Getting Divorced? Why You May Still Need A Family Therapist

Think you can only call in a family therapist to piece back together your relationship? Think again.

When you got married, you created a family — a family of two. Over the years your family may have expanded to include a goldfish, a dog or cat, and kids. What if you you decide to get divorced? You may not think so at the time, but you’re still a family — a family with two homes, but still a family. That’s why working with a family therapist, a helping professional who specializes in looking at a family as a whole, may be just the person to help you and your ex navigate the choppy waters of divorce.

You’re probably wondering something like “How do I know if a family therapist would be helpful to my specific situation?” My best answer is to look at each family member individually. Has any one of them had marked changes in behavior (especially exhibiting combative behavior), or started relying inappropriately on other family members? If even one of your family members fits these descriptions, chances are your family could benefit from working with a therapist.

When changes like these happen suddenly, it’s easy to admit that professional help is called for. What happens more often, though, is that the changes emerge slowly — or that they get obscured by the chaos you are experiencing amidst all the divorce. Because I know how difficult it can be to go through divorce and still attend to the kids (not to mention, yourself!), here’s a list of some behavioral changes you’ll want to be on the lookout for:

  • Irrational fears
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Sleeping or eating problems
  • Guilt
  • Change in personality
  • Persistent sadness
  • Depression
  • Acting younger than chronological age
  • Fear of being separated from either or both parents
  • Acting out
  • Manipulation
  • Academic problems
  • Peer and/or sibling relationship problems

The key here is to take a step back from all that’s going on in your life and really think about each of your children. Think back to how they behaved before the tides of divorce enveloped your family. Look at the changes in behavior and ask yourself if they’re consistent with their developmental stage. For example, a pre-teen girl will often become moody as part of all the hormonal changes her body is going through. If you have a pre-teen daughter who is moody, it might just be consistent with her developmental stage. However, if you have any concerns or questions about what is and isn’t appropriate, it’s best to seek outside help. I always direct my clients toward being cautious and enlisting the help of a professional like a family therapist.

What I find fascinating about this list of behavioral changes to be way of is that it so closely mirrors what you are probably experiencing as a result of the divorce. The important thing to remember is that children have fewer personal resources and life experience to help them navigate the chaos of divorce, and having a helping professional like a family therapist on their side can be priceless not only for the children, but for offering each parent enough space to find their own way to singlehood.

Even if the children are weathering the divorce well, there may still be an opportunity for a family therapist to make things better. For example, if you and your ex are fighting incessantly through the legal system, or if your fights in front of the children are so volatile that they repeatedly try to stop the arguments. More subtle signs that your family might benefit from working with a family therapist include:

  • Either you or your ex regularly puts down or badmouths the other in front of the children
  • Either you or your ex uses the children to carry messages between the two of you
  • Either you or your ex uses the children to spy on the other
  • Either you or your ex relies on any one of your children for high levels of emotional support
  • Either you or your ex relies on any one of your children for major responsibilities in the home
  • Either you or your ex experiences depression or anxiety

A great family therapist can help significantly decrease divorce stress because the family — even with its two homes — will function better. There will be less conflict between the parents, fewer problems with the kids at school and fewer sibling conflicts. That doesn’t mean that the family will be stress-free and perfectly adjusted (no one ever is); it just means that things will be less chaotic and the murky waters of divorce will become more calm and clear. A family therapist could just be the life vest you’ve been looking for.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
Which of the items in the lists above reminded you of what’s going on in your family? 
Divorce is stressful on the entire family and each family member will respond differently to the stresses. By continuing to work together as a family despite having two different homes, children will realize they still have both their parents on their side. A family therapist is a great resource to help your family continue to work together. 

If you decide you need a family therapist, ask for referrals from your attorney, family and friends. 
Not every family therapist will be a perfect match for your family. You’ll want to carefully evaluate your options to find the correct one for your family. The referrals are just the starting point; you and your family will want to interview at least two family therapists before deciding which will be the best to support all of you as your family changes through divorce.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Pesky Divorce Lies You Must Stop Telling Yourself

You are so much stronger than you think.

“I abdicated responsibility for myself.” That’s what I heard every time I looked in the mirror.

“I abdicated responsibility for myself.” I heard it again anytime I allowed myself even a brief break from being busy — way too busy.

“I abdicated responsibility for myself. I abdicated responsibility for myself. I abdicated responsibility for myself.” It was a horrible, accusing chant that never let up.

It was also true.

When I got divorced, I had to face a lot of things — a lot of things that didn’t make me feel so hot about myself. This one, giving up responsibility for myself, was one of the hardest because it was so embarrassing; because I was an incredibly responsible person when it came to everyone and everything else, and because I wasn’t exactly sure how to take responsibility for me.

Like most girls my age, I grew up with a set of confusing expectations. My mom stayed at home. Her daily focus was on raising the five of us kids and taking care of our home. My dad was the breadwinner and took care of the yard and cars. Yet my parents were well aware of the social changes going on in the 70s and encouraged me to get an education so I’d be able to take care of myself financially. The funny thing was that they still held onto the expectation that I would help take care of my siblings and help my mom when dad was out of town. Mom and Dad took very good care of me while I was growing up. But, when I look back, I realize I learned to “do it all” for everyone else. I didn’t really learn how to take care of me in any way — besides financially.

This dynamic played out in my first marriage with me being able to handle the finances, to get a great education and a great job when I graduated, to make sure my husband was happy, and … to completely ignore what I needed. Back then I decided it wasn’t a priority for me to take care of myself because I thought it was my husband’s job to do that. I thought he should just know what I needed in the way that I just knew what he needed.

This was a recipe for disaster. It seemed that the harder I worked at making sure my husband was taken care of, the worse I felt. I started having anxiety and panic attacks. At first, my husband was worried and would rush me to the ER to make sure things were OK, but over the years he got to the point where he was exhausted with my panic attacks and would ask if we really had to go to the hospital again. Realizing that I had abdicated responsibility for myself after my divorce was just the beginning of my journey of self-discovery — a journey that began with changing the beliefs that no longer worked for me.

One of the first beliefs I set about changing was “I am incapable of taking care of me. That’s someone else’s job.” I started tackling this one where I thought it would be easiest; something inside my comfort zone. I decided that I was capable of taking care of me financially. Although I had the knowledge and the skills to take care of my financial needs, I didn’t have the belief that I could do it “just” for me.

What finally helped me believe I could take care of myself financially was when I opened up to a friend who helped me look at my income and expenses. He helped me see that everything was OK: I could pay my bills and be responsible and take care of myself. I began to understand that I could depend on myself. Maybe, for now, only financially — but it was a start that I could build on.

The next belief I changed was “I need to be punished for getting divorced.” Besides living with the expectation that God would strike me dead if I did anything fun, this belief caused me to punish myself. I thought that the purpose of my life was to work hard and take care of everyone and everything I felt responsible for — again, except for me.

If I did things that got in the way of my “purpose”, then I needed to be punished. One of the things I did to punish myself was to avoid eating. Luckily, there was a wonderful couple, Bob and Gloria, who lived across the street from me. They were the same ages as my parents and from the same part of the country. They would have me over to eat dinner with them virtually every night and Gloria would always encourage me to eat by making things she knew I liked. Slowly, I began to realize that I was human and it was OK to take care of me. Eventually, my inner dialogue about needing to be punished disappeared.

Another belief I changed on my way to taking responsibility for me was that I should expect someone I was dating to take care of me, because I was taking care of them. This one was a little trickier for me to work with because it involved my relationships with others; it wasn’t just about me. I challenged this belief by listening to the stories of the men in my divorce recovery class, and by talking with my therapist about what a healthy relationship is. I challenged this belief by dating, having my heart broken and dating again. And I challenged this belief by reading a lot about self-care, which is how I first learned about life coaching!

There were many other beliefs I needed to adjust the incessant refrain of “I abdicated responsibility for myself” finally stopped. But the method I used to change these other beliefs was the same as I used for the changes I’ve already shared with you. I first became aware of the one belief that needed to shift. I allowed myself to trust that I knew what needed to change, and that I could trust others to respond when I asked for the help I knew I needed. That’s one of the most responsible things anyone can do.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

What are your current responsibilities? Many people have too many responsibilities that they somehow just wound up having. It’s almost like they’re responsibility magnets. Take some time and get really clear about what your current responsibilities are. 

What have you given up to meet these responsibilities? For each of the responsibilities you’ve identified, ask yourself what if anything you’ve given up to meet the expectations of the responsibility. Some responsibilities have a high price — like the one I paid to make sure everyone around me was well cared for. Other responsibilities have little to no price. Then look at all you’ve given up to meet all of these responsibilities.

If you’re not satisfied with your responsibilities, how can you adjust them so you’re taking better care of you? The answer I hear most often when I ask this question of my clients is “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?” I love hearing this answer because it means the person is ready and willing to ask for help and support. That’s where I started off changing my beliefs and my life when I got divorced and I know it’s just the next positive step on this one person’s amazing life journey.

Do you need some suggestions for adjusting your responsibilities so you can take better care of you? You might want to start with asking a trusted friend, your parents or other family member, your clergy person, a therapist or life coach. You can even reach out to me and schedule a Complimentary Consultation.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

30 Awesome Ideas for Valentine’s Friend Dates

Tip #20: Visit a pet shelter for some serious snuggle time.

Whether you’re single by choice or circumstance, Valentine’s Day can seem more like Single’s Awareness Day instead of a day celebrating love. Rather than dreading February 14, why not try something different? Celebrating with your girlfriends is a great alternative to sitting at home alone or feeling jealous about the flowers that co-worker received from her boyfriend.

So in the spirit of love, here are 30 ideas to spark your creativity for celebrating this Valentine’s Day with your besties.

  1. Host a karaoke night.
  2. Have a Wii dance party. You might want to try Zumba, belly dancing, disco or stripper moves.
  3. Go out for manis and pedis.
  4. Treat each other to lunch. Yes, you’ll each still have a bill, but somehow it’s still fun to know you were treated to lunch!
  5. Send each other a gift at work.  Who doesn’t love to receive flowers or chocolate for Valentine’s Day and letting the whole office see?
  6. Send each other “what I love about you” notes. This is your chance to tell her how much you love her brilliance or kindness or sense of humor or…  And you’ll get to hear the same from her!
  7. You’ve heard of Secret Santa. Why not a Secret St. Valentine?
  8. Get a box of Valentines like you did in elementary school and send them to all your girlfriends.
  9. Open a bag of candy hearts and talk about who would be your dream recipient for each message. Then make up messages you wish were on the hears as you drop them in glasses of champagne.
  10. Girl power movie marathon. My favorite is Legally Blonde.
  11. Host a sex toy party. No, it’s not your mother’s Mary Kay party. It’s a whole lot more fun!
  12. Take the day off and do something adventurous or fun outdoors. Maybe this Valentine’s Day will be when you each can cross skydiving off your bucket list!
  13. Retail therapy. A new pair of shoes always make a day better!
  14. Get a massage.
  15. Get Tarot readings.
  16. Giggle about your worst dates ever at the hottest bar in town. You’ll be sure to attract attention.
  17. Commit to a day of good deeds and share the stories with each other over dinner.
  18. Give out Valentine’s Day cards at a retirement home or hospice.
  19. Give out Valentine’s Day cards at your local fire station.
  20. Visit a pet shelter and cuddle or walk the pets.
  21. Have a potluck dessert party.
  22. Have a marshmallow fight. The boys have paintball and we have marshmallows. Each of you gets a bag of stale marshmallows to use as ammunition. (They’re less sticky when they’re stale, but still tasty!)
  23. Update or create on-line dating profiles.
  24. Host a flower arranging event. Get a bunch of flowers from a florist or grocery store. Ask everyone to bring a vase and spend the evening with wine, conversation and flower arranging. 
  25. Setup a wine tasting party at your home, the local wine store or even a winery.
  26. Host a craft party — even macaroni crafts — with prizes for the most outlandish, etc.
  27. Host a dream date party: Everyone brings a picture of their favorite celebrity and a story of their ideal date with them. The best story wins a prize.
  28. Why I like being single! Being single can actually be kinda fabulous. Get together and talk about what’s perfect about being single. You’re bound to get some new perspectives.
  29. Plan and cook a fabulous meal together. Serve it up like a 5-star restaurant would.
  30. Do a “chore” for each other. There are all kinds of ways to feel loved and sometimes getting help doing a “chore” can be a great way to demonstrate and experience love.

Just because you’re not romantically linked up doesn’t mean you can’t spend Valentine’s Day feeling and spreading the love. Give it a try and you’re sure  to have a blast with your besties!

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

This article original appeared on YourTango.

My Attorney and I Aren’t on the Same Page – What Now?

Female divorce attorney sitting on a folding chair.

This is a post by guest blogger Joy Ragan.

There is often a misconception that your attorney should be an extension of you. People believe the attorney is supposed to “speak on their behalf” and, therefore, should say or do exactly as the client directs. This is a dangerous way of thinking. Attorneys do speak for clients. Attorneys are their voice in the courtroom. However, attorneys are not puppets. If you and your attorney are not on the “same page” it probably means you have a good attorney.

Think of it this way, attorneys work in the system daily. Attorneys know the ways of the court system. They see thousands of cases and have a very different perspective from those who are going through a divorce. Attorneys are trained to deal with a case as a set of facts and to apply those facts to the law to gain the best possible result for the client. A person who is going through a divorce does not look at the situation in this way at all. It is actually a very unnatural way to view your circumstances. Especially in a divorce, there are many emotions. On some level, you want your attorney to “be on the same page”; to share your emotions and disgust with your spouse. However, this is the exact opposite of what you should want in a divorce attorney.

Choose a divorce attorney who is willing to tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear. You want to hear that you will get thousands of dollars a month in alimony or that you will get exactly the visitation schedule you desire or you won’t have to move out of your house or (insert whatever you preconception is here). I can imagine it is comforting to hear from a professional that you’ll get everything you want, that this traumatic experience will not be so bad and you’ll get to walk out of the marriage virtually unscathed.

That’s just not the truth. Extremely rare is the case where one party leaves the marriage without having to compromise or experience the loss of something that is really important to him/her. When you have an attorney who is preparing you for reality, it may very well feel like the two of you are not on the same page. It may feel like the attorney doesn’t understand you or your desires. You may find it hard to pay someone to work for you and have that person tell you things that you don’t like. However, this is the ideal attorney. You are emotional and struggling to think rationally (and understandably so). You do not want your attorney to be on this same page.

Often it doesn’t matter how gently the attorney attempts to steer the client away from emotions and toward a logical resolution to the case, the client feels discomfort. The natural instinct is to resist and cling to emotions. At this point, it is not unusual for the client to want to switch attorneys. Clients go in search of someone to tell them differently – to tell them what they want to hear. While there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, make sure you are getting a second opinion from a good attorney.

I have counseled many people who come to me seeking “second opinions” to stay with their attorney. Their attorney was giving good advice. The client just wasn’t emotionally ready to hear it. But, there are many attorneys who would rather make money than tell you that your attorney is on point. In family law cases, we often see clients who have been through multiple attorneys. They switch attorneys every time they feel as though they are not “on the same page” as their attorney. This is a red flag, not only for other attorneys, but for Judges. This behavior could be seriously detrimental to your case. Resist the impulse to act simply because your attorney is saying or suggesting things that are uncomfortable.

(Note from Karen: It’s also possible that your attorney truly isn’t the correct attorney for you. So, if when you get a second opinion from a good attorney they give you different advice, you might want to get a third opinion from another good attorney so you can be comfortable that you’re getting the best representation for you.)

The reality is that divorce hurts, the process is painful and the legal system is not designed to solve all of your problems. An attorney who will guide you to this reality is a good practitioner, especially when the two of you are “not on the same page”.

About Divorce Attorney Joy Ragan:

Joy Ragan is a Florida divorce attorney.Joy Ragan is a Family Law and Criminal Law Attorney on a mission to see families healed and the legal system improved when it comes to divorce. An author, speaker, and web TV host, Joy is reaching people all over the world with her message of healthy conflict resolution and living every day with joy.

In addition to being an author and speaker, Joy practices law full time in Central Florida.

If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with the challenges you’re facing now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.