Co-Parenting: What Not To Do

When co-parenting, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

Knowing these co-parenting what-not-to-do’s will help you be a better parent post-divorce.

Co-parenting after divorce is tough. But did you know you can make it even harder for yourself, your ex and your kids?

That’s why when it comes to co-parenting, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. There is plenty of online advice for what you should do when co-parenting, but it rarely goes into detail about what not to do.

And this lack of clarity about the co-parenting what-not-to-do’s is often confusing for those parents who are trying their best to co-parent yet somehow, they just can’t seem to make it work as well as they’d like.

The lack of clarity can cause parents to believe that their behavior is appropriate when in reality it isn’t.

Regardless of where you fall, knowing what not to do when it comes to co-parenting (and then not doing it) will make you a better parent.

The co-parenting what-not-to-do’s fall into 8 different categories:

  1. Communication And Collaboration
    You probably already know that the foundation for successful co-parenting is communication and collaboration with your children’s other parent. Yet this can be difficult to achieve when your divorce still feels fresh.

    Here is a list of things that co-parents do that make co-parenting more difficult and even impossible:

    Have no plan for communicating with your ex about parenting issues. Parenting issues will arise – guaranteed. So, knowing ahead of time how you will address them will remove the potential for conflict.

    Be contentious and accusatory when you have a problem with your ex’s parenting. Ever heard the phrase you’ll catch more flies with honey? Well, the truth is it’s true of communicating and collaborating with your children’s other parent too. If you truly want your ex to change their parenting, then typically your first best option is to speak to them with respect about the matter.

    Don’t plan anything with your ex. Coordinating schedules is part and parcel of successful co-parenting. Not doing so is a recipe for disaster.

    Make your kids speak to their other parent for you about everything. You can’t expect your children to communicate with your ex for you. That’s unfair and leaves the kids in the middle instead of feeling free to love you both. Besides, there are some conversations that are meant for adults and not children.

    Neglect or “forget” to keep your ex up-to-date with any scholastic, medical, psychiatric, extracurricular activities or appointments you make for your children. Regularly doing this is antithetical to co-parenting. Co-parenting is about the kids. It’s not about getting back at your ex or keeping your ex in the dark about what’s going on with the children.

    Keep your ex in the dark about all changes in your life or circumstances that are challenging or difficult. Successful co-parenting and healing from divorce usually requires boundaries to keep your personal lives separate. However, if what you’re dealing with impacts your children, letting your ex know about your situation is necessary.

    Refuse to work with your ex for your children’s participation in extracurricular activities. Remember, co-parenting is about your children and doing what’s best for them. By working together to support your children’s interests you’re helping them – not your ex.

    Ignore whatever your ex has to say if it doesn’t align with what you want. Effective communication is about you and your children’s other parent respectfully speaking AND listening to each other – even if you disagree.

    Consistently refuse to agree with each other about nearly everything. Co-parenting requires and ability to compromise. If you find that you’re consistently unable to compromise with your ex, you may need outside assistance to resolve the disagreement.

  2. Behaving As If You’re Your Children’s Only Parent
    Co-parenting is about working together and respecting each other as parents. So, unless the courts have determined that your children’s other parent is no longer their legal parent, you aren’t their only parent.

    Here are some ways that parents will behave as if they’re an only parent:

    Ignore the rules and discipline your ex has for your children. Children need as much consistency as possible. Does that mean that everything is the same between your home and your ex’s? No, but it does mean that you’re more consistent that not – for your children’s sake.

    Don’t tell your ex if you move or change your phone number. Your children’s other parent needs to be able to reach you and generally know where the children are when they’re with you.

    When you travel with your children, don’t tell you ex or provide any means for her/him to contact you or the kids. Again, your children’s other parent needs to be able to reach you and generally know where the children are when they’re with you – even if the travel is due an emergency or happens on the spur of the moment.

    Refuse to defer to your ex for child care. Your children love both of you and enjoy spending time with each of you. So, if you need childcare that your ex could easily help with, then it only makes sense to first ask your ex to help out before asking anyone else. And if they say “yes,” your children can enjoy the time with their other parent instead of a babysitter.

    Expect your ex to have ZERO influence in your children’s lives. Your ex will have a huge influence in your children’s lives whether you like it or not. Your children love both of you and want to please both of you. Let them know that it’s OK if they do things like their other parent sometimes and like you at other times.

    Ignore your ex’s calls and texts. It’s rare that ignoring your ex’s calls and texts is an appropriate action when you’re co-parenting. Doing so regularly is highly disrespectful and will only harm your co-parenting relationship which in turn will harm your children.

    Ignore the parenting plan schedules you had to agree to, so you could get divorced. The parenting plan schedules were put in place to help your children and are meant provide you and your ex guidelines for being the best parents you can be. If your schedules need to be adjusted, work together to do so for the benefit of your children.

  3. Encourage Or Demand That Your Children Break All Ties With Your Ex And His/Her Family
    Your children are a wonderful combination of you and their other parent and by extension your families. So, they deserve to spend time with and know the amazing people they’re related to – even if you’ve never liked them or they’ve never liked you.

    Here is a list of co-parenting what not to do’s when it comes to allowing your children to interact with your ex and her/his family:

    Regularly talk poorly about your ex and/or your former in-laws in front of your kids and encourage others to do so too. When your children hear you or anyone else talk poorly about their other parent and their other parent’s family, they are hurt. Your children know that they’re part you and part your ex. And when you say disparaging things about your ex and your former in-laws your children hear you talking disparagingly about them too.

    Encourage your kids to talk poorly about their other parent. This is the same as teaching your children to not only disrespect their other parent, but to disrespect themselves.

    Do your best to prevent your children from ever interacting your ex’s side of the family. Unless your children are in imminent danger by being around their other parent’s side of the family, you have no business interfering with their relationships. Your children deserve to know the people their related to and who love them.

    Make sure your kids love you the most. When you try to coerce your children into loving you the most, you’re undermining a relationship your children need to have fostered. Your children love you and your ex. You’re their parents, so you both have the job of encouraging your children to express and nurture the love they feel for each of you.

    Always refer to your ex as your ex in conversations – even with your children. Your children aren’t interested in your marital status – in fact it’s painful for them to be regularly reminded of it. They know you both as their parents and deserve to hear you refer to their other parent as “Mom” or “Dad” or as your children’s “other parent.”

    Put your children under pressure to choose between you and their other parent. Asking your children who they’d rather live with and doing what you can to make sure it’s you, regularly telling your children, “I miss you!” when they’re with their other parent and making them feel guilty for any time they don’t spend with you are all ways you’re coercing your children to choose between you and their other parent.

    Telling your children your new significant other is their new parent. Your children already have two parents. If you should remarry, your children will have a bonus parent or a stepparent, but no one will ever replace their parents.

    When your children tell you things about your ex that upset you, immediately jump to conclusions and condemn your ex in front of your children. If your children do tell you things about your ex that upset you, you need to pause and decide if it’s enough of an issue or concern for you to discuss the matter with your ex or not. If not, don’t react. If it is, don’t react and schedule some time to respectfully discuss the issue with your children’s other parent.

  4. Neglect Your Parenting Responsibilities
    Getting divorced isn’t easy. And self-care is necessary as you make your way through it, but self-care is different from ignoring your parenting responsibilities.

    You’ll know you’re taking your self-care too far if you find yourself doing any of these things:

    Consistently putting your wants and needs above your children’s needs and rights for psychological, spiritual and physical well-being and safety. Despite the difficulties of your divorce, your children still need and deserve to have you care for them as the precious beings they are. Doing so will help them more easily get through the divorce too.

    Keep your kids guessing about how you’re going to act today. Another way parents don’t live up to their parenting duties post-divorce is by being unpredictable. Sure, the emotional rollercoaster of divorce is real and you have your feelings to sort out, but children (including yours) thrive on consistency.

    Grant your children’s every wish without limit to alleviate your feelings of guilt about the divorce. All parents want their children to be happy. However, all parents also want their children to grow up to be happy adults. And most happy adults understand core values and the need to contribute instead of having their every wish granted. The world just doesn’t work like that.

    Punish your ex by allowing your children to shirk responsibility. Part of successful parenting is teaching your children responsibility. It doesn’t matter how much you hate your ex or how much you think they should suffer for what they’ve done, your children must take priority over ideas of vengeance.

    Disregard your children’s presence when you argue with your ex. Children suffer greatly when they’re around conflict – especially when that conflict is between their parents the two people they most want to please. Your children will feel responsible for making things better between the two of you which is impossible for them to achieve. And the futility of their efforts will wear away at their sense of safety, capability and even self-esteem.

    Regularly break the agreements you make with your children. Your children depend on you. They look forward to spending time with you. They want to trust you. If you’re consistently breaking your word with them (regardless of the reasons for doing so), then you’re undermining the relationship you have with them. And your children will take it personally. They may even start believing that you don’t love them anymore.

  5. Expect To Control Your Ex
    Regardless of what you think of your ex’s parenting abilities or their parenting philosophy, unless your children are in danger you must let go of your desire to micromanage your ex.

    You may already know that, but you may also be doing things that you don’t realize that are definite co-parenting don’ts. Below are some of the mistakes co-parents make.

    Withholding child visitation because you want your ex to stop doing or start doing something. Of course, if your ex is a true threat to your children, you should get the proper authorities involved. But if your children’s other parent isn’t a threat to them, then this is straight up cruelty and viciousness directed at your ex and your kids.

    Having unclear boundaries with your ex. The truth is you don’t get to control what happens at your ex’s house or in their life. And they don’t get to control what happens at your house or in your life. Getting clear about what is and isn’t appropriate now that you’re co-parents is critical to becoming great co-parents.

    Airing dirty laundry on social media. The people you know on social media don’t need to have unfiltered insight into what’s going on with you or your ex. And using social media to try to shame your ex into behaving differently is shameful on your part.

    Jumping to conclusions, overreacting, criticizing, blaming, being accusatory, being rude, being mean and sarcastic, making demands, using profanity, being unreasonable with deadlines, being disrespectful and calling names are all signs you’re attempting to bully your ex. Doing these things is never acceptable behavior. If you find it difficult to prevent yourself from being so disrespectful to your ex, please reach out for help because these behaviors will not only destroy your co-parenting relationship but they cause your children anguish too.

    Making a big production out of any event you and your ex attend for your children. Your children want you to be proud of them and they want to be proud of you. If you’re unable to put your feelings for your ex aside when you’re both attending events for your children, then you’re disappointing your children and embarrassing yourself.

    Using your children to sway your ex to your way of thinking or doing things. Your children aren’t pawns you can use to manipulate your ex. You need to allow your children to be children and not your minions.

  6. Expect Your Children To Be Your Friends Or Support System
    If you have older children, you may need them to take on more responsibility for helping around the house now that you’re divorced. However, expecting your children to deal with the practical and emotional issues you’re dealing with as a result of your divorce is completely inappropriate.

    You’ll know you’re falling into the trap of this co-parenting what-not-to-do if:

    You complain to your children about the problems you have – especially those you have with your ex. Your divorce and the repercussions of it are yours to come to terms with. Your children aren’t prepared to deal with the adult realities of divorce. They have their own challenges because of the divorce and don’t need to take on you and your burdens too. It’s your job to be there for them, not the other way around.

    You have unclear boundaries with your children. Children need well-defined boundaries to understand who’s responsible for what. They also help children to develop respect, self-control, responsibility and know who they are – all keys to being able to successfully navigate the world when they become adults.

    You keep your children informed about all the details regarding custody negotiations and court appearances. Coming to an agreement for your divorce is between you, your lawyer, your ex and his/her lawyer. The ironing out of the details are none of your children’s business and bringing them fully into it will only make their lives much more difficult.

    You are your children’s friend instead of their parent. Being a parent is much more complicated than being a friend. Being a parent requires that you have boundaries, limits and structure in place. It also requires that your children have time away from you to develop their relationship with their other parent and to start to gain some independence. You’ll be stunting their intellectual and emotional growth if you choose to be their friend first instead of their parent.

  7. Use Your Children To Keep Tabs On Your Ex
    It’s natural to be curious about how your ex’s life is going. You might even feel jealous when s/he is doing well, or happy when s/he isn’t.

    However, using your children to keep tabs on your ex is a definite no-no when it comes to co-parenting. Instead, you need to talk directly with your ex about any questions you have and be willing to accept it if your ex tells you what you’re asking about is none of your business.

    Just to make sure you’re not accidentally using your children to keep tabs on your ex, you’ll want to be aware of these behaviors:

    You question your children about everything they do while they’re with your ex. Your children’s time with their other parent is about growing their relationship not for you to learn more about your ex’s life. Unless you have significant reason to believe your children are in some kind of danger with your ex (and you should be getting help from the proper authorities if you do), you need to let your children have their relationship with their other parent.

    You ask your children to do specific things while with your ex. You may ask them to look for something or to say something, so they can report their findings back to you. Putting your children in this position isn’t healthy for anyone. Your children will suffer if they do as you ask because they’ll be betraying their other parent. And if they don’t do as you ask, they’ll also suffer because they’ll be betraying their relationship with you. You’ll suffer because you’ll not be communicating with your co-parent in a productive way. And your ex will suffer due to your lack of respect.

  8. Don’t Heal From Your Divorce
    Getting over a divorce is difficult, however, it is possible and necessary if you’re going to be a great parent for your children and move on with your life. By healing from your divorce, you’ll be teaching your children powerful lessons about resilience, forgiveness and dealing with disappointment.

    You’ll know that you’re not healing from your divorce and undermining your parenting if:

    You’re sure you’ll hate your ex for the rest of your life. The longer you hate your ex the longer you’re letting them control you. And you probably don’t want that.

    You’re terrified of ever being in another relationship. Just because your marriage didn’t work doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to have a good relationship.

    You can’t seem to shake the feeling of being a failure. Your relationship failed, and you played a part in things not working out. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re a failure.

    You’re unable to forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. You’re no different. However, refusing to let yourself learn from your mistakes and move on with your life is guaranteeing you a lifetime of unhappiness. And that’s probably not something you want to model for your children.

Knowing what not to do will definitely help you be a better co-parent. However, don’t beat yourself up if you discover that you’re doing one or more of the co-parenting what-not-to-do’s listed above. We all have bad days and we all make mistakes. Just course correct as soon as you’re able (and reach out for help if you need it).

If after reading these co-parenting what-not-to-do’s, you’re clear that your children’s other parent is having a difficult time co-parenting, you have a few of options:

  • You can discuss the situation with them.
  • You can switch from co-parenting to parallel parenting.
  • You can take them back to court to change the parenting agreement.

Parenting after divorce is difficult. And by knowing what not to do and then not doing it, you will be making things better for your children, yourself, and your co-parent.

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

Looking for more information about dealing with parenting after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.

7 Tips For Adjusting To Life After Divorce

Woman who is happily adjusting to life after divorce.

Life post-divorce is different from married life. By using these tips, your different can be great.

The dress. The guests. The honeymoon. Newlyweds walk down the aisle planning a life of home and happiness, not adjusting to life after divorce.

But statistics speak to the glaring frequency of divorce:

  • 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
  • 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.

Every divorce is different, of course — as unique as the individuals going through it. The age at which the two people married; the length of the marriage; the presence or lack of children. Countless factors chime in to make this painful journey as personal as the feelings each person experiences. Adjusting to life after divorce, therefore, is also a personal journey.

There are, however, many tips for helping those on the road to singlehood make that adjustment and come out the other side whole and happy. Let’s look at 7 of the biggies:

  1. Let yourself mourn.
    Divorce is a loss, plain and simple. It really doesn’t matter who initiated the split, or who owns what responsibility for what actions leading to it. It’s a loss — a death of the dreams that beamed in your eyes on your wedding day, and a complete upheaval of all your “married habits.” Expect and allow yourself to feel the emotions of grief. Fully experience its predictable stages as you are adjusting to life after divorce. And don’t be surprised if those feelings jump right into the big hole where something important used to be.
  2. Work through your feelings.
    The importance of this really can’t be stressed enough. When something hurts as much as divorce, it is only natural to want to numb the pain. There is no emotional morphine for doing this work. Keep reminding yourself that you don’t want to drag your baggage into your new life. The “new you” doesn’t deserve it. Anyone who may come into your life certainly doesn’t deserve it.

    And if you are inclined to believe that seeking help from a therapist implies there is something wrong with you, think again. Therapists and coaches are there to help you strategize and process all the ugly, mucky “stuff” that you simply have to get through.

  3. Dare to be alone.
    30 million people live alone. Being one of them doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. Yes, it’s cliché, but if you shift your perception of the word “alone” to “all one,” you will hopefully see both the necessity and opportunity for wholeness within yourself. Just as with processing your feelings, learning to be alone — and to be comfortable that way — is essential.

    And this is where time is your friend. Rushing into a new relationship is perhaps the biggest mistake people make when going through a break-up, let alone a divorce.

    It doesn’t matter how long you have lingered in an unhappy marriage before deciding to divorce. Being unhappy for years doesn’t earn you “movin’-on stripes.” It simply means there is that much more emotional work to process.

    It doesn’t matter if you think you were the victim and therefore deserve to move on. (Actually, that one does matter. Unless you have been a victim of abuse, you need to own your own contribution to a relationship that didn’t work. Cliché again, but “there are no victims…only volunteers.”)

    It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to be alone forever. Until you are capable of and comfortable being alone, adjusting to life after divorce will be painful. And if you jump too early into a relationship, it will likely end in divorce or at least unhappiness too.

  4. Learn to like yourself…again.
    This is a big motive behind the need for being alone and allowing yourself to process emotionally.

    It is natural to feel rejection, shame, guilt, fear and a slew of other low-frequency emotions after a break-up. You have a new life to go forth and take by storm, and you are going to need all your confidence for the task.

    Adjusting to life after divorce is largely about confidently “coming into your own.” It’s a time of remembering who you were before you married, loving who you are now…and discovering who you want to become.

    A coach can provide wonderful support for your journey, especially when you don’t feel there is much to like in yourself.

  5. Know your purpose.
    What matters to you? What do you value? What difference do you want to make in the world? What do you like to do?

    This is a great time to write. Words on a page can help you process…and discover.

    Writing is also a great way to reaffirm that you are important, and you have gifts that matter. By connecting with your deepest yearnings and sense of purpose, you will awaken your drive. And don’t be surprised if you feel a big boost in your confidence and self-esteem too.

  6. Learn some new skills.
    You are now on your own, adjusting to life after divorce, and the workload of life can feel pretty overwhelming. Suddenly you are having to do everything — even things you don’t know how to do.

    If you are co-parenting, you will still have to assume a lot of responsibilities once delegated to your spouse’s expertise. So, you’ll stumble upon learning some new skills.

    However, in addition to the new skills you’ll naturally learn as part of living on your own, you may also want to consider taking a class or brushing up on some skills that will help you further your career…or start a new one. And don’t deny yourself the joy of learning something new simply because it interests you.

  7. Indulge in some “me” time.
    Life after any kind of loss can be draining to the spirit, and a diminished sense of self can lead to lack of self-care.

    However, simple things like regular exercise, a pedicure, having your hair done, and taking yourself to a new cafe for lunch can be nurturing indulgences.

    These little practices will also build your confidence and enjoyment in being alone. “But I’m ALWAYS alone! I’m divorced!” you may be saying. “Me” time is different. It’s a gift of purposeful, uplifting, nurturing time that you give to yourself. Consider it a date with the best person you know: YOU.

The most important thing to remember is that divorce doesn’t define you. What matters is how you navigate the divorce process. Be compassionate toward yourself. And open the door to the help and support of those who love and care about you. A new and hopeful life awaits!

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

Looking for more information about adjusting to life after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Life After Divorce.

What Does An Unhappy Marriage Look Like?

Unhappy couple wondering, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?”

Does your marriage exhibit one or more of the typical symptoms of an unhappy marriage?

It’s normal to wonder about the viability of your marriage when you’re not as happy as you’d like. And the wondering can be both frightening and confusing. “Are we really that unhappy?” “What does an unhappy marriage look like?” “Is this salvageable?” “Is it me?” “Is it him?” “Is it her?” “Maybe all marriages get to be ho-hum. We can’t expect to be truly happy forever, right?

It’s not unusual for couples to spend years in an unhappy marriage before it dawns on them to ask, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?

Yes, there are the obvious betrayals — infidelity, abuse, addiction — but symptomatically even these don’t guarantee divorce. The truth is, there is never just “one” reason, one symptom, that causes a person to choose divorce.

Unhappy marriages grow insidiously from a lack of correction of harmful — even if subtle — behaviors and choices. And happy marriages taken for granted and left undernourished can render their partners asking, “How did we get here?

The very thing that makes romantic love so exclusive and unique is the same thing that can be its undoing. Intimacy involves vulnerability. And that kind of exposure means that another person has power to both heal…and hurt. That is an awesome gift of trust…and an awesome responsibility.

So what does an unhappy marriage look like? Are there specific qualities that are always present? Every marriage, happy or unhappy, is unique.

But if you’re in an unhappy marriage, you will undoubtedly recognize at least some of the following:

  • You’re not having sex anymore, and there is a lack of visible affection. Remember, intimacy, both physical and emotional, is what separates romantic love relationships from all other relationships.
  • You have nothing meaningful to say to one another. Your conversations revolve around the pragmatics of running a home, taking care of kids, going to work and paying bills.
  • One or both of you are having an emotional affair. Your spouse should be your primary confidante for communication about both happy and difficult matters. If you are reaching out first to a friend — especially of your spouse’s gender — you may be emotionally detaching from your marriage.
  • You are playing the blame game. Arguments should be about communication and improvement of the relationship. They should never be about inflicting pain. Use of blaming language — “You always,” “You make me feel,” “It’s your fault,” etc. — inevitably incites counter-blame and hurt feelings.
  • You are physically in one another’s presence, but there is no real engagement. You have essentially disconnected and become roommates who simply accept the fact that you live together.
  • You distract from your own feelings by focusing on the needs and problems of others. And most commonly the “others” are your children. Yes, your children do deserve to have your attention and love, but not to the exclusion of spending time with your spouse and fixing what’s wrong in your marriage.
  • You are delaying or avoiding getting help to fix things in your marriage. You know things aren’t right, but you continue sweeping the problems under the rug and won’t examine your relationship in the context of the question, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?” The result is that you don’t get the timely help you need to turn things around.
  • You fantasize about a life without your spouse. Your daydreams of happiness don’t include your spouse. This psychological detachment is a way of convincing yourself you really don’t care so that there is less pain when the final separation happens.
  • Your lives have different directions. If you are not communicating, you can’t align your goals. If you aren’t regularly communicating about the things that are most important to each of you, you’ll eventually begin noticing conflicting differences in your perspectives toward life and your goals. Your faith and politics may suddenly be starkly misaligned. Your ideas for the future of your marriage and family may not resemble anything you co-created in the early days of your marriage. And differences like these can be at the root of a miserable marriage.
  • You have separate lives. Even couples with children and heavy workloads can create and maintain intimacy with healthy, ongoing communication. If you and your spouse aren’t making the effort, however, to understand each other’s work and interests, the intimacy required for a happy marriage will quickly erode.
  • You have needs not satisfied by your partner. These needs could be sexual, emotional, physical, or spiritual. And when they go unmet you look for ways to satisfy them. You could address them all yourself, or you could look to someone else. And if you look to someone else to address your unmet needs, you’re definitely dealing with an unhappy marriage and could even be on the slippery slope toward divorce.
  • You or your spouse have unreasonable expectations and/or make unrealistic comparisons. Do either of you have unreasonable expectations that the other simply can’t meet? Do either of you make comparisons to “happy couples” and other marriages in an effort to apply pressure or guilt?
  • You have stopped fighting. Obviously, there is a fine line between healthy fighting and fighting all the time. But fights have the potential to lead to greater intimacy if they are processed and repaired with commitment and compassion.If you have stopped fighting, it is often a sign you’ve stopped caring.
  • You don’t feel heard, respected or valued. Listening — true listening — is the greatest tool in building intimacy. When couples truly care about one another, it shows in how they communicate, and especially in how they listen. Conversations, even arguments, have little to do with the topics themselves, and everything to do with listening for the underlying emotions and feelings.
  • You feel controlled by your spouse or your spouse feels controlled by you. For example, one spouse may impose financial control over the other, limiting that person’s freedom and inclusion in decision-making regarding money.
  • Ego and superiority issues that leave one or both spouses feeling disrespected instead of part of a team.
    If you truly believe you are better than your spouse, then you aren’t in a happy marriage.


  • No interest in spending quality time together. Date nights have gone by the wayside, and there is no interest in creating opportunities for connection, much less romance.
  • Infidelity. Many marriages survive infidelity, but their success comes from uncompromising commitment to repair the marriage and the issues that led to the infidelity.If you or your spouse is unfaithful, and you want to fix the unhappiness in your marriage you’re both looking at a lot of work to save your marriage from infidelity.
  • Abuse. Abuse in a relationship involves deeper issues and requires specialized professional help for both the victim and perpetrator. There can never be true intimacy when one person lords over another through abuse, intimidation or control. And abuse is one of the issues that often necessitates divorce.
  • Addictions. As with abuse, addictions involve deeper issues and require specialized professional help. Addictions require an enabling environment in order to survive, and both the addiction and enabling are blocks to intimacy. Yes, addictions that remain untreated despite requests to do so are another issue that often necessitates divorce.
  • Your relationship is riddled with criticism, blame, defensiveness, contempt, sarcasm and/or emotional shut-down.
    If these behaviors are the norm in your marriage, you have reached a critical point. Behaviors like these are definitely at the root of many unhappy marriages. And if left unchecked, they can lead to the annihilation of your marriage.

We started this article asking, “What does an unhappy marriage look like?” You may recognize one of the above symptoms, or you may recognize many. And there are certainly others you may be able to identify, that aren’t on this list.

The questions for you to consider now are: What would your marriage look and feel like if it were happy? And if it doesn’t look and feel that way, what are you going to do to address the problems and choose a direction for your life?

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make deal with unhappy marriages and choose a direction forward. 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.

Looking for more information about unhappy marriages? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.

7 Signs Of Grief After Divorce

Man hoping to recognize the signs of grief after divorce so he can feel better.

How to find your finish line for dealing with grief after your divorce.

The signs of grief after divorce really aren’t that different than the signs of grief after death or any other major loss.

And that shouldn’t be surprising. Divorce, death and other forms of loss are all permanent departures from what has become your norm, your rhythm…even your security. The unraveling, the unfamiliarity, the aloneness, the emotional upheaval — it can feel like a 24/7 bad dream in a foreign language.

No matter how you got to this point or who did what, divorce sucks. It hurts. It drains. It confuses. And it can even catch one of the spouses off-guard, with no time to plan an emotional response.

While the signs of grief after divorce are listed in a tidy, logical order, your experience won’t be so tidy. Trust me on this one. The stages of grief have minds of their own and a full tank of gas…and they like to take the scenic route! Knowing this as you navigate your divorce experience can save unnecessary heartache when you start recognizing landmarks you thought you already passed.

Let’s explore seven distinct signs of grief after divorce.

If you are in the early stages of your divorce journey, you may recognize them from previous losses in your life. Keep in mind that it is one thing to “know” the signs and stages of grief; it is quite another to live them.

  1. DenialLosing your marriage can be shocking and overwhelming, and the mind has outstanding coping mechanisms for easing into acceptance. Denial is one of them.Yes, it’s a defense. Yes, it’s a refusal to face reality. But it is also a psychological protection against emotional overwhelm. It softens the immediate shock and blocks out circumstances, so you don’t have to think about the pain that’s coming.

    Call it a temporary escape mechanism…with emphasis on temporary. Failure to face reality not only becomes unattractive but will keep you from moving forward in a healthy way.

  2. Pain And FearDivorce sucks. It also just plain hurts. Even if “too much pain” is what brought you to this point, the process and finality are undeniably painful.And fear can rear its ugly head in all kinds of self-doubting, paralyzing ways. How am I going to go on? How am I going to afford to live? Will my kids be OK? Will I be alone for the rest of my life?

    As one of the signs of grief after divorce, pain can also be a motivator that moves you away from self-pity.

  3. AngerAnger often shows up after reality has set in. At this point, you’re a long way from acceptance; but the reality of the inevitability has taken hold.And here’s where the emotions have a free-for-all and increase in intensity. Both parties are in blame mode, and all that comes up is the “ugly.” Memories and resentments flood in, and nothing good comes out. He was the worst….She was the meanest….He never….She wouldn’t….

    Add irritability, frustration and impatience to the mix, and it’s easy to see why this is a stage in which you don’t want to park for long. But don’t be surprised if it circles back around when you least expect it, often with new material.

  4. BargainingAs a sign of grief after divorce, bargaining is a last-ditch effort to come to terms with the loss. It is also an attempt to repair the damage done to your life. It is prompted by panic, fear and a desire to regain control of the life that is being ripped out from under you.In the bargaining stage, you will do just about anything to avoid the emotional pain. You will fight to win him/her back. You will remind yourself of all the reasons the relationship “didn’t work” or wasn’t good enough in order to be okay with the decision. You will make unrealistic promises. Bargain with God. Sell out on your self-esteem. Anything…but the pain.
  5. GuiltGuilt can actually be a form of displaced anger. But as its own sign of grief, it usually sounds like, “It was all my fault.” Rarely is that true. But even if it is, the call to action from this stage is to learn from your mistakes so you can release the weight and move forward.
  6. DepressionDepression can accompany all the other stages. Think of it as an undertow of sadness that sets in as you realize that the marriage is truly over.Aside from the loss itself, there are plenty of upsetting and difficult decisions that go along with divorce. Custody battles, splitting of assets, moving, loss of money — all can lead to sadness, shame and isolation.

    The fact that depression can be a silent partner throughout the divorce journey makes it one of the most insidious signs of grief after divorce. Having a trusted source of support can help ensure it doesn’t keep you from moving forward with your life.

  7. AcceptanceAt long last, there is light at the end of the tunnel! “Acceptance” may not sound like a sign or stage of grief, but it is integral to the whole journey of grief. Negative emotions may still be present, but you become able to slowly release them.At this stage you have accepted the reality of your divorce. You are not just “facing” it but are living through it and out the other side into a new life. You are able to embrace the guidance and support of others, and are no longer held back by the negativity of the other stages.

Seven signs of grief after divorce. All nice and orderly, with a predictable finish line, right? Well, the truth is you could place them all in a hat and draw one or more out on any given day. You may even get the same one over and over. But let’s hold onto acceptance as the finish line…because there really is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make it through their divorce journey by working through the signs of grief after divorce, so they can create a happy post-divorce life. 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.

Looking for more about information about getting over your divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Dealing With Grief.