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.

Friendship and the Divorced Person

The type of friend you need going through divorce.

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The one constant a divorced person needs is support. Genuine support.

When we go through the process of divorce, it is like a friend filter. You will find out who your real friends are. That couple that you and your spouse used to hang with…they will take sides. If you go to church, church people will take sides. Family members will usually support you, but sometimes extended family members take sides. You may find yourself disappointed that the person you thought was your friend simply isn’t there for you any longer.

Let me tell you a secret. It’s Ok. Truth is you don’t need them.

Chances are those friends were friends by circumstance. Casual friends. Friends because of their relationship with your spouse, or you happen to be in the same proximity with them often: church, PTA, work, or live next door.

Casual friends are not what you need when you go through divorce. So what about casual friends who have chosen to turn their backs while you go through the most difficult time in your life? Wish them well, and move on.

You need close friends. You need people who are solidly in your corner. I call them “fire fighter friends”…they rush in when everyone else is rushing out.

Get about the important task of surrounding yourself with true, close friends.

 

The type of friends you do need:

A friend who will support me mentally. You know what I’m talking about. A friend you can spill your guts too, and you know they will keep it in confidence.  There will be days and nights when your thoughts are getting the best of you… What is my next step? How am I going to handle being a single parent? What about my finances? Am I going to be Ok? Am I ever going to be in a relationship again? Your head is spinning and you just need to talk to a trusted person. This is a person who has the art of listening. They let you ramble on with not much coherency, but they instill in you the confidence that everything is going to work out.

A friend who will support me emotionally. In the Bible, the book of Proverbs says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17 NIV). A true friend sees you through when everybody says you’re through. They can be counted on in crisis.

As you go through divorce, you go through a plethora of emotions. Sadness, hope, grief, relief, despair, joy and hopelessness. One minute you’re up, feeling pretty good, then that song plays on the radio and you are a heap of tears and Kleenex. A true friend is there to support you during your emotional meltdowns. They laugh with you, they cry with you.

A friend who will support me spiritually. We are holistic beings: body, mind and soul. A true friend goes beyond just being there physically, offering a shoulder to cry on. They give you the inspiration and encouragement you need. They pray for us. They love you when you aren’t very lovable. And they model grace. The Bible calls this fellowship. Truly, it is a level of friendship that rises to the spiritual. It is the type of encouragement that nourishes your soul.

Casual friends may stick around when you are going through divorce, then again they may not, please don’t waste a moment’s time lamenting them.

They are more of a hindrance than a help. Go about the important business of surrounding yourself with the true friends who will allow you to be you, and help you get on with the process of healing. They are truly God’s blessing.

And before long, you will find yourself healthy enough to return the favor.

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.

God hates divorce, but He loves divorced people.

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Shortly after my divorce, a well-intentioned Christian asked to meet with me personally. He had a heavy heart, and was very sympathetic to what my children and I were going through. He quoted a verse in the Bible found in the book of Malachi 2:16 which states that God hates divorce.

His insinuation was that I was disappointing God, and should have done more to save my marriage.

Christians who use this verse to instill guilt upon divorced people are really missing the point. God does hate divorce.

Why?

Because God himself knows what it is like to be divorced. In Jeremiah chapter 3, God “divorced” Israel because of her continued unfaithfulness worshiping idols. He was so hurt by that unfaithfulness, as you read the passage it is much like a spouse reeling from the death of dreams and a shared future.

Rather than insinuating the “wrongness” of divorce God was declaring the incredible, excruciating pain that divorce imparts. The God of the universe was crying out that his own people whom he had shown love and patience through centuries continued to give their affections to another, and he was devastated.

His heart breaks when he sees us going through a breakup. Because he knows what that is like. And that’s the reason he hates divorce…He hates the consequences.

In the same chapter, God says, “Oh Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again for I am merciful” (Jeremiah 3:12 NLT). God seems like a heart sick husband who longs for his unfaithful wife to return, and gives her the opportunity to do so.

Why would he do that?

Because nothing keeps God from loving. Nothing.

So God hates the pain caused by divorce. But make no mistake…God loves divorced people.

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.

Four Marriage Killers

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When I coach a married couple, most of the time I am very optimistic about the outcome. Most marriages just need both parties to refocus or reprioritize to see positive results. Usually, it is small adjustments that render big results.

However, there are times when the presenting issues makes me cringe. There are simply some problems that wreak havoc on a marriage…so much so that the marriage is on life support.

Here are what I call four marriage killers. I am not saying that a committed couple cannot overcome these four challenges, but in my experience when one of these four challenges happen the marriage has taken a huge hit.

KILLER #1 ADULTERY

A marriage is built upon the values intimacy, honesty, communication and trust. Adultery destroys each of these values in one fell swoop. Maybe that’s why Jesus made adultery a qualifier for divorce in Matthew 19.

Marriages can overcome adultery, however, it takes much work. In addition to complete severance of the adulterous relationship, full disclosure and honesty is a must. Months, even years of trust and intimacy building are required. Many marriages simply do not survive it.

KILLER #2 ADDICTION

Addiction is another killer of marriages because it too destroys the values mentioned above. Addiction is a disease that consumes a person, and there is little left over for anyone or anything else. Many spouses hold on in the hopes that the person they love will change. However, there is a fine line between loving and enabling a person, and that fine line can be blurred.

With proper treatment, prayer and grace, addictions can be overcome. But left unchecked, it will definitely take its toll on a marriage.

KILLER #3 ABUSE

Abusive relationships are wrong, period.

Marriage needs to be a safe place to land. Safety and security in knowing that you are truly known.  Adam and Eve displayed that kind of vulnerability with each other when they were “naked and not ashamed.”  The goal of marriage is to love and be loved, accepting each other for who you are.

Abusive relationships are one sided. One spouse is coddled, or pleased, while the other spouse is subservient. This environment kills vulnerability.  The abused spouse may live in fear, or in denial, but neither provides an atmosphere of growth and respect.

If you are in an abusive marriage, please seek help. Now.

KILLER #4 ABANDONMENT

By abandonment, I mean a spouse who is emotionally detached. You might be thinking, should this even be on a list of “marriage killers?” I would contend that although this killer is subtle, it is just as deadly.

Emotional detachment happens when we stop caring about the condition of our marriage. We don’t seek answers, confront, or challenge our spouses or ourselves to solve issues. Things fester and develop into resentment. And pretty soon we find that we no longer care.

Many who go through divorce realize their spouse has been emotionally detached for months, maybe even years. To the detached spouse, divorce makes sense because they haven’t been “in love” for quite some time, while the other spouse is blindsided. Marital neglect has taken its toll.

Let me end on a note of hope. The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God. I believe that. When a couple meets their biggest challenges with forgiveness, honesty, hard work, and commitment, that which is severely broken can be restored.  They real question is are both spouses willing?