Recognizing your own accomplishments is key during your divorce
Going through a divorce can leave you in the dumps, but one way to feel better is to take a personal inventory. This may seem counter-intuitive at this point in your life as you may feel devastated by your recent turn of events. While it’s true that one part of your life may have fallen apart, in reality it’s likely not the case in all aspects of your existence. A personal inventory will help you take stock and understand that there are many good things going on, and hopefully you’ll feel a bit better as a result. The beauty of this inventory is that it’s simple and quick. A few quick notes and bam, you have a handy list. And if you ever need a boost, you’ll have a copy in your wallet for a quick reminder. Review your list of accomplishments over your morning coffee, on the train…or sitting on what my father used to call his “throne”. You get the idea. Just do whatever works. Over time you’ll have things to add to your love lists and when you do, you’ll know you’re getting back to being you. Happy, healthy and with a well-balanced, full life.
This is a simple exercise. You will need two sheets of paper, something to write with and some matches. Don’t do this digitally. Write it out. You’ll understand why shortly.
Step One: On the first sheet of paper, list three things about yourself that you are most proud of. Maybe you regularly rescue kittens from trees, volunteer at a local shelter or can pick up socks with your toes. Choose three things about yourself that makes you smile with pride. In the event you found this article on a particularly down day, it’s okay; you are a great person even if you don’t feel like one right now. Just give yourself a moment and the answers will come to you. Go back as far as 5th grade, to that time you built a cool fort in your backyard. Don’t move on until you have at least three things.
Step Two: On the second sheet of paper, list three things about yourself that you are not proud of. Maybe you forgot to call your Mom on her birthday, or you cheated on your wife, or you pledged a contribution to your local public radio station and never mailed the check. Whatever it is, just be honest and write it down. No one from the outside world will ever see this.
Step Three: Going back to the original sheet of paper: list three things you learned as a result of the things you are least proud of. For example, if you wrote: I forgot to call my Mom on her birthday, then you would rewrite that as: I value my Mom; I want her to know I think she is special and care about her. Or, I know I don’t have much time left with my Mom, I want her to know I love her. Guilt is a byproduct of acting outside of your belief structure. This step will help you get in touch with what is important to you, rather than leave you stewing in your own juices of remorse.
Step 4: Back to sheet number two! List three things that you couldn’t do when you were married, but wanted to. Maybe you couldn’t buy the car you wanted, or take that fishing trip or she gave you crap about alphabetizing your soup cans. No matter how big or small, write them here.
Step 5: On sheet number one, list three things you can and still want to do now that you’re not married. Maybe you’re over the car and you want to tour California on a motorcycle. Maybe you’d rather go to Italy now than fish. Whatever excites you now, write it down without judging your urges. The sky’s the limit.
Step 6: On sheet number two, list three things you wished that your ex had appreciated more, or that you felt she took for granted. Maybe she never thanked you for getting the oil changed in the car. Or you always did the grocery shopping without thanks.
Step 7: Back to sheet number one; you are going to rewrite the three three things you wish she appreciated about you, only you are going to write them as strengths. If you wrote: She never noticed that I got the oil changed for her, then you would rewrite that as: I am great at accomplishing regularly scheduled maintenance on vehicles. Or, I take great care of my belongings. Something to that effect but as you write it, it has to feel true for you. This is your list. Assume no one will ever see it and if they do, they won’t know what it’s about anyway so don’t bullshit your way through it.
Step 8: On sheet two, list three things you appreciated most about your ex. These are specific things that you liked about her, things about her that made you happy. Don’t be an asshole right now either. Things may be different today, but at one point she had good qualities and you admired her. List your top three.
Step 9: On sheet one, you are now going to rewrite the three things you admired about your ex as qualities you would admire in a woman. Any woman. If you wrote, she was a fantastic cook, then you would rewrite that as: I admire a woman who can hold her own in the kitchen. Or I admire someone who is a culinary adventurer.
Step 10: Take the matches in one hand and sheet number two in your other. You are going to read Sheet Two, including the things you are not proud of, the things you felt she didn’t appreciate, the things you felt like you couldn’t do when you were married and the qualities specific to your ex. Read them out loud. Slowly. Then take a deep breath.
Now burn it.
A nice slow burn. Smell the sulfur. Watch the edges turn black, watch the redness of the embers crawl up the page. Watch your words float away in wisps of smoke and crumble into ashes. You’re letting it go.
Now take Sheet One. Read all of the great qualities about yourself. Read all the lessons that you learned and will carry with you. Read the list of opportunities you have, should you decide to pursue them. Read the qualities that you bring to the table. Read the qualities that you admire in a woman, any woman.
Fold this list up. Put it in your wallet and read it the next time you’re on your throne. You’re the king of your castle and your life. And you have a lot going for you.
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The Money Trap
How NOT to spend money during your divorce
So you’re in the middle of a divorce. Let’s say, just for fun, you’re probably not going to be the custodial parent, because even though you have a greater income, you’ve also spent most of your marriage working at the office rather than at home, and you’re a little less mentally and emotionally equipped to have the kids at home full-time than your ex is. It’s OK, nobody’s to blame there; that’s just how it happens sometimes.
But now you’ve got your own space, all to yourself, and even though you’re going to get hit with child support (and no complaints outta you, you chose to have the kids, the minimum support decreed by the court is the very least you can do for them, capice?), well, you’re not supporting her lifestyle anymore either right?
So what to do with all this money you’re suddenly not having to spend?
If your answer is “Hookers and blow!” well, you need help far beyond what this article is capable of providing.
At the same time, you also don’t want to suddenly start buying the biggest LCD TV you can find, nor the fanciest sports car on the lot. Yes, it may be your right as a newly-single male to create your very own man-cave with which you and your buddies and hang and watch the game with all the latest and greatest technology money can buy.
But technology is expensive. And during the divorce, your income, and expenditures, will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, especially when there is a question of child support.
This isn’t a threat, it’s just how it is. Judges, and lawyers on both sides, are going to be looking for this information in order to get the maximum value child support towards the children, while still allowing that you, too, need to make a living. But while all this is going on, a recently-acquired monthly payment for a 2014 Maserati is going to raise more than a few eyebrows, especially by attorneys for the custodial parent.
While it’s important not to blow all your money in a fit of pique, or thinking it won’t come back to haunt you, you also don’t want to go in the other direction either, as that can lead to something far more insidious and damaging.
It’s natural, when going through the divorce process, and it’s your finances going over, to feel besieged, and maybe feel like you have less money than what you really do. With that, every single purchase becomes agonizing. You start putting in only $20 in the tank every time you need to fill up, even tho at today’s rates it only gets you halfway full, because you never know when you might have something really bad come up.
And you start living on dollar meal deals at fast food joints because they seem like a good deal, and hey you can feed the kids on them too! But you can’t have those all the time, so you also get the most cut-rate food you can get at the store. It might not be the healthiest, but at least your belly is full right?
You start neglecting other things like new, decent clothing, or automotive repairs, or home repairs, etc. etc. All because you think you’ve got this specter hanging over you called Child Support and any deviation from that will mean financial ruin.
What I’ve just described is called “Living Poor.” It’s a horrible mindset to get into. It eats away at your ability to make reasonable purchasing decisions that can otherwise allow you to live comfortably, if nothing else. Getting this particularly nasty mental worm can adversely affect how you go through your post-divorce life, and even affect your relationship with your children, especially if they’re made to feel they are a burden on your finances. Even if you assure them otherwise. Children are real good at picking up on emotional vibes, especially if they contradict what is being said to them verbally.
Essentially, be sensible with your money, especially during the divorce. Child support is not a punishment. It’s not a crime to have money, and it’s not a crime to spend it. Just don’t be flamboyant with it, and don’t act like you’ll be broke if you buy yourself decent food at the grocery instead of Little Debbies.
And for crying out loud, when you get your new place? Make sure it has a room and beds for the kids. That’s something that looks very good when listing your expenses. It shows you’re not just looking out for yourself. A little goodwill goes a long way through this process.
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What NOT to post on Social Media during your divorce
Right off the bat you need to understand my stand on social media: I ain’t a big fan. OMG! I absolutely cannot take one more post, tweet or text about bffs or bfs. I will throw my phone out the car window if you dare share another pic to show us how much your precious widdle bulldog’s bowel movement looks like a butterfly. Seriously?!? This is the highest point that supposedly evolved human beings have reached in the 21st century? I’m old; our version of a selfie was sitting on the copier at the office Christmas party, drunkenly scanning your butt which might get it caught in a sling if the boss found out. At least any future grandkids won’t be able to Google grandma’s butt. You’re laughing, right?
People. people, people….
We aren’t civilized. Facebook is not your friend. Twitter will turn on you. Text messages have sent people to prison. And Instagram is the match that lights the fire that boils the hot water that you’ll find yourself in if you’ve posted anything that can be used by your wife’s divorce attorney. You might be too drunk to recall that lost weekend in Cabo with your old college pals; too wasted to remember sucking face with that cute little spring break co-ed. (Thank goodness you deleted the evidence before returning home.) But guess who’s little friends caught the whole thing on video and tagged you. Stupid is captured forever!! An angry, suspicious, vindictive wife can troll your name like search engine shark bait. Wanna bet she can hack all your social media accounts?
Seriously, how much future concern is given before any of us launch ourselves into cyberspace? Cute pet pictures are one thing. Launching a catty, bratty digital tirade against someone is no different that running naked down the street screaming at no one: you look like an idiot. It doesn’t gain any sympathy. What it gets you is a straitjacket! And any hacking activity is illegal.
Unfortunately, not too long ago, I witnessed first-hand the marital meltdown of someone near and dear to me in just this manner. The speed and viciousness with which it very publicly played out on Facebook was stomach churning. It looked something like this:
Happy pictures posted when we’d all celebrated their anniversary just prior to business taking the husband out of town on a three day trip. At the departure gate he called to ask if I’d check in on his wife as she’d been ill the previous week. Maybe it was her medication maybe loneliness or plain old insecurity but something drove her to hack all of his on-line accounts that night. An internet journalist of some standing, he probably has more contacts, fans and followers than I have gray hairs. Within a few minutes she aired their dirty laundry on a global line. We all knew she’d gone home to mama before he did. It was pitiful and unsettling. What if they’d had children old enough to find it?
Is something like that what you’d want your friends and family, business associates, faculty or customers to see?
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Kids and Boundaries
How to negotiate boundaries following your divorce
So, you’re divorced. All your things and contracts and financial obligations and joint emotional obligations are done. You’re free and on your own and you don’t have to consider your ex-spouse’s anything anymore, whether you want to or not.
Unless you share offspring. Especially if you share custody of said offspring.
If that’s the case, you’re going to have to learn how to negotiate kids and boundaries between two separate households no matter how uncomfortable that makes you feel. You’re doing this, teeth clenched and heart conflicted, because it’s best for the kid(s). Never forget that. In light of what your child needs, your discomfort (and, yes, sometimes pain) is something you’ll have to deal with in a thoughtful, responsible manner and understand in all your actions that their needs come before your own in terms of dealing with your ex. Your children don’t need to pay the price of you or your ex’s initial, natural need to disagree about every little issue.
The thing about kids is that they need to test boundaries and practice manipulation skills. It’s a big part of how they learn, grow, and understand how best to navigate the world around them. It’s healthy for them to try and see what they can get away with even if it drives you a little bit (or a lot) nuts. When a child is given the opportunity to play one parent against the other, they will. They will do it from every angle you can’t even imagine. Side note: these “games” are not about your kid being malicious or maladjusted or damaged. They’re about learning to navigate the world. You’re going to have to remind yourself of that over and over. Testing kids and boundaries are the games that are played in every divorce.
Let me give you a few examples of things you’ll probably hear our of the mouths of your babes: “Mom said that’s okay! Why can’t I do it here?” “Mom lets me play World Of Warcraft all night long while eating pickles covered in peanut butter aaaaaand throwing candy wrappers wherever I want!” “You are way meaner than she is! I want to go back to Mom’s house!” These things you’ll hear are frustrating, infuriating, obnoxious and generally untrue. Remember this, though: Before the divorce, you and your partner had a system of boundaries and rules, actions that caused consequences, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and a general play-book that the offspring were beholden to. In most cases, you can assume that those rules have not changed for the most part. What was bad behaviour before the split is still bad behaviour after… but your kids see that the world has shifted and there may be a glimmer of hope for their planned world domination, starting right there in their two households.
You can take some comfort in knowing that it isn’t just happening to you. Your ex is feeling the pressure as much as you are. If you can, try and see how you can still work together as a united front against your little minions. Otherwise, the minions will take control and play you and your ex off of each other as long as they can. Since you’re already feeling all sorts of overwhelming turmoil from your recent divorce, you will benefit from finding a calm spot in the storm. Happily, so will the kids!
Often times, the divorce is too painful and contentious to be able to sit down, one on one, with your ex. The wounds are too fresh and you just can’t think rationally through the anger and hurt. This would be the exact time to find a mediator. Family counselors, therapists and psychologists are fantastic resources to use and are highly trained in mediation during emotional conflict. Bonus: when you get to the mediation room (if you’re like me and your divorce was furious and brutal and all parties were badly scarred), you have someone other than your ex to look at while you express your concerns and frustrations. That room is a safe place to vent a little and, far more importantly, find a way to define some shared boundaries between the households.
This isn’t just for your sanity and comfort. Your kid needs to know where a safe line is in order to work through their own feelings of hurt and betrayal regarding the divorce. The better you and your ex can define what’s okay and what isn’t, the better your offspring will process the event. In the end, that’s the only goal you need to keep in mind… making sure your kid(s) are okay.
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I’m probably not the best advice columnist you’re going to read. After all, I’ve been divorced. I also have a child out of wedlock and I wasn’t even very involved in her teenage years. I’m currently single as well. Clearly, I haven’t gotten this figured out yet. Perhaps what I can offer is that I’m not altogether unhappy about any of this. I made choices in my life and they had outcomes. Life happens. We live, and hopefully, we learn.
Perhaps the single most relevant statement I have heard concerning relationships is simply this; never make a priority of someone who considers you an option.
Taken to heart, this statement acts in two ways. First, it should teach you not to keep yourself emotionally involved and entangled with someone who seems to have your best interests as second to their own. Secondly, and probably even more importantly, it should admonish you not to seek entanglement with someone you’re not willing to give your best to.
If it’s more important to attend a ballgame, take the business trip, pursue that secretary or just hang out with the guys instead of attending to her, well, then that’s probably just exactly what you should be doing. Just plan on doing it alone because, ultimately, if she isn’t the first priority, then she’s just another option. Obviously, if she’s just an option for you, then your relationship is probably in trouble.
If you’re divorced, and reading this, then I’m just going to assume you are trying to make sense of one of life’s most confusing problems; how to get your needs met by the person you married, or how to make sure you get your needs met the next time around.
Well, for starters, don’t do it again. To avoid this, you’ll need to take a good, long, hard look at what you brought to the table to create the situation you find yourself in now. I absolutely guarantee that no matter how you might feel right now about your relationship, most of the problem is with you, not her.
You see, you chose her every bit as much as she chose you somewhere along the line. It doesn’t matter which one of you has left the relationship (or is preparing to), the reason the relationship ended (or is about to) is because one of you decided to stop bringing your best to it. The only question remaining is whether it is already too late, or whether you can change your behavior and perhaps salvage what has likely been a serious commitment of time and energy towards the other person? This I can tell you with assurance; if you want your relationship back, your partner is not going to change. You have to. If there is any part of that statement that gives you pause, then chances are good this person isn’t really who you need to be with. Sorry.
If you’re on the other end, the one who left the relationship, then first off, congratulations on being willing to risk your current unhappiness for a chance to find something that feels better. It’s a very hard thing to do, to acknowledge you aren’t getting your needs met in a partner. Of course, I’m going to challenge you that as much as you have had the courage to walk away, the fact that you ultimately felt you had to probably points to either poor initial choices, or a series of poor choices you made along the way that created an untenable situation. I invite you again to take a serious, extended time for self reflection and pay attention to how the decisions you made along the way ended you up here.
For the record, my marriage ended by my choice. There were many, many happy aspects to my marriage, and my ex-wife is a good woman and one I am always happy to see when we meet. She remarried shortly after our divorce to a man that has provided what I could not, and fifteen years later I still couldn’t be happier for them. The success of her next relationship has shown me over time that I made the right decision. Could we have saved our marriage? Yes, we probably could have. I probably could have learned to be better at asking her for what I needed, and she could have learned the same.
In some ways, upon reflection I truly do wish I had worked harder at it when it felt like it was slipping away. However, then as now, I had some good role models. What I saw the clearest was that I was unsatisfied and was looking for something more. I truly don’t believe she ever could have provided what I sought, because what I sought was change. She wanted stability. She found a stable man, and I found a dozen unstable women.
If you believe you can be happy with a person that is seeking to end a relationship with you, then you need to ask them what, specifically, needs to change, and then you have to change it. Period. If you are unwilling, or they are asking something of you that you simply cannot (or will not) change, then you can save a great deal of heartache by honoring them enough to let go. If, on the other hand, you feel you have just released yourself from an unsatisfying relationship, then the questions to ask are how to keep taking care of yourself in a way that makes you happy, and what needs weren’t being fulfilled in your last relationship that you can focus on improving in your next one?
Alas, I must conclude this short essay with a bit of a conundrum, but perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself; what makes you happy?
Answer that, and then perhaps you can be happy with someone. Clichéd and true, happiness comes from within.
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