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Elizabeth Winkler has graciously agreed to share one of her most viral blog posts to date with The Family Community. In her words: "My approach is warm, empathic, depth-oriented, and empowering to the client. I incorporate mindfulness and meditation to help accelerate my clients’ personal growth and expansion. I honor and respect every client’s boundaries and desire for what they want out of therapy. I find that the best work is achieved when the trust we have built together in therapy is strong. This allows your therapy to evolve as you do…"

When she wrote this post for It's Over Easy, the reaction from readers was overwhelming, and quickly became viral. This is the future of divorce.

What if we could create more love in the world through the process of breakups, separations, and divorce? This may sound strange, but it is entirely possibly for those who are willing to do the internal work. What I call mindful untethering. I have created 5 tenets to follow and come back to as guides for the internal "divorce" that is necessary for individuals to find peace, empowerment, and ultimately abundant love that lies within each one of us. Here are the 5 tenets.

  • THE PATH OF HAPPINESS IS INSIDE:
“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way”
Many people divorce externally on paper but they never divorce internally. People uncouple because they are unhappy, but that unhappiness will follow you if you don’t do the inner work of mindful untethering. The choice is yours to make this a growth experience or a tragic event that guides your life forever. So I like to start with, “Do you want to be happy?” Many clients will react with, “how can I be happy, I am getting a divorce?”

When we have all of these unhappy feelings inside, this can feel impossible. However, this is exactly why we need to untether ourselves internally from this pain so that we can let it go. If you don’t, you will never be divorced and never be truly happy. Give yourself the true freedom to be on a path of happiness. So if you said “Yes, I want to be happy” and you realize you have the power to choose this path inside, then we move to the next step, which tells you how to be there.

  • ENLIGHTENED PARENTS: ENLIGHTENED CHILDREN
This tenet obviously only applies to families but it is an important sector to address. I have found the most powerful guidance to couples with children is this next bit of information.

Children of divorce move from a normal category of children to an at risk category. The #1 predictor that they will move back into the normal pool is linked to how well the parents get along. I have seen this piece of information magically move many couples from battling with lawyers to recognizing that with mediation and therapy they have the power to preserve and grow a healthy and happy long-term relationship for ALL parties. The focus is on the health of the whole family.  Even though it is a family in two homes, you will forever be tied together through your children. Do you want to be happy given this reality? You have the opportunity to grow more happiness and love by letting go of your own agenda (ego) and focusing on the whole. Remembering that the parents enlightened decisions provide the path that the children will follow.  The way in which you continue to deal with your ex-partner has the potential to be a positive or negative influence on how your children will manage relationships in their future.  Enlightened decisions create an environment in both homes that will stabilize and protect the children that you both love. 

  • WHO IS AT THE WHEEL?
In divorces there are so many broken pieces and messy situations that clients feel overwhelmed. In order to give them back to themselves they need to become aware of their power. Think of the self like a car and there are many passengers inside. We can see that we let different drivers guide us on the road of life and often we do this without awareness. We often unconsciously let the insecure, scared, and fearful passengers take over simply because their voices are often much louder and more distracting. We have the opportunity to be more aware and awake here.   The dialogue begins with, who is driving inside? Often I find FEAR to be the biggest culprit, which leads to more fear, resentment and sometimes hate. If you want happiness, you cannot let fear to be your guide. Would you be willing to let someone else drive so that you can have more clarity, peace, and ultimately happiness? Expansion of our internal awareness of the inner voices allows one to no longer identify from a place of negative fearful thinking. Through this awareness one can experience inner freedom.  Through techniques such as: mindfulness, meditation, neutralization of patterned thinking, mantra, somatic exercises, breath work, interviewing the different splintered aspects of self inside, as well as emotional releasing of the pain from the heart; the client can become highly aware of the interior life that can create chaos or calm. The therapeutic guidance takes the client back to letting the highly aware self drive down this road ahead. At times there could be a lot of traffic, unexpected weather, accidents, and other reckless drivers on the road, but if your car is driven by an aware and centered passenger then the results will be much better than by a reactive fearful being.  This doesn’t mean you are cold and without emotion, you are just better equipped to handle any situation that passes before you. The work done here is all about letting go of pain in the heart, the files from this relationship (and often others) and starting to recognize the noise of the chattering mind as a reaction to that pain. When the client can see their strength beyond the mind and heart, the stabilization is there. 

  • FOCUS ON WHAT WORKS, STRENGTHS 
What we focus on grows. When focused on your ex partner’s strengths it is much easier to build a working healthy and often happy relationship. This clarity helps with dealing with your ex partner. I love the quote I found below which helps give clarity to people who are struggling with their ex-partners behaviors:

IF YOU ARE WILLING TO LOOK AT ANOTHER PERSON’S BEHAVIOR TOWARD YOU AS A REFLECTION OF THE STATE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEMSELVES RATHER THAN A STATEMENT ABOUT YOU AS A PERSON, THEN YOU WILL, OVER A PERIOD OF TIME CEASE TO REACT AT ALL.

There are often many areas of “weaknesses” clients have identified in the other as well as within the self. Clients work with the weaknesses as things to let go of internally (often more pain to release), and see the blessing of physical distance to certain behaviors (e.g. cheating). Clients find it to be easier to not focus on the weaknesses because they are no longer cohabitating so it is less present in their life. The harder those challenging aspects of the ex are just direct the client back to more untethering of the relationship internally and more emotional releases. Finding that balance of each parent’s strength for the family and focusing on that helps to create a peaceful and centered family.

  • CELEBRATING YOUR UNIQUE EVOLUTION:
Divorce does not need to be seen as a failure.  Due to cultural norms, projections, and assumptions divorce has held a very dark and negative space in the world.  Often some relationships do better once they are no longer married. They can grow as families in ways that they could not together under one roof.  This is possible when you can build a foundation with two caring parents who are respectful, and honor the long-term health of all people in a family.  Do not let others limit what your unique family can or cannot do.  You have the power to break down the walls and ceilings of history. The face of divorce is changing in the world and you have a part to play in that.  Lets change this together and make this world a more loving, accepting place for ALL people.

    Through the use of these 5 tenets we can build a more compassionate world for children and families who will not look at divorce as a negative influence on their lives.  Rather it can be seen as an evolution of their lives. I hope we can all work together to help create more love in the world.
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I was 6 years old when my parents separated. I was 9 when they divorced. I’m 35 now and for all intents and purposes, I am over it. I had years of counseling, two amazing parents who made sure every emotional and physical need was met, and two wonderful step parents and sisters that sweetened the deal. My parents’ separation was the best thing for them, I can see that now as a married woman myself and a mother of two. Marriage is hard and children, while pure miracles in their own right, add another level of challenge to the delicate web of marriage. I can understand how pressures of work, finances, household responsibilities, and hopes for the future can directly impact the health of a marriage. My brain can logically understand all of that, quite simply actually. But the heart, oh the delicate heart of our soul and being that rests deeply inside, that isn’t motivated or ruled by logic, sense, and reason. It feels what it will and the older and wiser I get, I try less to dominate these emotional waves and instead lean into them. Feel them. We are supposed to. The disintegration of a family is sad and tragic and it’s anyone involved’s right to process, heal and move on in their own time. There are wounds that heal quickly with thick layers of scarring and new skin grows over it, perhaps even more beautiful than what was originally there, but other wounds, some may never fully heal. 

I’m 35 years old but my parents are still my parents and always will be. I will forever be their child. It sounds silly to describe it out loud, but I’ve always felt in some way my brother and I were orphaned. How dramatic to say such a thing when we had two devoted parents and two beautiful new homes. But there was no longer the one home we all shared. We didn’t have both sets of parents sitting together at our school performances and basketball game. There weren’t two sets of kisses goodnights. Instead, there were two new homes, two new step parents and a new step-sister and half-sister and that nagging feeling of always missing the other parent we weren’t with. We were two new beautifully blended families, arguably more special than the original for there was more love and less fighting and healthier models of love. And yet, where was our one true home where we belonged all the time? The original unit of the four of us was gone forever, and in our case, with the long separation, it was a bit of a slow and painful death. Although we were both in it together, my brother and I have very different ways in which our parents’ divorce impacted our lives and story. I obsessively treasure photos, mementos such as my mother’s wedding dress and their wedding album, items from our original home - so treasured and special to me not just because they were in our family home, but because surely there must have been a story behind it. I’ve hunted for and found many photos of my parents in the early years, snuggled together on a couch, holding hands on a walk, laughing together and holding each other. There in those old photos no one wanted is the proof that once upon a time there was love there. There was so much love in fact that they married and chose to have children. The immeasurable comfort I get from seeing these photos is in knowing that I was created in love. 

My mother and I have had long and frequent conversations over the years about what life was like back when we were simply a family of four. Sometimes I can hear it in her voice, things may still be raw or tinged with resentment. But I can also hear the love and how it was a huge chapter of her life and story. She will always share children with a man she no longer loves and I can’t imagine how that would feel. There are rare instances in which my father and I are able to talk about our past, it’s not his favorite topic and I’m not one to push. This summer was a rare exception. The asked me to go for a walk with him and told me to ask him anything I wanted to know about him and my mother and the divorce. As we walked the length of my favorite beach I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face and the refrained sob in my throat. Why was I still so emotional? I really am ok in my life, why in the world was I so upset? I asked the scary questions that were still nagging deep in my heart and I wasn’t even sure I wanted the real answers for.  Did having children ruin your marriage? Do you wish you could have done it differently? Did you ever truly love my mother? Were we not enough for you both to fight for? (Silly me, there are even tears running down my face as I type this. It just goes to show how raw these questions still are.) His answers were private and sacred between us and truly irrelevant to share here, but what is most important for me to express is how special it is for children to be able to talk to their parents, to ask them questions. As the children, it’s our history, our story too. Most of us were very young and saw things through the lens of children’s eyes, often thwarting truth and reality. New questions inevitably arise the older we get, as we too get married, have children, wade through our own strains in marriage. Having parents that acknowledge children may continue to have questions, sadness and concerns is truly a gift. I have friends who aren’t as fortunate as I am or as close to their parents that they feel comfortable asking questions and talking things through. 

The two sides of the story never match perfectly and of course, they wouldn’t as we all have our own truths. But those photographic pictures, those sacred images of a time when your parents were hopelessly in love and devoted to each other, those are the relics that are more treasured and should always be saved. Even though the love faded, a family dissolved, homes were sold and new families were born, to know that the start of YOUR story did, in fact, begin with love, that's the most important piece of it all. 

Britt Emmons Ricardo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two young children. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in English and obtained an Elementary Education Teaching License from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She currently works as a toddler preschool teacher.
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If you're like us, and look forward to the summer months to dive into some new "must read" lists, you may already be familiar with this top-selling memoir by Jen Waites. If not, go out and get this book right now. For a preview of the story behind the memoir, read the blog Jen wrote for The Family Community last year here.

"What do you do when you discover that the person you've built your life around never existed? When "it could never happen to me" does happen to you? These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband - the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life - fits the textbook definition of a psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.

After a disturbing email sparks Waite's suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn't part of the long con of lies and manipulation. With a dual time line narrative structure, we see Waite's romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting."
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In a marriage things get tangled up: there's one house, one name (if you are traditional), 'your' stuff becomes 'our' stuff, 'I' becomes 'we'. You become a unit.

As things unravel during a divorce, not only do you have to figure out how to separate your assets, you also have to figure out how to untangle your identities.

Personally, prior to my separation, I had spent my entire adult life with my ex-husband. Therefore, when it came to untangling our identities, there was a lot to figure out.
- 'Who I am as an adult?'

- 'What do I like?'

- 'What are my values?'

- 'What are my passions?'

- 'Who are my friends?'

I was completely clueless as to my own identity. Obviously, I knew who was in broad strokes. However, when going into details things became rather blurry.

'Did I like this movie because we had enjoyed it or was it because I really liked it?'

'Had I chosen this activity because I was really passionate about it or because that was one of our things to do?' Those were the type of questions going through my mind.

The road to entanglement

The thing is when you spend so much time with someone as you do with a spouse, you begin to absorb their values, their habits, their attitudes. That's natural, it's emulation. Every marriage entails a share of compromise.

If you are a night-owl and they are an early-bird, or if you need to sleep with the window open and they get cold easily, you have to find ways to make things work. You find workarounds. In the process though, you become a diluted version of yourself.

In addition, there's a certain level of interdependent role-play that can begin to develop in certain couples: she might be the messy one and you're the one always tidying up, or he's the 'project' and you are his nurse.

Now, what happens to the nurse when there's no one to fix?

How do you define yourself on your own when part of your identity was tied to someone else's?

The journey to recovery

After my separation, I took a long time to rediscover myself.

There were many challenges inherent to the situation. And even though I had to seriously downsize and I could have wallowed in self-pity, I chose to embrace the experience. I allowed myself to marvel at the smallest things and really enjoy the process. Buying accessories for my new home, discovering the little shops in my neighborhood or going to see a movie alone became delightful self-discovery experiences.

Which movie did I really want to see if there was no else to please? Which were my favorite curtains? Or what cutlery did I prefer? So many opportunities to test myself!

What was unsettling was to realize how much I had internalized his voice and how I developed the habit of shrinking from certain choices out of habit, due to our merged identities.

Through practice and self-awareness, I eventually began to find my own voice again and make choices entirely directed by my own tastes. Being able to silence his voice in my head was an added benefit and a great part of the healing process.

With my own voice resonating clearly in its place, it became easier to connect with myself and find my way to what really brought me happiness, leaving the nostalgic and painful 'we used to' world behind to enter an exciting, future-oriented, full of possibility 'I love this' world. Some concrete steps:

If you are going through this process, these 5 tips can help you begin to reconnect with yourself.

– Acknowledge the fact that you were entangled. It's crucial because you cannot fix a problem you do not acknowledge.

– Actively seek out new experiences. When you engage in the old, it's easy to fall into old patterns. New experiences, on the other hand, force you to be present, turn off your auto-pilot and actively decide how you want to proceed.

– Be present and listen to the voices that come up. Their voice may have become really loud and yours only a murmur. Hearing those different voices and learning to differentiate them is the first step in re-establishing a proper balance.

– Journal to keep track of your insights and gain more clarity.

– Be patient. Especially if there was a lot of conflicts, you may have lots of fear around expressing yourself. Practice, practice, practice. It will become easier.

Bio:
Dominique Andersen is the founder of STRETCH+BLOOM, where she helps unfulfilled high-achieving women reinvent their lives.

As a divorcee herself and a serial reinventress who has worn many hats, she's a strong believer in 'if it doesn't fit, change it!'. She is based In Berlin, Germany where she lives with her current partner. Curious about her reinvention process? http://stretchandbloom.com/JoyfulReinvention
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