Loneliness And the Holiday Season

Years ago I was listening to a pastor, who happened to be divorced talk about loneliness. He told of a Christmas when his ex-wife had their children and were away visiting her parents. He was alone, feeling miserable, and went to an all-night diner that happened to be open that day. He sat among what he described the saddest group of people he had ever seen. As he was eating his meatloaf, feeling miserable, a song came over the jukebox. It was Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

I remember saying to myself, “That has to be the worst feeling.”

Fast forward a few years, and I am going through divorce. At Christmas, my children were away visiting with their mother. I found the only restaurant open in our town, sitting in the midst of lonely people. I thought, “If I hear Elvis sing, I’m going to lose it.”

Holidays can be a magnifier. If you are feeling blessed, you feel even more blessed. If you are feeling miserable, there is something about the holidays that seem to make it worse.

If you are struggling with loneliness this Christmas, let me suggest a couple of thoughts:

Loneliness is difficult, but it is usually a season.

We all go through lonely times. Married people report feeling lonely. However, loneliness usually doesn’t last. It is simply a symptom of a transition period in your life. Loneliness is preparation for the next great chapter.

Make the most of it.

I know that sounds odd. Nobody desires loneliness. But look at being single as an opportunity to be good to you. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do? Is there a place you’ve been wanting to visit? Is there a skill you wanted to learn?

My wife, Karen, took up sailing while she was single. And she looks back on those days with fondness.

This is the perfect opportunity to be good to yourself, or even better yourself. Enjoy the relationships you do have. Treat yourself.

Don’t succumb to temptation.

Some people can’t stand to be alone, so they find someone to be with. Truth is, going through divorce is going through grief. Part of the grief process is a step called called “bargaining.” Bargaining is simply doing something to avoid pain. Yet, the only way to deal with emotional pain is to feel it and process it. After that comes healing. And I remind every person I coach: it is better to be alone than be with the wrong person.

I will be thinking and praying for you this holiday season. Remember, you are loved.

Making a Positive Change

Divorce can be an opportunity to seek a new you.

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Recovering from divorce and ready to make a positive change?  Making positive changes in your life is not always easy. Studies show that of those who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving their resolution.

Did you know that making positive changes in your life is a process? Change includes five stages, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. Then end result is no results.

Five Stages of Change

As you examine these stages, think of a positive change you wish to make, and ask yourself two questions: First, where am I in the process? Second, what is keeping me from moving to the next stage?

Let’s use the example of Josh, a middle aged man who is recently divorced. He has longed to start a consulting business in his field of expertise.

Pre-Contemplative: At this stage there may be an idea, but there is no plan for change. For instance, whenever Josh would think about starting his consulting business, life just seemed to be in the way. He is busy with family responsibilities, and his current company has him traveling quite a bit. Friends and family may be making observations and comments that Josh should start his own company, and although that does sound desirable, at this point he doesn’t see it. Josh continues to go about his current weekly schedule. Making a change isn’t yet on his radar screen.

Contemplative: After the divorce process, with the realization his life has been significantly altered, he wonders again about starting his own company. It is now him and his two children. He desires more time with them, and his current work schedule is just too demanding. Now is aware that there is no better time than the present to make a career change, but has not yet committed to bringing about action to make the change.

Preparation: Josh determines to do something, although he is not sure what steps to take yet.  He begins to talk to others who have branched out of the corporate world and started their own business, and realizes he needs to make some preparations to follow that path.  He hires Seth, a life coach, and they begin to talk about Josh’s current situation and his desired future. Seth has a great reputation for helping others build their own business, and begins to work with Josh setting a vision and timeline. Now, the makings of a plan start to form. They both begin to develop an action plan, which gives Josh time to recruit new clients and spend time with his children, and not neglect his current work responsibilities. Now, he is intentional on making a change. Josh begins to take some small steps towards putting an action plan in place, and sets up weekly meetings with Seth to be accountable to the plan.

Action: At this point, Josh is making it happen. He has a plan and is following it. He has a target number of new clients and is on his way to securing them, and a date to resign from his current company.  Every day he wakes up with an agenda and action plan to achieve those goals. His new clients are excited about working with Josh because of his enthusiasm, and he feels a renewed vigor and outlook on life. Once a week, he has a session with Seth to evaluate the plan and report on progress. He is beginning to see results and feels great about it.

Maintenance: Although the divorce process was a difficult emotional time, Josh is now thankful that he used the opportunity to make a positive change and start his own company. Josh has achieved his goals of spending more time with his children, and feels very fulfilled in his new career. However, he realizes that his efforts cannot stop here. He and Seth have developed a plan to continue to meet to grow the business and become more successful professionally and personally. They have worked out a maintenance plan that fits his goals and lifestyle, and they meet once a month for encouragement and accountability.

Divorce is both an end and a beginning. It is an opportunity to make some positive changes in your life. And, change requires a plan that moves you through the stages so you can achieve results. Take the opportunity to treat yourself to following and achieving your dreams.

 

**The Five Stages of Change is a Motivational Interviewing technique used in Person Centered Therapy developed by William Miller and Stephan Rollnick in the early 1980’s.

 

The Uncertainty of Divorce

Divorce is like driving in a dense fog.

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The other morning, I was driving in a dense fog. It was extremely difficult to see much past the front of my Jeep. I turned on my fog lights, but they were little help. Luckily, I was driving in familiar territory. I could continue at a reduced speed, and feel relatively safe in moving forward.

It struck me that divorce is like driving through a dense fog, however, with one very large difference: divorce is an unfamiliar journey.

Divorce is disorientation, an unexpected detour in life. No one contemplates divorce on their wedding day; you didn’t plan to be here. Perhaps, you were cruising down a road with your life laid out before you, thinking everything is grand. Then, in what seems like a blink of an eye, you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, uncertain of what turns and pitfalls lay ahead.

It is important to keep moving.

Sometimes in the midst of uncertainty, we are tempted to just stop. Shut it down. But, what happens if we find ourselves in a dense fog and just stop? We put ourselves and others in jeopardy. The surest way to cause a pile-up on a highway where visibility is low is to simply stop. Point is, even though the road ahead is uncertain, we must keep going.

At this point, movement is scary. You may not want to go. You may be unsure of where to go. But, movement is necessary. What is around the corner? I don’t know. But, I know I can’t stay here.

Divorce is filled with uncertain moments. But to get out of the fog: slow down, use caution, but most of all, keep moving forward.

That’s what divorce coaching is for. I’ve been there, and I can help you navigate through uncertain times. Ready to move forward? Let’s get started.

 

 

Drew Barrymore identifies as a failure following her divorce.

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In a segment on the Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show “Chelsea,” actress Drew Barrymore called her divorce to Will Kopleman the “biggest failure of her life.” She went on to say that going through divorce has caused her to feel like “I’m the biggest failure. This is the biggest failure. It is so shameful and hard to actually go through (it), even privately.”

Most divorced people, especially men, can relate. We like our plans to work. We like our dreams to become a reality. And when they don’t, we feel like we have failed. But take a closer look how she described her divorce experience. She said she was a failure. Not the marriage, but her personally.

I appreciate her honesty, and I am certain she is being genuine. But here is an important point: failure is an event, not a person.

The problem with identifying yourself as a failure rather than the event is that it can hinder your ability to moving on.

Feeling like you are a failure can lead to shame, and blind you to the possibilities of life post-divorce.

We must look at our divorce as a learning experience. Most failures provide us with an education. What was the turning point in the relationship? How did I contribute? What could I have done differently? We need to do a marriage autopsy and learn as much as we can. Then we can grow to the possibilities that await us.

A wise person once said “It doesn’t matter what happens to you, it matters what happens in you.” Hopefully Ms. Barrymore, and all of us who have experienced divorce, will allow ourselves to grieve, learn, and choose to be better.

Don’t Go Through It Alone

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It is one of the most devastating times of your life. Your marriage is ending, you are getting a divorce. That which you thought would never happen is, indeed, happening.  I have been there. I have done that. And I have one piece of advice:

Don’t go through it alone.

Divorce is the catalyst to depression, destructive habits, regrettable decisions, family division, and a whole host of pitfalls. The decisions you make at the beginning and during a divorce can set the stage for the remainder of your life.

When you go through a divorce there are three main issues that need to be addressed: Financial and legal issues, emotional issues, and family issues. A good lawyer and a good accountant can help you with the first set. However, emotional and family isues are beyond their scope. So where do you turn?

Therapy?

Therapists are fantastic at what they do, which is look at unresolved issues from your past. However, divorce is a problem in your present.

A good friend or family member?

While they will undoubtedly be an excellent support for you during this time, they may be ill-equipped to help you navigate the tricky waters of a divorce.

My suggestion (although, at this point it may sound completely self-serving) is to hire a divorce coach. He or she has been there, and worked with many others who have been there. A certified coach is trained and equipped in helping divorced people heal, and give you a strategy to move forward to a better outcome.

As a divorce coach, I help my client’s progress through four distinct steps…

The Initial Shock.  When a marriage ends, it is a death. And with a death comes grief. Many describe the first few weeks like being in a fog. Waking up to new reality everyday takes some orientation. You need to take care of immediate needs while going through a very real grief process. Talking with someone who completely understands what you are going through will provide peace and strength.

Getting through the divorce process. The divorce process can be grueling. Hopefully you have great legal help, but a lawyer doesn’t have the time or the inclination to help you process your feelings. A divorce coach can help.  Other issues come into play also: plotting a new relationship with my soon-to-be-ex, becoming a single parent, adjusting to new living conditions and finances, coping with major life changes. A divorce coach will take you by the arm and steer you clear of the mine fields.

Moving forward. Divorce is not only and end, it is a beginning. It is important to see it as a new opportunity in your life. A divorce coach can help you clarify your needs and your desires, set new goals, and plan a strategy to see those goals realized; to understand there is life after divorce, and to have someone encouraging you to look out the windshield instead of the rear view mirror. You realize there can be joy in life again.

Embracing a new life and new possibilities. As you heal, you’ll begin to embrace your new life and the new set of challenges it brings. Co-parenting your children. A healthy relationship with your ex-spouse. Dating again! Blended family issues.

The point is, healing cannot be left to chance. It is vital to recover appropriately. There is life after divorce, and your deserve it.

Sound good? Good. Let’s get started.

Five Issues to Address in a Trial Separation Agreement

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A trial separation is a step many struggling couples take to determine the future of their marriage. The basic goal of the separation is to give each other time to clarify thoughts and gain perspective, before being forced to share those thoughts and feelings with your spouse.  However, trial separations can be one step closer to divorce if the intent is not clearly understood by both spouses.

I advise couples who are considering a trial separation to use a separation agreement. This way, each spouse has transparency in what they are seeking to achieve.

Clarity and understanding will help you both best determine the next steps in your relationship. So, in a spirit of cooperation, sit down with your spouse over coffee or lunch, and talk about these five items:

Clearly Stated Reason for Separation.  Both agree that things are not going well and need to improve, and both agree that a trial separation is the next step, but it is helpful to have an agreed upon statement that clearly defines the reason for the separation. This well-worded statement will act as a mission statement for the separation, and give both spouses a sense of peace as to why they are taking this step.

Length of Separation.  Most couples feel that at least three months is needed to begin to clear the mind and determine the future of the relationship. But it is important that you both agree on the time before the separation begins. Having conflict over the duration of the separation may undermine its effectiveness altogether, so it is important to come to agreement. Also, set a date and a place to meet at the end of the trial period to discuss the next step, whether is it getting back together or continued separation.

Set Clear Boundaries.  How often you will see each other? What is the preferred mode of contact (phone, text, email)? Can we visit each other at our separate residences? If there are children involved, how do we navigate visitations and transferring children to the other parent? Agreeing on these matters will avoid conflict during the separation.  I recommend that couples agree to not have sex during the separation, so that each person can stay focused on sorting out their own issues. If you remain intimate, it could cloud your thinking or be a quick fix to feeling lonely.  Also, I strongly advise not to date anyone else during separation. Doing so would only add more complications to already existing issues, and make finding solutions to marital problems much more complicated.

Therapy and/or Coaching.  In order to accomplish the goals of the separation, therapy or coaching is always a good idea, either as a couple or individually. A good therapist or coach will be able to help you clarify concerns and enact a suitable treatment plan to address those concerns. Also, a good therapist or coach can help you determine if the differences are irreconcilable.

Address Financial Obligations.  During the separation, financial obligations need to be maintained. In addition, having two separate residences will probably add to the financial burden. It is important to decide how bills are paid separately or together so one spouse does not incur the brunt of financial obligations.

If the goal of a trial separation is to determine individual and marital issues and how they are to be addressed, a clearly defined separation agreement can help you avoid unforeseen pitfalls and help you achieve your goals. Hopefully, it can be a useful tool to help each spouse understand the challenges of the marriage.

Moving from WE to ME

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Divorce is a life transition.

All of us have seen the pictures of tornado victims returning to their homes, or what is left of their homes, after the disaster.  They grieve, they take inventory. And they begin the process of rebuilding.

Divorce feels like that. What was safe and familiar is now lying in a rubble. You look around and realize life will never be the same. But you know in your heart you must begin to rebuild.

When I coach divorced people, we deal with emotions and healing, yet the end goal is transitioning to a new life. To do this, I use a principle I call moving from WE to ME.

Marriage is a partnership where both parties look out for the needs and interests of the other. Even when the marriage breaks down and ends, we are conditioned to take the other partner’s interest and needs into account. This is a good thing in that it may keep the process from disintegrating into a contentious, legal landmine. However, it becomes a problem when it hinders you from making decisions for your own well-being.

To some, this may sound selfish. But the truth is, in order to heal, we must go through this transition for two reasons: First, you need to build a new relationship with your ex, emotionally detaching from “spouse” and moving to friend or co-parent.  If you are still thinking as a couple, it will be difficult to emotionally detach and move on.

Secondly, you must begin to make decisions that will help you transition into the life that awaits you. How can you best parent your child? Will you have enough income to sustain your new life? Are there changes in occupation or environment you need to make? What are you plans for a future relationship or marriage? In order to get to these new chapters in your life, you need to close the previous one.

Of course, you need to be cordial and cooperative to the very best of your ability during the transition of divorce. Nevertheless, you are now a single person, and you are responsible for you. No one else is going to do it for you.

One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to move from WE to ME.

The Cure for Bitterness

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I ran a divorce recovery group for our church for two years. We had a wonderful group of people who helped each other heal through their difficulties. I remember one woman who came for just one session, and did not return. Her name was Alice. When the group members began to share, Alice was quick to speak up and desired to talk about her ex-spouse. She wanted everyone to know what a horrible person he was, how he had left her, and married another woman. He did not meet her needs during their marriage, yet she had stayed faithful to him, however, he did not return the favor. She was enraged at him, and struggled with that rage every day. After she spoke, I asked her how recent her divorce was. The answer was fifteen years.

Every time I think of Alice, I feel for her pain. I am also saddened that she has carried the bitterness towards her husband for so many years.

Hebrews 12:15 says “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”

As this verse explains, bitterness can become a deep root in our hearts and souls. The soil for this root is unprocessed hurt and pain. Bitter people never let it go, they become identified through the pain. Every aspect of life is seen through the filter of what has happened to them as they victimize themselves (“How is your day going?” “Well, it would be great, if my husband hadn’t left me fifteen years ago for a younger woman!”)

The fruit of the root is poison. Bitterness poison’s every aspect of our lives. We cannot feel joy, we cannot have peace, we cannot fathom happiness. And that poison “corrupts many.” Family members and friends taste our bitterness, because we wear it like a badge of honor.

How do we get rid of bitterness? By letting go. Releasing the pain and releasing the offender.

We have a choice to make, focus on the incident or focus on the rest of our lives.

The only way to get rid of bitterness is to kill it with forgiveness. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32) The bitter root poisons us, not the offender. Letting bitterness remain is like drinking poison so we can spit on another person.

The person who hurt you may not deserve forgiveness, however, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. When we release the offense, we can finally have peace.