Men, here’s your mini-instruction manual for the woman in your life!
If you’re like most men, there are times you wish your lady came with an instruction manual. Sometimes we are confusing and just plain bizarre. Right?
Well, I believe the reason you think this about us women is you’re assuming we think and feel exactly like you would in the same situation. And when we don’t, you’re left feeling shocked and confused.
Now I’ll bet you’re a really great guy who really wants to help when the woman in your life is having a bad day. You’ve probably tried solving her problems and even distracting her with presents or activities because that’s what works for you.
But instead of her being thankful, somehow all your efforts just seem to make things worse. And, to top it all off, you’re left feeling frustrated and lonely.
First, let me put your mind at ease. Chances are her bad day has nothing to do with you. (She would tell you if it did, right?)
So there’s no need to feel frustrated, hurt or even defensive when she’s just not her usual self despite all your efforts to make things better. She’ll be back to normal soon enough and even quicker if you offer her your genuine support and love.
Think that’s exactly what you’ve been doing? Well, you have if she was a guy. But she’s not. She’s 100% woman.
So let me tell you 4 things you can try the next time your honey is having a bad day that she will immediately interpret as you showing your genuine support and love.
- Ask if she’d like to talk about it. If she does, listen to her, empathize and for Heaven’s sake DO NOT try to solve the situation unless she specifically asks you to. And even then only gently offer suggestions of things she might consider. (Watch this video for a fun take on how a supportive, yet bumpy, conversation like this might go.)
- Ask if she’d like some me-time. Sometimes women just need a break from everything. Me-time may mean that she wants to take a bath, go get a massage or a mani/pedi, exercise, or just be left alone. But being left alone doesn’t mean you should leave the house (unless she specifically asks you to). It does mean that you’re in charge of whatever needs doing – taking care of the kids, making dinner, or feeding the dog. Whatever needs doing, do it all on your own.
- Give her a hug. Tenderness and support can go a long way to calming her frazzled nerves. Don’t be surprised if she’s stiff at first and then begins crying as she softens into the hug. Just continue holding her gently until she pulls away.
- Ask if there’s some way you can help. You may or may not get an actionable response when you ask this question. Whatever her answer is, do your best job of being supportive.
Don’t worry if she doesn’t take you up on any of your offers the first couple of times you try to help her through a bad day. Just be sure and let her know you’re there for her.
As she gets more and more used to the fact that you’re there to help, she’ll begin leaning on you when she could use your strength to get through a bad day.
You’ll feel better because you know you’re helping her. She’ll feel better because she’ll know you really care about and understand her.
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 making one of the toughest decisions of your life – “Should I stay or should I go?” 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 was originally published at Wingman Magazine.
You might need to fix you to make your marriage work.
Most of us marry for love. We naively assume that because our love is different or we’re more determined that we’ll be one of the lucky couples who will arrive and remain at the magical place of “Happily Ever After” from the moment we say “I do.”
At least that’s how my first marriage started out. And I’m not alone. 99% of couples walking down the aisle for the first time believe they have arrived at the mythical land of “Happily Ever After” and that all they have to do is start enjoying the magic of it.
OK, I totally made up that statistic up because I couldn’t find any data on it. But seriously, the number of couples who believe their married life will be blissful has gotta be huge! Right?
If you’ve been married beyond the rose-colored haze of the honeymoon phase, you know that marriage is not always happy. In fact, there are moments when marriage is absolutely hell on earth.
It’s in these moments (or hours, but hopefully not days, months or years) of hell that you’re most likely to question whether or not divorce might be worth it.
Before you start Googling “divorce attorney”, take a step back, take a deep breath and let’s get real about what it does take to live “Happily Ever After” more of the time.
(Of course if there’s abuse, untreated mental illness or addictions, throw what I’m about to say out the window. Stop reading this and get back to Googling “divorce attorney.” You need to get divorced.)
It takes a daily commitment and effort to making your marriage work. There’s no magic wand you or anybody else can wave that will make your marriage perfect, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to work on yourself.
Yup, you read that right. You need to work on improving you and not your spouse. If you focus on what your spouse has to change, all you’re going to do is drive a wedge between the two of you. Do what you can to make things better even if the one thing that will change everything is if your spouse would only do x.
But don’t worry, you’re not the only one who will change. What happens is as you change, your spouse is more easily able to change without feeling like you’re pressuring them into it. (Read more about this phenomenon in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.)
One of the things you need to do is hold your spouse in high esteem and maybe even higher esteem than they have necessarily earned. Over the years many researchers have observed that people tend to live up to the expectations others have of them. (Here are a couple of references for you: How the Power of Expectations Can Allow You to ‘Bend Reality’ and How Other People’s Unspoken Expectations Control Us.)
Holding your spouse in high esteem will probably mean you’ll need to change your perspective of them. You’ll need to start assuming they have the best of intentions when they do things instead of that they’re purposefully doing something to piss you off. You’ll also need to kindly let them know when they’re doing something that really is beneath them because you both know they’re better than that.
“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Another of the changes you’ll want to consider making is creating a climate of emotional stability (yup, even when you fight – The Atlantic). Nothing makes life more miserable than a bunch of drama – well, sure it is exciting for a while, but we’re talking about “Happily Ever After” not an entertaining weekend.
How do you create an emotionally stable environment? There are 4 key elements to this type of climate:
- You are generally happy.
- You see the possibilities instead of obstacles.
- You choose to accentuate the positive.
- You genuinely celebrate each other’s successes.
In fact, University of California at Santa Barbara psychology professor Shelly Gable published research in 2006 showing that how a couple celebrates is more predictive of strong relationships than how they fight. Other research shared in 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships reports that people who see their partner’s success as being a shared success are 63% more likely to feel that their relationship is satisfying. What this means is the next time your spouse has some good news to share, if you get involved and share their joy you’ll get your marriage headed back toward bliss.
Sharing your mate’s excitement about good news is one thing, but being an interesting person who can create a sense of excitement and anticipation is another thing all together. Remember: Boring is bad for relationships.
Having a passion for life and taking an avid interest in something that thrills you (like mountain climbing, gardening, cycling, volunteering, etc.) will make you glow and be even more attractive to your spouse. Psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary and colleagues at Stony Brook University found that living an engaging life is a necessary ingredient of long-term love. And you gotta put a little love in your heart for the trip to “Happily Ever After”.
You can also create excitement and anticipation in your marriage by trying new things together. Two ideas that science says help improve relationships are pretending your date night is a first date (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) and playing together (Berkley Science Review). Yeah, take that however you need to so long as it’s fun!
Hopefully, you’ve loved all this research as much as loved pulling it all together. But sometimes it’s really easy to believe that research is one thing and real life is another. So let me share with you some real life.
My first marriage ended in divorce. All of the determination I had that we were different was wrong. I didn’t know that it was up to me to change and that making suggestions and hoping for my husband to change would never work to keep us together.
Now in my current marriage things are entirely different. Although, things did start out a bit rocky. And I “knew” that my husband needed to change in order for things to get better.
But then I did some research and some growing up. I got busy changing me and my perspectives. And you know what? My marriage has continually gotten better since then.
Have we arrived at “Happily Ever After”? No, but we each commit every day to continue our journey there together.
Are you ready to make a daily commitment to being the best you so your marriage has the best shot at survival? Then, we need to talk. 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 figuring out whether divorce is the right answer for them or not. 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.
Want more advice on how to make your marriage better? Then you’ll want to read these articles next:
Use these 3 steps to forgive yourself and set yourself free.
Yes, I struggle with being over-responsible, so I know what I’m talking about. (And, please, don’t judge me.) Over-responsibility is a trait most women are either trained into or gifted with at birth.
But it’s not found exclusively in women! Men are also over-responsible and come by it just as naturally as women do.
Us over-responsible folks experience the world a bit differently than others do. We know on every level of our being that we are
responsible for making things work out and take care of everyone else. If we don’t, we feel anything from discomfort to misery at shirking our perceived responsibilities.
It’s our overbearing sense of accountability that can hamper or even derail our divorce recovery. We habitually assign ourselves blame when things we’re involved in don’t work out or simply don’t go as planned. It’s the guilt from being at fault that keeps us from healing.
When your marriage ends in divorce it’s way too easy to blame yourself primarily (if not exclusively) for its demise. You spend hours thinking, “If only I had _______” where you fill-in-the-blank with impossibilities. Not things that are impossible to do, but things that are impossible to go back in time and do.
For us over-responsible types, it is difficult to let ourselves be less than perfect. (Oh, and by the way, a failed marriage is WAY less than perfect.)
Yet acceptance of your fallibility and imperfection is exactly what needs to happen to stop the merry-go-round of misery you’ve been riding and get over your divorce.
Bottom line: You must forgive yourself before you can get on with your divorce recovery.
Self-forgiveness isn’t a skill that comes especially easily when you’re used to holding yourself liable for just about everything. However, it’s a skill you must master.
If you’re ready to stop heaping blame and guilt on yourself, follow these 3 steps to forgive yourself and let your healing begin:
- Share the accountability. It takes two for a marriage to fail. You were always doing your best given your situation. (Yes, you were. You’re over-responsible so by definition you were doing your best.) However, doing your best does not mean that you’re omniscient or perfect. By continuing to blame yourself you’re being self-destructive.
- Choose to forgive yourself. Imagine what it would be like to stop the blaming. All it takes to stop is choosing to forgive yourself. Say the words out loud, “I forgive me.” Let them seep into your psyche. Continue saying them until you believe them just a teensy tiny bit.
- Record the shift you feel when you do forgive yourself. You’ll know you’ve forgiven yourself – even a tiny bit when you start to feel more peaceful. You’ll know you’ve completely forgiven yourself when you feel an intense sense of peace. Make note of how you feel so you’ll be able to remind yourself of the forgiveness you’ve experienced – just in case your blame habit wants to kick in again. The more often you remind yourself of how wonderful it feels, the more you’ll want to continue on the path of personal forgiveness.
Following this process once probably won’t magically gift you with self-forgiveness. You’ve been in the habit of taking all kinds of responsibility and blame that aren’t completely yours for a long time.
Don’t worry though because you can do these steps again and again. (I did.) Each time you go through the process, you’ll achieve a deeper level of self-forgiveness. Once you do forgive yourself, you’ll then be able to really achieve divorce recovery.
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 recovery. 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.
Non-sexual touch is extremely powerful (healing to both bodies AND relationships)
We’ve all heard communication is key to a thriving relationship and we we put extra effort into learning how to speak and listen to our partners with as much compassion and love as possible.
But the truth is that effective communication, the kind that really divorce-proofs a marriage, takes a whole lot more than paying attention to the words we use. Some researchers have said that non-verbal communication counts for 70-90% of the information expressed.
One of the best non-verbal means of communication for spouses to share is … touch.
And one of the most pleasurable forms of touch is massage. Massage releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and reduces stress-related hormones like adrenocorticotropin. Massage also increases intimate connection. Skin-to-skin contact communicates a lot – even if the skin-to-skin contact is hand-to-hand or even hand to foot.
Massage is also pleasurable for both partners because it allows them each to focus on the shared goals of relaxation, connection and intimacy.
Several years ago, intrigued about the benefits of massage, I decided to earn my massage license. I’ve discovered first-hand that couples can share massages that aren’t full body or require a massage table and yet are still incredibly at increasing connection and intimacy. Some of the easiest massages for a couple to share focus on the hands, the scalp and the feet.
Because we use our hands for gripping and typing all day long, the first step of a good hand massage is to gently stretch the palm and fingers open. Start with your partner’s right hand and stretch the palm and fingers open. Hold the stretch for about 5-10 seconds. Next, stretch each finger on your partner’s right hand individually by gently pressing it away from the palm. Place a small amount of olive oil or other food-grade oil into your spouse’s right palm and use your thumbs to gently massage the oil into their palm and help the muscles to relax. When you’ve finished with the right hand, repeat the procedure for your partner’s left hand.
Another wonderful part of the body to massage is the scalp. For a scalp massage, the goal is to gently move the skin of the scalp and not just move the hair around. You’ll know you’re doing a great job if you don’t hear the hair on your partner’s head making a lot of noise. Place your fingers firmly yet gently on your partner’s scalp and move your fingers in small circles. You’ll want to make 3-5 circles and then move your fingers to a new spot and repeat the 3-5 circles. Continue moving your fingers to a new spot and gently yet firmly massaging until you’ve covered their entire scalp.
One of my favorite places to receive massage is my feet. I’m on my feet a lot and give them a real workout every day and this is one of the best ways for my husband to help me unwind and for us to connect. For this massage, you’ll want to have a little bit of olive oil or other food-grade oil for lubrication. Take your partner’s right foot in your lap and apply just a little oil to the sole of their foot. Make a soft fist with your dominant hand and gently yet firmly rub your fist up and down the arch of your’ spouse’s foot. You’ll want to repeat this 5-7 times. Then move your thumbs in small circles over the ball of their right foot. When you’ve completed that, cup the heel of their right foot in your dominant hand and rub the heel of your hand over the heel of their foot 3-5 times. Next, Stroke either side of their Achilles’ tendon 3-5 times by gently holding it between your thumb and forefinger. Now wrap your hand around to the top of their foot and just pet it from their ankle to their toes 2-3 times. Repeat this procedure for their left foot.
The key to making these shared massages even more wonderful for your spouse is checking in with them for feedback as you go.
As you become more comfortable with sharing these mini-massages, you’ll also build a deep connection and ability to communicate that helps you weather the inevitable storms of marriage and just may make your marriage divorce-proof.
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 an unhappy marriage. 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 first appeared on YourTango.com.
Dignity is your best friend during divorce (or any crisis).
Look, I know divorce hurts and you’re looking for just about any way possible to feel better (because that’s what I did). The thing is that sometimes what you do to feel better backfires and the next day (or even within a few heartbeats) you wish you hadn’t done or said what you just did.
This is why it’s important to choose dignity during divorce – so you don’t have (too many) regrets about how you handled yourself.
Dignity is our best friend in a crisis because it reminds us that, although we may be at the mercy of uncertain circumstances, we can at least be in control of ourselves. Psychologist Susan Quilliam
Choosing dignity is being grounded, centered and in control of yourself. And there’s a huge upside to choosing the high road. You feel good about yourself which means your self-esteem gets a (much-needed-when-you’re-going-through-divorce) boost.
Here are 12 ways you can choose classiness as you navigate your divorce:
- Put down the ice cream scoop, chip bag and wine glass. Drowning your sorrows in ice cream, chips, alcohol or any comfort food will at best provide a temporary comfort (Rutgers). But they won’t help you long term and in fact may make maintaining your dignity more difficult.According to USC neuropsychology professor Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, “Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain. The more balanced you make your meals, the more balanced will be your brain functioning.” And you definitely need to have your brain working at its best to remain classy.
- Pick up a vibrator or bottle of KY. Having indiscriminate sex is just a patch for the need to feel sexy, to feel lovable, to feel connected to someone and to meet your sexual needs. Spend some time pleasuring yourself until you’re ready to date like an adult instead of a horny teenager.
- Be a problem solver. There’s a great line in the movie “The Martian” – Work the problem. Everyone who wants to divorce with dignity should choose this as their motto. Rather than getting side-tracked by being overly emotional at inappropriate times, being a victim, playing the blame game, being vengeful or being defensive, look for solutions to whatever the immediate problem is.This doesn’t mean you have to solve all of the issues or challenges on your own. Do your research. Ask for help from those who are more knowledgeable than yourself and be open to examining their suggestions so you can take their input and choose how you want to solve whatever problem you’re facing.
- Act as an equal – neither superior nor inferior – to your ex and whomever else you deal with during your divorce. For you to maintain your dignity you need to know that you’re just as 100% human as the next person. You need to treat others with respect and expect that they treat you with respect as well. If they don’t then you need to get clear with them about your expectation that things will change.
- Be clear with your legal representation that there will be no fighting. Attorneys learn to litigate and fight for what they believe is in the best interest of their clients. By taking the initiative to set the rules with your legal representative, you’ll be better able to stick to the highroad. Your time is too precious to waste it on unnecessary and lengthy legal battles.
- Know what’s important to you and don’t fight over piddly sh*t. Important is your kids and their welfare. Important is an equitable (notice I didn’t say fair) division of the assets and debts. Unimportant is anything that is replacable – like the iTunes library.
- Do not keep your social media network updated on the latest in your divorce. Just because you have the technology doesn’t mean you should use it. Airing dirty laundry about your divorce just isn’t productive and for goodness sake don’t go changing your relationship status until your divorce if final.
- Wait to find your next relationship until after your divorce. Finish up the work on ending your marriage before bringing anyone else into the picture. But, if your new relationship is the reason for your divorce, then the least you can do is avoid flaunting it.
- Stand up for yourself and ask for what you want and need. It’s imperative that you take care of you. There’s no guarantee that your ex will do it even if they’ve promised to. You may not get everything you want, but be sure and get what you need. Remember being a doormat is neither classy nor dignified, so ask!
- Be fair. Don’t hide or dispose of assets to prevent your soon-to-be-ex from receiving them. Do your part to move the divorce forward by providing requested information in a timely manner or by taking the actions you need to take (i.e., getting the house ready to put on the market) as quickly as possible. Don’t be so generous that you suffer. Being fair is about both of you.
- Don’t drag your kids into the drama. No matter their age, your kids shouldn’t be involved in any of your divorce drama. They’ve got their own challenges to deal with as a result of your divorce and don’t need exposure to yours.
- Express your emotions constructively. No temper tantrums, ultimatums, pity parties, stuffing (aka ignoring) your feelings, or displaying your emotions to manipulate your former spouse or anyone else. Your emotions are important and should be honored and felt, but they don’t need to dictate your actions or the actions of anyone else. If you need to schedule time to get them out in a healthy way, then schedule the time.
Divorce isn’t easy. It will be one of the most difficult life changes you’ve ever experienced. Displaying dignity and class throughout the process will require great self-discipline, but the hard truth is that you will slip up at least a little (or maybe even a lot). There will be at least one moment when you wish you could take back what you said or did.
But don’t beat yourself up over it. It really is OK because everyone who chooses the highroad makes at least one and usually several mistakes along the way.
It’s also OK because I know that as soon as you recognize your mistake you’ll correct it to the best of your ability and avoid further inflaming the situation. How do I know? Because that’s what a classy, self-respecting person who’s filled with integrity does.
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. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
This article first appeared on YourTango.com.
Make the story of your divorce recovery bittersweet and successful instead of just bitter.
Divorce is tough. The worst part of it is that there’s loss after loss after loss.
You’ve lost your marriage.
You’ve lost your dreams of “happily ever after.”
You’ve lost being married to one person for your entire life.
You’ve lost having your kids grow up in an intact family.
You’ve lost being able to see your kids growing up on a daily basis.
You’ve lost the conveniences that come with marriage – one home, shared responsibilities, shared parenting, etc.
These losses are only the tip of the iceberg of things you say goodbye to when your marriage ends. Divorce recovery is a tale of grief.
But the losses don’t tell the whole story. They just set the stage – a stage of destruction.
It’s the rest of the story that’s the most powerful, the most affirming and the most wonderful. The rest of the story is about creating and rising from the ashes. It’s a talk of you creating your life into something better than it was – a life you love even more. (Yes, it’s possible.)
The trouble is you’re probably not feeling all that heroic. And that’s completely understandable. The destruction and misery surrounding you aren’t exactly breeding grounds for motivation and energy.
Luckily, being (or becoming) heroic in the midst of divorce recovery doesn’t have to be difficult.
You can make things better and develop a sense of hope about your future. You can get over your divorce (a hero has to have a seemingly insurmountable task to overcome) if you simply start asking yourself four questions.
The first question is about who you were before you got married: What are some things you gave up for the sake of your marriage?
Obviously, you gave up being single, but what are some of the other things? To give you an idea of where to start, let me tell you a couple of the first things I gave up for the sake of my marriage. I stopped expressing myself with a colorful vocabulary because my ex didn’t approve of my use of the word “sh*t”. And I stopped going out dancing.
The second question is about curiosity: What are some experiences you’d like to have or things you’d like to try?
When you’re married, you tend to dampen your curiosity to include only those things that fit within your marriage rather than things that satisfy your need to explore and have new experiences. So throw off those restraints and allow yourself to rekindle your sense of adventure and wonder as you answer this question.
The third question is about life purpose: What are some dreams you moth-balled because of your marriage?
Maybe touring the world or becoming a physician were dreams you chose to put on the back burner because they didn’t fit in with the life you were living with your spouse. The good news is that you don’t have the same constraints anymore, so dust off those dreams and see which ones still inspire you.
The final question is about your future: Who do you want to be a year from now? 5 years from now?
Fuzzy answers are OK right now especially if your divorce is in progress or recent. But you need to come up with answers because that’s who you get to start growing into right now.
One of the answers I frequently hear when I ask this question is “I want to feel happy and not sad all the time.” If that’s your answer too, start being on the lookout for one thing every day that makes you happy or at least less sad. It could be the smile on your child’s face or the beautiful clouds in the sky. Whatever it is make note of it. The more often you do notice these things the more quickly you’ll be able to lift your veil of grief.
But just because you focus on answering these questions (again and again) to pull yourself through your divorce recovery, it doesn’t mean that you won’t still feel sad, lonely or grief-stricken. What it does mean is that things will start feeling a bit different, less overwhelming and all-consuming.
And the longer you continue moving forward toward what you want the greater your appreciation for what was and the fact that it’s ending is what’s contributing to you becoming who you are now and who you want to become. So really, the losses were just the setting and the beginning of the rest of your life story. The story where you’re the hero and you wind up happy and fulfilled again.
Don’t let the misery of divorce trap you. 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. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Surrendering little things you love about yourself will only leave you feeling empty.
The groundwork for my divorce was laid before I ever got married.
I turned 19-years old a month before I met the man I would marry just 10 months later. Back then, I used to love to go out to clubs to dance and have a couple of drinks with my friends (the drinking age was 19 where I lived). But, my boyfriend did not drink. He also didn’t dance. So I gave them both up. They seemed like little things to forfeit at the time. And yet this was exactly when I started laying the groundwork for my divorce.
I was raised in a family that would drop a well-placed expletive when we were frustrated or excited. “Sh*t” is a rather multi-purpose word it turns out. But, my boyfriend did not curse. So I gave up that way of expressing myself. At the time, it seemed like just a little thing.
A couple of months before our wedding, I suddenly had a deep knowing that I shouldn’t marry this man. (And this was not pre-wedding jitters.) But, you know what? I talked myself out of that deep knowing. In my 19-year-old brain, I rationalized that I had to marry him no matter what my inner wisdom said because I’d given him my word that I would. I reasoned that keeping my word was the most important thing I could do. I believed that ignoring my innate knowing was just a little thing to sacrifice in order to keep my word.
After we were married, I continued to make a long string of small changes that denied who I was. I justified each of these as being just another little thing (the compromises of partnership perhaps). The problem was that all of these little changes added up to a very large hole. And in that cavernous space, I could hear the echo growing ever louder of my inner voice telling me: this marriage wasn’t right for me. The marriage was slowly but steadily chipping away at me. But I had given my word, so I just kept going. After all, we were fairly well off, almost never argued and I was able to pursue my education. I would eventually graduate with my Ph.D., land a plum job, and teach a class at a major university as an adjunct professor. Life was looking pretty “fine”, wasn’t it?
Then, after 5 years of living this way, out of the blue, I started having panic attacks. Amazingly, at the time, I didn’t understand the fear underlying my panic. Now, of course, I can look back and see the real me sounding the alarm, scared that she was going to die.
But I didn’t even let the panic attacks stop me. No, sir! I had given my word “until death do us part” so I continued to stuff my rising fear (along with just about every other emotion I had) and began pasting a smile on my face every day. This was my new strategy. Fake it ’til ya make it.
Despite the ridiculous forced smile on my face and my outward efforts to hold my life together, my body started to fall apart inside (those repressed emotions take their toll) and catastrophe started to assault my world over and over. In a span of just 4 years, I developed TMJ so severe I was unable to open my mouth more than a few millimeters for months and months. I was in so much pain that I could barely speak, chew, or open my eyes. I spent months on a liquid diet and ground my way through at least 2 “non-destructible” bite guards while I slept.
After I started to recover, I was then in a car accident that compressed my spine and made it difficult for me to sit for more than a few minutes at a time. I had meetings at work where I was laying on the floor with my feet up in a chair. It looked weird, but I could be productive. I was that determined to make everything work and convince the world that my life was “fine”.
Next, our beloved dog died of bladder cancer. Then, I had a miscarriage. But I was left alone in my tremendous grief because to my husband, everything was fine, he didn’t want kids anyway. The next year, just 10 days before Christmas, my sister died unexpectedly. She was only 32 and I was inconsolable. But again, I was alone in my grief.
The false smile on my face became harder and harder to maintain. But I kept trying. Trying so hard.
The next year, another horrible car accident that broke my sternum. Recovery was tough because it was clear that I was an “inconvenience” to my husband. And then, a year after my sister’s death, my grandmother died.
Grin and bear it. Grin and bear it. … Grin and bear it. And I did, until the day I woke up and the world itself was no longer “fine”.
September 11, 2001 — the day when the hole ripped in our country was even larger than the hole I felt inside myself. Nothing was fine. And for the first time in my adult life, I could not paste a smile on my face. And in that moment, I realized I could no longer pretend like nothing was wrong. I didn’t want to be with this man. I never did. My husband was the person who told me what was happening that dreadful day and I realized I didn’t want to talk about it with him. I wanted to try to make sense of what was happening with my family and friends (with those I loved and felt loved by) and he just wasn’t one of them.
Life had been aligning crisis after crisis to try to get my attention. There were many excruciating years. But those circumstances built the structure for my decision and provided opportunities for me to wake up and reclaim myself.
And when I did wake up, on September 11th, it became clear to me that keeping my word was not the most important thing. Things were not fine. Our marriage was not working for me. Having a pasted-on smile was not how I wanted to live anymore. I wanted more for myself and for my life. I wanted to live in a way that was fulfilling to me. I realized that I needed to divorce my husband and also the caricature of myself that I had become. I needed to find “me” again under the rubble. I needed to find the framework of myself that I had abandoned almost from the moment he and I met.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with an unhappy marriage and wondering if divorce is the best answer for you. 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 first appeared on YourTango.com.
Waiting for someone to fix me didn’t work until I realized I was the someone I was waiting for.
I didn’t really start my divorce recovery until about a year after my divorce was final. It took that long before I stopped waiting for someone to show me the way.
I read lots of books, worked with a therapist (who thankfully was divorced and understood divorce recovery, joined a divorce support group, and talked with family and friends. Each of these helped, but I kept thinking that somehow one of these would fix me – that something or someone else could make me better.
But I was wrong – really wrong. All anything or anyone outside of me could provide were clues, hints, intimations – nothing so bold as “This is EXACTLY what you, Karen Finn, need to do to feel better, normal and happy again.”
The hard truth was that I had to do the thinking, the planning, the learning, the experimenting and the work. I had to feel the pain and go through it. I couldn’t heal by proxy.
It was all up to me because it was my life. No matter how much anyone loved and cared for me, they couldn’t fix my life for me. It was my job, my responsibility and my life purpose to make my life one that I enjoyed and cherished. My divorce forced me into this realization.
For my life to be worth living – really worth living and savoring every second of – I would have to make it that way. It wasn’t going to just happen.
I hesitantly decided I would have to step with both feet into my power if I was ever going to get over my divorce. After having not been my own advocate for the bulk of my life, I was scared and uncertain if I had any power at all to change things because they were just so bad.
I was a wiz at work, but not so much in my personal life. Looking back, I now understand the dichotomy.
At work, I was clear about what was expected of me at work and where I could go. I wasn’t so clear about what I wanted in my life. Sure, I’d created personal goals before, but they never seemed real. There wasn’t an external infrastructure already in place to make them real so they just never happened.
I came into my power slowly. I decided on small things about my life that I wanted to fix and then relied on experts to help guide me on how to get here as quickly as possible.
One of the first things I decided to fix was how I looked. I felt a bit unfashionable, but I wasn’t sure why and, although I was thin, I was flabby. So I hired an image consultant and a personal trainer.
Working with Trudy, my image consultant, opened my eyes to the fact that I’d become frumpy. Very few of my clothes fit me, my haircut wasn’t flattering, and I hadn’t updated my makeup since I was a teenager! I had really let myself go over the years. Working with Trudy was a lot of fun because I discovered I was beautiful (at least to me).
Working with Manning, my trainer, wasn’t quite as much fun. My workouts were hard, but the hardest part was when he confronted me about being anorexic and the work I did to breakthrough my habit of denying myself nutritious food to deal with my stress. Talk about getting real with myself, accepting responsibility and fixing a big problem! Although the work was hard, I can never thank Manning enough for telling me the truth about what it would take for me to achieve my goal of being physically fit.
Both of these experiences helped me realize I was making changes in my life that meant something to me. It didn’t matter if they meant anything to anyone else because it wasn’t my job to please them. It was my job to please me.
Not everything I tried worked the way I wanted it to. I definitely made some mistakes because I still trusted that others knew what was better for me.
When my best friend from junior high and high school suggested that moving might be a good idea, I listened closely to his opinion instead of asking myself if it was truly right for me. When Brad later invited me to live in his and his wife’s guest house until I figured out my own living arrangements in town I interpreted it as them coming to my rescue. Yup, I stepped right back into wanting someone outside of me to fix my life.
Long story short, I quickly learned self-reliance and self-determination were not skills I had mastered yet.
But every single one of the successes and mistakes was mine. They were part of my learning to live my life. And they are pieces of my life that have shaped me into the person I am today.
I used to wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t gotten divorced. Would I have ever woken up to the fact that I’m the one in charge of me and creating my life as I want it? Maybe, but even if I had, I know it would have taken me a lot longer to get through. So, as painful and horrible as it was, I’m thankful for my divorce because it allowed me to start my ongoing discovery of me.
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 first appeared on Marriage.com.
#27 will definitely make you feel good again!
When it all began, did you have any idea how difficult getting divorced would be? No one does. Divorce is one of those life experiences that no one truly understands unless they’ve been through it themselves.
The problem is that once people have been through it and moved on with their lives, they forget the depths of despair they experienced as they struggled with getting over their divorce. So your friends and family who have been there don’t have any easy answers for you when you ask for advice.
And it’s not like there’s a guide book you received when you got married about how to get over a divorce. (Even if there was, I’m sure you wouldn’t read it because you were sure your marriage would last. I know I wouldn’t have read it.)
But easy answers (or at least comforting ones) are exactly what you most want and need right now. You’re tired of hurting and wondering when it will all end.
I can’t promise that these 45 things you must do to heal from divorce will be easy for you, but hopefully you’ll find some comfort in them:
- Accept that your path to getting over your divorce will twist and turn. Even if you’re definitely putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes it just won’t feel that way. Sometimes you’ll feel that you’re actually going backwards. But as long as you keep moving forward, you’ll get through it
- Be patient with yourself. It will take you time to heal. You’ve never been through this before (even if you’ve been divorced before this time is different from the last time) so allow yourself to make mistakes along the way to healing.
- Know it’s about you and not them. Your reactions to your ex, your ex-in-laws, your family, your friends and even your kids are all yours. You’re the only one that can change them and not anyone else. So stop wishing others would change.
- Know it’s about them and not you. Their bad behavior (read your ex’s and ex-in-laws’), your friends who have drifted away instead of being there for you, and your friends and family who continue to ask painful questions or make uncaring statements are doing so for their reasons. Your divorce makes them uncomfortable and they don’t like feeling that way, so they’re doing whatever they can think of to feel better – even if it makes you feel worse.
- Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t wallow. Pity parties are not OK. They sap your strength for moving forward and on with your life and just make things harder. So acknowledge, experience and express your grief as you continue to get through all the changes of divorce.
- Practice kindness. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “you get what you give.” Believe it or not, there’s actually scientific evidence that if you’re kinder that you’ll feel better. (Read more about how kindness can help you heal from divorce: 5 Super Simple Ways To Heal Your Post-Divorce Pain With Kindness)
- Have hope. This is important. Having a sense of hope that things will be better is what will help you get through all the tough parts of getting over a divorce. Your hope will probably be small at first and as you gain momentum, it will grow. As you continue to hang on to your hope, you’ll be more and more encouraged to conquer your fears and move on with your life.
- Be courageous. Divorce puts you in uncomfortable situations that require you to make bold moves and to take brave actions. It’s by knowing that you’re taking the necessary steps despite your fears that you become more and more courageous. And more courage means less divorce misery.
- Be determined. Feeling tempted (very tempted) to sit back and nurse your divorce wounds? If you do it, don’t do it for long. Being clear, focused and determined to create for yourself a new life that is fulfilling and wonderful is exactly what you need to do to enjoy your new life!
- Do it for your kids. Sometimes motivating yourself to do something just for you is almost impossible. If that’s how you’re feeling, do it for your children. They deserve to have you be the best parent possible and part of being the best parent is teaching them that they can overcome disappointments and heartbreak. (Besides, they need to get over the divorce too and you need to model how to do that for them.)
- Accept that your path will be unique. As you search for resources and guides to help you recover from your divorce, don’t be surprised to find that some things work better for you than others. Healing from divorce is a grief process. No one else has gone through exactly what you’re going through. So keep searching until you find the support that fits you best.
- Dare to be alone. One of the most surprising things about divorce is how lonely you feel. Embrace the loneliness, it’s part of the process. Challenge yourself to do things solo – like go to the movies or out to dinner. As you become comfortable with being alone with your thoughts, you’ll begin to discover that you’re pretty wonderful. (Here are a few tips on how to get through the loneliness of divorce.)
- Express (constructively) your anger. Anger is one of those emotions that tend to get a bad rap. However, anger is a normal emotion and when it’s constructively expressed, it can actually speed your healing from divorce.
- Embrace the do-over. Think of your divorce as a chance to do things differently in your next relationship by learning all that you can from what didn’t work in your marriage.
- Accept that your ex is not there for you and never will be there for you in exactly the same way ever again. Marriage gives you a built-in sounding board and back-up for when you need a little bit of help. However, as much as you may wish it were different, you don’t have your spouse there to do those same things for you anymore. This is when you get to learn to lean on yourself more and your real limits. (You’re probably more capable than you think you are.)
- Remind yourself (again and again) that you’re not a failure. Your marriage failed. That doesn’t make you a failure – no matter how you feel. Need more proof? Read this: Divorce Doesn’t Make You A Failure.
- Stop second-guessing yourself. You’re always going to ask yourself “what if” questions about your marriage and divorce. What if I had done xyz? What if they had been abc? The problem with these questions is that they focus you on the past. The past is over and all you can do is accept that stuff happened and move forward with your life a much wiser person.
- Accept that you are THE parent when the kids are with you. Yup, there’s no more tag-teaming with your ex when you need a 30-minute break or just need to run to the grocery to pick up some cereal for breakfast. You’re it and that’s going to take some getting used to.
- Take off your wedding ring and allow it to feel weird – until it doesn’t anymore. It’s funny how accustomed you can get to the feel of your wedding band and how foreign it is to take it off. I found myself feeling naked without my ring when I first got divorced, but as I started wearing other rings they felt strange too and eventually the lack of my wedding ring didn’t bother me anymore.
- Accept the fact that your ex will find someone new. Chances are that you’ll find yourself fretting over whether or not your ex is dating and how that person (or those people) compare to you. STOP! All you accomplish by doing this is making yourself miserable.
- Let yourself believe it’s possible for you to find someone new. Too many people believe the statistics about divorce and expect that just because their first marriage ended that their chances of having a successful next marriage are abysmal. It’s just not true. (Read more about the lies of divorce statistics.)
- Hear yourself tearfully ask the question “Why?” again and again and be OK with not getting an answer. We all want to understand why things happen – especially when those things are hurtful. Unfortunately, you’ll probably never have the definitive answer as to why your marriage ended in divorce instead of happily-ever-after and that’s OK. It may take some time before you believe it’s OK (it took me quite a while), but I promise it’s OK.
- Know that your life is not over. Divorce is the end of your marriage and living your life in a certain way. It’s not the end of your life. In fact it’s the beginning of your next chapter because you’ve still got a lot of life ahead of you. (Yes, you do have a full life ahead of you no matter what your age is.)
- Create a new relationship with your ex that allows you to co-parent (or at least talk calmly about the kids). Even though you’re not married to each other any longer, you’re still parents to your children for the rest of your lives. So figure out how to make parenting work.
- Build a support team. No matter how alone you feel and how unique your situation, you can still find people who are there for you. Find them. Then ask for the support and help you need.
- Avoid self-medication with drugs, alcohol, food, excessive sleep, excessive exercise or excessive sex. It’s so easy to want to heal hurts by numbing them with other experiences. The trouble is that if you avoid the feelings you avoid the healing.
- Explore new interests. Now that you’re on your own. All of your time is yours. You don’t need to worry about coordinating your schedule with that of your ex’s so use the time to try out that new restaurant or take that class or join that club or watch the movie you want to watch or …
- Own up to your part in the divorce and don’t bring it with you to your next relationship. Yeah, you did play a part in the end of your marriage. Even if the only part you played was in agreeing to marry the wrong person, the sooner you know what your role was, the better the chance you have of making your next relationship work.
- Avoid power struggles with your ex. There’s going to come a time or two when you’re going to want to have your ex behave in a certain way. You may even try to “encourage” them to behave that way. Don’t do it. All you’ll really accomplish is making it harder for you both to heal from your divorce and move on with your lives.
- Think positively. OK, this may sound Pollyanna-ish, but it works. What you focus on colors your view of the world. If you expect that everything is miserable, that’s what you’ll get. If you expect things to start going well, you’ll start looking for ways to make that happen and interpret things in a more positive light. (Don’t believe me? Read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about positive thinking.)
- Like yourself. One of the biggest challenges of divorce is overcoming the hit to your self-esteem. You’ll find yourself questioning whether or not you’re lovable because the one person who promised to love you forever didn’t. So be that person for yourself and love you.
- Rediscover who you were. Don’t be surprised if you realize you’re not really sure who you are anymore. If this is you, you probably got so tied up in their marriage that you forgot to continue growing as an independent person. No worries, just start focusing on being you again instead of only a spouse, parent and employee.
- Dare to date. Just because your marriage ended in divorce doesn’t mean that you can’t find love again. When you’re ready, try going out on a date or two. You might be surprised at how much fun it is.
- Welcome your new roles. One of the things that happens when you get divorced is you have additional responsibilities. Exciting? Yeah, not so much when you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the changes happening. However, if you can focus on how much more self-reliant you’re becoming and what a wonderful example you’re setting for your kids, then you’ll be taking huge strides toward overcoming the overwhelm of your new roles and responsibilities.
- Pay attention to the conversation you’re having with yourself. It’s amazing how much our internal dialogs tend to the negative – especially after divorce. One of the most profound ways to help yourself get over your divorce is talking to yourself in empowering ways. (Here are some tips on how to talk nicer to yourself: Want To Get Over Your Divorce? Start Name-Calling)
- Get more human touch. Sometimes a hug can go a really long way to making you feel better. If you don’t have someone to ask for a hug, try hugging your pet, a pillow or even yourself!
- Stop believing the lies about divorce. I know you’re scouring the internet for how to feel better simply because you’re reading this! BUT beware that all of the information out there isn’t true and you shouldn’t believe it. Here’s a list of some of the most common lies about divorce recovery: Divorce Recovery Lies People Tell You Post-Split.
- Don’t place blame. All blame does is make you a victim. You’re not a victim. In fact, you’re incredibly powerful and extremely capable of getting through your divorce and creating a wonderful new life.
- Join a support group. Despite how unique your situation, you’ll be surprised at the comfort you can find by talking with others who have been or are going through divorce too.
- Relax, you’re not suddenly bi-polar. Divorce is one of those life events that scrambles your emotions. It’s pretty typical to feel fine one second and bawling the next. But as you conquer the overwhelm of the changes, your emotions will calm down.
- Don’t worry, you’re not crazy. Along with the volatile emotions, your thoughts will run all over the place. It’s just your mind’s way of solving the problems you’re facing. Not all of the thoughts will be “normal” to you, so let them float away and focus on the thoughts and ideas that can help.
- Nurture yourself daily. Take good care of yourself because the better shape your body, mind and spirit are in the faster you’ll get over your divorce.
- Take it moment by moment until you can take it day by day. No matter how much you want to wave that magic wand and make things all better right now. You can’t. So just take each moment as it comes and tackle what’s immediately in front of you.
- Develop your faith. Having faith in something bigger than you (e.g., God, the Universe, or your Highest Self) can provide a sense of comfort which would probably feel really good right now.
- Breathe! Stress can cause you to hold your breath and holding your breath can cause more stress. So, let it all go and spend 5 minutes at least 3 times a day taking some deep breaths. (Curious about the physiology of breath and how it can impact your emotions, personality and health? Read Waiting to Exhale)
Like most things in life, it’s so much easier for me to tell you about divorce recovery than for you to actually do all 45 of these consistently. Don’t worry. Just do what you can as often as you can and you will get over your 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 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.