There’s No Finish Line For Divorce Recovery

Woman running through the finish line.

The path to move on from divorce and divorce recovery isn’t straight and narrow.

(NOTE: This article is a classic and was written in 2015. As a result, the dates and years passed are not accurate today. Enjoy!)

I recently got a new computer. And if you’ve ever had to transfer files from one computer to another, you know that it can be kind of fun to take a peek at what has been hogging up space on your hard drive.

Well, on my expedition through all of my files, I found emails in my inbox that were more than ten years old! Some of these ancient notes even had details about the negotiations my ex and I went through to settle our divorce in 2002. Not really anything I need to have hanging around any more, right?

Believe it or not, I paused before hitting delete and trashing all of that ancient correspondence. I was flooded with a variety of thoughts and questions. “Those emails were part of my personal history,” I thought to myself. They were part of what defined me — back then. “Would I be throwing away a piece of myself if I deleted those emails? Would I be disrespectful of that old relationship?”

Yes, ten whole years after my divorce was complete, seeing those emails brought up some of the turmoil that I went through when I got divorced.  It was fleeting, but it was absolutely there.

Does this sound familiar? Most people believe that that once the divorce decree is signed, that should be the end of it. Most people also think that once you’ve moved on, things will never pop up again to remind you of the huge transition that your divorce was in your life. That’d be nice, but the truth is that your divorce will always be a part of your personal history. Even after you finish the bulk of your transition from married to single, there will be events, people and things that remind you of both the unpleasant and pleasant parts of your divorce. It’s okay and it’s normal. As you get more and more involved in living your life for you, the impact your divorce has will diminish to barely a blip on your radar.

How do I know? Because more than ten years after my divorce was finalized, when I found those emails detailing the negotiations about our division of property, I paused. But I paused for only a moment before I hit delete and felt really good about my current life. And you know the best part? I wouldn’t be here today without having gone through what I went through back then.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
What are you holding on to that you might be ready to let go? Consider the things, thoughts, and ideas that you’re holding on to currently. The ones that bring you the most pain might just be the ones that you consider letting go of.

What might be the consequences of letting them go? Thinking about the repercussions of letting these things go, you’ll discover both positive and negative possibilities. Get them all out so you can really see what the cost of letting them go might be. Sometimes the consequences of letting them go are really wonderfully positive.

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 adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

What Makes Grief After Divorce So Hard?

Woman hanging her head with her grief after divorce.

The surprising reason is happiness.

A divorce can feel like a tornado has come through and wiped from the face of the earth everything you thought your life was. You’re walking around in a state of shock trying to make sense of what has happened. And you’re just not finding much of anything to rebuild your life upon. The grief can simply be overwhelming.

Why is it like this? Why do divorces hurt so much?

As odd as it may sound, we experience such profound grief after divorce because of our search for happiness. The search for happiness is in our DNA. It’s one of our primal drives. We’ll find temporary highs of happiness through movies, TV shows, thrills, adventure vacations, and even songs. But none of these totally satisfy our drive. The real path to happiness is both much simpler and more complex than that.

Relationships — profoundly meaningful relationships — according to a 2012 AARP Survey, are a key enabler for happiness. Seligman, the author of Flourish, further states that positive relationships are not only key to happiness, but well-being in general. And yet different types of relationships provide us with different types of happiness. Obviously, this begs the questions: What are the most meaningful and powerful relationships of all? Which ones have the potential for providing us the greatest happiness?

Although our family and friends can provide us with a sense of belonging and happiness, they do not provide us with our greatest happiness. There is a more meaningful and profound relationship. The holy grail of happiness is our intimate relationship — our relationship with our significant other. At a gut level, we all know this is true. This innate knowledge leads us to hope that once we’ve found “the one,” we’re set. We’ve got exactly the relationship we need for happiness to flourish for the rest of our lives. We believe that somehow now all of our troubles are over too.

Unfortunately, not all intimate relationships last a lifetime. And when they end, we’re grief-stricken and often inconsolable. We find ourselves falling from bliss into hell on Earth. We feel lost, alone, and unlovable. We can also feel angry, betrayed and a myriad of other emotions as we deal with the grief and stress of losing what we thought was our key to sustained happiness and well-being.

We’re struggling not only with the loss of our partner, but our grief causes us to ask deeper questions: Who am I — really? Can I ever be happy again? Could anyone truly love me in a deeply meaningful and profound way? This is why the grief of a breakup is so difficult. It’s not just the loss of love and the other, but the loss of who we thought we were and our dream of ultimate happiness.

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 was originally published on YourTango.

5 Steps To Get Over Your Divorce

Get over divorce by taking these 5 steps.

Getting over your divorce can be much simpler than you’ve heard.

Divorce is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living. Here are 5 straight-forward steps to help you quickly heal from your divorce.

1. Don’t let your divorce disable you.

Healing from divorce is a grieving process. Everyone’s grieving process is unique. Because of this uniqueness, people sometimes think that they are grieving when they are actually wallowing.

There’s a big difference between grieving and wallowing. The difference mostly has to do with what’s going on in your head.

If you want to get through your grief with minimal wallowing, you’ll want to think of your divorce as either a message to redirect your life or a growth challenge. Both of these ideas have the potential to give you hope and to keep you engaged in the future. That’s the key to prevent yourself from getting stuck; focus on the future and making your future better even if you don’t know exactly how to do that right now.

2. You are not a failure.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that because your marriage ended in divorce that you’re a failure. (I fell deeply into this trap when I got divorced.)

But the truth is that your marriage was a failure – not you. Sure you played a part in your divorce, but your divorce doesn’t define you. You are still you regardless of your marital status. (And I’m betting that you’re a pretty wonderful person.)

3. Remember others have been through divorce too.

You need to remember that you’re not the only one to ever be divorced and your circumstances probably aren’t all that unique. It’s important you remember this because you can ask for help if you know someone else has been through what you’re going through.

So, get curious. Who do you know that’s successfully made it through their divorce? (No, it’s not that bitter friend who has sworn off men and has adopted her 10th cat.)

If you don’t know anyone personally who’s successfully healed from their divorce, search the web. There are lots of groups and individuals who provide specialized support for people going through divorce.

Once you find someone or some group, ask them for help. That way you don’t have to do it all on your own. You can use the wisdom of others to make your way through your divorce easier and faster.

4. Take the high road.

Taking the high road has to do not only with how you treat your ex, but also how you treat yourself and interact with the rest of the world.

Yes, it is incredibly easy to want to pay your ex back for all the pain as you go through the divorce process, but don’t. You’ll only regret your behavior over the long term. So, act from the strength of your highest self.

Taking the high road also means being good to yourself. Accept that getting through the grief of the end of your marriage may not happen overnight. Be patient with yourself.

Find joy (yes, it still exists) in the simple things that you still have. Maybe you can find joy in your kids or your pets or even in the beauty of the clouds. But find some joy every day. When you act from a more joyful place, the rest of the world will suddenly seem more joyful and it will be easier to interact with everyone else.

5. Get moving.

To get through your grief you need to take action. The actions don’t need to be big, grand, or immediately life changing. They can be simple things.

Here are some ideas of things you can do to get through your grief:

  • Schedule some time when you won’t be interrupted to just cry.
  • Spend 5 minutes being grateful for what you do have because it could always be worse.
  • Taking a walk to get a change of scenery.
  • Beat up a pillow to release some anger.

Do something every day to help you gently move through the grief of your divorce.

By following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to focus on healing from your divorce, prevent yourself from getting stuck in the pain, and get back to living a joy-filled life.

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 adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation. 

You might also enjoy reading…

The 8 Keys To Trust In A Post-Divorce Relationship


If you’re looking for more help recovering from your divorce, read more articles about Healing After Divorce

4 Ways to Give Kids of Divorce The Gift of a Guilt-Free Holiday

Grandmother hugging granddaughters to give them the gift of a guilt-free holiday

Why you need to put YOUR issues aside and let your kids be kids!

For way too many children of divorce, the holidays aren’t very merry at all. Instead, of being a season of fun and magic, it becomes a season filled with confusion, guilt and worry.

Kids of divorce experience confusion because they have a hard time keeping track of schedules of when they’re going to be with Mom, when they’re going to be with Dad, and when they’re going to be with their friends. I witnessed this confusion and guilt first-hand with my “bonus sons” (a.k.a. stepsons) the first time we all spent a holiday together. Not only did our youngest, Cameron (who was only 13 at the time) need to fly across the country during the hectic holiday season (changing planes along the way); his adult brother, Anthony, had to come with him to make sure Cam arrived safe and sound. Though both boys were extremely happy to spend time with their dad, they went through a lot of stress while the adults in their lives got to remain right where we were.

During their visit, I innocently asked the boys about their Christmas. And wow, it was as if I’d hit a switch. Both of them became very quiet, their faces went blank and they gave me an obligatory “It was fine.” I was genuinely interested in hearing about how wonderful their Christmas had been, but they just weren’t comfortable talking about it—especially with their dad within earshot. They also kept asking when they were supposed to leave, not clear on what the schedule was at which house (making it impossible for them to relax and just “be” where they were). As a new (and admittedly nervous) stepmom, I empathized with how complex it was for them, as children of divorce, to just have a simple, light-hearted holiday when they were saddled with so much to navigate (emotionally and logistically).

Here is what I came to realize about what children of divorce go through during the holidays: 

Kids with divorced parents often feel the need to be actors
They don’t want to upset Mom by talking about Dad in front of her, and they don’t want to upset Dad by talking about Mom in front of him. So instead, they learn to act like their other parent isn’t as important as the parent they’re with right now. The pressure to continue the charade amps up around the holidays, and then the guilt creeps in. They don’t feel they can share happily and unapologetically about the fun and good memories they’ve experienced with the other parent.

Kids feel guilty about leaving one parent alone 
Many children feel more responsible for their parents after divorce than they ever did before. Many of these kids feel bad (like they’re betraying one parent) if they look forward to celebrating with the other parent. And when a parent adds on: “Oh, I’ll miss you terribly. It won’t be the same without you”, kids end up toting around mounds of guilt about that parent being “all alone” for the holidays.

Kids feel guilty asking for gifts they think their divorced parents can’t afford
Kids quickly become aware post-divorce that money is tight (which is often the case for at least one parent). Children are subjected to all kinds of messaging on TV and by their friends throughout the holiday season touting fabulous vacations and the hottest toys. But many kids of divorced couples worry that if they ask for what they really want, either mom or dad won’t be able to afford it. They worry there won’t be enough money left over to cover other necessities or that their gift requests make them seem greedy, or that their parent who can’t provide will feel bad. That’s certainly a lot of worry for a kid to carry around … especially over the holidays (a time of year that is supposed to be magical for children).

Kids of divorce need OUR help to make their holidays stress-free and wonderful. 

It’s up to us, their parents (biological and “bonus”) to help make the holidays what they are meant to be—fun, relaxing and special. We need to be okay—really, genuinely okay—with knowing our kids love their other parent (and even their other “bonus parent”) and that it’s okay for our children to have fun with them.

Here are 4 ways to take away guilt and worry for your children this holiday: 

1. Stop focusing on lack
While a tight budget is a very, very real thing for many divorced parents, there is no reason to focus on what you don’t have. Instead, have fun figuring out how to create wonderful memories with your kids by making the most of what you do have. You might want to create new holiday traditions and memories by watching movies snuggled up on the couch together, having a snowball fight indoors with stale marshmallows, baking and decorating cookies together and even reading stories together while sipping hot chocolate. What kids actually remember (after the pricey gifts are opened and are quickly forgotten) is the time you spent together and how that time with you made them feel. So, make that time feel merry!

2. Spare them the “I’ll be all alone” guilt trip 
Make sure your kids know that you have exciting plans (that you’re actually looking forward to) while they’re gone. Whether that’s an invitation to hang out with other friends or family … or you simply savoring your alone time with indulgences like reading a great book, relaxing in a long bubble bath, or enjoying your favorite foods. Whatever you put on your itinerary, sharing it excitedly with your kids gives them permission to be excited about their holiday plans, too.

3. Eliminate confusion about where the kids will be and when
This one is fairly easy to remedy with a calendar (that travels with the children) mapping out the time they’ll spend at each of their homes. That’s one thing that I wish I’d known about when my stepson was still a kid. It goes a long way toward helping kids be able to plan what they want to do, too.

4. Your child loves their other parentdeal with it! 
Another part of our job as parents, especially during the holiday season, is to get really comfortable and okay with the fact that your child can love their other parent and still love you. Your kids might even love their “bonus parents”. Your acceptance of this is the first essential step in your kids feeling free to enjoy healthy relationships with all the adults in their lives.

Your kids are counting on YOU to make their holidays magical
After the first awkward holiday spent with my stepsons, we rarely had another holiday moment spoiled by any of the kids feeling confusion or guilt (because we worked hard to create an environment that freed them from those feelings). Of course, they’re both adults now, but we’ve all made an effort over the years to encourage the boys to enjoy the holidays and look at them as opportunities for double the presents, double the fun, and double the love … but never double the guilt or worry. This is what I wish all kids with divorced parents received during the holidays—double the presents, double the fun, and double the LOVE.

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

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

Divorce Made You Angry? How To Move On

Three steps for leaving your divorce anger behind you.

When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce in 2002, we came to the decision rationally just like we’d come to most decisions in our marriage. Being two rational human beings who had never fought, we thought it would be in our best interest to save money and effort by continuing to live together until we were able to sell our home.

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it wasn’t reasonable at all.

Neither of us had been through divorce before, and we had no idea of the changes we would be going through or the intense anger we would feel toward each other. I remember one instance when we were talking about something that made my husband angry. So angry that he punched the wall in front of my face. I had never seen him do anything of the sort before and it made me angry in return. Instead of punching the wall, though, I took it out on myself. I remained outwardly calm, but internally I blamed myself for the divorce and generally made myself miserable.

Now I realize that the intense anger we were experiencing during divorce was actually the accumulation of all the little angers that we had never addressed during our nearly 18 years of marriage. For years, we had been sweeping our angers and irritations under the rug because they just didn’t seem to be worth dealing with in the moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t forget them; we hid them and they grew. They grew so much that by the time we decided to divorce they had turned into a mountain of frustration and anger. There was no longer a reason to try to make our marriage work and so the slightest insult or frustration could set us off. Our anger was like Mt. Vesuvius erupting; it threatened to explode and erase all evidence that our marriage had even existed.

We all have similar experiences when we divorce. Some of us experience the eruptions during the marriage. Some of us experience the eruptions once the decision to divorce is made. Some of us even experience the eruptions long after the divorce is final.

Believe it or not, divorce anger can serve an important purpose and it’s not all bad. Divorce anger can help you to separate and sever your marriage bonds. However, you don’t need to experience the anger for prolonged periods. In fact, if you do, then you’ve probably gotten into the habit of being angry and are stuck.

If you’re stuck in the anger, don’t worry; you can get past your divorce anger. Here are some steps to help you get unstuck and defuse your divorce anger.

  1. Accept that everyone (including your ex and his or her attorney) is doing the best they can with what they have at every moment. You’re just not going to be able to make your ex be someone they’re not. Lisa Nichols has a great way of teaching this. She says you can’t supersize people. Some people just have a 24-ounce capacity and when you expect them to give you 64-ounces, they just can’t do it. So if you’re expecting your ex to be kinder, smarter or more responsible than they’re capable of, you’re going to be disappointed. When I teach this concept to my clients, I suggest they take a picture of a shot glass and use it as the screen saver on their phone. That way the next time they get angry at their spouse, they can look at the shot glass and remember that their ex just isn’t capable of giving or doing any more than they are.
  2. Acknowledge that you and your ex have different priorities, capabilities and motivations. When you and your ex were married, your priorities and motivations probably were the same, but that is no longer the case. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Only your ex can decide what’s right for him or her. And if your ex didn’t have the capabilities you wanted them to have in the marriage, there’s no way they’re going to magically develop the capabilities now that you’re divorced.
  3. Check for residual anger and express it — appropriately. Anger is an energizing emotion. I’ve never heard of someone who was so angry they fell asleep, have you? So, even though you’ve defused the anger intellectually, chances are that you’ve still got some adrenaline flowing around your system that needs to get used up. To check this out, take a couple deep breaths. Is there still a part of you that wants to do something active like taking your ex to task, cleaning out the junk drawer or punching a pillow? If so, you need to burn up the adrenaline. Some of my favorite ways to do this are exercise, punching a pillow, screaming into a pillow and dancing to some really loud music. Find an activity that allows you to safely and appropriately work your frustration out while you adjust to your new thoughts of acceptance and acknowledgment.

Taking a deep breath and following these steps the next time you start to feel furious with your ex will allow you to defuse your divorce anger and get on with living your own life instead of continuing to be entangled with theirs.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment

Think of one recent situation that you’re angry with your ex about. Sometimes the easiest way to learn something new is to practice, so let’s take this situation through the three steps above.

  1. How can you change your thoughts about your ex so that you can accept they were doing the best they could in this situation? Remember that accepting that someone is doing the best they can doesn’t mean you have to like what they did. It also means that you’re never going to be able to make them into someone they’re not.
  2. How can you acknowledge that your ex now has different priorities than you do? Even if the only priority you can think of that your ex has is that they want to live their life without you, it’s still different from your priorities.
  3. Take a deep breath and check your body for signs of residual anger. Can you feel that your blood pressure is elevated? Are you clenching your jaw or your fists? Are you feeling energized to just take action? If you answered yes to any of these, then it’s time to get active and burn off that residual anger.

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 adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

What Are You Bringing to Your Divorce?

Whatever you bring with you to your divorce will color your experience. Make sure you’re bringing what you want to have!

My husband and I are going through the process of selling our home and buying a new one. If you’ve ever gone through the sale and purchase of a home, you know how stressful this process can be.

We’d been talking about moving for a couple of years, but hadn’t done anything else about it because it was easier to just stay put and complain instead of being willing to do what we knew to be right for us and move.

Luckily, when we were making some minor remodels to our home, we mentioned to our contractor that we were thinking of moving. Well, this woman heard our deep desire for something different and challenged us to put up or shut up.

We rose to the challenge – mostly. We still had some bumps in the road to getting our house ready to put on the market and fully committing to the work necessary on our parts. But, we did get our work done.

And you know what happened? We had a full-price contract on our home within 48 hours of putting it on the market.

Now you might think that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. You see the fellow buying our house didn’t seem to be fully committed to the purchase. Throughout the 10-day option period, he did strange things including, but not limited to, putting an offer in on another house.

Well, all these strange things the buyer did finally got us when just hours before the end of his option period, this fellow asked to change the closing date into the next month. He wanted to change the date because he didn’t want to have to start paying his mortgage this month – at least that’s the story we told ourselves. We were furious! He had originally requested a closing date that was within 4 weeks of his offer and we jumped through hoops to find a new home that could also close very quickly. Of course our plans were contingent upon the sale of our home to him. It seemed like all of our dreams for a new home in the country were crashing down around us.

Jim, my husband, and I talked and yelled and made up more stories about this guy who supposedly wanted to buy our home and we made up stories about his realtor too. We were furious and miserable that someone else seemed to have complete control over whether or not our dreams came true. We were also feeding off of each other’s negative energy which escalated things even more.

Then a funny thing happened. In the midst of all this drama and misery, we both had a memory – a memory of what it was like to get divorced. We realized that what we were experiencing was almost identical to what we felt when we were going through the legal process of divorce.

Luckily, this is when my training kicked in. I realized three important things:

  1. I was too close to what was going on and making the worst of what was happening. I needed to step out of all of my emotions and look at the sale of the house as the business transaction it was.
  2. As an adult, no one has control over my life unless I give it to them. I could still choose what I want to be, to do, and to have in my life even if this first attempt at selling our home didn’t work out. I just needed to be willing to work for it and accept the consequences of my decisions.
  3. My perception of what was going on was creating my reality. As long as I believed the buyer and his realtor were jerking us around, I was being jerked around. As soon as

I changed my belief and the story I was telling myself, I could see that this buyer just might be afraid of the responsibilities of home ownership and I could more easily put my anger and frustration aside.

These three important things are exactly what I work with my clients on to help them identify what they’re bringing to their “divorce party” and then change their experience to one that feels better and more hopeful.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

If your divorce and the legal process have you tied up in knots, here are some ideas for loosening the knots.

Develop the skill of moving between your emotional self and your logical self. There is a time and place for experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions that typically accompany divorce.  There’s also a time and place for putting them to the side so you can make the business decisions that need to be made during divorce.

Decide what you want to be true about your life one year from today. For most of us who go through divorce, the divorce can be all consuming. We can get in the habit of just doing the minimum to get by because of all the energy and effort involved in getting divorced. What we tend to forget is that our lives will go on. By developing a sense of hope or desire for something in the future, you’ll be able to get through what needs to happen with the divorce because you know things will be better.

Which of your beliefs are keeping you tied up in knots? The wonderful thing about beliefs are that they are all yours which means you have complete and total control of whether or not you keep them. If you have a belief or two that are contributing to your misery, you might want to consider what you life would be like if you changed or dropped them. If you recognize that your life would be better without these beliefs, you might have just discovered the oomph you need to change them.

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.


Ready To Get Over Your Divorce? Quit Playing This Tricky Game

Angry man sitting in a chair fuming about his divorce.

The faster you move past blame the faster you’ll heal from your divorce.

I was 8 when my family moved from Toledo, OH to San Jose, CA. I loved the adventure of being in a new place, being able to walk to school, the road-side stands selling bing cherries and I really loved cable TV.

Back in the early 70s, cable TV wasn’t a fact of life like it is today. Being able to almost always find something kid-friendly and interesting to watch whenever I wanted was awesome!

Some of the re-runs I’d watch after school were Password, The Dating Game, The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game. Of course being so young, I didn’t understand all of the jokes in these shows but I loved watching them because everyone was laughing so much.

All of these memories came rushing back last week when a woman reached out to me asking if there wasn’t something she could do to get all that should belong to her in the divorce. Of course I was confused at first because she was calling from Texas and Texas is a no-fault divorce and community property state. When I probed a bit deeper, she let me know that because her husband had cheated and it was his fault they were getting divorced she believed she was entitled to more of the marital assets. After we finished our conversation, all I could think about was that this woman went from playing and winning The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game to wanting to play and win The Blame Game.

She’s not alone. Most of us want to play The Blame Game when we get divorced. It’s somehow easier for it to be one person’s fault that the marriage ended in divorce. Someone has to be the reason why things failed and that person needs to be punished. Right?

RIGHT! At least that’s what I believed when I got divorced in 2002. But I don’t believe that any more. Now I believe that although The Blame Game is a normal part of the divorce process, the longer you play this game the longer it takes before you get over your divorce and maybe even the longer it takes to get through the legal process of divorce.

I’m not alone in my thinking on this. The legislatures of each of the 50 states have come to pretty much the same conclusion and implemented no-fault divorce laws to diminish the intensity of The Blame Game in the courtroom. Before these laws were enacted, it was required that one spouse prove that the other spouse had violated the marriage in some way before a divorce would be granted. I imagine divorce cases were more like criminal cases back then and I can’t even begin to imagine what going through that would do to the children.

Luckily, today the legal process attempts to make divorce a bit easier on the soon-to-be-former spouses, but that doesn’t stop them from playing The Blame Game outside of the courtroom.

The Blame Game allows you to have a target for your anger. So long as that target is your ex and you’re expressing your anger in healthy ways, your anger can serve a good purpose. It can help you disconnect emotionally from your ex. When you’re feeling angry at your ex, you can even feel like you’re winning. But the benefits from being angry diminish the longer you stay angry and you discover you aren’t really winning the game after all. 

The only long-term winners of divorce are those who don’t play The Blame Game for long. They’re the ones who realize that it takes two people to make a marriage work and two people for the marriage to fall apart. They’re the ones who are willing to look long and hard at themselves, to dig through the barriers they’ve built and hidden behind and become better at being authentically themselves without a need to point fingers.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
Ready to stop playing The Blame Game once and for all? Your Functional Divorce Assignment will help you put an end to the game — or at least help decrease your participation in it so you can heal from your divorce. Ask yourself these four questions below.

1. What specifically are you blaming your spouse for? Are you blaming them for having an affair? Are you blaming them for not loving you? Are you blaming them for squandering the marital assets or getting you into debt? You’re probably blaming them for multiple things. Make a list of everything you’re blaming your spouse for.

2. How do you feel when you look at the list? Most players of The Blame Game don’t feel especially good when they’re playing. They may feel a vindicated anger, but that’s very different from feeling good. My guess is that you’d rather feel good than continue blaming your spouse.

3. How would your life change if you stopped blaming your spouse? Be as specific as you can about what your life would be like and the emotions you might feel. You might feel free or relaxed or happy or confident or… 

When I stopped playing The Blame Game, I felt both exhilarated and a bit scared, and these feelings were so much better than the turmoil I had been feeling.

4. What steps can you take to start your life changing in this positive way? You might want to start focusing more on what you want your life to be like instead of how it got to be how it is right now. You might want to simply make a decision that you will now stop all blame. You might take some time to think about how you could have contributed to the situation that you’ve been blaming your spouse for. There are all kinds of things you might choose to do to stop playing The Blame Game; the important thing is that you choose one to start with and then do it.

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

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

Special Occasions Can Still Be Special After You’re Divorced

One of my clients recently asked me if it was weird for her to want to be friends with her ex-husband’s sister. I asked her for a few more details about the relationship to see if I could figure out why she was asking this question. She started squirming in her chair as she gave me the details. It turns out she was feeling weird about wanting to remain friends with her former sister-in-law because she thought she wasn’t supposed to.

The first special occasion I attended with my husband’s family was weird for me because his ex-wife was there and each of his siblings referred to her as their sister-in-law. I had all these thoughts about them sending me a message that I wasn’t welcome.

My client and I had both bought into the common belief that once you divorce, you’re expected to divorce the entire family and might even declare them enemies.

What I’ve come to realize and teach is that the common belief is WRONG. Each relationship you have is unique. Each relationship can grow, wither, and transform. Each relationship can do this independently of the others if you’re both willing to let it.

What all this means is that family occasions can still be special occasions with the entire family present. Sure, you might not choose to hang with your ex or their new partner, but there’s no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy having large birthday parties for your kids or huge Thanksgiving celebrations with the extended family.

What all this also means is that family occasions don’t have to be like they were before the divorce either. Maybe your former in-laws aren’t willing to continue to have you be a part of their lives right now and that’s OK.

Basically, it comes down to choices, how do you want to celebrate special occasions now that you’re divorced? You might want to continue celebrating as you have in the past or you might want to start new traditions. What I want you to know is that it’s all good. There aren’t any rules about how things have to be (unless of course rules were created as part of your divorce agreement).

Now I know I just told you there aren’t any rules, but let me give you a couple ideas to think about to help you keep or make your special occasions special after divorce.

When most people divorce, then tend to feel a bit lost or lonely. These feelings can often make it difficult to want to celebrate special occasions. I want to encourage you to be aware of this and celebrate any way. You deserve to have a good time. If you have kids, they deserve to have a good time. And the added bonus is that if you have something to look forward to, then you just might help yourself get through the lost and lonely feelings more quickly.

You might also want to consider celebrating occasions you didn’t celebrate before. Maybe you want to start making the anniversary of the first moon walk a special occasion and have a wine and cheese party to celebrate. Maybe you want to start celebrating obscure holidays like Ground Hog’s Day or National Pizza Day. Again, the idea is to add some fun and something to look forward to because it will help you work through the worst of your divorce more quickly.

Special occasions can still be special after divorce. They may or may not include your in-laws, but the most important things is that they include you – you feeling wonderful as you celebrate whatever occasion it is.

Your Special Occasions After Divorce Assignment:

Evaluate the special occasions you have in your calendar. Which make send to continue celebrating? Which need to be eliminated? What new occasions need to be added?

If you don’t have any special occasions in your calendar because your ex always took care of that for you, make a list of the special occasions you want to celebrate and get them in your calendar ASAP. Having special occasions to look forward to will help you continue to feel connected with others and combat the loneliness most people experience with 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. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

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

Getting Divorced? Why You May Still Need A Family Therapist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pesky Divorce Lies You Must Stop Telling Yourself

You are so much stronger than you think.

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

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

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

It was also true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

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

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on YourTango.