realm. Divorce, on the other hand, at least holds the seed of opportunity for the parted spouses to resolve their differences, to learn, and to forgive.
  1. Divorce means children have both parents.

    They may not have them together, but they still get to have a relationship with them both.

    When a spouse dies, a parent also dies (assuming there have been children). And that changes life in a permanent way for both widow(er) and children. Parenting now belongs to the bereaved spouse alone.
  1. Family and friends react differently.

    Divorce can be a rending force to friendships and families. It’s understandable that in-law relationships may weaken or disappear, as the “blood is thicker than water” principle goes into effect.

    With both types of loss, there is often the weight of social expectation to get through the grief and move on.
  1. Denial.

    The immediate shock of divorce or death can leave you physiologically and neurologically overwhelmed. When denial is employed as a temporary defense mechanism, it can protect you from the effects of overwhelm so that you can do the work of surviving.

    If allowed to endure too long, it can lead to irrational behavior. A jaded spouse may stalk his/her ex or act as if the divorce isn’t real. A person facing the inevitability of a spouse’s imminent death may refuse to accept and prepare for that reality.
  1. Pain and fear.

    Loss of marriage and loss of life are both terrifying, life-changing events with long-term, even permanent, effects. Suddenly you are alone to deal with life. How will I go on alone?

    In the case of death, that pain and fear are surmounted by the reality that the departed is never coming back. S/he can never again contribute in any pragmatic way to your life.

    In the case of divorce, the pain may be exacerbated by feelings like anger and betrayal from events that culminated in the divorce.
  1. Anger.

    Both divorce and death leave plenty of room for anger. Divorce is commonly riddled with anger -- for betrayal, dashed hopes, insensitivity, indifference…

    Death, too, leaves plenty of room for anger. Doctors and hospitals may fail, misstep, or simply not care as much as they should. Even the departed spouse may have left this world with unresolved discontent.

    Sometimes you are angry at yourself...and sometimes at the circumstances themselves. But in the case of death, you are left to deal with that anger alone, with no hope of getting any clarification or comfort from your spouse.
  1. Bargaining.

    It’s not abnormal to make a last-ditch effort to save what is important to you. At no time is that bargaining more poignant than when a person’s life is coming to an end.

    A spouse grieving divorce may bargain with an ex by promising certain behaviors in an effort to reconcile. And impossible as it may sound, a widow(er) may continue to plead with God for the restoration of the departed’s life. What if…? If only…. Please, please….
  1. Guilt.

    Marriage and divorce are two-way streets. Both spouses contribute, both withhold. But even in divorce there is the opportunity for atonement if both people are open to that kind of healing. And forgiveness is always a choice that can move life forward without the weight of resentment.

    When grieving death, however, it’s only the bereaved who can feel guilt, and who must find a way to heal, atone, and forgive. Could I have done more to save him/her? Did I ignore the signs? Would s/he still be alive if I had done xyz? I wish I had/hadn’t said/done (whatever).
  1. Depression.

    Depression will look much the same whether you are dealing with grief after divorce or grief after death. It is the longest and most long-lasting stage of grief, and can become debilitating on many levels if left untreated.

    If you have lost a loved one to death, you may have an especially difficult time with depression as you try to heal. You may still feel married, and therefore incapable of moving on into a new relationship, a new home, or a new life.

    Depression after divorce may be experienced in the shadow of an ex who is a constant reminder of what you once had but lost. Depression after death is always experienced in the absence of that same reminder.

Dealing with grief after divorce is both similar to and different from dealing with grief after death. The stages of grief are the same, even though they may be experienced in profoundly different ways and in an unpredictable order.

The biggest difference between the two is also the most obvious. Divorce, while most likely permanent in terms of the marriage, isn’t permanent in terms of life.

And where there is life, there is also the hope and possibility of mutual forgiveness...and healing.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach, who works with people just like you who are in search of support discovering things to do when dealing with grief after divorce. For free weekly advice, register for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working with me, you can schedule a private 30-minute consultation with me.

Looking for more help coping with divorce heartbreak? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Dealing With Grief.
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You can overcome your fears if you learn to listen to them differently.

When the Kansas tornado picked up Dorothy’s house and whisked it off to Munchkinland, she was naturally afraid. Feeling scared of life after divorce isn’t much different, really.

Marriage, with all its imperfections and frustrations, is the thing you “know.” Or at least you think you do. It’s the “Auntie Em,” the point on your compass that you at least recognize. And familiarity is comforting -- even, ironically, when it’s uncomfortable.

Whether or not you wanted to end your marriage, divorce represents the tornado that can wipe out your dreams in one pass. Even if you see it coming, it doesn’t tell you where it’s going to drop you. Or how hard.

It’s only natural to feel scared of life after divorce. To fear being alone. To worry about your kids. To worry about finances. To dread attorneys, courts and fees. To feel angry, hurt, robbed.

The post-divorce rubble can leave you scrambling to find even one thing that represents home and happiness to you. Friendships and family ties get weird, and some disappear altogether. Money is a major issue, and often there is no retirement in place to even cushion your future.

And underneath all the obvious concerns is the fear that you will be alone, invisible and unloved forever.

Divorce, like a tornado raging through the plains during harvest season, messes up all your plans. And now it’s up to you to make all the decisions for your own life. Who wouldn’t be scared of life after divorce?

The problem with fear, however, is that more often than not it wears the black cape. It’s the bad guy, the dreaded antagonist to surviving, let alone thriving.

When perceived that way, fear prevents healing, robs you of your self-esteem, and keeps you from moving forward. Your personal demons rise up and put fear in charge of everything.

What if you could feel scared of life after divorce, but shift the power of fear in your life so that you can move forward? What if you could demand of fear its many gifts in exchange for the chaos it has created and the ways it tests you?

What if you could replace your fear of the unknown with curiosity?

Not to be hyper-metaphorical, but think about what happened when Dorothy and Toto were dropped in Munchkinland. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” packs more wallop than just a famed movie line.

Suddenly the movie went from black-and-white to Technicolor -- a big move for those days. And little gremlin-sounding, elf-looking people came out of the corners, and a good witch came out of nowhere.

Fear was everywhere. But so was possibility. And adventure. And hope. And from that first step from the center of the spiraling yellow-brick road, Dorothy’s journey into the unknown began.

From shades of gray to full color, Dorothy had given curiosity and hope authority over fear. Yes, they traveled together, but fear now played a serving role.

And so it is when you are scared of life after divorce. Being uprooted and dropped into the unknown is unsettling, frightening, exhausting. But you can choose to take a new perspective that leads with curiosity about what your new life has in store for you.

Here are 7 things to remember when you’re feeling scared of life after divorce.
  1. You won’t be alone forever.

    Fear of being alone, when you are still in the early aftermath of divorce, is really a messenger. It’s natural and healthy to long for the kind of connection you once had in your marriage. But your priority is now about finding -- rediscovering -- you.

    Could you squelch that discomfort by rushing into a relationship just to fill your needs in the moment? Sure. But would it serve your healing process and bring you the kind of relationship you truly want? Definitely not.
  1. Your kids will express their own distress according to their age and maturity.

    You won’t be the only one feeling scared of life after divorce. If you are a parent, your children will also feel completely dropped into the unknown. Unlike you, however, they are powerless to make any of the choices about their family staying together.

    Don’t be alarmed by their outbursts or changes in emotions or behaviors. But do be fully present to their feelings, validating them and giving them access to the professional help that can help them adapt.
  1. Your social circle will change.

    Divorce has a way of making friends and family take sides, or at least choose an alliance. Don’t take it personally. You may lose relationships with in-laws and certain married friends who simply don’t know how to be friends outside of “couples.”

    But you will be amazed at the people who show up to fill the void. Some of them will have been there all along, but they will suddenly become a harbor in the storm. And in this way, they’ll demonstrate for you that, even in the midst of change, you can still have a sense of home.
  1. You can’t predict the future, but you can plan for it.

    It doesn’t matter how many thousands of couples divorce every year. You will still feel like the only one. And you will naturally fear the worst and make dramatic assumptions about the outlook for your future.

    Give yourself just a moment to embrace one undeniable truth: No one can predict the future. Life can turn on a dime for the better as easily as it can for the worse.

    You can, however, plan for your future. You can set goals and have visions for how you want your life to look. And by taking baby steps to get there, you can make adjustments as needed, knowing that you are always moving in the right direction.
  1. Fear is begging you to know yourself...because you’re worth it.

    We all had that one teacher that we dreaded. The one who caught every mistake, assigned homework over holidays, and expected nothing but the best of his/her students.

    Usually that teacher was the one we silently thanked in our hearts as we entered college or our careers.

    Fear, too, is a teacher. It knows where your landmines are buried, and it wants you to uncover them. If you can brave the journey into the origin of your fears, you can conquer them. And then you can stop tiptoeing around your life.
  1. Overcoming fear is immensely empowering.

    Every time you tackle something that frightens you, you gain confidence. And with confidence you take more -- and bigger -- steps into the life you want. You even gain confidence in your ability to handle bigger fears, knowing that you are the one in charge.
  1. You’re going to be alright!

    Remember, even though you feel scared of life after divorce, you are not alone! Millions of people have been “air-dropped” by divorce -- some into places far less colorful than Munchkinland.

    By accepting your fears as a natural part of your experience, and then facing them head-on, you will emerge a much stronger person.

It's important to hold close in your heart the unique nature of the person you are and the relationship you are now divorced from. Nothing was for naught.

Just as your marriage was in your life to teach you important lessons, so is your divorce. In the end, it all comes down to a choice...and an awareness that you’ve always had the ruby slippers to get you home.

You can find more tips on healing after a divorce or break-up here.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate feeling scared of life after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you want to learn more about working with me, you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation with me.

Looking for more information about having a great life post-divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Life After Divorce.
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Here’s how to decide for yourself.

Marriage, like the love that leads to it, rides many waves of change. And not all are fun. So asking, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” isn’t a yes-or-no query.

The answer, of course, ultimately lies with you and your spouse. But arriving at the answer shouldn’t be an arbitrary, heat-of-the-moment, feelings-only process.

If you’re at a point in your marriage where you’re contemplating “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” we need to talk.

Ironically, talking -- how much, how, when, with what intention -- is often what’s missing in marriages on the threshold of divorce. In one way or another, communication is at the root of most problems.

If you research advice regarding staying in or leaving an unhappy marriage, you will get answers across the spectrum. And the black, white and gray of them all will have just as many shades of suggestions and directives.

A person looking for a reason to leave will find one. A person looking for a reason to stay will find one. The availability of advice and justification for any choice is abundant.

And that’s why it’s so important to consider the source of the information, and especially to commit to complete honesty with yourself and your spouse. Ultimately the decision to stay or separate belongs to the two of you. So do the consequences of your choice.

Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? There will never be a blanket answer to that question. There can, however, be an answer for your marriage -- but only if you have an unequivocal grasp on why you are unhappy.

Transitioning through the seasons of love can be confusing, conflicting, even painful. Sure, you may expect that the honeymoon won’t last forever. But how can you possibly know during the fairy-dust stages of falling in love and planning the perfect life that the magic dissipates?

Love grows, evolves, and writes its own story in the context of life. It has growing spurts and growing pains just like children do. And, just like children, sometimes you don’t fully recognize it. Sometimes it bores you to tears, and sometimes you just flat-out don’t like it.

But one thing’s for sure. Just as with children, if you aren’t paying attention to your love as it goes through its changes, you’ll miss it.

You may not even know if what you’re feeling is unhappiness or simply boredom. You’ll just be aware that the elation you felt in the early stages of love and marriage isn’t there anymore.

If you aren’t communicating consistently with yourself and with your spouse, you may misdiagnose your situation. And the last thing you want to do is make a lifetime decision on the basis of misinformation.

Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? The first step in helping you decide is knowing what an unhappy marriage looks like.

Below are several predictors of an unhappy marriage. Keep in mind that these are not reasons to give up. They are simply symptoms that, depending on number and intensity, can indicate a marriage at-risk.

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Infidelity
  • Absence of sex and visible affection
  • Lack of genuine engagement
  • Leading separate lives
  • Drastically different values
  • Blaming one another
  • Fantasizing about life without your spouse
  • Disinterest in your spouse’s company
  • Control issues
  • Not fighting anymore
  • Feeling unheard
  • Unmet needs
  • Unwillingness to get help or work on the marriage
  • Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and/or stonewalling

Research studies support what may be surprising to those who feel unhappy in their marriages and don’t see a path to happiness.

Unhappiness is almost always temporary. And there are normal, predictable places in a marriage where it is more likely to rear its dreary head. Like after the birth of a child, when everything changes.

Surprised? If so, consider further that those who stuck it out reported feeling happy in their marriages five to ten years later. (And no, that doesn’t mean they were “miserable” during the time between -- only that they were happy they didn’t give up.)

If you’re feeling unhappy in your marriage and are wondering, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce,” consider the list above. Also consider the gravity of any of the signs as they relate to your marriage.

There are a few situations in which the reasons for unhappiness may warrant a less tolerant decision.

The first should come as no surprise. Abuse in any form is dangerous emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and potentially physically. It often starts off as verbal and emotional abuse and escalates from there. Safety for every life in the home needs to be the top priority; therefore, specialized professional intervention is warranted in cases of abuse.

The second situation involves addiction. Again, the safety of everyone in the home has to come first. Addiction requires very specialized professional help , and should not be tolerated without it.

Infidelity, as devastating as its consequences are, doesn’t have to be a death sentence to a marriage. And the majority of the time, it’s not. Those marriages that not only survive, but thrive after infidelity, do so because the spouses get down in the trenches to rebuild their marriages. They not only rebuild, they re-create.

And within that last sentence is perhaps the biggest criteria for determining if your unhappy marriage is salvageable. Have you done the hard work of working to improve yourself and your marriage?

If your heart-of-hearts answer is ‘no,’ then how do you think you will ever be happier somewhere else or with someone else? Marriage is hard work.

Ask any old couple that has been married a veritable lifetime how they did it. How did they get through children, wars, bankruptcies, affairs, boredom, illness, fights and sadness to wind up inseparable?

Inevitably they will tell you that they led with love, committed with love, fought with love, kept their promises with love. They found happiness in the journey. And they knew that happiness wouldn’t be greater somewhere else.

When asking, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” it’s imperative that you consider more than just your own feelings and wants. Are there children involved? Would they truly be better off without their parents together? Are you prepared to deal with all the ugly consequences of divorce -- co-parenting, divided assets, courts, loss of family and friends?

If your marriage has reached the point of contempt, or is based on domination-submission, abuse or addiction and enabling, perhaps divorce is the healthiest answer.

If, however, there are feelings left unexpressed, good deeds deferred to indifference, and self-improvement left to lack of effort, then you may have your answer.

Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? Ultimately the decision comes down to your values, expectations and self-accountability. More often than not, even a slight shift toward prioritizing your spouse and infusing hope into your marriage can make all the difference.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support in choosing how to handle an unhappy marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.

Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
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Parenting after divorce is difficult, but these tips can help make things easier for you.

As difficult as divorce is, co-parenting may be even more difficult. And co-parenting with a difficult ex could make you want to hitch a ride with Thelma and Louise.

The drama, the crazy-making, the accusations and bad-mouthing, the manipulation, the constant pushing of limits….Co-parenting with a difficult ex can be incredibly frustrating.

How can you maintain your sanity and ensure that your children have access to at least one ‘adult’ parent?

You know that good co-parenting means you put the children first. But you can do only so much if you are co-parenting with a difficult ex.

And what if your ex is a narcissist or toxic person? How do you pull off a shared effort with someone who is incapable of putting anyone else first?

Strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex all have two non-negotiables at their core. The first is the highest good of your children. The second is the maintenance of your personal integrity and sanity.

If you can keep those commitments in focus at all times, you will more easily navigate your ex’s efforts to throw you off-course.

Power struggles are often at the heart of why couples divorce. When it comes to co-parenting, however, there is no room for pulling rank.

If your ex thrives on control, you will have to decide if you can co-parent without power struggles.

Many of the strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex are the same as those for co-parenting without power struggles.

Here are 9 tips for co-parenting with a difficult ex.
  1. Accept what you can’t change. Control what you can.

    You will never be able to change your co-parent. No matter how much s/he needs to change (in your opinion), that work belongs to your ex.

    What you can and must control are your own life and responses.

    If you are co-parenting with a difficult ex, you know your buttons are going to get pushed. You will need a steady temperament and resolved composure in order to maintain your commitment to great parenting.

  2. Recognize the dynamic and how it plays out.

    How does the interaction with your ex go from 0 to 90 in the course of a breath? Are there recognizable patterns to your communication? Do you have fears that get triggered? Are those fears based in reality and logic?

    What can you do to interrupt an unhealthy dynamic and steer it in a direction that empowers and protects you?

    Remember, the children and your integrity and sanity are non-negotiables. And the only person you can control is yourself.

  3. Set new boundaries.

    Again, this is really about you and how you are going to engage (or not) with your ex.

    Don’t allow yourself to be baited. Take defensiveness and emotional reactions off the table. Set time parameters for communication, and stand by them.

    Limit the means of communication — for example, no texting, but email and parenting portal only. (Talking Parents is a free option for both avoiding disputes and documenting communication between co-parents.) You may also want to consider blocking your ex from your social media.

    It will be up to you to stand by your boundaries when your ex challenges your resolve.

  4. Don’t respond immediately.

    So much of co-parenting with a difficult ex is about not engaging. Of course, you will have to engage on behalf of your children. But you do have the power and right to choose when and how you engage.

    If your ex says or writes something that causes an immediate dump of adrenaline into your system, take a breath and step back. Do your “reacting” in your own mind or in venting with a friend. Do your “responding” once you are calm.

    Sleep on your response. Choose a doable ‘delay time’ for responding to anything other than emergencies. You’re not on-call for your ex.

  5. Don’t respond to everything.

    Just because your co-parent pushes your buttons in order to bait you into engaging doesn’t mean you have to engage. Stay focused on what co-parenting is about: It’s not about hashing out your unfinished marital discord or diminishing one another.

    Respond to communication about the children. Let the rest go...or add it to a happy hour vent session with a trusted friend.

  6. Business is business.

    Co-parenting with a difficult ex may require you to keep your communication business-like, factual and pragmatic. Focus on the children and their needs. The fantasy of co-vacations with exes is best left to Hollywood and the rare exception to the rule.

  7. Document.

    You don’t have to announce it. Just quietly and consistently do it. Keep a dedicated journal for documenting dates, times, communication, breaches of agreements, support payments, etc.

    The information is for your eyes only — until if and when you may need it in a legal setting. Having proof can save a lot of mud-slinging when things turn into “he said, she said.”

  8. Consider a court order.

    If your ex consistently barges through agreements and boundaries, you may need to consider filing a court order. You can talk with your attorney about your options for modifying your parenting plan so that co-parenting works better.

  9. Evaluate if co-parenting is possible.

    If your efforts to co-parent in a healthy way consistently end up in chaos and distress, you may need to consider parallel parenting. (This is especially true if your ex is a narcissist or is alienating you from your children through power plays, parallel parenting may be the only choice.)

    How is your co-parenting arrangement affecting your children? Your sanity? Your ability to stay in integrity without feeling crazed by your ex?

    If you are holding up your end of the deal but are continually undermined or thrown off-course by your ex, it may be time to consider a new arrangement in the best interest of your children and your own sanity.

Co-parenting with a difficult ex makes an already painful journey that much more painful. In an ideal divorce, both parents would rise to the task of parenting the children they love with dependability and maturity.

But life doesn’t play out on balanced scales. Couples divorce and people disappoint. In the long run, you still have to live your own life.

If you are the one concerned enough to read this article, you have the ability to influence your children’s life in a sustainably positive way. You may even be able to influence a shift in your co-parent’s behavior.

You can also protect your own happiness in the process.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.

Looking for more information about co-parenting with a difficult ex? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.
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The path forward won’t be easy, but healing is possible.

When infidelity quakes a marriage, concern usually rallies around the betrayed spouse. Figuring out how to get over an affair when you cheated is most often left to...well...you.

Overcoming infidelity is a gut-wrenching process, regardless of a decision to stay in or leave the marriage.

Your load of guilt, confusion and loneliness may weigh in close to the weight of your spouse’s pain. But you may not feel worthy of the same sympathy and support available to your devastated spouse.

The jilted spouse may feel surprising emotions like shame and embarrassment, and may not want to share the reality with anyone. But there will always be an abundance of supportive resources to guide him/her to healing.

Learning how to get over an affair when you cheated, however, and assuming you want to repair your marriage requires your commitment to healing two lives: your spouse’s and your own. And that can feel like a double life in itself.

Even if your marriage dissolves as a result of your infidelity, you will have to do a lot of work to heal from your affair. You will have guilt, loss and behavioral patterns to process.

And you will have to evolve into a person not forever mired in guilt, and also not predisposed to cheating again. If you don’t, you will most likely repeat old behaviors with similar outcomes.

If you and your spouse survive the early devastation with a desire to save your marriage, you can learn how to get over an affair. When you cheated, you may not have known what you wanted. But now it’s time to decide...and to begin the healing.

And that includes healing you. Yes, you chose to stray, and yes, that onus will always be yours. But creating a new and better marriage means you both have to bring the best of yourselves to it.

For this reason, you need to start with healing your own heart and self-esteem. You will then be much better able to embrace the humbling, challenging work of healing your spouse and marriage.

Self-love may sound like an oxymoron in the aftermath of hurtful, destructive behavior. But no relationship, whether with yourself or a current or future partner, can thrive if your heart pumps only self-disdain through your veins.

Please give pause to the following acts of self-healing. Once you understand these, you’ll be in a better position to do your part in healing your marriage.

  1. Forgive yourself.

    In no way is forgiveness a dismissal of accountability. It is, however, permission to pick yourself up and learn from your fall. It is the green light to move forward in gratitude for grace and the opportunity to grow.

    Take personal account of your beautiful gifts and your capacity to love. Write them down. Chant them to yourself. Express gratitude for them.

    And extend your self-forgiveness to a commitment to use those gifts in a transformational way going forward.

  2. Practice acceptance.

    You will have to come to grips with the choices you have made and the suffering those choices have caused. Acceptance is about owning that truth and being able to stand in that reality without immediately tossing the hot potato off to someone else.

    There may have been many defects in your marriage, but the choice of infidelity as a response was completely yours. Your acceptance will ground you so that you can take appropriate action.

  3. Give it up to your Higher Power.

    There’s a reason the 12 Steps have brought sanity, healing and livability to millions of people.

    You don’t have to be a religious person to believe that there is a “bigger plan” at work in our world and lives. By tapping into that seed of faith, you could open yourself to miracles you might never create on your own.

  4. Embrace the balance.

    Remember the Law of Duality that keeps the Universe in balance. There are two sides to every coin, but one coin.

    While you have caused a lot of pain, you are also responsible for a lot of good. Trust that your Higher Power is at work to bring these two extremes into balance, and that all will be well.

  5. Learn, learn, learn! And then move on.

    The essence of how to get over an affair when you cheated lies in what you learn from the experience.

    You can demonstrate your remorse by your ardent self-exploration and application of lessons. What are your beliefs, values and communication/behavioral/response patterns? What needs work?

    You can turn this painful chapter of your marriage and life into an inspirational life (and potentially an inspirational union too).

As challenging and “raw” as the above work may be, doing the recovery work with your spouse may challenge you even more. That’s why it is so important that you not neglect the work with yourself and your Higher Power.

You will draw resolve and strengthened virtues like humility and trustworthiness from that work. And these will nourish you, your spouse and your marriage-in-the-making during the work ahead.

The work of getting over your affair and restoring your marriage doesn’t belong to you alone. Both you and your spouse will have high-level tasks to complete. Some will be tasks you can “check off,” and some will be ongoing and evolving.

Because you are reading about how to get over an affair when you cheated, here are your five high-level tasks.

  1. Stop the affair.

    The cheating has to stop -- completely. And only you know if you have forged a relationship that you want/need to end.

    You can’t work on any relationship while you are holding onto another. Saving your marriage means cutting off the potential for temptation by cutting off all contact with your affair partner.

  2. Commit to complete honesty.

    No more lying, and no excuses or justification for the affair.

    You are going to have to answer a lot of questions, and they likely won’t end anytime soon.

    The sensitive and fragile nature of this process is good reason to go into couples/marriage counseling as soon as possible. Therapists who specialize in couples only will be able to guide this very delicate process with wisdom and safety.

    They will also know how to ensure that your spouse gets deserved answers to their countless questions, while not sneaking into potentially traumatizing details.

  3. Take responsibility for your actions.

    If you have been committed to the above healing work for your own life, you will be prepared for this task.

    Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you sign off as a perpetual punching bag as punishment for your transgression. It means you don’t blame the marriage or your spouse -- no matter how many defects they may have -- for your choice.

    It also means you show up for the atoning work ahead, even when it’s uncomfortable. (And it will be.)

  4. Be sympathetic, loving and patient.

    Your spouse isn’t going to seem like the spouse you once loved or even want to love for a long time. How could they?

    Regaining trust is a long earned-moment-by-moment process. You are going to have to be selfless and committed more than ever before.

    Your spouse has essentially “waited” for you. Now you have to “wait” for your spouse.

    When you feel your patience waning, call upon your gratitude that your spouse has agreed to stay and work on your marriage.

  5. Be willing to create a new marriage.

    If you have to formally say goodbye to your first marriage, do so. What’s important is that you don’t set yourselves up for failure by clinging to a relationship that no longer exists.

    Yes, you are the same people with the same children and the same “marriage.” And yet, you’re not the same people. And your marriage isn’t the same either.

    And that vulnerable, mysterious, unchartered place of creating a new marriage together is also where the power of choice comes in.

    Some of the greatest journeys have stepped out of original-plans-gone-wrong.

When you are the one who has been unfaithful, it’s natural not to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The self-damnation is often worse than any sentence your spouse or the world could impose.

But it’s important that you can look in the mirror and see a person whose goodness balances painful choices. It will never justify infidelity as a response to your dissatisfactions, but it will be the wellspring of new and better choices going forward.

Knowing how to get over an affair when you cheated starts in that deep, inner space where all “knowing” exists. And that means you are going to have to be the first to do what you eventually hope your spouse will do: trust you.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals navigate the repercussions of infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about getting over your affair? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.
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Healing a child’s heart after divorce is tricky. Luckily your child can heal without lasting scars.

Healing your heart after divorce can be a long, all-encompassing journey. The thought of healing a child’s heart after divorce can take your breath away. Children are, after all, the innocent, powerless victims -- the collateral damage with no say in the implosion of their family.

Children are, by their nature, resilient. But how they react and adapt in the case of divorce depends on a number of factors, including age, personality and circumstances.

And success in healing a child’s heart after divorce depends largely on you -- how you react, adapt...and communicate.

Parents, even without intending, can be so engrossed in their own emotions that they forget about the emotional impact on their children. If the separation and divorce are especially hostile, they may not be able to see beyond their own anger and blame.

A common mistake parents make is failing to acknowledge and help children talk through the impact of the divorce.

Sometimes guilt gets in the way. Sometimes parents don’t have the awareness essential to be present to their children in the necessary way. And sometimes they don’t have the necessary emotional or communication skills.

No matter what the reason, your ability to rise above the negativity of your own emotions will determine how well your children adapt.

Ironically, if you’re going to succeed at healing a child’s heart after divorce, you and your ex will have to be on your best behavior. You’ll have to learn to do what you didn’t do well in your marriage: communicate effectively.

Healing a child’s heart after divorce calls upon parents to be the best of themselves: selfless, compassionate, dependable, uncompromisingly communicative. They will have to exercise healthy boundaries that protect the highest good of the child(ren), even as they work to heal themselves.

What children learn from the experience of living out their youth after divorce can shape the rest of their lives. And it can have a profound effect on the formation and stability of their future relationships.

How can you focus on healing a child’s heart after divorce when your own heart isn’t healed? Here are 10 important tips, with considerations for different age groups.
  1. Keep the ugly stuff away from the children.

    Never ever fight in front of them, and don’t discuss legal matters in front of them.

    If you need to vent your negativity or have a “blame session,” do so with your divorce coach, therapist or a trusted friend. But never speak derogatorily about your ex around your children. In their developing minds, doing so is the equivalent of disapproving of them.

    Your children are not only hurt and confused, but they are also extremely vulnerable and impressionable. The last thing they should ever believe is that they are somehow to blame or will lose their parents’ love.
  1. Remind them it’s not their fault, and that you will always love them.

    Divorce is one of the most confusing experiences children can go through. “How can I trust that Mommy and Daddy will always love me if they suddenly stopped loving each other?”

    Explain to them that sometimes parents can’t live together in a happy, healthy way, but they never stop loving their children. This is a message you will have to repeat over and over, both in your words and your behavior.
  1. Be predictable.

    Surprises are for parties, not divorces. When something is going to affect your children’s lives or routines, they have a right to know in advance. Children shouldn’t come to expect being shell-shocked by their parents’ choices and behavior.
  1. Keep their routines as normal as possible.

    A big part of healing a child’s heart after divorce is not doing things that hurt it more.

    The one great consistency -- an intact family -- has already been taken away. The only thing that will keep a child grounded and able to adapt is having as much normalcy as possible.

    School, friends, activities, rituals -- from the big things to the little things, these routines can be a salve to a child’s heart.
  1. Acknowledge and validate your child(ren)’s feelings.

    This is one of the most important commitments divorced parents need to make to their children.

    If you have difficulty discussing your own feelings in a healthy way, you may benefit from guidance in talking with your children. A therapist or divorce coach can teach you how to elicit the expression of feelings from your children.

    Expressing your perceptions and asking direct “feeling” questions can give children the safety they need to open up. And if they hear you express vulnerability in the form of feelings, they will learn to do the same.
  1. Keep your language and explanations age-appropriate.

    Children don’t need to know the “whys” of your divorce. But they do need (and deserve) to know how their lives are going to be changed.

    Speak to the emotional and intellectual age of the children. And be prepared to answer questions and to listen to and validate their feelings.
  1. Remember they are children, not “surrogate adults.”

    You have other adults in your life to lean on for support. Your child is not responsible for comforting you or taking care of you, no matter how loving and caring s/he is.

    If you have to swallow your tears long enough to tell your child that you are taking good care of yourself and will be fine, then do so. But don’t allow your child to take on the emotional burden of being a surrogate for you or your ex.
  1. Encourage and support your child’s relationship with the other parent.

    Regardless of your custodial arrangement, make sure your child knows that you know how important the other parent is to him/her. Speak supportively, encourage phone calls and communication, and be as flexible as you possibly can toward the other relationship.

    Remember, healing a child’s heart after divorce starts with prioritizing your child.
  1. Adapt to the child’s age and changing needs.

    Children 0-4 will be the most sensitive to changes in their routine, and will need frequent exposure to both parents.

    Children 5-12 are still routine-dependent, but now have school and friends for support too.

    They can also understand the concept of divorce, but are still vulnerable to blaming themselves and to regressive behavior. They will need the ongoing reassurance that the divorce had nothing to do with them and will not affect your love for them.

    As children get into their teens, they can understand more. They may blame themselves or one parent for the divorce. They also have strong attachments to their friends, and may want to make adjustments in their visitation schedules.

    Pay attention to the nuances of change that go along with children getting older. And make sure you are being emotionally present to their level of understanding.
  1. Take care of yourself.

    Taking good care of your physical and emotional health doesn’t run counter to putting your kids first.

    If anything, it sends the message that you are capable of taking care of yourself and them. It helps you on your personal journey of healing and makes you a good example of self-triumph to your kids.

    Just as importantly, it supports your verbal message that your children are just that -- children. They are not your caretakers or surrogate spouses. It’s your job to take care of them, not the other way around.

The responsibility for healing a child’s heart after divorce is huge. And when you are stuck in your own pain, you may wonder if you have what it takes to help your child through this.

If you were a child of divorce, think back to what made your journey healing or more painful. If you weren’t a child of divorce, think about your influence on your children’s current well-being and future relationships.

Coming from a heart-place of awareness and love for your child can greatly inspire your choices. You and your ex may not agree on much or feel any love for one another. But at one time you had enough love between you to create a child.

And that remembrance will always be in front of you, calling you to the best of yourself on behalf of your child’s highest good.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to work with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private consultation.

Looking for more information about dealing with parenting after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.
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No matter how bad your divorce was, you don’t have to stay stuck & bitter for the rest of your life.

Divorce drags a lot of agony in its wake. And grief is an inescapable part of it. But the work to overcome grief after a bitter divorce can create another level of agony altogether.

Emotions like anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, disappointment and fear are among the normal line-up after a divorce.

Bitterness, however, is ugly. It oozes out of anger, resentment and indignation over the perception of being treated unfairly. It goes beyond anger to a nastiness and malevolence toward the other person. It can even carry undertones of hatred.

Think about someone you have known who was so full of negative energy that s/he couldn’t focus on anything good. Perhaps that person had such deep, uncontrollable anger that s/he said and did “crazy” things.

Perhaps you even tried to reason with or help the person, but came to realize that there was no getting past the bitterness.

A person that “pissed off” can’t move on, and remains a prisoner to the past.

If you’re trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, you will have to do a lot of work to defuse the rancor.

You won’t be able to control what your ex says or does. But you can decide for yourself that your survival depends on moving through the stages of grief. The alternative, staying stuck in any stage can lead to emotions and behaviors with lifetime consequences – and neither of us want that for you.

It’s not uncommon for people divorcing or already divorced to be immersed in senseless, destructive battles with one another. It’s also not uncommon for one or both to pretend that s/he isn’t hurting, or to avoid or mask the pain.

Healthy anger can be a potent messenger, telling you if something is wrong, painful or threatening. In divorce, however, anger is often wielded as a means to punish an ex while maintaining a bitter relationship.

Who would want that, right?

Remember that bitterness doesn’t run on clear thinking. It runs on the vapors of rumination over deep wounds that the other person may never acknowledge, let alone assuage. And that can lead a person to act destructively...and ultimately stay stuck.

In order to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, that process will have to be embraced. The stages will be the same as those for grieving a death, though infused with attributes unique to divorce.

There will be no funeral, and some of the trusted members of your support system may be part of the “loss” in the divorce. But there is life. And there is hope for yours to evolve to a more authentic, mature, happy place after you reach the stage of acceptance.

Here are 6 strategies to help you overcome grief after a bitter divorce.
  1. Accept the divorce in your mind until your heart catches up.

    This isn't the same acceptance that shines the encouraging light from the end of the grief tunnel. It's just a mental, pragmatic acceptance that says, "The divorce is a reality. I have to get through this, and I'm the only one who can do it."

    You may feel numb, and you will definitely feel the heaviness of the grief to come. But now it's time to step to the starting line and mentally accept the situation.
  1. Find a therapist, divorce coach and/or divorce support group.

    Divorce unravels everything. It’s not just the big, obvious stuff. It’s also the countless little things -- the nuances that stitch together memories and the rituals of daily life.

    Having all that pulled out from under you can be like waking up in the dark after an earthquake. How do you know where to step without stumbling? How do you access anything you need?

    The blessing of working with a divorce professional is that s/he knows where the light switch is...and can offer you a hand so that you can more safely navigate the rubble.

    And a support group can give you the camaraderie of others who are at the various stages of grief that you will need to work through.
  1. Let the grief begin.

    It’s going to happen, whether you accept it or resist it. Your commitment should be to move through each stage without getting stuck.

    Yes, you will undoubtedly come back to stages you thought you had left. And the stages won’t necessarily happen in order.

    The promise of the grief process is that each stage offers gifts -- if the stage is temporary. Each stage poses its own dangers, however, if treated as your final destination.

    Divorce is not the end, so don’t give it the false power to be. (It’s worth noting that the stages of grief can range from five to seven in research. But the five original stages defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are always present.)
  1. Work on your anger. 

    Anger is actually a secondary emotion with a brilliant ability to shield you from deeper, primary emotions like sadness and fear.

    In the early stages of an event (separation, divorce, discovery of an infidelity), it can deflect the inevitable flood of pain and fear. This protection is one of the gifts of anger.

    Think of anger as a “PEP talk”: power, energy and protection. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Kind of like, “Bottle that up and give me a 6-pack!”

    Think about how you feel when you are angry, even enraged. There’s an energy that needs a place to go. And it can be so strong that it makes you feel powerful when you express it. (Ever take a run or lift weights when the fury is running through your veins?)

    Now think about anger as a protector. It can be a veritable flame-thrower of emotion that can keep your offenders at a distance. Or it can simply protect you from underlying emotions for which you’re not quite ready.

    These gifts can give you resolve and the energy to take action to heal. They can also help you set very clear boundaries, especially at a time when you feel so vulnerable to trespass.

    But there is a risk to anger. If you stay in this stage too long, you could make poor judgments. 

    You could bust right through those anger-inspired boundaries and hurt people. You could use all that powerful energy to create (and maintain) conflict. And you could hide your bitterness behind a false sense of control that anger can give.

    If you are trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, this part of your journey will be especially important. Get into the habit of writing out your anger in a journal or in letters you don’t send. Scream into a pillow. Pound a pillow. Talk it out with a divorce coach, therapist or friend.
  1. Take responsibility. 

    Divorce isn’t a one-person show. There is always at least a sliver of that pie graph with your name on it.

    Learn to communicate in “I” statements. Even the practice of speaking differently (and more responsibly) can slow your thinking and make you more aware of your thoughts.

    Take note of what pushes your buttons. And use the awareness of your responsibility as inspiration for personal-growth work.

    It’s amazing the way owning up to your own contributions to a failed marriage can halt the blame game.
  1. Strive for compassion and gratitude. 

    Your ex may be the last person on earth for whom you feel compassion, let alone gratitude. But remember that s/he is as human as you, and is navigating this strange thing called “life” with as much vulnerability as you.

    Can you open your heart to the possibility that your ex’s hurtful behavior is a cover for underlying anger, fear and sadness? Would that remind you of anyone?

    And just because you're divorcing doesn’t mean that your time together was a waste. You shared life experiences and learned powerful lessons that have changed you. Even the difficult experiences taught you things you will never forget.

    And if you have children together, you will always have something for which to be grateful.

The work involved to overcome grief after a bitter divorce is about getting to a place of acceptance. This isn’t a “party on the mountaintop” after a long, upward trek. It’s just a newfound realization of your own strength.

Think of it as a starting place where you stake your flag in the ground and say, “Now, I’m ready to move forward.”

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach, who works with people just like you who want to know how to overcome grief after a bitter divorce. For free weekly advice, register for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working with me, you can schedule a private 30-minute consultation with me.

Looking for more help coping with divorce heartbreak? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Dealing With Grief.
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